Author Archives: zack

  1. Back to School in a New Normal

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    Over the next few weeks, students across the Bay Area will be going back to school. Regardless of what grade level we’re in, for many of us it will feel like — or actually be — the first day of school in a new life and a new normal.

    Before the pandemic, school was a space where I could be myself. I was motivated by the support and the enriching conversations I shared with my friends and adult allies. At school, I could seek and find the help that was harder for me to access at home, as my parents speak English less fluently than their native tongues.

    During the pandemic, though, I fell into isolation. I lost connection. Instead of a consistent, healthy routine, I regularly joined Zoom classes half asleep and unprepared. I only had a couple of classes a day and spent the rest of my time sleeping, as if on an endless spring break.

    I felt trapped at home and longed for what I remembered as normal life: being able to wake up and eat breakfast and make my way to school. But this August, even with the return to in-person instruction, things will not go back to normal. Returning to school means rebuilding and restoring relationships that have frayed. It means change and uncertainty.

    Now that we’re actually heading back, it will mean embracing and creating a new normal — ideally a normal that makes young people central in their own lives and to their own decisions.

    I spent this week before in-person instruction resumed in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) helping out with registration. That gave me a chance to appreciate the learning space I was rejoining. I walked through my school’s hallways and caught up with my closest friends. I looked forward to the classes I’ll take and to re-establishing close relationships with familiar and missed teachers. And I was also anxious and wary.

    This year, I will go to a school where more than half of the students will have never before stepped foot on campus. Every first-year and second-year high school student here will have had only a virtual introduction to our school’s culture, if that.

    People have been talking about how this situation calls for a “restorative restart.” As a fourth-year student, I fully agree.

    We need to make education in this new normal center around young people and their shared experiences. Young people — myself included — don’t want to start this year of extraordinary change by learning about the Pythagorean theorem. We need talk about the realities of continuing to live through an active pandemic. We need to talk about how we secure a viable future for ourselves. We need adults — teachers and the school district — to prioritize our needs when we make decisions about our education.

    From my perspective, as a student sitting on the OUSD Board of Education and as a Bay Area Youth Fellow at the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, doing this is paramount.

    What I needed over this past string of lockdowns and restrictions, and what I heard my peers say they need, is mental health support. I was lucky to have an adult advocate and counselor at my school whom I could lean on. This person helped me through both practical and emotional challenges. When I needed someone to talk to, she answered my call. Many were not so fortunate.

    Young people need connection. We need clear communication about what’s coming and what’s expected of us. So let’s hold restorative circles to build our community back up. Let’s take this moment to sit down and hear from each other. Our lives have been challenging and complex, and issues have grown thorny over time — especially when the school social environment we depend on for our well-being remained out of reach or unable to meet our needs.

    Many of us have taken on new jobs and responsibilities over the course of the pandemic, such as babysitting younger cousins and siblings, getting jobs to help pay household bills, or going to pick up free food from school. We have had to take care of our families, and still need to. Our daily lives were upended. How do we talk about these things? How can we bring the needs and challenges of our home lives into everyday teaching and school practice in a way that is healing?

    Conscientious school teachers and staff have been patient, understanding that the reopening of schools kicks off a potentially tough transition for many. Thank you for that kindness. Please keep listening to our feedback, answering our questions, and meet us where we are so that we all show up together, no matter how isolated we’ve been.

    I’m asking you to make our education matter, because we matter.


    Samantha was a 2021 BAY Community Fellow at the Walter & Elise Haas Fund this summer. She is a senior in the Law and Social Justice Pathway at Oakland High School and was recently elected to a second term as Student Director on the OUSD Board of Education. An active leader within her community since the sixth grade, when she was a Restorative Justice (RJ) Circle Keeper and Peer RJ Leader, Samantha has been a delegate to the District’s All City Council (ACC) since 2015, and sat on the ACC Governing Board as media director in 2019-2020.

    Samantha is an activist and organizer — most recently with Measure QQ Oakland Youth Vote — and she is committed to creating meaningful student-adult partnerships within OUSD. She brings a change-maker lens and a systems understanding to the issues that frame the educational experience in Oakland.

  2. Permanence Is an Illusion: A West Wall Project

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    We’ve all lived these moments in our lives — moments when we’ve heard hard news, earned a job, declared our love, or run for our lives.

    Thinking about these powerful moments, Guillermo Galindo created a work for our office’s West Wall. Every 18 to 24 months, we recognize and support one of the talented artists who has received a Creative Work Fund grant by commissioning a West Wall project.

