Would Martin Luther King Jr. recognize S.F. today?
Beginning at age 12, Martin Luther King Jr. spent his summers at his cousin’s house on Scott Street in San Francisco’s Western Addition, and walked the streets of the burgeoning nearby Fillmore district. But I wonder if King would feel as comfortable in today’s San Francisco as he did in the 1940s, when our city represented liberation from the Jim Crow in the South.
Today, San Francisco offers the most glaring example of displacement of African Americans in the nation — King would not recognize today’s Western Addition. He also would wonder how in the Bay Area, where Roy L. Clay Sr. pioneered computer programming in 1958 at the Lawrence Radiation Lab and was research-and-development manager for Hewlett-Packard in 1965, so few African Americans have jobs in the technology industry.
In Atlanta and the surrounding area, there are 12,000 more African Americans working in technology than in the Bay Area. In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, there are 15,000 more. It is not unreasonable to expect African Americans in the Bay Area to have the same access to technology careers as in the nation’s capital.
That’s why, on Sunday, we’re bringing talented scientists, doctors, inventors, teachers and legal minds to San Francisco to destroy the myth of “we can’t find anyone.” Innovation & Equity17: the 50 Most Important African Americans in Technology will convene a group of institutional investors.
Our goal — 10,000 hires in 12 months — addresses that employment disparity by asking educational institutions, government agencies, investors and employers to make a concerted effort to reach out among the 450,000 African American technologists for contracts, investments, board positions and jobs so that the African American community continues to be a part of what makes the Bay Area so unique.
With 6,000 technology employers in the area, it would take as few as two new hires per company to reach the goal. Of the 243 San Francisco tech employers we tracked in Silicon Ceiling 15, only 18 had a photo of an African American on their recruitment Web page.
Carra Wallace, former chief diversity officer of the New York City Controller’s Office, will lead our opening session. She will discuss how to leverage public finance to transform communities. California Treasurer John Chiang and San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen also will join the panel.
I’ll propose a Nathaniel Burbridge inclusive innovation center for the city’s southeast corridor to take advantage of the biotechnology and renewable energy talent in that area to study the health disparities prevalent due to environmental injustice in Bayview Hunters Point. Burbridge was the first tenured black faculty member at UCSF and was also the most militant NAACP president in the 1960s.
Young King followed a path that had been paved by W.E.B. DuBois, Carlton B. Goodlett and Howard Thurman, who all came to the Bay Area in the 1930s and 1940s to deal a death blow to segregation. Thurman’s teachings would form the basis of King’s nonviolent resistance.
King saw firsthand as a boy what well-educated leaders could do to transform society. Were he alive today, he would be able to tell us how the Bay Area shaped his world view and what he would do if that same sanctuary were in jeopardy.