Leave or Stay? African Americans are Disappearing from San Francisco

By Nico Sandoval

The middle and upper class African American population is quickly fleeing San Francisco and their migration has left only the lower-income classes to struggle with the high cost of living in this city. This ongoing issue was addressed in a panel event at the University of San Francisco two weeks ago. Panelists included African American USF professors, professionals, academics, and members of the Out-Migration Task Force.

The Out-Migration Task Force was commissioned by Mayor Gavin Newsom to produce a report and propose recommendations that would help combat the African American out-migration trend. The group came together in 2007 and concluded in 2009.

According to Rhonda Magee, USF law professor and Out-Migration Task Force member, African American out-migration has been a problem for over three decades. Between 1990 to 2005, people of the middle and upper classes have been leaving the city at a greater rate, resulting in a 30 percent population decrease in the African American community while the overall population increased during that time. African Americans currently make up only six percent of San Francisco’s population.

Magee said that part of the problem was that “it was the middle and upper income households that were leaving at a greater rate.” This created a disproportionate population of low and very low income households of the African American community in San Francisco. Between 1992 and 2002, the number of African American owned businesses fell by a quarter percent which also speaks to economic instability within the African American community.
The Task Force proposed several measures to keep African Americans in San Francisco, Propositions included providing affordable housing, employment and business opportunities, violence prevention, better police enforcement, building community relationships, and developing quality education for African American youth.

Malik Looper; owner of Looper Consulting, was born and raised in San Francisco. He elaborated on the housing and economic aspects of African American out-migration. He asserted that redevelopment in terms of building more projects is not the solution to the problem. Instead he suggested, creating truly affordable and tangible housing through federal and state funding. He emphasized the peril of the Bay View, Mission, and Hunter’s Point neighborhoods that have suffered due to the closing of the naval shipyards in 1974. The commercial ship yard was estimated to have employed more than 8,000 workers in Hunter’s Point during the mid-1950s according to the online newspaper Maritime Reporter. Looper pointed to the shipyard’s closing as the catalyst for African American out-migration and the dissolution of the African American community.

Reverend Malcolm Byrd of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church spoke about the dissolution of the African American community, gentrification, and how out-migration has affected his congregation. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is one of the three oldest African American institutions. The church was established in 1852 for those who migrated west rather than north. The church’s current 193-member population is a stark contrast to its 1,100 members in 1903.
Byrd also spoke regarding gentrification in the NOPA (North of the Pan Handle) area and the housing market. He said, “If black families cannot find a reason to stay, they leave.”

When asked why she has chosen to stay, the African American Professor Stephanie Sears said, “I remain in San Francisco because I’m stubborn and I refuse to be pushed out. I stay because I worked at Galileo High School for six years, worked with a program in Sunnydale for almost four years and I have connections to folks from those communities.” Sears added that she wants to be a part of the reversal of the out-migration of African Americans in San Francisco. According to N’Tanya Lee, former director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, African American children in San Francisco have the worst test scores of any other urban area. Fifty percent of African American children do not graduate from high school. Two of every eight individuals who do graduate are not eligible for the UC or CSU system.
She asserted that the A- G academic requirements “should not be a subjective decision” and that everyone has the right to be prepared. Lee’s proposed solution to the city’s flawed education system incudes transformative policy, transformative power, and the repeal of Proposition 13 which provides tax breaks for corporate business—funding that can be used toward improvement of the education system.
Malia Cohen, San Francisco County supervisor and former student of the city’s public school system, said, “Public policy is about developing relationships and allies.”

Bevan Dufty, was not present at the event but he is a mayoral candidate that has gained recognition for having a “Black agenda”. Through email, Dufty said, “We need to go and have a success plan for every school in our school system. There are unique things that schools in the southeast sector need and we need to build capacity among African American organizations.” He insisted that the low numbers of African Americans in San Francisco is an issue everybody in the city should care about.

He said, “I think we have a responsibility to build up black businesses because those are the businesses that are most likely to hire from the community.”
At a campus level, USF’s Multicultural Recruitment and Retention office works to promote the interest of African American and underrepresented minorities through programming and outreach. Organizations such as the Black Student Union, Sister Connection, Brother Connection, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated have also expressed their committed to promoting a space for African American students on campus.
Chantelle Duncan, president of Sister Connection said, “I am glad the whole event took place because I had no idea that this issue was going on in San Francisco.
I have been here three years so far, just for school, and when I am done, I do plan on leaving. Why? Because it really does cost too much to stay in San Francisco. I plan to continue my education at a different school and return to my own community in Sacramento eventually. The issue does break my heart because while I am here, this is my home.”

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