    I chose Galindo thinking of the compelling Creative Work Fund-supported project he did with Richard Misrach and the San Jose Museum of Art to create the exhibits and book Border Cantos — work that explored the United States-Mexico border through photography and sound sculptures. And I remembered the images I had seen of pieces he created for documenta 14 — enormous artworks made from the wreckage of boats in which asylum seekers had tried to ferry themselves across the Mediterranean and away from war.

    For this West Wall commission, however, Galindo wanted to create a work that was meaningful to him and that stepped away from an explicit focus on immigration, though he remained interested in key moments of change and in reflecting the stories of people whose lives have been disrupted. Those who have inspired Guillermo Galindo’s work have lived through hardships and emergencies.

    As he was ruminating on this theme, California was consumed by fires, including major fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, both locales where agricultural production depends on migrant farmworkers. Galindo was drawn to their stories. What happens to these residents when natural disasters occur?

    The resulting piece, Permanence Is an Illusion, is a tribute to such individuals as told by the melted and scorched objects they left behind. It is a sound piece that is quiet much of the time; that occasionally emits a long, searing hum; and that shakes, rattles, and bugles on occasion, reminding its audience that periods of apparent calm can be torn, twisted, and broken in a moment.

    Each artist who has hung a project on the West Wall has reflected in direct or indirect ways on philanthropy. I interpret Galindo’s message in Permanence Is an Illusion as being concerned with the importance of humility (any of us could be a victim in a moment) and of paying close attention to those who own little and have everything to lose.

    When foundations support disaster relief efforts, we must remind ourselves of the stories and needs of those who are overlooked in official headcounts and federal emergency programs. Through a small but influential funding program, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund has emphasized the importance of disaster preparedness — both for individuals and for community-based nonprofits so that they are equipped to assist their constituents in an emergency.

    Galindo writes, “This piece is dedicated to the healing of those who lost their possessions and their loved ones in the recent California fires.” Despite this memorializing intent and the fire-scorched materials from which it is made, Permanence Is an Illusion is an optimistic work. After its eruptions, the piece makes a calm shushing, rattling sound, reminding us that new growth and new life can follow destruction.

  3. Breaking Down Barriers to Education: Collaboration with the Center for Cities + Schools

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    Imagine that there’s a girl waking up in her San Francisco apartment. Dressed for school, this girl, Nadine, hustles to catch the first available MUNI bus — one that will take her to her school across town. She might more easily walk to her neighborhood school, but that’s literally falling apart, underperforming, and, while not segregated by policy, segregated in practice.

    Because her single parent doesn’t have a car or the time between jobs to ferry her to and from school, a city bus is Nadine’s only option. And the bus ride takes an hour each way.

    By the time Nadine gets to school, it’s likely too late to get the breakfast available for low-income students in the cafeteria. It’s too late to take part in any extra-curricular activities or take advantage of tutoring opportunities. In fact, frequently it’s too late to even catch the beginning of her first class, so she misses grade-wide assemblies and other community-building events. Nadine’s teachers might have to re-explain the day’s subjects to her, slowing down class for everyone and further ostracizing a girl who just wants and deserves a decent public education.

    By the time Nadine gets home, it’s an hour after her peers have, and she’s missed participating in sports, internships, and other activities that colleges want to see on applications. She’s also lost an hour of homework time. Every day, Nadine falls another two hours behind simply because of where she lives. Not because she doesn’t have potential, or because she isn’t smart or driven, but because her family lives in the Bayview and not in Pacific Heights.

    Now, multiply that scenario by all the children in all the socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods in all the cities, and extrapolate that out over generations. It’s a shattering problem of access, opportunity, and privilege. But is it a problem for cities or a problem for schools?

    Whose job is it to address this foundational element of ongoing inequity?

    Looking Beyond Barriers

    In 2006, The Walter & Elise Haas Fund began a long collaboration with the Center for Cities + Schools (CC+S), an organization created to address the siloed systems that separate cities from the public schools that serve them. Municipal busing systems, as one example, didn’t align with school districts’ needs because the cross-channel communication systems simply haven’t existed.

    It wasn’t anyone’s job to make these helpful connections and so: no one took responsibility for it.

    How Does Center for Cities + Schools Help?

    Begun in 2004 as an interdisciplinary research initiative, Center for Cities + Schools applies scientific rigor to the problems cities and schools face together. Through programs, research, and analysis, CC+S promotes understanding between educators and urban policymakers to solve longstanding and otherwise ignored problems. It does this work in the Bay Area in a way that resonates nationally.

