When I was kid growing up in Oakland, I spent a lot of time riding my bicycle around town. I was able to see my community in really different ways. I saw how people of different races who lived so close to each other seemed to have such different lives. I always wondered about why some neighborhoods had grocery stores, amenities, green lawns, and a safe environment, while others didn’t. Needless to say, the neighborhoods with the fewest advantages were invariably neighborhoods where people of color lived. I’ve been thinking about those bike rides a lot lately as The San Francisco Foundation announces its strategy to advance racial and economic inclusion in the Bay Area.
The fact is that where you live has implications across your lifespan. For example, a child born in Piedmont will live seven years longer than a child born just miles away in the Oakland flatlands. Across the country, the wealthiest one percent of men live nearly 15 years longer than the poorest one percent. Given that the income gap between San Francisco’s rich and poor is growing faster than in any other city in the nation, we have much to be concerned about on so many levels.
I have seen gaps in access to opportunity in other ways. As a product of Oakland schools, I often found myself in classrooms with fellow students who had extraordinary promise – they were bright, vibrant, and had interest and passion in the world around them, but they didn’t have the same kind of opportunities that I did. Many of those people did not get the chance to deliver on their promise. Some are now struggling in low-paying jobs, and others lost their way and are in jail. Some even lost their lives.
These kinds of outcomes are not acceptable. We need to make sure that everybody has the chance to be a part of the prosperity of our region, regardless of their race or what neighborhood they grew up in. Our challenge as a society is to ensure that everyone has a chance to succeed. This is not just a moral imperative, but it’s also an economic necessity. Our region cannot afford to continue to leave so many behind if we hope to achieve sustainable growth and prosperity.
Read more about our new approach and hear from Judith Bell, Vice President of Programs, about our path to achieving racial and economic inclusion in the Bay Area through People, Place, and Power.
At the center of this is the need for greater racial and economic inclusion to add to the vast array of assets our region has to offer. The Bay Area needs to come together and commit to an ambitious agenda to help bring transformative change to disrupt the trajectory of inequality. Across the region, we need to ensure that everyone has a chance to get a good job, live in a safe and affordable home, has a strong voice, and can live in a community that provides real access to opportunity.
The good news is that we are not on an inexorable path to a two-tiered, two-class society. People want to contribute to a stronger and better community. We will need their commitment in order to deliver equity for all residents of the region. Of course there is frustration, concern, and fear, but there is also an enormous amount of goodwill – and, dare I say – hope. We just need to tap into it.
While it is not too late, changing the current course is an all-hands-on-deck endeavor. We know how hard it will be to tackle the issues of race, class, and a lack of opportunity, but with the world-class innovations and historical social movements that have transformed this region, we believe we can make a big difference. We need to proceed with thoughtfulness, and with urgency.
This is why The San Francisco Foundation is announcing today that it is committing its activities and its grantmaking to take on the issues of racial and economic equity. In many ways this is an important next step of the work we have been doing for many years. Indeed, the Foundation was created in 1948, with goals to “improve the quality of life, promote greater equality of opportunity, and assist those in need or at risk in the San Francisco Bay Area”. That mission has never been more important than it is today.
I should be very clear that this focus adds to the many ways that we partner with our donors to achieve their philanthropic goals. We will continue to work with our donors to make a meaningful difference on the issues that they care about most, and we will offer opportunities for partnership if they want to join with us in advancing racial and economic equity throughout the region. We will also continue to promote philanthropy in our region and support our donors’ leadership.
We have no intention of doing this alone. We understand that while our foundation’s resources can make a big difference if used wisely, the scope of the challenge is much larger than one foundation can take on. We look to our elected officials, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and leaders in our communities across the region to provide leadership and ideas. We hope to use our unique position to reach across sectors to bring about profound change in the region. We also know that we are just getting started, and we will look to our partners for inspiration and information. We look forward to learning with you and from you.
I like to think of today’s announcement as the beginning of a road trip. We have a sense of the goal – greater racial and economic equity – but we’re not exactly sure how we’re going to get there. We will kick off the road trip with some initial steps in key areas that we identified after a year-long process with our grantees and different stakeholders and leaders from across the region. Looking ahead, we will hold a series of community forums across the region designed to learn more about how we can work together to expand our regional agenda to ensure racial and economic equity for everyone. We know this will be a continuous learning experience, but one with a very clear goal – to make the Bay Area a place that offers true opportunity for everybody.
We hope that you’ll join us.