Greenlining Institute Hails Wells Fargo Move to Link Executive Pay, Diversity Progress

Urges Other Banks to Follow Suit

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, 415-846-7758 (cell)

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – The Greenlining Institute praised this week’s announcement  by Wells Fargo that it will take a series of concrete steps to boost diversity at decision-making levels, including tying executive pay to progress on diversity goals and creating a new diversity and inclusion position that will report directly to the CEO. The specific goals announced include doubling the percentage of Black leaders in senior management, currently reported to be six percent.

“This is what real leadership looks like, and other banks and large corporations need to follow suit,” said Greenlining Institute Economic Equity Director Adam Briones. “Over the years we’ve heard lots of positive rhetoric about diversity and inclusion, but experience shows that the only way to make real progress is through specific goals and an implementation process that has teeth. This should be a model for all banks and other corporations.”

Over the years, Greenlining’s research has found that while many banks have considerable diversity among relatively low-level employees, that diversity declines sharply at the senior management and board levels, where key decisions are made.

To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute


This Urban Planner Has the Keys to a Safe Commute after COVID

By Adrienne Day

Mass transit is in crisis. Ridership has evaporated alongside confidence in a safe commute, and cities like New York are facing billions in transit-budget shortfalls. People who can afford cars are relying on them more than ever, a brewing environmental (and traffic) disaster. The solution is to get people riding again — but how do we do that when public transit still feels risky?

Urban planner, community activist, and 2019 Grist 50 Fixer Alvaro S. Sanchez has long promoted legislation to provide free public transportation for students, seniors, and other marginalized populations. This will be part of the systemic changes required to make transit safe for everyone (fare disputes are the number one reason transit operators call cops, Sanchez says).

“In the context of COVID,” he says, “we should be asking, ‘Who are the most vulnerable people using these services, and how can we make it the most accessible for them?’”

The coronavirus elevated the stakes, but Sanchez’s vision for safe, affordable public transport hasn’t changed. In this conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, he sketched out what that might look like.

Bring confidence to riders

Today, people need to feel a sense of security when taking public transit. I think a clear demonstration that transportation workers, who are often people of color, have access to PPE and are being protected from harmful situations will go a long way toward making riders feel confident that they can ride and not be exposed to the coronavirus. That could also help generate jobs for “attendants,” who could distribute masks and hand sanitizer and keep buses from getting too crowded.

Make the local connection

Then there’s the “first-mile, last-mile” issue, where public transit doesn’t get you exactly where you need to go. Pre-COVID, micro-mobility — such as scooter shares or bike shares — was really starting to play a role in the way that we connect people to mass transit. But there are some really big equity considerations around those technologies. For example, many require a credit card and smartphone to use them.

California is experimenting with both ride- and car-share programs. BlueLA uses electric vehicles and subsidizes its membership fees for low-income individuals. And EV ride-share service Green Raiteros connects mostly Latino and agricultural families in rural parts of the Central Valley to Fresno. Those programs have actually been very successful at replacing the need for those families to buy a car.

Help one, help all

A useful framework here is the idea of “targeted universalism,” something designed to help a subset of people that actually helps everybody. You could think of it as the curb-cut effect. Designing our sidewalks with curb cuts — the small ramps from a sidewalk to the street found at most intersections — allow people with decreased mobility to use streets safely. But it also helps people with strollers or shopping carts. It helps people on skateboards. It helps many people, even though the primary beneficiaries were people using wheelchairs.

These are the types of things to consider when I think what it would look like to develop a transportation system that all members of the black community felt they could use, without being exposed to police violence or discrimination. I would imagine that everybody else is going to feel really safe in that same transportation system. We need this in order to avoid a dystopian future where everybody’s going to just jump in their cars to get where they need to go.

Why diversity and inclusion programs often fall short

By Meghan McCarty Carino

Sephora closed its stores in 2019 to hold diversity and inclusion training for its employees. Following weeks of protests against police brutality, companies have made a renewed commitment to tackling systemic racism. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Major companies, including Apple, Estée Lauder and NBCUniversal made public commitments this week to improve racial equity in their organizations amid a national reckoning over systemic racial injustice. Most large companies already have diversity and inclusion programs, many of them decades old, replete with bias-awareness trainings, listening sessions and working groups.

But these initiatives often fall short of their stated goals and sometimes even make matters worse.

