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Black Lives Matter. AAPI lives matter. I’m not sure if these are controversial statements in Berkeley, especially within our community of progressive-minded thinkers and designers. But that doesn’t mean that people of color have equal treatment in Berkeley. Or that our design community is as diverse as our population. Our role is to build a more perfect world. We can do better.

I’ve seen a lot of wonderful letters from editors, and brilliant resource lists for people to get engaged in the protests, and to educate themselves on the issues.
I’ve been glad to have so many informed leaders ready to show us the way.
I’ve been taking a back seat, feeling that others are more involved, more educated, more up to speed on these issues. After all, I’ve personally chosen localism and sustainability to be my top priorities. Racial justice is not my chosen cause, or area of expertise.
But recently I recognized what a privilege that is. I have the freedom to choose my causes, since my life is not on the line. Many others don’t have that luxury. I will be more proactive.

I’ve been struck by another message and common protest sign. WHITE SILENCE = VIOLENCE.
We can’t leave this responsibility to the people of color among us to change society. Or those activists with degrees in racial identity and political science. If we sit in our beautiful offices and assume others will take up this mantle, we will end up disappointed that those in power didn’t change things the way we'd hoped. Again.
It doesn’t matter if you are the most informed, or if you feel fully ready yet. Just show up. Expect that you’ll do or say something wrong. That’s okay, we are all doing the best we can from where we are. Take any criticism as a way to improve. We are all imperfect, but getting better all the time.

I encourage you to jump in with a sense of urgency, as if the lives of your friends and community members depend upon it. Because as we’ve seen, it does.

Lawrence Grown
WBDL Executive Director
West Berkeley Design Loop

by Mayor Arreguin 

To Commemorate Black History Month,

We Take a Look Back at the Past 70 years of African American History in Berkeley.

World War II brings influx of African Americans in the Age of Redlining


Many of Berkeley’s neighborhoods were shaped by the legacy of redlining. Following the San Francisco earthquake in 1908, as development in the East Bay exploded, many of Berkeley’s more exclusive areas were subdivided and the properties in these developments were restricted to people of European descent. Some clearly stated that any owners had to be “white”. As part of the New Deal in 1933, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, created color-coded maps that designated the risk of lending money to homeowners. 


Neighborhoods that were majority people of color were marked red, the highest risk, even if those neighborhoods were financially sound. As a result, African Americans and other people of color were restricted to living in West and South Berkeley.


The population of Berkeley skyrocketed during World War II due to plentiful jobs that supported the war effort. A temporary military base, Camp Ashby, was created in Berkeley and was home to the 779th Military Police Battalion, composed entirely of African American troops. In the 1940 Census, Berkeley’s population was 85,547, of which 4% were African American. In the 1950 Census, the population jumped to 113,805, of which 11.7% were African American, or an increase of around 10,000. 

Berkeley Leads Desegregation and Civil Rights


In 1949, William Byron Rumford became the first African American to be elected to State office in Northern California, representing Berkeley and other parts of the East Bay. During his 18 years in the State Assembly, he passed various legislation that aimed at eliminating discriminatory practices. The most famous of which was the Rumford Fair Housing Act, passed in 1963, which prohibited landlords from denying people housing due to their ethnicity, religion, sex, marital status, physical handicap, or familial status. While California voters overturned this law in 1964’s Proposition 14, the proposition was ruled unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court in 1966, a decision affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in 1967.


“That little girl was me”. In one of the most memorable moments of the 2020 Democratic Presidential Debates, then Senator Kamala Harris described her Berkeley childhood. She was in the second class of the historic voluntary integration program BUSD began in 1968. Fourteen years after Brown v Board of Education ruled school segregation illegal, most school districts around the country still looked segregated, due in part to redlining and other discriminatory measures. But BUSD took the extra step of bussing students from African American neighborhoods to schools in white neighborhoods and vice versa. 

BART, South Berkeley, and Community Activism


In the 1960s, BART was moving forward with its plans for a regional public transit system that involved above ground tracks dissecting South Berkeley which, over decades, had become a vibrant African American community. Mable Howard, who moved to the Bay Area during World War II, led efforts to prevent the neighborhood from becoming fractured by this proposal. As a result of her community organizing, BART agreed to construct the segment that runs through Berkeley to be underground. 


During this same time, Berkeley became an epicenter for political activism; and while there is much attention on the historic protests at UC Berkeley, several African Americans were taking leadership roles in elevating the discrimination that had been borne for centuries. Notable figures include Tarea Hall Pittman, a leader in the NAACP who championed desegregation and integration in the mid 20th Century; Ron Dellums, one of Northern California’s first African American Congress members who began his political career on the Berkeley City Council; and Maudelle Shirek, a long-time Councilmember and Vice Mayor who founded two of Berkeley’s senior centers. 



Gentrification, Displacement, and Black Lives Matter


Berkeley’s African American population peaked in 1970, representing 23.5% of the city’s population. Over the decades, gentrification, displacement, and lack of access to housing has led to an exodus, with African Americans constituting just 10% of Berkeley’s population according to the 2010 US Census - a number that is expected to drop in the 2020 US Census. In recognition of this, equity has become a key component in housing development, including major projects impacting South Berkeley such as the Adeline Corridor Plan and future housing development as Ashby BART. Community benefits and services, such as the creation of an African American Holistic Resource Center, and preservation of existing amenities like the Ashby Flea Market, are key to ensuring the protection of the historic legacy of the neighborhood.


Racial inequities remain and have become more visible in recent years. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted African Americans, with 3.15% of Berkeley’s African American population having tested positive for the virus, compared to 2.25% in the rest of the City. More alarmingly, countywide, African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at twice the rate of the county average. Berkeley’s homeless population as of 2019 is majority African American - 57% to be exact, an increase from 40% in 2015. And, according to a 2018 report from the Center for Policing Equity, in Berkeley, African Americans are 6.5 times more likely to be stopped than whites while driving and 4.5 more likely when on foot. The report also stated that African Americans are 20 times more likely to be searched than white people.


The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 brought new outrage and momentum to the Black Lives Matter movement. I am proud that Berkeley’s largest rally in decades took place in the aftermath. Calls for reimagining public safety were heard by and acted upon unanimously by the Berkeley City Council. The movement to reimagine public safety and create a more equitable society will continue. Tomorrow’s civil rights activists will participate in that work for positive change today. Berkeley needs to continue its legacy; lifting today’s leaders to be tomorrow’s legends.

Starting this year 2021, the City of Berkeley will fly the Black Lives Matter flag every February.

I’m sure you are receiving plenty of email with resources: information to learn, ways to get involved, places to donate. They all need your help. Here are a few more just in case.

Black Lives Matter - Donations

Silicon Valley Democratic Socialists of America - Temporary Bail Fund

Oakland Indie Alliance - Small Business Repair Fund

Color of Change

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Berkeley Food Pantry

Alameda County Food Bank

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