Finally. It only took 150 years, but at last a substantive, realistic, and responsible national plan for slavery reparations has been put forward.
Question is, will the purportedly liberal and benevolent San Francisco be a leader in this effort, or will it continue to enact policies that have forced an exodus of African American families, culture, and heritage from this city?
It is no longer time to seize the moment. The moment has been seized.
Last week, I attended the NAACP convention in Detroit, where we passed a viable measure that provides reparations to African Americans in the form of resources in the areas of housing, economic empowerment, funding for historically black colleges, and health care, including mental health. Rather than provide money to individuals, we felt the need for solutions that will ultimately end regressive systems created by a damaging history of enslavement and oppression.
It is a detrimental system that can be seen in plain view in San Francisco, a city that proclaims to fight for its vulnerable, but has instead pushed policies prompting black flight.
In droves, we moved here from the South during the 1940s to help build ships and other industrial-related goods for the WWII effort. After the war ended, we were passed over for what jobs remained from the massive industrial effort. Our neighborhoods were left in aimless economic desolation, with run-down housing and schools.
Rather than address the problems, city leaders worked to push them out of sight and mind. So-called “urban renewal” projects aiming to improve our neighborhoods encouraged gentrification and the closing of black businesses and cultural centers. While the African American population in San Francisco peaked at about 13.4 percent in 1970, by 2010 it was cut in half, even though the city grew. And our population continues to dwindle.
With a renewed national movement – and, most importantly, a substantive plan – in place to right the wrongs of a sordid historical injustice, San Francisco has an opportunity to be a leader in reversing its African American exodus.
In keeping with the NAACP resolution achieved in Detroit, here are some steps San Francisco can take to achieve successful reparations:
1. On education: A coalition of political, spiritual, and social betterment agencies must unite to identify and carry out collaborative, comprehensive remedial programs to help families catch up and move beyond abysmal low achievement.
2. On economic empowerment: A coalition of the city’s economic powers, including its high tech communities, must unite to identify and carry out solutions that ensure equal opportunity for African American workers and small businesses. That includes engaging with the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce to provide pathways for black contractors, entrepreneurs and technology gurus to receive a fair share of contracts and participation in our booming economy and tourism industry.
3. On housing: The city and county must strengthen its human rights commission to become a true watchdog ensuring African Americans can regain much-needed access to fair and affordable housing, particularly for those who have been, and are currently being, pushed out.
4. On heritage: The NAACP, faith community and allies are calling the city to do for the African American community what it did for the Asian community when it provided a space in the Civic Center for the Asian Art Museum. The city should also do the same for the Fillmore Heritage Center, ensuring the center becomes a watering hold for African American community members, a place to come together and celebrate their culture and history and to maintain the presence of the black community’s dwindling heritage in San Francisco.
5. On mental and physical health: We need to focus on providing comparative health systems to the African American community, in part through the San Francisco Department of Public Health and West Side Community Mental Health. Resources need to address black community members who are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome from violence, and from many other residual mental and physical effects that have resulted from a dark history of slavery and generations of discrimination. This has led to a long list of detrimental conditions, such as depression, asthma, diabetes and hypertension. The city’s highly funded and capable public and private health sectors must collaborate on programs promoting mental and physical treatment, wellness and nutrition, in order to cease the cycles that have negatively impacted multiple generations of African Americans.
The national conversation has begun. After the Detroit convention, it is apparent that it is not going away.
San Francisco is a city that prides itself on liberal ideologies that aim to empower and uplift the underserved. As aforementioned, we must put our money and political resources where our mouths are. The time to talk is over. The time to act is now.
The Rev. Amos Brown is a former San Francisco supervisor, pastor at Third Baptist Church of San Francisco and president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP.