In December 2014, we kicked off the first of seven listening sessions throughout the Bay Area in West Contra Costa, joining with residents, community leaders and public officials from Richmond, San Pablo, Martinez, Pinole, Hercules, El Cerrito and more. We were heartened by the large turn-out, the energy that filled the room, and the conversations that unfolded as we gathered together to dig into the lived experiences and stories of the families and children who live, work, and play in the region; to dig into the hard truths of how for far too many, opportunity for a great life feels out of reach, and a zip code defines too many aspects of our families’ futures.
There were several themes that ran throughout the day, including that there are many assets and strong building blocks for positive community change. We heard a consistent refrain that children and their families should be at the center of any effective and long lasting efforts. We heard that partnerships were essential in achieving our collective goals. We heard that jobs, affordable housing, a great education, and programs for youth are top of mind.
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. For our work to be effective, it must be grounded in community, in the voices and lived experiences of the residents. We look forward to our ongoing partnership with you, for the many conversations to come, and the work that we will do together to build a more equitable region.
Below you'll find more information about what was shared with us at VOICE: West Contra Costa County. We also encourage you to check out more photos and notes, and visit bayareavoices.org, where you can continue to #ShareYourVoice with us online by submitting a story about your personal experience living and working in the Bay Area.
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 were moving to this part of the county, what would you tell them about its strengths and treasures and the hard stuff?"
Participants shared the following:
- Richmond is a very familial community, and a lot of people that live here grew up here. Their parents are from here, their grandparents grew up here. Capitalize on that by connecting our elders with our young people, to have a truly inter-generational community that’s helping each other.
- Cultural familiarity of family, connection, relationship, and love of land is held by many families, as well as preserving that land and green spaces.
- Richmond has the most incredibly resilient people with solutions. Important to build on that leadership, collective ownership, and what’s already the best for Richmond, which is the people. Richmond is having a renaissance - it's making a comeback, getting safer and has progressive supervisors, community incubators, people who are environmentally active, a chief of police activist, and youth advocacy.
- Active residents, health in all policies, community-based organizations, receptive policy makers, people willing to take chances and learn, we can talk and acknowledge race and equity issues.
- There's a strong history and legacy.
- A poor economic development plan is at the root of many local problems. It's about addressing some of the root causes and civic problems in our county; it's about jobs, jobs, jobs.
- Need more workforce development and job training programs in the region that meet people where they are and are located in multiple neighborhoods and communities to reach people directly. Transportation can be a barrier to youth accessing opportunities.
- Gentrification is changing Richmond, as many families move the the east part of Contra Costa County, where unemployment rates may be higher and cultural relevancy and competency may not be as sophisticated. How do we keep people from being displaced?
- The community in West Contra Costa County is underfunded; we need to mobilize our own resources in addition to looking outside.
- The West Contra Costa Unified School District is not modernizing as quickly as other school districts including new curriculum and ideas, and students are emerging less prepared because of it.
- Affordable housing is a need; specifically housing for people whose income is below the poverty line. People may be fully employed, but they're making low wages or minimum wage, and it's not possible to live on a minimum wage.
- Access to quality grocery stores is not evenly distributed throughout the county.
- There are gaps in the way information is shared in addition to other disparities.
- There's still progress to be made on inclusion of the LGBTQI community in Richmond.
- We have a beautiful environment, but the air is not always the cleanest, so for example, our children inhale a lot of toxins, and that can inhibit their ability to learn. Greenways, pedestrian ways, bike ways, better public transit needs to be talked about in making neighborhoods safe and walkable.
- West Contra Costa County suffers from an image problem, despite great things happening in the area.
Next we asked participants, "What have been the biggest changes you have seen in the last five years? Which changes are most concerning to you? Which are most encouraging?"
Participants shared the following:
Jobs and Economic Development
- The area can really benefit from a comprehensive community-based economic plan that doesn’t depend on one single industry to trickle down economics to the families and community members in the city but rather be a plan that actually raises up those people. The vision and work needs to come from cities to implement a comprehensive economic development plan that’s community-based.
- People of color are not in Silicon Valley; we need to get our young people in that field.
- The passage of Prop 47 is a new moment for the community, and creates an opportunity to ensure that formerly incarcerated people in the community get opportunities for job skills to make their transition smooth, and to strengthen families.
- Crime has been significantly reduced – there has been a 73% decrease in homicides in Richmond since 2007. We have to keep doing what we’re doing and do more. Keep with the economic development, keep supporting and helping with funding for great, small businesses like Rich City Rides. Keeping the same direction, and making a commitment to go deeper.
Housing and Healthy Neighborhoods
- In the last five years, Richmond has really thrived. New leaders have come in, the economy is moving again, but with that has come community change. Gentrification is setting in and more longterm residents are moving out to the eastern part of the county.