    Center for Cities + Schools changes the way people think about how schools and communities interact. After 14 years of existence and growth, its efforts focus on three areas of work:

    • High-quality, non-partisan policy research that leads to solutions in the grey area between education and urban policy. (One example would be “Beyond the Yellow Bus,” the report that informed the example with which this post began.)
    • The PLUS leadership initiative, through which graduate students provide resource-poor school districts with research in order to nurture ongoing city-school collaboration and find cross-cutting, win-win solutions
    • Y-PLAN (Youth – Plan, Learn, Act, Now!) programming, which strategically engages high school youth in contributing to city planning and social change

    Education funding and policy are too often crisis-focused and reactive. In contrast, CC+S’s approach is proactive. It searches out solutions that will positively impact teachers and high-need student populations. In supporting collaboration between cities, communities, and schools, CC+S helps education systems and leaders build healthy, vibrant, and joyful cities and schools for all.

    How Does This Connect to the Haas Sr. Fund?

    When CC+S was first conceived, connecting cities and schools was an unusual concept that struggled to find support. The Haas Sr. Fund recognized the concept’s potential and provided a modest planning grant that helped CC+S explore how school district and city leaders might move from recognizing their disconnect to actually addressing it.

    PLUS fellows presenting their research to SFUSD on improving teacher quality in the BayView

    It’s one thing to understand that busing kids to schools around the city might be an incomplete solution to disparity in education. Developing a data-based, sustainable plan to address inadequacies and then building the momentum to enact that plan — that’s something at an entirely different scale of impact. For even if and when city leaders understand that they have to connect with public schools to improve the community, the question of “how” remained unanswered — until CC+S took on the task.

    Along with Stuart Foundation, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund helped establish CC+S as an on-going independent non-profit based at the University of California, Berkeley. And that interdisciplinary investment spurred on a further $8 million in grants from across the philanthropic community, creating over 50 research reports on education in the Bay Area, and preparing over 100 current and future leaders, who then, in turn, have helped city and school leadership to identify and solve the problems with which — shockingly — frequently no one had been tasked.

    And yes, in a nice bit of serendipity, one of the PLUS research fellows who worked on one of those reports back in CC+S’ early days was Jamie Allison, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund’s Executive Director. You couldn’t ask for a nicer illustration of how developing leadership resources helps build the momentum required for long-term, dramatic effect.

    The Haas Sr. Fund supported the growth of an idea that continues to lead to systematic change. Working in collaboration with CC+S and many others, we’ve changed the narrative.

    What’s Next?

    In the next five years, the Center for Cities and Schools looks to double its impact by deepening its focus on the Bay Area. Understanding how students from one neighborhood get dispersed across numerous schools, for example, helps the whole community work together to engage in a more vibrant, healthy, and just development process — such as what’s happening right now with HOPE SF.

    Y-PLAN students presenting on addressing issues homelessness as part of their Health Academy

    Ten years ago, in the Bayview, 150 kids bused across the city to 30 different schools. That was bad for community, the city, schools, and students. Today, with effort, we’re finding a way to change the paradigm. The solutions weren’t found in isolation, or through a single savior. The Fund and its collaborative partners found momentum together, through valued perspectives that see through boundaries and enable advances.

    The Walter & Elise Haas Fund is committed to all of the above. We aren’t the largest funder, or performing the research, or running the schools — but we can help promising new ideas to flourish so that everyone can find access and enjoy opportunity. Center for Cities + Schools is just one of the grantees with whom we’re proud to work.

  4. How the World Should Be: Jews, Social Justice, and GLIDE

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    After a year working in GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice, the question I get most frequently is, “What does being a Rabbi at GLIDE mean?”

    It is a fair question. GLIDE is many things — a church, a foundation, and a vision of the world as a radically inclusive, just, and loving community. But where in there does a Rabbi fit? Where in there does a Jew, or an atheist, or a Muslim fit?

    The answer is everywhere. That’s what makes GLIDE the force for good that it is. It’s a powerful universal place for and about humanity, where we’re all mobilized to alleviate suffering and to break the cycles of poverty and marginalization.

    But let me back up to tell you more of who I am, what I’m doing, and — more importantly — what you can do.

    Three years ago, while I was working as a Rabbi at San Rafael’s Congregation Rodef Sholom, I happened to take the ferry into San Francisco from Larkspur. I was reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, about the mass incarceration of African Americans, and looked up to see San Quentin State Prison in front of me. Motivated to learn more, I began visiting inmates at San Quentin, a place whose racial makeup is the inverse of the region surrounding it.

