Letter from the President: So Love Can Win

Our community is hurting deeply and profoundly from our recent loss of two Black women, Nia Wilson and Jessica St. Louis. We extend our deepest condolences to their families during this difficult time. In the wake of these tragedies, we must recommit ourselves to dismantling the racial injustice—both structural and individual —that remains a shameful stain on our community and the nation.

Let’s be clear: Black women’s bodies, minds, and lives have been under attack since the first slave ship landed in Virginia in the 1600s. I was reminded of this recently by a groundbreaking report on Adultification by Georgetown’s Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, titled “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood”. It found that adults view Black girls ages 5-14 as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, and perceive that Black girls require less protection.

Thus, suspected and not protected, Black women in America today face a staggering list of challenges:  blatant discrimination, over-incarceration, inequity in jobs and pay, harsher sentencing and discipline in schools, misrepresentation in the media, and violence of epidemic proportions.

Some believe that the Bay Area is somehow safer, a “bubble” because of our diversity and our long history of activism on equity and justice, but reality suggests otherwise. A new study supported by Akonadi Foundation assigned our hometown the lowest possible score on a number of key “equity indicators,” and the report’s lowest-scoring “theme” was public safety. Among the statistics: African Americans in Oakland die from homicide at a rate of 55.7 per 100,000 people, compared to a rate for whites of 3.4 per 100,000.

The bottom line: Whether in Oakland or Alabama or Washington, DC, we are immersed in an inequitable system that, with often devastating effects, devalues people of color. Whether implicit or explicit, racism, sexism, and prejudice are on the rise. Our national government, and many local governments as well are adopting new policies on immigration, voting rights, and other issues that clearly target people of color. Racists and misogynists are crawling out of their holes to wreak havoc in our communities and our society because they’ve received the message that doing so is now acceptable. And meanwhile, in Oakland as in many other cities, the combination of sky-high housing costs, low wages, and yawning racial disparities continue to limit the hopes, dreams, and opportunities of communities of color.

Many young women tell me they feel besieged and uniquely vulnerable, frightened for our communities, our mothers, our daughters, and our friends. In this moment of discord, we must contemplate why our community and our country continue to be so hazardous for people of color, especially Black women. Yet, amid a hostile political climate and toxic racial discourse, our community continues to respond to demands for activism around attacks on people of color, immigrants, women, trans, and queer folk. The time is now to advance community-rooted solutions that promote safety and healing in communities of color.

To engage in long-term systems change, our communities must be emotionally and spiritually fortified and must feel safe. That is why, in response to this critical moment, to spark imagination and seed new ways of advancing safety and healing in Oakland we are re-opening the #SoLoveCanWin Community Response Fund. The projects supported through So Love Can Win create new spaces for connection, build culturally relevant self-care and community-care practices, and bring an intergenerational frame to sustaining healing and safety in Oakland’s communities of color. The attack on the Wilson sisters, the utterly preventable death of Jessica St. Louis, and the current climate in Oakland are forcing us to think more deeply about what it truly takes to eliminate structural racism. Now is the time to redouble our efforts. That this is my life’s work is clearer to me now than it has ever been, and my commitment has never been stronger to stand shoulder to shoulder with communities, and with the organizations on the front line, until structural racism is dismantled.

In solidarity,

Lateefah Simon