From left to right: Johnny Burks, Willie Parker, Founder, and Cleveland Givens, Honoree.
The Brothers Breakfast Club (BBC) celebrated Cleveland Givens at their monthly brunch on May 5 at Lena’s Soul Food Restaurant in Oakland.
Founded by Willie Parker, BBC was originally entitled the “Chicago Brothers Breakfast Club” and was organized to “celebrate our successes while leaving our guns and knives at the door,” Parker said. The club is celebrating its 18th year and touts 32 members.
BBC honored Cleveland “Champagne” Givens, a graduate of McClymond’s High School (1948) and former staff sergeant during his service in Korea after graduating from San Francisco State University.
After returning from the war, Givens sold furniture at Bruener’s Furniture, and was a train porter before becoming a longshoreman for 40 years, where he rose to the position of “walking boss.”
He has been married for 20 years to Francine Robinson Givens, has three sons, Dorian Givens (deceased), Alfred Robinson and Gary Robinson, and one grandchild.
Givens loves playing the “ponies,” and said he “has never had a losing season.”
He is a die hard Warriors fan and is dedicated to helping the poor. He still visits the waterfront from time to time but is no longer called the “walking boss”—he is now called the “talking boss.”
“The Brothers Breakfast Club is a place where we laugh, and share good feeling,” Parker said. “We have so much history in this room, trailblazers who were the pioneers of the civil rights struggle and. . .we are the ones that prevailed—we succeeded despite the odds, racism and oppression.”
BBC members consist of retired federal workers, BART procurement officers, aviation worker, firefighters, locomotive engineers, a CalTrans spokesperson and legislature representative, rotarians, bank officers, phone technicians, a union president, a karate instructor, Kaiser supervisors, HUD executives, IBM executives, FBI agents, president of the National Brotherhood of Skiers organization, Willie Brown’s Administrative Assistant, and two nightclub owners. Most members share histories of challenging the status quo to garner their positions.
Four firefighters, Richard Armstrong, Donnie Harris, Michael Jones and Preston Pleasants said the only way they were able to join their respective fire departments was by descent decree and that once they passed the test, the San Francisco Fire Department tried to change the test and request they take it again.
“We paved the way for others to follow,” said Harris, a retired fire captain.
Givens, who is known for his iconic fedoras, was “roasted” by fellow members at the May 5 celebration, yet all attested to his generosity and giving heart. Givens says he got the moniker “Champagne” from frequenting Oakland nightclubs and only ordering “top shelf” liquor.