MBK Communities: Infrastructure and Impact
Panel Host: Linda Gibbs, Principal, Bloomberg Associates
Other Panel Members:
Mayor Betsy Hodges, Minneapolis, MN
Assemblyman Michael Blake, Bronx, NY
Sarah Eagle Heart (Oglala Lakota), Native Americans in Philanthropy
Transcript of Vice Mayor Rex Richardson's Remarks
Linda Gibbs: “…Vice Mayor Richardson, the Assemblymember raises the big challenge of implementation. I had the great pleasure of working with Long Beach and helping them put together their MBK plan – and then there’s the big party, and the press conference, and the Mayor and the Councilmember all show up, and everybody’s happy, and then the next day somebody’s got to come back and do the work. And it’s hard work – it’s really hard work. So, can you share with us the structure, how you’re making all this happen on the ground in Long Beach? And what’s going well, and what are the challenges?”
Rex Richardson: “Sure, and thank you so much, and I think you hit the nail on the head. Commonly we think these things are easy – there are challenges, particularly in large cities. Long Beach has half a million residents; we’re the second largest city in the county, 36th largest city in the nation.
And it has to be personal, you need to take personal leadership there – I took personal interest in the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. I was the free lunch kid that my brother here was talking about, you know, single working mother. And so, when I was in a direct position to take leadership on the issue, on the city council of a major city, I made it a personal mission to engage there. So what did that mean?
We stepped forward, put together a comprehensive cradle-to-career plan that the president called for. It wasn’t easy to initially get there – we had to convene stakeholders and sometimes convince people that you have to speak with non-traditional leaders and partners, and you have to sometimes take it outside of government to accomplish that.
Now we’ve stepped forward, we have a plan that we’re proud of, that sets the standard in the region. Bloomberg Associates helped us to craft that plan, and we’re shifting to an implementation phase. Now what does that mean?
For us that means, sort of adjusting and shocking our government just a little bit to make changes and to acknowledge that this is a real commitment that we’re making. So the first thing we did was – we looked at how are we aligned? Is there a better, more efficient way to deliver service and have a real conversation about policy? And we found that, you know, if you look at My Brother’s Keeper, human trafficking, all of these equity sort-of policies and programs that are spread out across our city – so we asked our city staff to take a better look at how we’re situated, and we’re unique in that we’re one of three cities in the state of California with a health department. Violence prevention –violence is a public health epidemic and crisis – and so we thought it would be better fit to change our government: create an Office of Equity, place it in the health department, and move all of our violence prevention programs into the human services division.
That’s directly aligned now with equity. What it did was to force us, rather than have this as some plan to put in our pocket or to set on a shelf, it forces us to have staff and build capacity and actually implement that plan. So if the roadmap is the My Brother’s Keeper plan, and the vehicle is the Office of Equity, we still need that fuel. So we can’t do this alone, we have to look at those non-traditional partners – clergy, labor, philanthropic groups, and we went to the business sector as well. We hired a FUSE fellow, a private sector fellow, come in and help us map the best ways to help implement this plan. We leaned on the California Endowment, who supported a full-time health equity person to be placed in this Office of Equity and help us lead this My Brother’s Keeper work.
We also looked at collective impact across departments. So we know that commonly people assume or think that maybe a department like Parks & Recreation may have front-line, may have more engagement with disconnected youth than other departments – but if you look at the data, you’ll find that departments like your police department, and your city prosecutor’s office, have a significant amount of contact with this population.
So how do we turn a community-to-prison pipeline or a contact with a law enforcement officer into a positive intervention in the life of that young person. Right? So we know that they’re an extension of a city family, how do we turn that into a positive intervention?
So we worked with our city prosecutor’s office and crafted a program called PATH – Promising Adults Tomorrow’s Hope. And it says if you’re under the age of 25, out of school, out of work, or under employed, before – if you get a citation or a misdemeanor – before we prosecute you, before we put you in front of a judge, we connect you with our workforce resources. We connect you with Long Beach Unified School District, and Long Beach City College. And if you make satisfactory progress, you never have to stand in front of a judge, you never get slapped with that fine – and that’s how we look at the collective impact across departments.
But sometimes it’s about taking it outside of government as well and looking at our partners in the education world – so for example, in Long Beach we’re really proud of the Long Beach College Promise. The Long Beach College Promise is an initiative where if you attend a Long Beach Unified School and make satisfactory progress, we save a spot for you at Long Beach State, which is the most applied to university on the west coast. You’re guaranteed, by right, a seat there. But let’s say you don’t meet satisfactory standards, and that’s okay, you have the opportunity to get one full year free at Long Beach City College and we’re working on a pipeline to vocational. So you have a direct pipeline that we’re working on.
And again, just to close, it has to be personal. Like I said, I was a free lunch kid. I went to a number of public schools, 14 before attending college, from Ferguson to Alabama to Missouri on to California, and for me it was – the moment for me personally, when I knew I wanted to work on an issue like this and commit to public service, was the moment when I received my college acceptance letter. When I was 17 years old and I received that letter that said to me, ‘you overcame barriers, you have value, you matter, and since you matter you have a commitment to pay that forward.’ And we have to make sure that that sentiment is embodied not just in cities and local governments, but in that community, because that community is going to hold that local government accountable.”
Linda Gibbs: “Thank you, and before I open it up for the audience to ask you questions, I welcome any thoughts or response any of you may have in reaction to your fellow panelist’s comments.”
Rex Richardson: “Linda, I actually want to address something that was posed to Ms. Eagle Heart. So, she talked about, the question to her was – in diversity, how you make sure that others own your issue. And if you look at it, the City of Long Beach for example, we’re a very diverse city. Second most culturally diverse city in the nation, probably to my brother here in the Bronx.
And I would say that – African Americans probably only make up about 13% of the city. There are not enough of us to win alone. We have to own the issues of our Latino brothers, our Cambodians brothers, and our poor white brothers. We have to find where our interests intersect and build there. That is a strong coalition, and frankly that is the coalition that wins America.”