In her decades of work in banking and finance, Debra Gore-Mann has sat through her fair share of racial sensitivity workshops. As a Black woman, she’s often asked to share her experience of racism in the workplace.

“And I’m not going to sit in the room and say, ‘Well, you know, Charlie said this and that,’ and then I’ve got to go back to work, you know?” she said. “So I’m watching every word because you could just cut the tension.”

She’s now the president of the nonprofit Greenlining Institute, which advocates for more diversity in staffs and better inclusion practices to foster an environment where diversity thrives.

Such programs are often hampered, she said, by concerns about making everyone comfortable, which lead to sanitizing the issue.

“The discussion around white privilege and white fragility is too uncomfortable to have,” she said. “So they focus on how to make the workplace more comfortable for people of color, and you’re not really dealing with the underlying issue.”

Discussions about race at work also often end up putting the onus of sharing on the people who have already been hurt.

“It’s very traumatizing,” said Brianna McCullough, a program manager at Google who’s worked as an engineer at various other companies. “When you put that on Black people and people of color who are already at war, I think it’s just completely irresponsible.”

She said diversity and inclusion initiatives often mean a lot of extra emotional labor for people of color — being sent to conferences and recruiting events, often with little reward.

“It’s not valuable when it comes down to your review, but they want you to do that legwork and teaching other people how to treat you,” she said.

She hopes the current moment will inspire more white colleagues to take leadership on this work.

But these initiatives have sometimes been shown to make biases worse, said Kira Hudson Banks, a professor of psychology at Saint Louis University and co-principal of The Elephant and the Mouse, a business consultancy that develops custom diversity and inclusion programs.

“There’s going to be people for whom the mere conversation is going to raise their defensiveness,” she said. “It’s going to be perceived as a threat, and that might even further entrench their stereotypes.”

Banks said sustainable change takes time and commitment, and too often such programs are an afterthought, conceived quickly in a moment of crisis.

“We often think about diversity training as being the intervention, and we perhaps need to think about what comes before that intervention,” she said. “How do we prepare the environment to be able to fully experience the full potential of a diversity training?”

She recommends training programs last at least nine months to a year. After all, she said, the inequities we’re trying to solve are hundreds of years in the making.

Vigil for Black Lives in Downtown Oakland

By Jane Tyska
Mercury News

Several hundred people with masks and signs attended a vigil for black lives in Oakland Tuesday afternoon.

The vigil, which featured Aztec dancers performing a ceremony, took place on 14th Street outside of The Greenlining Institute, which co-hosted the event with Brown Folx for Black Lives. A large colorful community altar with pictures of George Floyd and others killed by police was erected, and community members were encouraged to place photos of their loved ones or other objects in memoriam.

Several people also spoke at the event, which called for the end of anti-black police terror and state-sanctioned violence perpetrated against black people and communities of color.

Greenlining stands in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives in calling for the divestment from police and reinvestment in healthcare, housing, jobs and education in black communities. The nonprofit’s goal is to ensure that race is never a barrier to economic opportunity.

“It is our hope that this vigil will uplift our community and help all of us embrace the power within ourselves so we can continue the steady march of collective action towards transformative change,” said Debra Gore-Mann President & Chief Executive Officer of The Greenlining Institute.

Vigil to Honor Black Victims of Police Violence Tuesday in Downtown Oakland

Brown Folx for Black Lives & The Greenlining Institute to Hold Remembrance in Front of Greenlining 360 Center

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, 415-846-7758 (cell)

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – On June 9, on the day George Floyd is laid to rest in Houston, Brown Folx for Black Lives will join with The Greenlining Institute to hold a vigil to honor victims of police violence. The event will begin at 3 p.m. in front of Greenlining’s downtown Oakland headquarters. All who wish to honor a loved one lost to police violence are invited to join and to bring a memorial poster, flower, memento or photo to place on the community altar.

WHAT: Vigil to honor Black lives lost to police violence.

WHO: Speakers are still being finalized, but will include a variety of community voices joined by Olga Talamante, Executive Director Emeritus of the Chicana Latina Foundation, and Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann.

WHERE: The Greenlining 360 Center, 360 14th Street, Oakland.

WHEN: Tuesday, June 9, 3 p.m. – 5 p.m.

SAFETY NOTE: In order to maintain safety, face masks and hand sanitizer will be available and social distancing is strongly encouraged.

