Saucy like Adachi

Saucy adjective (slang definition): Hip Hop artists have been using the term Sauce as slang for swagger…Men in particular, who are especially confident, are said to have too much sauce.

Date: Christmas Eve 2013. Time: 6:58am. I googled the weather in San Francisco that morning to give you an idea of how cold it was. The top search results came back as HELLA COLD, even for San Francisco. I rushed to Caffe Roma on Bryant Street from my apartment in Bayview Hunters Point to make the meeting on time. My hands and face were ashy and my shirt was wrinkled. I gripped my coffee to thaw my ice cold fingers. But I made it on time, which is unusual for me. I couldn’t be late for this meeting.

7:00am — I see Jeff Adachi rounding the corner, walking toward the front door of the cafe. As usual, his hair was slicked back, not a single wrinkle in his custom tailored suit. He walked with purpose, the type of walk where everything slows down slightly, like the movie scenes when the hero makes his entrance to set order in the space where there is mayhem. My disheveled state was the mayhem, he was the order.

This was my first political endorsement meeting and the only time Public Defender Adachi had time to meet with me. He was polite, but all business. He asked me if I needed anything to eat, then he cut to the chase.

“So school board aye, so I don’t get it, tell me why on earth would you want to do that?” His eyes set upon me with a serious gaze to ensure he wasn’t joking. As if he was concerned about whether or not I was slightly insane.

I fumbled through my answer, he let me go on for a while before interrupting me. “Yeah, Stevon all that sounds nice, but what are the top 3 things you want to accomplish on the board? I mean, the public schools need a lot of help and I haven’t heard your plans.”

I had my three things rehearsed and I recited them as memorized. I figured less would be more in this conversation. And I had become nervous of making myself look even worse than I already had.

He began asking deeper questions about the issues, started to share his concerns for our schools and their possibilities. His commentary about education started to shift into advice for how I could best navigate the path ahead. “You have to come prepared for every meeting, be convinced in your rationale, trust your story, it’s a powerful one. You have my support Stevon. Add me to your list of endorsers.”

I thanked him. I didn’t tell him that he was the list. Outside of Kim-Shree and Matt Haney, who were already friends of mine, no one would sign up to lend their name to my candidacy. That remained the case for the next five or six months as politicos played the waiting game or declined to support me entirely.

That was my first sit-down with Jeff Adachi, but it wasn’t my last. I came back to him countless times in person, over the phone or via email with my thoughts, ideas and questions. He always made time, he always replied, he had my back.

Jeff had our backs. Whether it was the thousands of backpacks he gave out through the Magic Zone initiative, the under-resourced and often marginalized residents he defended in court, the immigrants he wanted to protect from deportation or the tons of young leaders he mentored as they sought to better understand the systems they were up against. Jeff had all of our backs without complaint and always with style.

Jeff was saucy. He had the old school charm of a man who knew how to pay attention to the little things. He gave gifts, wrote handwritten messages, and took pride in his appearance, but never talked about how well he dressed — he let you do that. He knew how to show up for others and never made himself the center of attention.

I had the honor of Public Defender Adachi swearing me in when I assumed public office. I took an oath before God and San Francisco’s Public Defender to protect and defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I could never be Jeff Adachi, but if I was going to serve in public office I wanted everyone to know that he would be my standard bearer.

Jeff has passed on. San Francisco lost an important member of our community on Friday night. For selfish reasons, I want another conversation. I want to tell him thank you. I want to share just how much of an impact he had on me.

That’s not possible for me or the thousands of people Jeff inspired. We have his example to remember, his legacy to carry, but none among us will ever be as saucy as the homie Adachi. Not one.

Book Recommendation: Hope in The Darkness

(Jeff Adachi gave me a copy of this book with a personal message inside of it the night I was sworn in.)

Film Recommendation: The Defender

(A documentary by Jeff Adachi. I’m thinking of organizing a screening in his memory. If you’d like to help with that let me know.)



Consultant: Strategic Advising & Recruiting | SF Board of Education | Cook on Monday Morning Podcast.

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Stevon Cook

Consultant: Strategic Advising & Recruiting | SF Board of Education | Cook on Monday Morning Podcast.