We came together with residents from Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, San Leandro and Emeryville to lift up and talk about the issues of the day in North Alameda County.
I am tremendously grateful for the partnership of the hundreds of people who have joined us in this work across the Bay Area. To do our work, we must be grounded in the voices and experiences of community, and we must harness our collective power to achieve greater opportunities for families and parents, for our kids and the future of the Bay Area we all love.
We think it’s important to listen and share more broadly what we are hearing in the VOICE sessions. I want to share with you what we heard in North Alameda County. There were consistent themes identified as opportunities to work together to come up with equitable solutions. Themes of affordable housing, gentrification and displacement, the inequities in our education system, how safety and sex trafficking is impacting the lives of our young people, and the need for much stronger systems and supports for young people to achieve their full potential were all lifted up.
There was also a clear call for deeper engagement between generations, and lifting up the youth voice, which we agree is critical to our work in community and is work that we will be continuing to build out over the coming months together.
We also heard tremendous pride in the incredible spirit and resiliency of the region as movement-centered, with a longstanding commitment to organizing and activism that just recently meant big wins for residents. Wins like the good jobs and community benefits agreement at the Oakland Army Base project, and a living wage increase that has sparked a regional response to build local economies that work for everyone.
What we heard was a clear call in working across sectors to do this work together, under a strong banner of equity for all in our region.
Collectively, these listening sessions are an important part of setting the course for our work at The San Francisco Foundation in the short and long term.
What began in Richmond a few months ago, meeting with community members throughout the five Bay Area Counties is only the beginning of our work in building a regional agenda with all of you, our partners across the nonprofit, public, and private sectors. To achieve this vision of shared prosperity for all in our region, we need everyone.
Each of the VOICE: Bay Area sessions are a critical part of setting our course as we define strategies and tactics to reach our north star: expanding opportunity in the region.
In addition to asking people to share stories in person, we’re also doing so virtually at bayareavoices.org where you can read and submit a story about your experiences of living, working, and playing in the Bay Area.
Thank you for all that you do in service to building pathways of opportunity and prosperity for all of our residents.
VOICE: Bay Area is a listening series taking place across the five Bay Area Counties, hosted by The San Francisco Foundation’s new CEO, Fred Blackwell, and his team to hear firsthand about the daily struggles, challenges, inspirations, and successes of residents as TSFF moves into the next decade of its work.
The topics of the day were discussed using the World Café method. This format brings participants together in groups of four to five for meaningful conversations around a specific set of questions, and participants' deep understanding of the issues facing the community, as well as creative thinking about how to address them. Participants had the opportunity to engage with many other attendees as part of the Café, both in small group conversations and as a whole. Below are the themes and deeper questions experienced in the small group conversations that participants shared with the larger group and a graphic recorder. A Café conversation is a creative process for leading collaborative dialogue, ensuring that everyone's voice is part of the conversation.
We asked participants, "If a friend was moving to this county, what would you tell them about its strengths and treasures and the hard stuff?"
Participants shared the following:
- Richness of immigrant culture, makes for vibrant energetic community and is that is growing in Oakland.
- Wonderful weather, naturesque, lots of beauty, very diverse, building Uptown is great, and arts culture is building.
- There is no other place like Oakland. Own flavor, lots of beautiful things happening here.
- Oakland is filled with people who choose to be in Oakland, and want to deal with issues and not run away from them.
- All of the organizing efforts going on here are incredible – what if all those organizations came together under one banner which says equity and describes what equity is and why, why, WHY is there such inequity and how how HOW do we change it?!
- People are paying as much for childcare as they are for their rent.
- Evictions, untenable rent increases, and programs unable to meet the demands of residents looking for affordable housing options.
- There are people who don’t have any chance to take advantage of the diversity of opportunity like the amazing food culture. I direct the food pantry, and while there’s so much great food around, there are people who are grateful simply for ground turkey once a month.
- Safety is a huge issue. For kids at high school, it is the biggest thing they are concerned about.
- Things are getting worse instead of better with all the prosperity around us. What’s frustrating is we do have the resources. We need to engage people so everyone prospers.