To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute

New Report Looks at Life on the Wrong Side of the Digital Divide in the COVID-19 Era

Latino and Low-Income Households Especially Likely to Lack Home Broadband 

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director,  415-846-7758 (cell)

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing school and work online for millions, The Greenlining Institute has released a new report focused on first-hand accounts of life without home internet access. On the Wrong Side of the Digital Divide, largely based on interviews with residents of Fresno and Oakland, also includes key data about California’s digital divide and recommendations for actions the state can take to quickly expand internet access.

Latino households, the report notes, are only about one third as likely to have home internet access as White households, while Black households also lag well behind. California’s wealthiest households are 16 times more likely to have access to home internet than the poorest ones.

“More than one fifth of California households either have no internet connection or can connect only through a smartphone – which is just not adequate for many school assignments or job applications,” said report co-author Vinhcent Le, Greenlining’s Technology Equity Legal Counsel. “Latinos and low-income families are especially likely to be on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

The report introduces people in a variety of circumstances struggling with internet access. Pitch, a 16-year-old Asian American student in Fresno, is learning web design and has struggled to complete assignments on her phone, while the cost of internet service has been a burden on her family. Miss A, an older, Black Oakland resident taking a nonprofit management class, had to use local libraries to get online – an option that’s now been closed off by the pandemic, forcing her to drop the class.

“COVID-19 has turned a serious problem into an emergency,” said report co-author Gissela Moya, Greenlining’s Manny Garcia Technology Equity Fellow. “California needs to act quickly to ensure internet access for all.”

To arrange an interview with the authors (in English or Spanish), contact Bruce Mirken at (415)846-7758 or

To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute

Bank Regulator’s Battle With Anti-Redlining Law Comes to an End

By Emily Flitter and 

Joseph Otting came into his job overseeing the nation’s biggest banks in late 2017 determined to rewrite the rules governing how financial institutions invest in poor communities.

A former banker appointed by President Trump, Mr. Otting had long chafed at the rules. So as Comptroller of the Currency, he wasted little time seeking the support of banks, which stood to benefit from the revision, as well as the industry’s two other primary regulators, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and community groups. Everyone agreed that an overhaul was needed.

But last week, when Mr. Otting introduced a revised rule — his signature accomplishment as comptroller — he cut a lonely figure. Banking trade groups said it had been put together hastily without enough testing. The Fed and F.D.I.C. refused to sign on. And community groups fear that the revision would ultimately hurt the poor.

Mr. Otting, who is stepping down on Friday, is leaving behind a fractured landscape around a vital piece of banking legislation: the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, which requires banks to invest in poor communities and lend to low-income individuals in the areas where they do business.

Critics say that the revised rules have the potential to defang the C.R.A. by making it easier for banks to meet their obligations — for example, by letting them get credit for financing a few big projects in low-income neighborhoods that they would have done anyway, rather than offering banking services, which can be less lucrative but more important to the broader community.

It will also cause regulatory disarray, perhaps for years. Banks with different overseers must figure out if the new rules apply to them and spend millions of dollars to comply. Even then, the rules could change again if a Democrat is elected president in November.

“I told him: This is a legacy opportunity. If you do this right, no one will touch it for 15 or 20 years,” said David Dworkin, the chief executive of the National Housing Conference, who worked as a senior policy adviser at the Treasury Department from 2012 until 2018. “There are many people who believe that he wanted to gut C.R.A.,” Mr. Dworkin said. “I can’t make that judgment, but I can say that what he has done will gut it.”

Mr. Otting does not see it that way. “I believe the rule finalized by the O.C.C. will make a positive difference for all low- and moderate-income communities across the nation — many of which were ignored under the previous rule,” he said in a statement to The Times last week. “I fully support a stronger C.R.A..”

A spokesman for Mr. Otting’s office said that even though the other regulators did not sign on, the banks that conduct 70 percent of the activities that are assessed under the reinvestment act are subject to the new rules. (Banks with assets below $2.5 billion can choose not to submit to the regulations.)

The reinvestment act was established to prevent redlining — a practice in which banks refused to lend in certain neighborhoods based on race, ethnicity or income — and ensure that less affluent communities had fair access to financial services.

