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Social Imprints Activist of the Month: San Francisco HRC Executive Director Sheryl Evans Davis

Executive Director Sheryl Evans Davis talks about the Campaign for Solidarity.
Activist of the Month: San Francisco Human Rights Commission Executive Director Sheryl Evans Davis

Sheryl Evans Davis is all in on solidarity.

She is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission (HRC), the City department dedicated to promoting tolerance and equality. This year, Evans Davis oversaw the launch of The Campaign for Solidarity, an initiative to promote unity and combat racially motivated violence. The next workshop for the campaign takes place Tuesday, June 8, from 4 - 6 p.m.

Evans Davis has a longstanding dedication to the city, its citizens, and its community.

Prior to the HRC, which she joined in 2011, Davis worked with the San Francisco Collective Impact and Mo'MAGIC, and has also served on various other public works committees.

For June's Activist of the Month interview, Social Imprints marketing manager Willie Clark sat down with Evans Davis to talk about the Campaign for Solidarity, what she's seen change in San Francisco over her years at the commission, and how the HRC hopes the people of SF will pick up and run with the new program. An edited and condensed transcript of the conversation follows.

Social Imprints: Would you mind explaining just a little bit about what the San Francisco Human Rights Commission does, for readers who might be unfamiliar?

Sheryl Evans Davis: Sure. The San Francisco Human Rights Commission really was founded during the Civil Rights movement and was focused on addressing discrimination, bias, and disparities, and so that continues today. The commission is where people can come to file complaints if they think that they have been discriminated against based on one of the 22 protected classes.

So, if they think they were denied a job or housing, or they weren't able to eat in a restaurant because of a protected class -- whether that is sexual orientation, gender, weight, any of those things -- they can file a complaint with us and our team in the Civil Rights division will review it and then work to help resolve it.

We also have other pieces in the office as well, so we have the Office of Racial Equity, which is doing racial equity analysis for city departments, we have the Dream Keeper Initiative which the major just recently launched to support disparities within the Black community. We also have Opportunities for All, which focuses on paid internships for young people. So, we really are an entity that both addresses discrimination and bias by trying to resolve complaints, but also by trying to do prevention work on the front end.

SI: As Executive Director, what is your role?

SED: You know, we've been really fortunate to be able to stay centered and true to community, so I think for me, my role is really to make sure that we don't lose focus of the work that we're doing and to not get caught up in the systems and bureaucracies that typically happen within the city and to just kind of accept things as the norm.

So, for me, outreach and engagement, making sure that I'm hearing from community, that we're really respecting those voices and opinions, and being responsive. And so that we create and launch programs or sustain programs that actually meet community need and don't do them just because we've always done them.

You've been involved with the commission for a decade now, how do you think San Francisco has changed over that time period?

It's interesting because I've seen both the Commission as a body really change, I've seen the Commission as a department change -- we've tripled in size over the last five years -- and the Commission itself, we've only got two or three of the original members on there. I've had three mayors in that time period.

So, I've seen these shifts. But I would say what is most heartening for me in this point in time is what we're seeing across the nation. This, the idea of solidarity, the idea of social justice, that folks are really united in that message and conversation, and unapologetically so. Whereas before, people would be like 'Well, I'm really sorry this is happening and let me know how I can help,' but they weren't necessarily showing up in the way that they are now. And not being quite as vocal.

I was thinking about when Trump was elected president and there were all these rallies, which I think was the beginning of some of this, there were all these rallies really to combat hate or to talk about supporting each other. You started seeing all these signs, 'Racism Not Welcome Here,' or 'Black Lives Matter' or "Love is Love,' and it was the first time I really remember folks coming together like that.

But, this idea too for window signs that weren't just about who's running for office or vote for this thing, it really was the first time where you started to see all these different signs ... I think that showing, and that commitment, but that you saw those things in the windows of people who were straight, or you saw them in the windows of people who weren't Black, or you saw them in the windows of people that weren't women, that all of a sudden this isn't just the symbol for who lives in this house or who works here. But it became a symbol of, 'I'm committed to this language and this work even though it doesn't impact me directly.'

One thing I wanted to make sure to ask you about was the HRC recently launched the Campaign for Solidarity. Where did the idea for this campaign come from?

You know in a lot of ways, it really is born out of like, we're seeing all these house signs. And a lot of folks were like, 'we keep preaching to the choir,' what does it look like to involve people who aren't in the choir, what does it look like to get the folks that don't come to these meetings, or don't sit in these webinars, or don't have the house signs?

And we were kind of like, this is a campaign. Let's think about this in the same way as a campaign, where when you want someone elected, they do these canvassing workshops, they give you the clipboard, they give you the talking points, they send you on your way to go out to the merchants and ask them to put the signs in their windows or ask the neighbors to put the signs in the windows. And like, we have to tackle this in the same way, we're trying to get solidarity and we're trying to get common decency to become the norm.

And part of that is not just talking to each other, and really being very intentional about the messaging and whether we're showing that we're committed to solidarity, beyond just putting 'Black Lives Matter' or "Stop Asian Hate.' What's the actual action that we're doing, and so this was really born out of like, let's think about it in the same way, no one ever says when somebody's running for office 'Well, all they did is knock on doors or just passed out brochures.' That's the norm ... this is the same idea, the same premise, that we want to push this and see the window signs everywhere and have people wearing buttons and asking people 'Did you vote for solidarity?'

What are the main goals of the campaign?

I mean the first and foremost was to build community across neighborhoods, across cultures, multi-generational, that was first and foremost. The other one was, to really, get people to make a commitment to solidarity. And in that making a commitment, maybe that commitment to talk to someone about what solidarity what looks like, to think about what solidarity looks like for themselves, and so those were some of the things.

And then, we just wanted to get those things out there. We want to flood community with books about multiculturalism or diversity, we want to flood the community with information about different programs and different neighborhoods and different folks, that we come to really just celebrate diversity versus attacking it.

What are you really hoping to see the people of San Francisco do to pick up and run with the campaign on their own?

The two things that we're wanting, one is around the workshops, the education, resources, to your point our role is to really prepare people who are like 'I don't know what to do' or 'I don't know what to say' or 'I don't know where to point people and I don't know how to respond.' We want to have that, the toolkit, the workshops, the educations, the trainings, like that's our role as the organization.

And then what we want to see happen in community, we were just talking about this, we had the launch event where were assembling kits and distributing kits. We actually want to see people do that, they don't need us ... we had one group in the Lakeview area of San Francisco that they picked up all the supply, they got together a group of people, they put the kits together, and then that group of people went down the merchant corridor and distributed those things, talked to the merchants about it, asked them to put the signs in their window, and then they all went together and had a multicultural lunch.

If we can get more people to do that, that will be huge. All they needed was the tools from us.

How did the launch event go?

I was just talking to somebody yesterday and they were saying how amazing it was, because it was a chance to bring hopefulness together, it was an eclectic, diverse mix of people. And it came at a time, when they had been, which we're still seeing, right, so much negativity and the attacks on our Asian elders. They said, at a moment when we were starting to come out of isolation and confinement, to be in space with people and to be in unity and around our collective liberation being connected, folks felt like it was a great launch, it was a great kickoff. We assembled over 1200 kits, and have distributed most of those already for the next assembling, and had really great support, kick off, and now we just want to make sure that it doesn't die down.

Do you have any upcoming events?

Yeah, June 8 and June 21 we're doing solidarity workshops, and so we'll kind of go through what's in the toolkit, we'll go through and highlight some of what folks have done with the toolkit, and then we'll schedule some future events and activities.



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