- When we are able to have children grow up in a community where they can walk to school, we’re addressing every issue: we’re addressing every familial issue, health issue, safety issue. The violence issue can be addressed and violence prevention – it’s there, and to see parents, black and brown, come together, because we all want to work together in schools – it’s where it’s at. We can think harder about how we all can be at the schools.
New Collaborations and Services
- There's collaboration that’s happening that is really helping, but we also need to change the narrative on a large scale.
- Technology is so powerful in the area, but it's hard to take advantage of what’s going on in Silicon Valley. There is a need for a company that is interactive with family in this area so instead of being the problem, technology becomes a solution by bridging the gap. For example, what if counseling where part of the games and Ipads and technology?
- There are more elderly and disabled people living in West Contra Costa County than ever before, but the resources devoted to serving folks are diminishing, and there's a need for more advocacy and direct service organizations.
We asked participants, "From what you've heard today, what bold steps and new opportunities do you feel might make a difference in your community?"
Participants shared that:
- Must create more intentional capacity to understand the complex systems and powers at work in West Contra Costa County and the region at large and disseminate that information.
- Training government officials and community members on racial equity has worked before, and they could work in Richmond.
- Stabilize neighborhoods and prevent further gentrification through renter retention and rent control.
- Clean up politics by having public financing of elections.
- Repeal Prop 13.
- Revitalize the neighborhood council system to encourage participation in government at a local level.
- Seed the new economy and that includes things like worker owned co-ops.
- Need to change the narrative about Richmond and how media covers the city, i.e. doesn't talk about the positives and strengths of the city.
- Need for training and more discussion around political engagement for faith-based communities of color.
- The more self-sufficient the community is, the better. This includes growing food close to home and riding bikes instead of driving.
- Involve youth in community planning, and they will take ownership of what is built.
- Rebuild and redesign parks, invest in the people in the community by hiring residents to staff the parks, and create a high quality space for people to come together.
- Violence prevention is more than community policing and that there have been great strides in Richmond – it's time to build on that success and increase communication and collaboration among all of the agencies that are working on preventing violence, as well as allocate of funds more broadly to be effective.
- LGBT community is finding its voice, developing leadership, and stronger partnerships with groups in the region, like a current project that is happening with the Native American Health Center. More can be done with organizations in the room and beyond.
- Residents need a larger conversation about race and racism in Richmond to move forward with other improvements. As the shoreline is being developed, it's critical to ask who it's being developed for to prevent displacement and ensure that a better Richmond is for the children and families who currently live in Richmond.
- Chemicals in the community need to go. Residents didn't vote to have Chevron there – accountability is needed.
- Fund the public health department to test for toxins in the body; data that cannot be ignored while formulating policy decisions and new ways of thinking.
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.
Want to see more notes? Click here.
Below are some of the notes that were shared with us:
- Can foundations take on the role of helping community based organizations and progressive leaders understand systems they work in, in order to find points of influence and to set up mechanisms for initiatives that will bring positive change for our most underserved communities and our most vulnerable populations? Your ability to facilitate/mediate collaboration between large systems and CBOs along with support to build capacity for large systems to be responsive and build proceeds and procedures to make change in real time is needed as much as possible.
- More agency collaboration to avoid gaps in services; more organizing; more civic engagement.
- Comprehensive economic development plan; encourage systems thinking and strategic planning on all scales: school, government, community organizations and neighborhood council.
- Support resident leaders to gain upward mobility and lead their community.
- Trauma informed care is necessary.
- We need to elevate youth voice and value young people.
- Addressing structural racism at all levels.
- There’s no accountability in our schools, community leaders, city government. Invest in the residents, in the kids, teens and seniors and make sure that once things are better, that the people who made the changes get to enjoy them instead of pushing us out so that people with more money can move in.
- Activities that bring seniors into full participation/mentorships.
- Support youth training and civic engagement programs.
- Retain leaders in our community. Those who work and live here are the true change makers.
- We need help mobilizing our own resources, scaling up what works, making organizations and programs sustainable
- More resources for refugee communities to be a part of society (i.e. Lao, Burmese, etc.).
- Multigenerational housing that mixes seniors, families with children and the whole community.
- Women’s issues are family issues → community building.
- The SFF needs a higher profile, more visibility, in Contra Costa County. Too often have been a funding “after thought.”
- Foundations should take a more personal approach to supporting organizations. Serve on boards and committees. Consider long-term giving for more than 1-2 years.
- Commitment to long-term thinking, funding and planning; particularly for community development programs.
- Giving fund support and safety net support are absolutely essential. Please please keep doing that!
- Support collaborations built around collective impact models. Provide professional development opportunities for members of these groups to thrive.
- Thanks for facilitating this great conversation!
We also asked participants to fill out evaluation surveys of the event – here are some additional suggestions and comments we received:
- Appreciate the foundation coming together this way!
- Great conversations and ideas in group interactions.
- Excellent opportunity to meet with members of community who are working to make Richmond better!