Compliance is crucial for banks: Mergers and other regulatory approvals are contingent on it. Currently, banks are required to carry out a certain amount of economic activity — either lending, philanthropy, or other banking business — in low-income areas that usually align with their physical locations. But the law has become somewhat outdated in the era of online banking, because banks can attract customers and do business in areas far afield of their branch networks.

Years before he was comptroller, Mr. Otting collided with the C.R.A. as chief executive of a California bank called OneWest — then owned by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. In 2014, OneWest and another bank, CIT, agreed to a $3.4 billion merger. Community groups nearly scuttled the deal by arguing that both banks had dismal records of complying with the reinvestment act.

One such group, the Greenlining Institute, alleged that Mr. Otting had created the illusion of grass-roots support for the merger using a form email that could be personalized and sent in with a few clicks. According to the Fed, 2,093 of the 2,177 comments ultimately submitted in favor of the merger were identical form letters.

Regulators approved the merger after both banks pledged to increase their activity in poor communities, but Mr. Otting has said the experience left him with a sour taste.

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“I went through a very difficult period with some community groups that didn’t support our community, who came in at the bottom of the ninth inning, that tried to change the direction of our merger,” he said at a banking conference in April 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported. “And so I have very strong viewpoints.”

Even before Mr. Otting arrived in Washington in November 2017, Treasury officials were working on a plan to update the rules. A group of policymakers held more than 90 meetings with banks, community groups and trade organizations to determine the best way to reshape the requirements. They created a blueprint and presented it to Mr. Mnuchin, who signed off and sent it to the White House, and then to regulators.

Mr. Otting decided to do his own research. Last year, he toured multiple cities to talk about the law and listen to community feedback. He wanted to redo the rules based on his experience as a banker, he said, making them clearer and easier to follow. In December, he proposed a sweeping rewrite, and initially secured support from the F.D.I.C.

His plan specified which products, services and projects banks could undertake to fulfill their duties and boiled down the evaluation of their work in poor communities to a single metric. But it took away the most important tool that regulators and community groups had to hold banks to account — the discretion to argue that even if banks’ activities looked good on paper, they weren’t significant enough to help communities.

Officials at the Fed felt that Mr. Otting’s proposal was poorly designed and began working on an alternative. When the central bank asked to include its own proposal for comment from stakeholders, Mr. Otting shot the idea down, according to two people familiar with the process. The Fed, led by Chair Jerome H. Powell, decided to let the O.C.C. go its own way.

“We worked to try to get fully aligned with the proposal — we weren’t able to get there,” Mr. Powell later told lawmakers. “They weren’t able to get to our proposal either.”

Negative reaction to the proposal was swift. Representative Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, called it “misguided” and said any changes to the law must not be rushed through.

Community groups also attacked the plan, saying it could deprive poor and minority communities of access to credit. Banks, despite wanting a C.R.A. revamp, were also unhappy with Mr. Otting’s rewrite.

The American Bankers Association, the largest of the bank trade groups, warned against finalizing the rule without extensive improvements, followed by testing of its measurement methods and a pilot program.

Much of the concern stemmed from the short time-frame that Mr. Otting envisioned for getting the new rule vetted. Banks and community groups had just 90 days to comment before his office would finalize it.

Then, the pandemic struck. Lawmakers and bank lobbyists asked Mr. Otting to put the rewrite effort on hold. In a March 30 letter to federal regulators, the Independent Community Bankers of America, another trade group, asked for a 180-day pause on the effort. Earlier this month, Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, asked Mr. Otting to ease up on the process during a Senate Banking Committee hearing. Mr. Otting declined.

Last week, the O.C.C. released a final rule that softened some of the most extreme conditions singled out for criticism in Mr. Otting’s proposal, including the use of a single metric to evaluate bank compliance. The Fed and the F.D.I.C. sat it out. “While the FDIC strongly supports the efforts to make the CRA rules clearer, more transparent, and less subjective, the agency is not prepared to finalize the CRA proposal at this time,” F.D.I.C. Chairwoman Jelena McWilliams said in a statement.

It is not clear what Mr. Otting, 62, intends to do next. For now, he is headed home to Las Vegas, where he co-owns a golf course.

