San Pablo Names Park for City’s First Black Mayor

(Screenshot captured by Mitzi Pérez-Caro)

By Mitzi Pérez-Caro

The San Pablo City Council on Feb. 20 commemorated the naming of McNeil Park in honor of Leonard R. McNeil, a 30-year public servant who died five years ago.

McNeil Park was the top name recommended by the Community Services Standing Committee from a list of six nominations across three categories: historic names; places and features; and individuals, groups or organizations.

“We are here representing family and friends who are in full support of naming this amazing open space after our dad,” said Carmen McNeil, joined by her brother, Yusef McNeil. “His dedication to the city just flooded. It’s so amazing to think about all the ways — the blood, the sweat, the tears, the dedication to the city of San Pablo.”

McNeil was first elected to San Pablo City Council in 1988 and became the city’s first Black mayor in 1992. He is an alum of Richmond High, started the first Black Student Union at CSU Fresno, and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1968.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in government at Cal State Sacramento and — at the age of 66 — a master’s in political science at SFSU. He was also nominated for the Western Association of Graduate Schools’ Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award for a work that “explored the possibilities and challenges of African-Americans and Latinos coalescing for political and social change,” according to his obituary by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, which he co-founded. McNeil was a distinguished professor of political science at Contra Costa College as well and earned a vocational education credential from UC Berkeley.

Among the other four speakers at the Feb. 20 meeting was Genoveva Calloway, a colleague of McNeil’s on the City Council from 2004 to 2012.

“San Pablo will be adding to the history of San Pablo in honoring his legacy,” said Calloway, who was the first Latina mayor of San Pablo. “I was inspired by his commitment to the community, his leadership, and his mentorship.”

Both council members worked together to build collaboration between the council and the school district. They created opportunities for youth services including reviving the youth commission, expanding the police department’s youth and education services, and developing a truancy strategy for schools.

Calloway said that McNeil “provided the leadership” on the council to make Helms Middle a full-service community school. Together, they were able to make six elementary campuses into full-service community schools as well: Montalvin Manor, Dover, Edward M. Downer, Tara Hills, Lake and Bayview.

Additionally, Calloway and Mayor Patricia Ponce said McNeil worked to keep Lake Elementary open when the district was scheduled to close it.

“It was an honor to know Leonard. Thanks to him, there are over 400 little people that still have their school,” Ponce said. “Not once but twice, their school was saved and now is currently being reconstructed. Personally, I will forever be grateful.”

There were over 20 written submissions in support of the naming of McNeil Park.

San Pablo City Council meets every first and third Monday of each month.

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