Barbara Gunner - Extending The Olive Branch

Barbara Gunner - Extending The Olive Branch
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MONICA BELANDRES-ROOT
One woman’s journey leads to community healing.

When I sat down to talk to Barbara Gunner, her warm smile and words greeted me. While she sits on an acre of land in a 5,000 square foot house with the best view in San Diego, she is the most humble, successful woman I have met. For many African American San Diegans, the military is often why their families call San Diego home. While this is true for entrepreneur and real estate investor Gunner, her story is not your typical military story.

Although Gunner has lived in San Diego for 53 years, becoming a long-time resident of San Diego was not her original plan. She came to San Diego to help her military cousin with her newborn child. When Gunner arrived, she was not fond of San Diego. “I was ready to leave (San Diego). It was so country. When I got here, I think the El Cortez was the largest building down there (Downtown). Just leaving Detroit, it wasn’t for me.” But as fate would sprinkle its magic, something changed Gunner’s mind.

“I was in a record shop one day, and the kid’s dad came in. We started talking, and then he got my phone number. We started to date, and then we got married.” After they married in 1969, Louis Lake and Gunner built a family and several successful businesses. Lake is best known for bringing the Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton fight to San Diego. Gunner shared exciting information about that fight and how they were able to achieve such a lofty accomplishment. She shared that this was Mr. Lakes’ idea.

“We promoted that Muhammad Ali fight… They thought Ken Norton was a nobody. Lou sent him some pictures of him boxing, fighting some nobody. But Ken fought in the Marines. Ali thought he was coming, and he had it made.” As most boxing fans remember, Ali suffered his second professional loss to Norton on March 31, 1973.
While the two had an agreement for a series of 3 fights with Ali, a business deal gone awry kept the deal from Gunner and Lake. Undeterred by the sometimes unrighteousness of business deals, they went on to open up several nightclubs. The entrepreneurial bug bit Gunner when married to Lake. When their marriage ended after 14 years, they split everything equally, remained friends, and co-parented their four children. As a result, Gunner continued her professional career and ventured off to new entrepreneurial pursuits.

“I continued to dabble in real estate and went to work for a program called Model Ex-Offenders. I ended up marrying the guy that owned the program. He wrote contracts in the military. He knew how to write contracts, and he was the first one to get the work furlough here in San Diego. He gave me one of the programs. That’s the program which I still have (National Crossroads),” Gunner explained.

“I'm tired. I quit; I'm tired.”

National Crossroads, a nonprofit, works with women who are transitioning from prison back into society. “When we first started, they were still in prison, and they hadn’t gone on parole. When the jails got so crowded, they started letting them out earlier. We’ve got one lady there that’s been there six years, and one just left; she had been there seven years. She was an alcoholic when she came. They are afraid to leave. Hazel said, ‘I’m not going anywhere.’”

Gunner also shared the story of a woman who came to National Crossroads after more than 50 years of heroin usage. “One lady was on heroin. She was in her 50s. She had been doing it since she was in high school. She had been through every kind of program everywhere. Finally, when she was ready, her arms were like railroad tracks. She’d shot heroin every kind of way she could shoot it. She said, ‘I’m tired. I quit; I’m tired.’ She stayed there, and she started doing well, and she got a job at Ralphs in the meat department, and now she manages the whole meat department.”

Gunner does not take sole credit for the success of her 35-year-old business. She highlighted Dr. Gwendolyn Taylor, a licensed psychiatrist who has been with National Crossroads for 23 years. Today her daughter Leslie Lake is the Director, and her daughter Lisa Lake is involved in the administration. She also emphasized the support of her accomplished husband, retired Navy Chief and Criminal Attorney Roy Gunner. She lovingly smiled as she mentioned her appreciation for his legal advice and support over the years.

She explained that while San Diego has been “pretty good” to her as an entrepreneur, it hasn’t always been easy. She sites the systemic racism she has encountered over the years. “One time, they (county government) took a contract from me, and I lost a couple of million dollars. They took it from me because they could. They took a program from me and gave it to a lady that wasn’t even in the area. But that’s the game they play. But we are still here. God is good all the time.”
With a smile on her face and no bitterness in her heart, Gunner agreed that weathering the storms is the bottom line to entrepreneurship. This strong Black woman has been conquering personal and professional storms all of her life. From her birth to grade school to the loss of her eldest grandchild, Gunner has proven to be an overcomer. “I was born in Detroit. I was born with a chemical imbalance. My learning ability was zero. I couldn’t read well, couldn’t write well. Later in life, I would wonder why so many crazy things would happen to me. I was diagnosed as bipolar. I dealt with a lot of mental challenges. Through all of that, I survived it, “ Gunner shared.

Perhaps it is her story that led her to become the owner of National Crossroads. She grew up educationally challenged, undiagnosed for bipolar disorder, suffered severe depression, and felt abandoned by her father. Remnants of her story are echoed in many of those she and her staff serve. Her compassion for people who have mental illness has compelled her to continue to champion the causes that women who end up in prison suffer. Her ability to overcome allows her to continue to extend the olive branch to women transitioning from jail through her program.

NCR Services

National Crossroads (NCR) is a job readiness/job referral service for women on parole that offers many services to help women to integrate back into the community. Participants at NCR are able to access mental health services, substance abuse treatment, HIV awareness classes, cognitive life skills, job-readiness, family reunification, resume writing, parenting, anger management and education services. Modalities of treatment include cognitive behavioral therapy, relational, pathway, trauma and addiction theories.

Support Offerings
National Crossroads is concerned about complete lifestyle change and strives to direct participants in the right direction to ensure success. After completion of their six-month stay at National Crossroads, the programming does not end. Also offered is:
  • Alumni Groups
  • Assistance With Family Reunification
  • Outside Referrals
  • Extended Living/Sober Living Housing
FB @Nationalcrossroads  |  nationalcrossroads.org

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