Social Entrepreneurs share their visions for racial and economic justice in the Bay Area

Five people seated in a row in a lecture hall

The Haas Center’s 2022 Social Entrepreneurs in Residence at Stanford (SEERS) fellows recently joined the Center for Human Rights and International Justice, the Graduate School of Education, the Haas Center for Public Service, and the Program on Urban Studies for a conversation on their career experiences and wisdom about the advancement of racial and economic justice in the Bay Area. The discussion among fellows Anthony Chang, Joi Jackson-Morgan, and Lateefah Simon was moderated by Human Rights Minor Chris Iyer and Stanford student Princess Vongchanh. Sharing personal stories about their upbringing in the Bay Area, the resilience of their families and communities, and the people that keep them committed and inspired within service work, the SEERS Fellows offered a moving call to seek ways to challenge unjust social norms and engage in activism.

Opening the conversation with the question “What forces brought you here today?” the panelists reflected on how their cultural identities, families, and places they were raised have informed their sense of purpose within organizing. Joi Jackson-Morgan, Executive Director of the 3rd Street Youth Center & Clinic, expressed a sense of duty to work toward promoting public good, a value instilled by her grandmother and mother who raised her in Bayview Hunters Point in San Francisco. Lateefah Simon, President of Meadow Fund and former President of the Bay Area Rapid Transit board of directors and the Akonadi Foundation, explained that she is drawn to the opportunity to “be in dialogue with other practitioners creating communal knowledge and answering old questions.” Anthony Chang, co-founder of the Manzanita Capital Collective, an organization seeking to redistribute capital, land, and power to tribal communities, farmers of color, and people working towards food and land justice, reflected on his identity as the son of Chinese immigrant small business owners and his personal journey with the myth of the American Dream. He sees himself engaged in a “constant journey of trying to do better,” adapting to the changing physical and social landscape of the Bay Area.

The conversation then shifted to a nostalgic, yet critical discussion of the unique multicultural nature of the Bay Area. Lateefah Simon mused that there is “something so rich and beautiful about the Bay Area,” and that living in San Francisco offers a special understanding of “the juxtaposition of culture, class, and race” within an urban environment. Joi Jackson-Morgan shared similar reflections, detailing memories of her youth in San Francisco “pre tech boom” where neighbors came together in appreciation for one another’s backgrounds, celebrating Chinese New Year and Juneteenth as a community. Anthony Chang also commented on the trio of “people, culture, food,” remarking on the importance of rural farmers within the culture of the Bay Area. Considering the notion that the dominant culture of the United States is homogeneously “American,” Chang encouraged that we look deeper than a one-dimensional narrative and regard San Francisco’s multi-racial cross-class community as distinctly American in and of itself.

Next, the panelists discussed their work and how they see their personal goals align with the goals of their organizations and their stakeholders. As moderator Chris Iyer pointed out, each of the fellows center their work around listening to the needs of the community and using their resources, skills, and connections to best address these needs. Joi Jackson-Morgan stressed prioritizing “opportunity and exposure” for the youth that she works with at the 3rd Street Youth Center & Clinic, valuing them as key decision-makers and advocates for community issues. Anthony Chang views his organizing role similarly, remarking that “at the center is listening to folks, listening to farmers of color, listening to tribal communities, asking what they need, and letting everything flow from there.” Closing out the discussion, Lateefah Simon captured the intersectionality of social justice work by stressing that her work in government, philanthropy, and nonprofits seeks to answer the question, “How can we ensure that everywhere young people and families have the same life expectancy, access to healthcare, human rights, reproductive rights, and good economics?” Joi Jackson-Morgan emphasized that the priorities of her work fall under this question. Her goals are for youth to “feel safe, healthy and engaged in their lives and their community, and for them to experience joy in their lives,” moving beyond solely meeting basic needs and seeking moments of radical happiness despite the impact of oppressive systems on marginalized groups.

Lateefah Simon asked the audience to dare to be “disruptive to the cultural norm.” She explained that “we can be disruptive in how we sit, how we love, and how we engage with folks,” encouraging individuals to seek out challenging conversations and demonstrate appreciation for all people, regardless of their background. Commenting on the impact that advocating for policy change can have on broader social culture, Simon expressed, “When you kill old ways of doing things, you change norms.” Joi Jackson-Morgan captured this idea concisely when speaking on the need to be a lifelong learner in pursuit of liberation: “The world is evolving all the time, and we have to learn how to adapt. This is part of our human history. Part of that is education, experience, and failure.”

As efforts advancing the mission of social and economic justice persist, the panelists emphasized the importance of guidance by those who have come before, seeking mentorship, and gaining new knowledge. Reflected through the course currently being taught by the SEERS fellows, “Social Entrepreneurship and the Advancement of Democracy, Development, and Justice”, those committed to liberation from oppression can learn and engage together in community, keep one another accountable, lift each other up in times of distress, and discern how to use our individual talents to make the most positive impact.