In Part 1, we meet Rudy Corpuz, a born-and-raised San Franciscan who grew up in the South of Market. Rudy's parents came to the US from the Philippines before he was born.
His dad was in the army, which was his ticket to this country. And he brought his wife and some of Rudy's older siblings with him. They went first to Boston, then to Seattle, folllowed by San Pedro, California, and finally, to San Francisco.
The family's first landing spot in The City was Hunters-Point. The family then moved a little north to the South of Market. Rudy is the youngest of nine siblings.
His early days in SOMA took place in the 1970s and ‘80s. He recalls many other ethnicities and lots and lots of families living in SOMA back in those days, and says that he learned a lot from his neighborhood. He ran with a crew of kids that spent a lot of time on Market Street going to shops, arcades, and theaters.
He fondly recalls a South of Market community center called Canon Kip, where he'd go as a kid to play basketball, attend study halls, engage in other forms of recreation, and go on field trips. Rudy cites his time at Canon Kip as playing a role in his current work with United Playaz.
At this point in the recording, I asked Rudy to rattle off San Francisco schools he's attended. The list includes: Buena Vista and Patrick Henry elementary schools, Potrero Middle School, and Mission High School.
In addition to his native SOMA neighborhood, Rudy spent a lot of time in Potrero Hill, getting around mostly on Muni busses. This was the mid-'80s/early '90s, i.e., the crack era. Rudy shares that he both sold and used the drug. His usage got bad, to the point that he crashed. He points to the death of his dad in 1987 as a major contributor to his behavior. He didn’t know what to do with the pain of losing his dad, and so he turned to drugs.
Rudy got busted in 1988 and was sent to adult jail. For the next several years, he was In and out of trouble (and jail). It took him a while, but eventually, he figured out that he was broken. Around this time, an adult at the Canon Kip community center offered to get Rudy into City College. He was still in a low period, but when he got to CCSF, he was blown away by the abundance of "pretty women" he saw there. He and I had a hearty laugh about that.
He got a part-time job convincing other teenagers to go to CCSF, and discovered that he liked helping people. In 1994, while waiting for a job assignment, he spotted a posting on a job board. "Gang Prevention Counselor (Filipino)." A light bulb when off. He got the job, which was based in Bernal Heights.
In his new gig, Rudy was tasked with finding Filipino gangs in Bernal/District 11. This brought him to Balboa High School, where h saw plenty of fights and sideshows. The school's principal told him that she needed his help.
After a big riot between Filipinos and Blacks on Oct. 8, 1994, Rudy got the kids who had been involved to sit down together at a table. And they were the ones who came up with their own solutions.
They called it United Playaz.
Check back next week for Part 2 and the history of the non-profit.
Photography by Jeff Hunt
We recorded this episode at the United Playaz Clubhouse in the South of Market in November 2023.