    That visit to San Quentin didn’t begin my work in social justice, but it did give it new focus. Along with Rodef Sholom congregants, I began monthly visits to the prison’s Jewish community. We’d sing together. We’d share holidays. And we would share some of the most potent conversations about regrets and repentance that I’ve had. Every spring, my group of leaders still holds a Passover seder for inmates at San Quentin, bringing together 150 incarcerated men so we can study and reflect upon a story of slavery together.

    Through this work, I connected with Stephanie Rapp, Senior Program Officer, Jewish Life, at the Walter & Elise Haas Fund. Stephanie took me on a social justice tour of San Francisco, which included a visit to GLIDE. For years, and in various ways, the San Francisco Jewish community had been trying to build a center for Jewish social justice work that could complement GLIDE. Stephanie, always looking for the unseen answer, suggested that instead of creating a GLIDE for Jews, we should bring the Jews to GLIDE.

    Jews had always made up from 10-15% of the people who volunteered at, or expressed themselves spiritually through, or otherwise found their home at GLIDE. With a Rabbi embedded at GLIDE and offering a clear welcome to people of all faiths or none, that percentage could increase.

    More people could be doing more good through GLIDE. We could force-multiply the work of GLIDE’s social justice machinery.

    The Walter & Elise Haas Fund joined with other funders to create a position for a Rabbi at GLIDE’s Social Justice Center, and I was offered the job.

    I started as a student, learning what GLIDE was, person by person. I sat down with everyone I could — those who worked there, who volunteered, who prayed, and who benefitted from the food, job training, case management and other services GLIDE offers. I wanted to know what role I could play and what new pathways I could help create to foment justice work in the city and beyond.

    Soon after, I took on two projects. The first was to create programs around our city’s diminishing number of African-Americans — who used to make up 16% of the population, but who now account for only 3-4%. The second was to run trainings for law enforcement personnel such as police chiefs, police officers, and district attorneys. In these, we bring around 25 attendees to GLIDE for three-day compassion camps designed to help participants recognize everyone’s humanity in the course of their work. We also led a justice pilgrimage for 85 people, bringing them to The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Alabama.

    What does this have to do with Jews, or being a Rabbi? The answer to that question is: you.

    We need to build reliable systems that are not just Band-Aids to problems on the ground. It’s up to us to build restorative systems that break cycles of poverty. The “us” in that sentence includes you, whether you’re Jewish or not, Christian or not. If you agree with what I’m saying, I’m talking to you.

    I’m at GLIDE to help Jews and others feel welcome and encouraged to throw their shoulders into the radical love we’re spreading.

    Social justice work is not the responsibility of one religion, or even just of those who are religious. GLIDE is here for everyone. If you want a hot meal, to help those in need, to connect spiritually or emotionally, or even just to know more: we are here.

    Every day, we serve three meals. Every day, we rely on 85 volunteers. Every day, we’re projecting our vision of how the world should be. Every day, you can be part of that vision.

    If you want to get involved, please, join me on most any Friday morning, from 9:00 am to noon, to help bake challah for the guests and staff at GLIDE. Just show up at 330 Ellis St. and ask the front desk staff where you can find the challah team.

    And we need people at all times, every day of the week, too. Sign up to help serve meals when you can. You’ll get an orientation, an apron, and gloves, and then serve food, or pour coffee, or greet people who are ready to see a friendly face.

    People ask me why I’m a Rabbi at GLIDE and want to know what brought me to this very holy place. You’ve read the answer to that here and I think you’ll agree the reasons aren’t that surprising. A more interesting question, I’d suggest, is what’s happening with you?

    What will bring you to GLIDE? If I can help you find your way here, my door is always open. My office isn’t huge, but there’s room here for everyone.

  5. California Philanthropic Leaders Unite in Support of DACA

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    Today, we are proud to add our names to a joint statement organized by Grantmakers Concerned with Immigration and Refugees (GCIR) that urges vocal, active, and increased philanthropic response to the Trump Administration’s scheduled termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — commonly known as the ‘Dreamers’ program.

    Since President Trump announced the end of protections for the nearly 800,000 Dreamers — 223,000 of whom are Californians — individuals and organizations across the political spectrum have stood up in protest and opposition. Adding the Walter & Elise Haas Fund name to this statement is only one reflection of our long-standing support for those on the margins and of our efforts to provide opportunity and access to all.

    The statement reads, in part:

    As philanthropic institutions committed to building a prosperous, vibrant, and inclusive California, we denounce the termination of DACA as antithetical to fundamental American values, and detrimental to the well-being of all communities. DACA beneficiaries have secured better jobs, purchased cars and homes, launched new businesses, supported their families, and invigorated their communities. They have become an integral part of our social, economic, and civic fabric.

    For the full statement and list of signatories, please visit CGIR’s site.

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