- Public education: while there are lots of strengths, there is also unevenness and inequities, and kids are spread all across town.
- Teachers in Oakland are the lowest paid in the Bay Area – that’s a problem.
- Foundations need to change their risk quotient and just deploy the money.
- Gentrification ends up being a simple discussion about a very complicated and nuanced discussion. We see this influx of folks coming from San Francisco, and they’re not coming over with an equity lens or a good attitude (mad about having to move out of San Francisco). They don’t care about traditions and culture of Oakland prior to them getting here – there’s not enough conversation in the middle.
- Political dysfunctions – we have yet to align our elected officials, foundations, organizations, etc. to solve problems that have been around forever, like safety.
- We’re still funding things that don’t work, and we don’t have money for things that need work. If we have the money we should at least try something different.
- Safety conversation has hung over Oakland like a dark cloud for decades, children growing up with a high level of trauma that will impact future generations.
- Youth lack of opportunity, coupled with safety and education issues. Opportunity to connect youth to jobs and opportunity within the tech industry tech industry – i.e. create opportunities for East Oakland youth to be trained and employed in these new positions.
- I'm a retired physician. The father of my grandchild was shot and killed in Oakland, #37 in 2014. He was trafficking women, in and out of jail. I say this despite the social activism I have had in my life this happened in my family. Police in neighborhood every day now, helicopters overhead – we call them ghetto birds.
We asked participants, "What have been the biggest changes (patterns, trends) you have seen in the last five years? Which changes are the most concerning to you? Which are most encouraging?"
Participants shared the following:
- Success of the living wage movement.
- There's a focus on income inequality in Oakland and the Bay Area, and a response is happening at the national level as well. Full of hope with energy around this, to redistribute wages and power. Until we can raise bottom wages, it’s hard to address other issues.
- The growing community garden movement is wonderful, a way of moving toward food equity.
- Communications and systems are changing very rapidly. The results are both positive and negative – where is the communication between families with all the technology. There’s so much information, but we need to use them better.
- Huge and growing demographic of seniors who are preparing to be on a fixed income for the next 30 years without resources to live.
- We talked about violence against women, particularly girls, and how much worse it has gotten along International Boulevard.
- Queer and trans youth are coming out without having role models and access to mixed programs and experiences for them.
- Unaccompanied minors and the need for trauma informed care and systems to support young people and communities.
- Loss of redevelopment at exactly the time when we most need it, with skyrocketing rents and housing costs at a time when the tech sector has gone through the roof. There’s so much money, yet so much poverty. Housing is the largest issue in that, and it is devastating. We need the tools to finance and reinvest in our communities. We need to not displace the communities that we love.
- Gentrification is happening in Oakland. People are being moved out to Antioch, Pittsburg, and Stockton without assistance or services.
- Displacement – the word is a sanitized way of saying destruction of communities. We can’t allow the language to shield that and hide the true lived experiences. Displacement is talking about people with deep roots who were not provided the support to stay here in our own community.
- Growing gap between rich and poor, ability to connect and also disconnect from the inequity that’s happening.
- We have to figure this out in a better way because we’re spending a lot of energy on things discussing what we shouldn’t even have to as far as taking care of people in the community.
- I’m a parent, I want the best opportunity and experiences for them, but are public schools the best choice for them? That’s a struggle.
- Where is the youth voice in the room? Need to hear from youth directly. Keep youth in these conversations and develop relationships. There’s a gap between adults and kids, grandparents and youth, they can’t keep up with each other.
- Graduation rates are increasing and drop out rates are decreasing. We need to pay attention and look beyond statistics because we still have a lot of kids that dropped out and are pushed out that don’t get counted.
- How are we preparing young people for the world they are graduating from high school when college is not affordable and accessible for everyone. We need more supports and opportunities to prepare young people earlier in their education.
- This is the second tech boom, let's learn from the first. We are a movement-building town. Let’s build one of tech building in, helping us keep community together and also safe, of local hires, local youth, teaching programs.