THIS THURSDAY: Virtual Summit Tackles Racial Equity in the Age of COVID-19

Online Summit Features Ibram X. Kendi, Lateefah Simon, Rob Bonta, john a. powell, Chesa Boudin, Rhiana Gunn Wright, Isha Clarke and More

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director,  415-846-7758 (cell)

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – As it becomes steadily more apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately impacting Americans of color, The Greenlining Institute’s annual Economic Summit – retooled as an online event available nationwide – brings together an extraordinary list of speakers to examine both the huge challenges posed by the pandemic as well as paths toward a fairer, more inclusive future. The day’s program of speakers, fireside chats and panels will include leading thinkers like How to Be an Antiracist author Ibram X. Kendi,  Black Futures Lab founder Alicia Garza and author and professor john. a. powell.

The multifaceted program also includes Oakland high school student and climate activist Isha Clarke in a panel on youth activism in a time of crisis. Other speakers include nonprofit leaders and elected officials leading the fight for equity, such as Obama Foundation Chief Engagement Officer Michael Strautmanis, AAPI Civic Engagement Fund Director EunSook Lee, Latino Community Foundation CEO Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin,  considered one of the nation’s leading criminal justice reformers, California Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Lateefah Simon, president of the Akonadi Foundation and member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit Board of Directors.

The Summit theme, We the Future, expresses the drive for a nation where all communities can participate in the creation of healthy, thriving, resilient lives. Speakers and discussions will look at a variety of angles, including:

  • Organizing and power-building in the face of increasing racism and threats to the undocumented, incarcerated people and others;
  • Youth activism in a time of upheaval;
  • The impact of government COVID-19 recovery programs on communities of color; the intersection of health and racial equity in the age of COVID-19;
  • How to build an antiracist society; and
  • The intersection of health, the climate crisis and the pandemic as we work to build a more resilient and inclusive nation.

WHAT: Greenlining’s 27th Annual Economic Summit: We the Future, a Virtual Summit on Racial Equity.

WHO: Speakers include:

Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist and founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University
Alicia Garza, Founder, Black Futures Lab
Michael Strautmanis, Chief Engagement Officer, The Obama Foundation
Chesa Boudin, District Attorney, San Francisco
EunSook Lee, Director, AAPI Civic Engagement Fund
john a. powell, Director, Othering and Belonging Institute, University of California, Berkeley
Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, CEO, Latino Community Foundation
Rhiana Gunn Wright, Director of Climate Policy, The Roosevelt Institute
Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), California State Assembly
Isha Clarke, youth climate activist with Youth v. Apocalypse

WHEN: Thursday, May 21, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

HOW TO ATTEND: Purchase tickets online and get all the details via our Economic Summit web page.

For News Media: Media are invited to attend without charge. For a complimentary pass, email

To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute

California Budget Must Protect Underserved Communities, Greenlining Institute Says

Newsom’s May Revise Puts Important Programs at Risk

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, 415-846-7758 (cell)

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – With California’s communities of color and low- and moderate-income communities facing unprecedented health and economic threats from COVID-19, The Greenlining Institute responded to the governor’s May budget revise with a call to protect these under-resourced communities.

The governor’s proposal, which represents the starting point for negotiations and could change drastically depending on whether Congress approves aid to states, endangers several programs that could help underserved communities weather the current crisis.

“As they work to finalize a tough budget, legislators and the governor must remember that communities of color and essential workers are being hit hardest by COVID-19,” said Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann. “Programs that protect health, build community resilience and help spur a just recovery will get the most from every dollar while providing relief to those with the greatest needs.”

Examples of programs that can bring such multiple benefits but which may now be in danger include climate change efforts like low-income weatherization, urban forestry, urban greening and Transformative Climate Communities – which integrates multiple projects in community-led efforts to fight climate change and strengthen the economies of underserved communities. These programs have shown that they combine environmental, health and economic benefits for communities most in need, Greenlining’s policy staff noted, and the May revise leaves their status unclear.

Also uncertain is the proposed climate resilience bond measure. Greenlining still hopes to see such a bond measure, designed to meet a “triple bottom line” of creating genuine economic stimulus, meeting community climate resilience needs and centering equity to support the communities hit hardest by COVID-19 and climate change .

Greenlining is disappointed that the governor proposed to eliminate his earlier proposal to expand Medi-Cal to undocumented seniors. Although this creates a short-term cost saving, the pandemic has demonstrated the urgent need to expand access to health care to all. The May revise also cuts the proposal to create the California Office of Health Care Quality and Affordability, which could play a critical role in improving community health and strengthening equity and cost containment as California copes with COVID-19.

