Sun, 30 Dec 2012 17:01:00
All smiles, Breed is to be inaugurated as the new District 5 supervisor at City Hall in the South Light Court on Jan. 8. Photo by Mike Griffin.
Shaking hands, giving hugs, sharing smiles and hearing the latest family news, London Breed makes it a point to acknowledge everyone she sees. It is Tuesday at the African American Art and Culture Complex — AAACC — and the center is full of people gathering for a repast, youths preparing original music in the studio, or students receiving help with their homework; in short, a community is coming together.
Amidst the holiday greetings and day-to-day business of operating the AAACC, Breed accepts congratulations on winning the supervisor’s seat for District 5.
At the end of the year, Breed will leave the center and prepare for her new role as supervisor. For this young energetic woman, an oath to serve others is nothing new. A few minutes of conversation reveals her to be a person dedicated to the idea of community and to how each individual can make a difference. Serving as supervisor is one more way she can make that happen.
As a supervisor-elect, Breed is not new to being a leader, however. She served on the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, where she worked on the Transbay Terminal project and the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan, among others.
Breed became executive director at the AAACC in 2002, where she continued to make improvements where she was able to do so. From renovating to fundraising, her efforts have paid off — with the center providing more programs, offering case managers for youth and building up a stable source of funding.
“When I got here in 2002, my first order of business was to make this place what it should be for the community, with new equipment, renovations, new bathrooms, new façade color … and just really make it into an art space that we deserve that is respected and that is just beautiful. It’s become that space so I’m really proud of it,” Breed said.
Now the entire district will receive her attention, but it was a long road to the supervisorial seat — a road that couldn’t have been travelled without the support of others.
“We’ve been through a lot over the years, so it’s really gratifying — because they feel like one of them has succeeded, because we’ve all been through so much together as a community,” Breed commented, when asked about the amount of congratulations she’s received.
“And when given the opportunity, they really had my back and were out there doing what they had to do, and voting, getting other people to vote, knocking on doors … it was pretty amazing to not only see them work so hard, but really believe,” Breed asserted.
Despite being born and raised in the district, pundits did not give the executive director of the African American Arts and Culture Complex much of a chance in the competition — much less to win the position.
One local blog went as far to accuse her of “not knowing the district” after a mailer of Breed was released showing her with a group of predominately African American children.
Called an “election shocker,” Breed beat out a list of competitors including incumbent Christina Olague by ignoring the naysayers and relying upon the people.
“Throughout the campaign, I made a point to stay true to who I am as a person and not to pretend, not to sugarcoat, not be what people thought I should be to win in a district that they said I could never win in,” Breed explained. “So I just ignored the labels. I looked at the data and I talked to the people.”
As for the speculation of not understanding her district because of a photo, Breed said, “In cases like that, you can’t be everything everybody wants you to be.”
“I just look at people,” Breed said. “Whether they are white, black — I don’t really care about their color. It just happens that we are in the African American Arts and culture Complex, and the majority of the kids who use this space are African American and they live in the neighborhood. They live in a lot of public housing developments.
“And when you look at the data, the kids who are the most neediest kids in the district — unfortunately, you find that it’s primarily African Americans,” Breed added. “So I do know that the district is almost 70 percent white. I do know that the district has a large, new population of kids that are primarily white, and I do know that the needs of the community are not just the needs of the Western Addition, but they are also the needs of the entire district as a whole.”
Breed added, “I’ve had people on the campaign trail say, ‘Well, I can’t support you because...’— and that’s OK. You have to be OK with rejection too, because you know what? At the end of the day, I’m supervisor now, and I still have to be responsible to that constituent regardless of who they supported.” Among her top priorities for the district are job opportunities for youth and residents, public housing, creating opportunity awareness, and enabling people to take care of themselves. Breed believes that “none of this is reinventing the wheel,” but is an extension of having “programs that actually work.”
“Lives need to be helped year round,” Breed noted. “I’ve spent my life here dealing with a lot of the issues we’ve experienced. I see the difference when there’s consistent support.”
The importance of community is something Breed learned from a very young age.
“I think a lot of it,” Breed related, “has to do with watching my grandmother feed people and give them things — money, clothes. She was always the person … and we didn’t have much, so oftentimes I would say, ‘Momma, why are you giving them that?’ and she’d say ‘Shut up girl; go sit down somewhere’ — but she was always the person in the community that people could go to. She was really good to people, and I’ve seen examples of where people haven’t been good to people to know what being good to people really looks like.”
Breed hopes the district’s one-stop job center will be one avenue providing community support. She would like to see the center use a system similar to a case manager, resulting in people — especially youths — having someone checking in on them to offer assistance.
To believe everyone has the help she or he needs is an Achilles heel, in Breed’s opinion. “That’s why we continue to have these issues over and over again, because — you know, we’re not getting out there and communicating all of these services effectively to the public and make it easy for them to access them,” she stated.
“I know people think parents should be doing that; we all think that — but guess what? It takes a village, and parents are just not there. It’s just not happening; so let’s get with it and effectively spend our money and resources, or what-have-you in places where they will serve people effectively, so that we get people working. So we make sure people have access to affordable housing — and not just poor, low-income housing, but various affordable levels, so we can reestablish some sort of middle class in San Francisco.”
As a holder of public office, Breed understands that informing the community about resources is only half the deal and that people have to take advantage of the resources for them to work.
“Now whether they choose them or not, that’s a different story,” Breed emphasized. “But how do we effectively provide those services and support because the reality is, if you don’t have a job, you don’t care what anyone else has to say. The question is, ‘When are you going to get me a job?’ ‘What am I going to be doing?’ ‘When am I going to start?’”
Breed knows that income influences neighborhoods, communities, cities. As more people find jobs, better housing, and youth receive a quality education, Breed believes that District 5 will become the community “we all deserve.”
“There are a lot of different things, but I think jobs and housing will really change our district for the better,” Breed said. “Public safety, as it relates to crime would not be such a huge issue. We get the break-ins. We get the snatches. And sadly, [many of] the homicides are black boys who are killing other black boys and men — who sadly, are almost like family. And you know we have got to stop that cycle.”
With the improvements Breed hopes to achieve, she believes that more people will step into a leadership role to help transform their environment.
“I think about my life and growing up here and what I’ve experienced, and the loss … and I just think in a lot of ways I’m alone,” Breed stated. “Because even though there are still a lot of people here, in terms of doing what I’m doing, I just feel like there should be more people from this community able to do what I do. And I just miss a lot of people being here. Being here enjoying great opportunities because of what’s happened in the past, and I don’t want the next generation to grow up lonely, and I see that happening.”
Breed knows that creating opportunities is also one way to win this battle.
“People think I’m kidding when I say I grew up in public housing,” Breed divulged. “I have a brother — who if you want to listen to my voicemail messages — he’s always calling me collect, wanting money on his books. He’s in jail, unfortunately. I lost a sister to a drug overdose. And I don’t know who my biological father is. And I grew up right here amongst many of the people in that room right now. That’s who I am. It’s just that I was given a different opportunity. That’s the only difference. There were a lot of people that really had my back.”
Now Breed has the district’s back, and forward is the only direction she’s interested in going.