The San Francisco Main Public Library auditorium was packed with Black students and parents as Theo Miller paced the floor. It was a Saturday morning in early September and, as the organizer for the African American Family Breakfast and Resource Fair, Miller wanted to make sure everything was right.
While he had been working for the city over the past year, it was also an important moment for him. He wanted to make sure the event was a success, and it was his first real introduction to San Francisco’s African American community.
As a special adviser to Mayor Ed Lee, Miller is his liaison to the African American community and director of the San Francisco Out Migration Initiative, which stems from the Out Migration report.
Commissioned by former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the Out Migration report studied and looked at the decline of Black people living in San Francisco.
In 1970, there were over 100,000 Black people in San Francisco, as they made up 15 percent of the cities population. Today, those numbers have dwindled to just at 6 percent of the cities population and roughly 50,000 people.
The numbers dropped in part due to the Redevelopment Agency, which moved Blacks out of the Western Addition and parts of Bay View. But also due to the high price of housing and black families wanting to live in safer and newer neighborhoods.
In the last 30 years, of all the major U.S. cities, San Francisco’s Black community has seen the steepest decline of residents leaving the city.
The Out Migration report looked at some of the historic trends that led to the decline of Blacks in San Francisco, as well as coming up with remedies to grow the Black community in San Francisco.
One of the remedies was improving the education for Black students in the San Francisco Unified School District.
This breakfast meeting was seen by Miller as a step in trying to address long standing issues. Over 300 parents and students attended the networking event, as it connected parents to the various programs within the public school and non-profit education sector that can help African American students.
“We are trying to reach the African American community, letting them know about all of the educational resources available to them,” said Miller.
“It takes a village to raise a child. Not a mayor, not a supervisor, not a corporation. It takes everyone helping to make things work.”
It will be a daunting task to try and address the multitude of issues that impact African Americans in San Francisco.
The main three issues outlined in the Out Migration report that led to the decline of Blacks in San Francisco included the lack of affordable housing, lack of jobs and educational issues. If there is one who may be able to make a dent in these issues, it may be Miller.
A native of Los Angeles, Miller spent his summers in San Francisco, as he had a aunt that lived in Bay View Hunters Point.
A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, he practiced corporate law in New York for a few years before moving to San Francisco to practice law.
“Mayor Lee has been in city government a long time, and he trusts competent people who care about the issues,” said Miller. “I took this job, because I wanted to improve and help the Black community in the city.”
As the liasion to the Mayor, Miller is tasked with trying to come up with ways to keep Black people in San Francisco, by using public and private partnerships to improve the lives of Black people in education, housing and economics.
“San Francisco has a $8.4 billion budget, and one thing we can do, as a city, is to have the city government leverage departments across the city to make sure there are opportunities for African Americans in San Francisco,” said Miller.
Tyra Fennell, a Black community activist who works with the San Francisco Art Commission, called Miller a very intelligent man. But she wondered how much can he do to help African Americans in San Francisco?
“He gets a salary, but he has no budget to implement anything,” said Fennell. “He can partner with people and he is finding partnerships and being creative, but without a budget what can you really do?”
Ed Donaldson, a Black community activist and candidate for supervisor in District 10, also questioned how much Miller can do.
“Miller is a cool dude, but he is not going to rock the boat and make the structural changes that need to be made,” said Donaldson.
Miller is upbeat about the situation. He said that housing is starting to boom in certain areas, and more outreach is being done to keep San Franciscans in the city instead of moving to the suburbs such as Antioch, Pittsburgh and Vallejo.
The city government is making progress in hiring Blacks in city departments such as Public Works and Public Utilities Commission, according to Miller.
“There are 2,000 technology and pharmaceutical companies in San Francisco, that employ over 50,000 people,” said Miller. “There needs to be more Black folks working in these areas.”
Miller said that pressure needs to be put on companies to hire more native San Franciscans, as well as hiring Black people from other areas of the country.
“We need to have an increase in migration of Black professional people into San Francisco. Black folks from Memphis, Atlanta and the Northeast coming here,” continued Miller. “We need to recruit more Black professionals to San Francisco.”
He also wants city agencies to start recruiting people from some of the historical black colleges and universities. Currently, out of the 6 percent of Black residents in San Francisco, Miller said that 70 percent are low-income or working poor.
“The problems for Blacks in San Francisco are very complex,” continued Miller. “But if we have a commitment to address the issues, then we could really do something for this city.”