By Jarrel Phillips
I am a product of San Francisco and San Francisco is a product of me. San Francisco has always been a city in transition, characterized by its commitment to cultural diversity and creative communities. It was once home to a significant and vibrant African American population. San Francisco State University started the nation’s first Black Studies Program in 1968 and the Fillmore District was often called the Harlem of the West. But according to the last census, San Francisco has had one of the largest declines in Black population of any large city since the 1970s when Blacks made up 13.4 percent of the city. By 2013, the Black population was less than half of that and it has declined visibly since then. The African American middle class has almost disappeared and San Francisco’s public schools reflect that continuing decline in population. According to the San Francisco Unified School District, its African American student population plummeted almost 60 percent from 2001 to 2015.
I Am San Francisco: Black Past & Presence makes visible the significance, depth and diversity of black life and culture in San Francisco in response to the overwhelming impression that it has faded away. In the words of James Baldwin, “We are the San Francisco that no one talks about.” IAMSF explores how black life presents itself through culture, art and organization, both historically and currently, using visual art, commentary and personal reflections from city residents, community leaders and artists, most born and raised in San Francisco.