- The privatization of transportation and housing. I am amazed at how many houses within a one-block radius of me are on AirBnB. There’s a lot of grey area where in some ways, we are all implicated in the privatization of transportation and housing.
We asked residents, "From what you've heard today, what bold steps or new opportunities do you feel might make a difference in your community?"
Participants shared that:
- To accomplish the things we are talking about requires an intentional policy framework, and sustained political will, created by organizing the most effected communities who can advocate on their own behalf in their own interests.
- To build an equal community we have to desegregate our education system.
- We need to model safety in every single meeting. Hundreds of ways to bring that into our meetings. If we don't model it, we're just the people who talk about it.
- We talked about sex trafficking issue, young girls on our streets – what is the bold solution to that very important issue that concerns all of us. In returning to tech, let’s apply existing technology to solve problems. There's an app called SeeClickFix where you can report problems like potholes and overflowing garbage cans. Can we use that technology to catch Johns in the act, and would that be enough to charge them? Let’s do that.
- Youth must be involved and heard. Choice of schools, my child is in private school in San Francisco. We shouldn't have to do that here in Oakland, we should have good public schools here. There's opportunity out there we can't give kids because of lack of funding.
- We need trauma-informed systems.
- We need a thriving local economy. We need to benefit from the area. Use innovation mind set to solve job and housing crisis. We need private sector to particular in solving problems, not creating them.
Throughout the day, there were a number of ways for participants to share with each other and TSFF. One of those included an opportunity at the end to share one message that they wanted The San Francisco Foundation to hear that they hadn't yet had the opportunity to share.
On a big board with post-it notes, participants shared a number of reflections and messages with The San Francisco Foundation.
Below are some of the notes that were shared with us:
- Support power-building strategies like organizing and coalition-building in order to advance policy change and to change how our communities and government work.
- Support for organizing, leadership development and community-driven solutions.
- Equity has to be a conversation across class not just among ourselves.
- Change the way we invest. We can't case manage our way out of poverty.
- Need true investment in organizing/leadership development to get political will to get systems change to address root causes.
- Increase democratic participation of working families!
- Stop the exodus of African Americans in Oakland.
- A community center for black people.
- Bring new comers (tech and more) and longer-term residents together to figure out what kind of community we want.
- Support opportunities for people to expand our sense of "us," experiencing our ability to communicate, empathize and act across lines of perceived difference.
- Elimination of felony disclosure on job applications would help ensure opportunities for those with history of incarceration.
- There needs to be city government to intervene on housing, i.e. close affordable housing loopholes, rent control, etc.
- Community coordination: bringing what is great from each community together.
- Break down the silos that keep us unsafe.
- Currently, if a minor is raped, the rapist can serve five years to life. If they give that minor money, they will serve 48 hours to two years. This is reflective of the way our society feels and values. Children should be loved, cared for, and given a chance to succeed!
- Youth voice is necessary!
- Make decisions as though all kids are "our kids."
- Have a similar conversation with youth in our schools.
- Leadership development program for high school students on public service, public policy, and scholarships to higher education programs in the field.
- Broaden the local living economy movement to include housing, education, and workforce development. "Small is beautiful."
- Education for girls and boys on sexual harassment (need it as a school requirement).
- An education system that meets all needs.
- We need more support for gender-responsive services including funding for girls-only programs, support for queer and trans youth, programs that are not school-based, youth workers with cultural competency.
- Workplace-based childcare.
- Living wages for everyone.
- Seniors need to age in place.
- Grow the community land trust movement in the Bay Area.
- Post redevelopment there is no neighborhood government and planning structure. We need this.
- Need capital fund to purchase and control land for community benefit.
- Corporations = the new slavery.
- Inform and challenge the ruling class.
- Multi-sector solutions to the issues we're facing (housing, etc.).
- Work together to turn blighted vacant properties and hotels used for sex trafficking into supportive affordable housing.
- Partnership with tech industry for training and internship programs for Bay Area residents.
- Use technology to get beyond community benefits by crowd sourcing investments to build wealth in low income communities.