San Francisco Chronicle
By Otis R. Taylor Jr.
Jordyn Bishop is half American Indian and half white, and talking about race with her friends and family has never been a challenge.
But while in law school at UC Hastings, Bishop realized she hadn’t developed the acumen to talk about race in professional settings.
“How do I walk into a room of legislators or policymakers and get them to buy in?” she said. She had to find her voice so she could lead.
That’s why Bishop applied to the Greenlining Institute’s Leadership Academy program. The yearlong fellowship focuses on leadership development through the lens of racial justice.
The founders of the Greenlining Institute, a social justice organization that fights discriminatory redlining practices and advocates for equal opportunity, recognized that people of color needed to fine-tune the way they discuss race in a professional setting. They decided to train people of color to speak truth to the powerful when they are often the only person of color in a room full of decision makers.
Talking about race with people who haven’t experienced the obstacles many people of color have faced requires agility, patience and perseverance.
People who have not experienced racism may not grasp why it’s necessary to establish racial equity and equality. And people who have experienced it feel an obligation not only to fight for equality but to convey why it’s crucial to those who don’t understand it.
Social and racial justice is necessary because racial and social disparities impact housing, jobs, education and community resources.
That’s why it’s imperative to have voices that can convincingly explain how and why disparities exist. It’s these voices that remind those in power that before policies are drawn up and rolled out, there are communities of people that must be considered to establish equity and equality.
We’re in a fractious moment in time, and we’re being led adrift by an inaccessible administration taking orders from a president who has done more to stimulate white nationalists and white supremacists than he has the economy.
The administration has ignored the underrepresented and underserved, and it requires inexhaustible strength and resilience to get the powerful to listen to diverse perspectives during policy discussions about, say, immigration reform.
This year Bishop, 30, is a legal fellow at the Greenlining Institute, which is celebrating its 25th year anniversary this week. She focuses on environmental equity, how vulnerable communities are affected by climate change and environmental policy.
“Creating the next generation of leaders of color has been the mantle of the academy,” said Patrick Brown, the Leadership Academy’s director. “None of Greenlining’s strategies to create the changes we want to see in the world are possible without leadership development being one of our core values.”
The Leadership Academy has three major programs. The Casa Joaquin Murrieta Residency is a multi-ethnic residential leadership program for students attending UC Berkeley. There’s a 10-week summer program where associates contribute to policy work. For the yearlong fellowship that Bishop’s in, there’s a deep dive into policy advocacy.
Jane Kim, the first Korean American elected official in San Francisco, was a fellow in 1999. She told me it was a foundational experience for her.
“Their unique emphasis on intersectionality and bridge-building shaped my view about meaningful leadership,” said Kim, who is running for mayor of San Francisco. “I saw very clearly that we have to constantly develop and nurture coalitions as vehicles for real, lasting change.”
Tariq Meyers, the head of diversity and inclusion at Lyft, the ride-hailing company, was a fellow in 2014.
“There was a level of access and influence the academy had to let these fellows have these experiences that no other place was really able to offer,” said Meyers, 25, who moved from Boston for the fellowship. “It wasn’t about filing papers in the back of a closet. If it wasn’t for Greenlining, I don’t think that I would be in the place that I am now.”
Meyers believes policy can move mountains. What happens when policies are inclusive? What happens when policies are created to uproot systematic practices that have marginalized people?
In June, Lyft released a diversity report that showed numbers similar to companies like Google, Facebook and Uber. The company is 63 percent white, which is higher than Uber’s 49.8 percent. Lyft employs more women than Uber, 42 percent to 36.1 percent. Meyers told me he’s using Lyft as an incubator to execute change in a substantive way.
“What I’m learning here is that policies and practices and programs and partnerships and public accountability actually bring about systemic change for people who historically been marginalized in spaces like this,” he said.
When her fellowship ends, Bishop said she plans to focus on how laws have impacted indigenous people and people of color. Her father, who is American Indian, spent a lot of her childhood incarcerated.
Bishop, who grew up in Newark, told me her experience walking through this world has been profoundly different than many of her indigenous family members with brown skin.
“Now I have a greater exposure to the ways in which I can use my law degree in racial equity, particularly environmental equity,” she said. “I can be the advocate I want to be for the communities I want to represent.”
She knows how to use her voice.