Sunday, December 4, 2011

2011-12-04 "The quiet exodus of African Americans from S.F." by John Diaz from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Two years ago, the Mayor's Task Force on African American out-migration painted a grim portrait of the disappearance of a black middle class from San Francisco. It was chock full of statistics - on dropout rates, on income and poverty, on incarceration levels - that documented the dire plight of many of the 46,779 African Americans who remained in the city. The 31-page report was packed with myriad recommendations and a sense of urgency. So what became of it?
"Nothing has been done. Zero," said the Rev. Amos Brown, a former city supervisor and a member of that task force.
"We're still losing ground," said Fred Jordan, also a task force member and president of the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce. "Our businesses are gone, we're trying to hold on to the ones we have left."
The 2010 census corroborates the contention of prominent African American leaders that the three-decade exodus of blacks from San Francisco is continuing. The migration of African Americans to the suburbs generally is neither unusual nor a cause for alarm: A recent Brookings analysis of metropolitan-area population shifts in the 2000s showed that "black flight" from major cities was occurring across the nation, often driven by decidedly positive factors. African American families have been gaining affluence and options. Housing discrimination, institutional and informal, has been fading. The suburbs have been growing more diverse and less isolating to minorities who moved there.
"What is going on in San Francisco," said Corey Cook, a University of San Francisco political science professor, "is unique and it is acute."
It is also more than a bit ironic in a city that prides itself on tolerance and appreciation of diversity in all forms.
"What is happening in San Francisco, this bastion of progressivism?" asked James McCray Jr., director of the Tabernacle Community Development Corp.
"The flip side of this out-migration issue is: Why is there no in-migration?" McCray continued. "Why are there no African Americans or Latinos coming here to contribute to this great city?"
McCray hit on the point that most strikingly distinguishes San Francisco from other major cities - and one that received only secondary attention from the 2009 task force report, which focused on the need to keep its existing residents. It is the lack of newly arriving African Americans, as much as the out-migration trend, that has resulted in the black population decline from a 1970 peak of 13.4 percent of city residents to just 6.1 percent in the 2010 census.
"We are bereft of an African American middle class here ... They're gone," said the Rev. Edgar E. Boyd of the Bethel A.M.E. Church.
The 2009 task force report, the result of a two-year effort, laid out the numbers. One out of 4 African Americans in San Francisco lived in poverty. Blacks accounted for nearly half of all public housing spots. African Americans were far more likely than the population at large to become "victims of crime and criminalization." One out of 7 had been arrested for a felony. One in 4 residents over the age of 25 were high school graduates.
Any improvements from that 2009 report have been modest at best. The Board of Education and Superintendent Carlos Garcia have made closure of the "achievement gap" a top priority - and it has narrowed slightly - but the last test scores showed just 31.5 percent of African American students were at grade-level proficiency in English. That compares with 57 percent overall.
"Until we close the gap - shame on us," Garcia told The Chronicle when those scores came out in August.
At least the schools were required to maintain a scorecard. What bothered many of the African American leaders who met with our editorial board last week was the lack of City Hall follow-up to the task force convened by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Sophie Maxwell. Newsom has gone on to the state Capitol as lieutenant governor. Maxwell has been termed out.
Who, if anyone, will see that the promises of a city commitment will be kept, the community representatives wondered.
Task force recommendations ranged from funding and regulatory schemes to increase homeownership to preschool programs in low-income neighborhoods to targeted crime-fighting strategies and career training and business development efforts tailored for African Americans.
"Most people don't know about the report - it's buried, it's filed away," said Leona Bridges, a director of the Municipal Transportation Agency. "Any good strategic plan needs benchmarks. It needs follow-through and accountability."
Newsom said his administration did track efforts on the task-force recommendations, and a report just before he left office showed "substantial progress in every category" - including education, environmental stewardship and economic development.
"To be candid, I'm surprised by their comments," Newsom said of the critics.
Still, if they are not seeing the effects in their neighborhoods - and San Francisco's black population continues to decline, as it has - then City Hall obviously has more work to do.

Growth and decline of the black population in San Francisco
Source: Report of the San Francisco Mayor's Task Force on African American Out-Migration, 2009. [http://]
* 1910 -1,642 (0.4% of residents)
* 1940 - 4,846
* 1950 - 43,000 (5.6% of residents) World War II surge in military-related jobs brought a large migration of blacks from the rural South and Midwest.
* 1970 - 88,000 (13.4% of residents) Peak of African American population in the city; cultural, social and economic hubs thrive in the Fillmore and Bayview.
* 1990 - 78,989
* 2010 - 48,870 (6.1% of residents)

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