Newsom’s revised budget does offer some important relief for small businesses in communities of color, which have been particularly hard hit. As Greenlining had urged, it increases the California Small Business Loan Guarantee Program to $100 million. It also waives LLC formation fees, another crucial need for diverse small businesses. Greenlining will continue to urge that small business programs be adequately marketed and implemented in communities of color.

To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute

Community Rejuvenation Project and The Greenlining Institute Announce Final Design for Collaborative Mural Project in Downtown Oakland

Work to Begin May 18

Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, 415-846-7758 (cell)
Desi Mundo, Community Rejuvenation Project, (510) 269-7840,

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – Public art and advocacy organization Community Rejuvenation Project (CRP) today announced it has completed the final design for a large-scale mural on the exterior wall of The Greenlining Institute’s 360 14th St. headquarters. ural

Mural to be painted on Greenlining Institute headquarters in downtown OaklandThe final design was arrived at by a thorough and detailed process which included multiple community input and design review sessions. In addition to downtown Oakland residents, participants included three key stakeholder groups: the artists and residents of the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, the Chinese-American community in Oakland Chinatown, and Greenlining staff.

“This is the most complex and intricate project CRP has ever done,” said CRP founder and Executive Director Desi Mundo, who will serve as lead artist for the project. “I’m very happy with the final design and extremely thankful for all the community input and feedback we received to get to the point where we are ready to begin painting soon,” he added.

“The Greenlining Institute supports this important community mural representing an inspirational project that brings art into the public space. We hope that our community mural will create a tangible sense of place and destination while adding color, vibrancy and character to our Oakland neighborhood,” said Greenlining President Debra Gore-Mann. “We look forward to seeing this mural create dialogue around the rich and diverse community that is Oakland while instilling art as a form of translation across space and time.”

The eight-story wall, shaped like a reverse “L,” presented some logistical challenges in design due to its physical geography, necessitating a completely revamped approach to the work from CRP’s prior large-scale mural, “The Universal Language.”  Many themes of that mural were carried over into the new design; additional themes and imagery were incorporated from community input. “‘The Universal Language’ celebrated the cultural resiliency of the Afro-Diasporic and Pan-Asian communities in Oakland,” Mundo said. “For this project, it was necessary to include Greenlining’s history and its organizational values, as well as address the activism which led directly to this project, and make historical and cultural connections between the diverse array of people and images that will be featured on the wall.”

The design centers around the theme of transformative equity. Train tracks and an actual redlining map of Oakland represent the inequitable practices and policies of the past. The red lines change to green lines, symbolizing the concept of Greenlining — equitable investment in diverse communities. Greenlining’s early leaders — Bob Gnaizda, George Dean, Ortensia Lopez, and John Gamboa — are all represented, along with San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim (a Greenlining Leadership Academy alumni), Chinese American activist Lailan Huen, members of the Black Panther Party, Filipino-American organizer Terry Bautista and Native American leaders Richard Oakes and Morning Star Gali.

Another unifying theme is the connection between culture and activism in communities of color which is essential to achieving equity. Such Oakland notables as dancers Ruth Beckford, Theo Williams, Latanya Tigner, Carla Service, Halifu Osumare, and Zak and Naomi Diouf are featured, along with Casquelourd and his son Kiazi Malonga, jazz educator Kahlil Shaheed, members of the AXIS Dance Company,  and Chinese ribbon dancers.

The design also connects the spiritual practices of communities of color, from Ohlone rituals to Buddhist elements to Mayan sacred symbols to African and Afro-Cuban drumming and dancing to traditional Azteca copal smoke. It also includes a personal tribute from Mundo to his late wife, Jennifer Ana Finefeuiaki, representing Tongan Americans and Polynesian culture.

The mural will not only commemorate the efforts of local culture-keepers and activists for posterity, but serve as a visual reminder of the multicultural diversity which is at the heart of Oakland culture.  Production will begin on May 18, is expected to last about eight weeks, and will follow strict safety protocols during this time of elevated health concerns. Regular updates on its progress will be posted on

At a time when the COVID-19 crisis is adding new strains to populations already under threat from gentrification and displacement, CRP and Greenlining hope the mural will serve as a symbol of hope in the present moment, and for decades to come.

This project is supported by the California Arts Council and Creative Work Fund.

To view a mock-up and detailed description of the mural images, click here.

To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute