Diversity and Democracy

Jesuits, Jazz, and Justice: Remembering the Past and Working for a More Just Future

The Western Addition neighborhood of San Francisco has undergone many changes since 1860, when it was first added to the city’s street grid to accommodate the influx of people during the gold rush. Today, San Francisco is in the middle of a tech­nology boom that influences everything from our skyline to the cost of housing. In May 2018, the California Association of Realtors reported that people need an income of $333,000 a year to purchase a house in San Francisco. As such, the cost of living continues to fuel the outmigration of African American residents, which began in the mid-twentieth century due to redevelopment policies. The Western Addition is one of the few neighborhoods in San Francisco with a concentrated African American population. As the oldest university in the city, and one that sits adjacent to the Western Addition, the University of San Francisco (USF) has long been connected to this neighborhood.

Formally launched in 2014, Engage San Francisco (ESF) is a place-based initiative rooted in a partnership between the USF and the Western Addition. We ground ESF in community history and knowledge, best practices in campus-community partnerships, and intellectual thought that brings the well-being of the African American community to the forefront. Our vision is to support a thriving community for Western Addition children, youth, and families through community-engaged learning, research, and teaching consistent with USF’s Jesuit principles (USF, n.d.). ESF is a university-wide initiative located in the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good. (See https://www.usfca.edu/mccarthy/engage-san-francisco.)

Through ESF programs and partnerships, USF students, faculty, and staff partner with community organizations, city agencies, and alumni to address some of San Francisco’s most pressing issues, including education, healthcare, housing, and employment. In two examples of this work, students serve as literacy tutors through partnerships with public schools and afterschool programs, and faculty and students provide health and wellness screenings and hand out school supplies at an annual community back-to-school fair.

To achieve our shared vision for the future, we pay attention to the impact of history on the Western Addition; listen to how residents and partners identify community needs, assets, and outcomes; and discuss how power, privilege, and identity affect our work systemically, institutionally, and personally. This continuously evolving work is informed by Black feminist scholars such as Patricia Hill Collins (1991), bell hooks (2000), adrienne maree brown (2017), and Alexis Pauline Gumbs (2015), as well as by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015), Paulo Freire (1970), and the Black Lives Matter Guiding Principles (2018). We also honor the lived experiences of staff and community members as we define our efforts. Below are examples of how we have connected history, community knowledge, and the impacts of policy making to our work.

We Learn History by Walking and Listening

“What you need to know is that we came here during the war to build ships and then they destroyed our community.”

—Community member who stopped USF campus community members on a neighborhood walk

The history of the Western Addition is a microcosm of US history. (See the chronology below.) As we educate ourselves and our faculty, board members, staff, donors, alumni, and students about this history, we foreground the ways systemic inequities and racist city, county, and national policies have affected the Western Addition. We highlight how, despite these acts of systemic violence, the community remains resilient. We also recognize that the histories of the various racial and ethnic groups who reside or have resided in the Western Addition are interconnected.

Three years ago, with the help of Rachel Brahinsky, director of the MA in Urban and Public Affairs program at USF, we developed community walks for members of our campus community, grounded in the history of the Western Addition. These walks have evolved to include three interconnected goals:

  1. We educate participants about the history of the Western Addition, including the ongoing impact of Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the incarceration of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans during World War II. We also discuss the influx of African American laborers who worked in shipyards and created a robust jazz scene on the Western Addition’s Fillmore District, leading to its nickname, the “Harlem of the West.” Between 1940 and 1945, the city’s Black population grew by 665.8 percent (Broussard 1993). This phase of arts and community building was followed by redevelopment policies that displaced tens of thousands of African American families between 1950 and 1990. James Baldwin put it best during his 1963 visit to San Francisco: “Urban renewal . . . means Negro removal” (2004). Today, the Western Addition’s population is 13 percent African American, compared with 6 percent of San Francisco’s residents as a whole (San Francisco Indicator Project 2014). To help people learn about these trends, we direct them to the Western Addition research guide at https://guides.usfca.edu/westernaddition.
  2. We illuminate partnerships between USF and the Western Addition community, including those that preceded ESF. As a Jesuit university, USF has a strong commitment to service. In 1969, its largest student club was the Student Western Addition Project, which worked with neighbors. Today, many USF alumni work with and lead nonprofits in the Western Addition, and they are now our partners. In addition, following the vision of community organizers Lynnette White and Altheda Carrie, more than one hundred USF students and two faculty have conducted research and interviews to capture the biographies of one hundred African American “changemakers” (leaders and community builders) with connections to San Francisco. We will publish their stories in print and on the web this spring.
  3. We highlight the values and practices of ESF, including our commitment to engage in work that is informed by community-identified needs, focuses on community assets (Kretzman and McKnight 1993), and is reciprocal and authentic in partnership (Mitchell 2008). The walks include community partners and visits to community-based organizations.

We Recognize the Effects of Trauma

“The community we created for ourselves [in class] was a safe space for us to help each other heal.”

—Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workshop participant

ESF defines “oppression” as the weight and trauma of systemic racism, prejudice, and discrimination on people’s minds, bodies, and spirits. Actively and passively, oppression upholds constructions of social power such as patriarchy, white supremacy, and ableism.

We work to understand trauma-informed approaches (SAMHSA 2018) to community work and to build respect for community-informed approaches to healing. Our ESF literacy interns and America Reads tutors learn about trauma-informed approaches to teaching reading (Craig 2008). This requires USF students to see assets rather than only deficits. We focus on healing because an unchecked focus on trauma may lead to seeing the community as “broken” (Ginwright 2018). For example, when Rhonda Magee, USF professor of law, taught her Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction workshop to community members as part of ESF, she focused on healing and building participants’ capacity to care for themselves and incorporate mindfulness into their community work.

As a crucial aspect of recognizing the ongoing impacts of racism and valuing cultural competency, we hire staff of color who have relevant lived experiences and cultural understanding. We recognize that work doesn’t end once staff of color leave campus; it continues into their personal lives, relationships, and communities. Simultaneously, white-identified staff must have cultural humility and be in a process to understand the ways that systemic, institutional, and personal racism affect their work, the Western Addition, and their relationships. In concert with the values of the Place-Based Justice Network (2018) and the McCarthy Center’s 2019 strategic plan (forthcoming), white staff participate in staff caucuses, book groups, and ongoing trainings to unlearn racism.

We Honor Community Knowledge

“We have equipped one another with the tools and resources we need to make the world a better place.”

—Nico Bremond, 2014 USF graduate, senior lead program manager at Collective Impact, a community organization based in the Western Addition

When community members trust us enough to talk to us honestly about their lived experiences, they are sharing knowledge that no textbook can capture. These one-on-one conversations are a gift; they allow us to document and lift up assets from the Western Addition. Preserving this wisdom is critical, as narratives from Black communities are often erased from history.

Our Community Partnership Innovation Fund (CPIF) is one example of an ESF program informed by community insight. Through CPIF, a USF faculty or staff member and a Western Addition resident or service provider work as a team to apply for funds to address a community-identified need. CPIF rewards community knowledge by paying community members and partners for their intellectual and emotional labor and recognizing partner contributions. Whenever possible, we offer stipends to community members and partners who lecture or teach at USF. Additionally, in 2017, we instituted the Engage San Francisco Partnership Award to recognize community partners who are integral to our work.

We Acknowledge Power Dynamics

“Move at the speed of trust. Focus on critical connections more than critical mass—build the resilience by building the relationships.”

—adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (2017, 42)

We work at building relationships while recognizing the power dynamics between our campus and community. For example, we are a dues-paying member of Mo’MAGIC, a community coalition that includes nonprofit organizations in the Western Addition. We recognize that the coalition is led by community members, not by USF, and we are invested in its success. ESF staff members attend twice-monthly meetings and participate in subcommittee work. We also invite USF faculty and staff to provide professional development for coalition members when requested. As often as we can, we share our resources with our partners, such as access to space and infrastructure on campus for large-scale events.

In addition, we learn from, and when appropriate, contribute to reports, meetings, oral histories, and convenings that document trauma specific to the Western Addition. We recognize the history of exploitation in higher education’s “ivory tower” relationship to communities of color. As such, we have a responsibility to frame the university’s relationship as reciprocal and challenge assumptions about the university being the keeper of knowledge.

Our Work Is Ongoing

Honoring community wisdom means building intentional relationships rooted in the history of the Western Addition and grounded in active listening, self-reflection, and accountability, all values of the McCarthy Center. We need to be nimble and humble enough to recognize our assumptions and evolve with our community. We also need to be willing to be vulnerable and get things wrong, which does not come easily to academe. However, examining the culture and history of our university and community can result in deeply meaningful work and connections.

Above all, this work is not possible without the trust that partners offer and the risks they take as they journey with us. We do not say it lightly when we say that ESF would not be possible without our community partners.


Baldwin, James. 2004. Interview with Kenneth Clark in 1963. American Experience: Citizen King, directed by Orlando Bagwell and W. Noland Walker.

Black Lives Matter. 2018. “Guiding Principles.” https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/what-we-believe/.

Broussard, Albert S. 1993. Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West, 1900–1954. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

brown, adrienne maree. 2017. Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. Chico, CA: AK Press.

California Association of Realtors. 2018. “First Quarter 2018 Housing Affordability,” May 15. https://www.car.org/en/aboutus/mediacenter/newsreleases/2018releases/1qtr2018hai.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. 2015. Between the World and Me. New York: Spiegel and Grau.

Collins, Patricia Hill. 1991. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall.

Craig, Susan E. 2008. Reaching and Teaching Children Who Hurt: Strategies for Your Classroom. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Ginwright, Shawn. 2018. “The Future of Healing: Shifting from Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement.” Medium, May 31. https://medium.com/@ginwright/the-future-of-healing-shifting-from-trauma-informed-care-to-healing-centered-engagement-634f557ce69c.

Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. 2015. “Evidence.” In Octavia’s Brood, edited by adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha. Chico, CA: AK Press, 33–41.

hooks, bell. 2000. All about Love: New Visions. New York: William Morrow.

Kretzmann, John P., and John L. McKnight. 1993. Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets. Chicago: The Asset-Based Community Development Institute.

Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and Common Good. Forthcoming. 2019 Strategic Plan. San Francisco: University of San Francisco.

Mitchell, Tania D. 2008. “Traditional vs. Critical Service-Learning: Engaging the Literature to Differentiate Two Models.” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 14 (2): 50–65.

Place-Based Justice Network. 2018. Seattle University. https://www.seattleu.edu/cce/suyi/advance-the-field/place-based-justice-network/.

San Francisco Indicator Project. 2014. “Western Addition Neighborhood Indicator Profiles.” San Francisco Department of Public Health. http://www.sfindicatorproject.org/neighborhoods/view/37.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2018. “Trauma-Informed Approach and Trauma-Specific Interventions.” https://www.samhsa.gov/nctic/trauma-interventions.

University of San Francisco. n.d. “USF 2028.” https://www.usfca.edu/about-usf/who-we-are/president-leadership/office-of-the-president/usf-2028.

An Abbreviated Chronology of the Western Addition in San Francisco

10,000 Years Ago Ohlone people live in what is now San Francisco.

1769 Spanish colonization expands into Northern California.
1846 The United States seizes California and raises the US flag at Yerba Buena.
1848 Gold is discovered in Northern California.
1855 The University of San Francisco (USF) is founded as St. Ignatius Academy.
1860 San Francisco expands hundreds of square blocks into the Western Addition due to the gold rush.
1880s–90s An influx of Japanese and Jewish immigrants arrives in San Francisco.

1906–07 After the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, City Hall relocates to the Fillmore District (known as the Fillmore) in the Western Addition. Japanese Americans move from Chinatown to the Western Addition and establish Nihonmachi (Japantown).
1907–45 A rich, diverse population thrives in the Western Addition, including (at various times) Japanese, Jewish, Filipino, Mexican, Russian, and African Americans.

1924 The US National Origins Act largely excludes Japanese immigration.
1927  USF moves to its current location adjacent to the Western Addition.

1935 There are now five thousand African American residents of San Francisco (1 percent of the city’s population). The Western Addition is the only area of San Francisco where Black ownership and rentals are not prohibited.
1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066. Japantown residents are removed to internment camps.
1943 African Americans migrate from the Southern United States to the Western Addition to work in shipyards. The African American population of the Fillmore alone reaches twelve thousand.
1940s–50s  The Fillmore is dubbed the Harlem of the West. Jazz greats Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, and more perform at dozens of nightclubs in the district
1948–49 The first house is torn down under urban renewal. Urban renewal ultimately impacts twenty thousand people.
1959–61 Urban Renewal Project A1 (phase 1 of two phases) begins.
1962  The Student Western Addition Project at USF begins, guided by sociology professor Ralph Lane. By 1969, it is the largest student group on campus, with 250 student participants.
1963 James Baldwin visits San Francisco. Phase A2 is underway.
1966  An uprising begins in the Bayview–Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco after police officers kill an unarmed Black teenager, Matthew Johnson. The uprising spreads to the Fillmore, and the Fillmore and Bayview–Hunters Point are put under curfew. The California Highway Patrol and National Guard join the San Francisco Police Department in a large-scale police mobilization.

1967 Western Addition Community Organization, a grassroots organization that resists redevelopment, is founded.
1968 Chicago’s Barber Shop at Fillmore and Ellis Streets closes. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency issues Certificates of Preference to encourage displaced businesses to return to the Fillmore. As of 2018, about 20 percent of the Certificates of Preference that were awarded in San Francisco have been redeemed.  

1969 The Black Panther office on Fillmore Street is raided by police.
1970 Between ten thousand and thirteen thousand residents have been displaced; 2,500 Victorian-style homes destroyed; and sixty blocks cleared.
1972 Rev. Jim Jones establishes the San Francisco site of the Peoples Temple near the corner of Geary Boulevard and Fillmore Street, close to the famous Fillmore West music venue. The Peoples Temple actively recruits African American senior citizens from the Fillmore to join the congregation. In 1978, Rev. Jones leads his followers to his compound in Jonestown, Guyana, where more than nine hundred people participate in a mass murder–suicide by drinking poison. A significant number of the dead are African Americans from San Francisco.

1985 The Fillmore Center, which houses stores, apartments, and condominiums, is built on land that was vacant for almost twenty years. Displaced residents are unable to afford housing there.
2000 The Jazz Preservation District is created.
2012 Planning for Engage San Francisco (ESF) begins.

2014 ESF formally launches.


Found SF. n.d. “Western Addition.” http://www.foundsf.org/index.php?title=Category:Western_Addition.

McGloin, John Bernard. 1972. Jesuits By The Golden Gate: The Society of Jesus in San Francisco 1849–1969. San Francisco: University of San Francisco.

PBS. 2001. “Fillmore Timeline, 1860–2001.” http://www.pbs.org/kqed/fillmore/learning/time.html.

University of San Francisco. n.d. “Our History.” https://www.usfca.edu/about-usf/who-we-are/our-history.  

Karin M. Cotterman is Director, Engage San Francisco, at the University of San Francisco. Nolizwe Nondabula is Associate Director for Programs and Partnerships, Engage San Francisco, at the University of San Francisco.

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