A personal journey through collective history, toward a racial justice practice

by Chris Dowd

     Immediately after I returned from this year’s GLIDE-led justice pilgrimage to Alabama, social distancing was in full effect. Suddenly, despite the powerful memories I carried, my period of guided reflection about race in America felt overshadowed by our global health emergency. Soon, the data around testing, infection rates, and deaths came to highlight the inequity of service and care. Then, the whole world witnessed Amy Cooper leverage her power against a Black man bird watching in Central Park. Days later came the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd—at the hands of those entrusted to protect and serve. I started to feel a greater urgency to share the lessons from my experience in Alabama.

I believe we are more than the stories we tell ourselves. One of the stories I tell myself is that I grew up in San Francisco, white, the youngest of three siblings and the son of two highly educated parents. I was afforded the privileges of private education and strong role models in my community. This is part of my story, just as most of what we know of our friends and colleagues is only part of their story. It takes time and a shared context to see a more complete story. This is true not only at the individual level, with friends and family, but also at the level of our collective consciousness and history as a country. GLIDE Church has always been a place for this in San Francisco and the Tenderloin, at critical moments in modern history, to reflect and to question.

I grew up in San Francisco, but left for high school, college, and my first job. Returning in 2017, I was immediately drawn to GLIDE by the gravity of its courageous history, and its purpose: unconditional love. It quickly became the center of gravity for my new chapter in my old city.

I started volunteering on the Harm Reduction team, handing out clean needle kits and leading Narcan trainings for the treatment of narcotic overdoses. This experience on the front lines of San Francisco’s fight against the opioid crisis could not have been more different from my day job just a few blocks away at Google. I quickly saw the disconnect: that almost no one in my professional network had an understanding or connection to this life-changing work.

To bridge these communities,  I joined the Legacy Committee, GLIDE’s young professionals group, which works to engage young leaders from San Francisco’s evolving workforce and youth culture in GLIDE’s mission. In doing so, the Legacy Committee supports their learning around the nuances of systems that govern our streets as well as GLIDE’s historic role at the center of San Francisco’s progressive movements.

As the 2020 Co-Chair of the Legacy Committee, I was invited to join Rabbi Michael Lezak and Isoke Femi, of GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice, on GLIDE’s annual Social Justice Pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama. Over 100 intergenerational leaders from GLIDE, SFPD, UCSF, The Kitchen, and local government participated.

Musical director Vernon Bush leads Alabama group in song in meeting room of Dexter Baptist Church.

Nearly two months before leaving for Alabama, our group met in Freedom Hall on Thursday nights, below the GLIDE Sanctuary. The physical space is characterized by white linoleum floors, stacks of foldable chairs, and the regular sound of overhead MUNI bus wires sparking as the buses climb up Nob Hill. For me, Freedom Hall is also a divine space of unlearning. In 2018, for example, it hosted a full-scale mock-up of an overdose prevention / safe consumption site, a temporary construction made to display the public health benefits of this proven health intervention, still largely unknown in the U.S., to regulators, community leaders, and journalists. This space was our classroom, where we would start the process of reconciling the incomplete individual and collective stories about race in America that many of us have learned, and continue to internalize within our families and communities.

Our practice and study were multisensory. Before every meeting, we were led in song by Vernon Bush, the musical director of the GLIDE Ensemble. Our reading list was robust. I was taken by the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates on reparations, then by Michelle Alexander’s account of the state of criminal injustice, and later by a 60 Minutes interview from the 1980s with Bryan Stevenson describing the work that became the Equal Justice Initiative. I will never forget the feeling of taking deep breaths before multiple pages of Anthony Ray Hinton’s story, a man wrongly kept on death row for three decades, whom we would later meet on our trip to Alabama. These works were offered as the minimum expectation for participation in our group dialogue. Everyone did their homework.

Language is the cornerstone of any shared history. At the start of each meeting, Rabbi Lezak introduced Hebrew phrases: Kavvanah, meaning intentionality or direction of the heart; Chag, a place you must visit in order to understand a history; Kriah, the experience of tearing your garment after someone dies in an effort to mend in grief. He was teaching us the ways in which Hebrew has evolved to more accurately express the trauma and triumph that is core to their history. I came to recognize, and be motivated by the vacancies in my own language as I tried to understand these unfamiliar feelings and experiences.

Just before we left for Alabama, I met with Minister Marvin K. White, GLIDE’s fearless faith leader, to see if he had any advice on preparing for the journey. We spoke about the importance of active listening, and the reality that, so often, our public discourse does not allow for spirituality or religion to take center stage. He encouraged me to listen deeply, have side conversations, and let the walls talk.

On the ground in Montgomery, Alabama with Rabbi Michael.

            A few days later, I was on a Greyhound from Birmingham to Montgomery passing Waffle Houses and billboard psalms. I read through past notes from our gatherings in Freedom Hall, reaching to synthesize and remember what exactly my purpose was, my why, for joining this trip. I scribbled down some scattered thoughts about bearing witness, being an ally, and having a more complete vision of my country’s past, knowing full well that nothing written on that page would equip me for, shield me from, or even enable me to name what I was going to experience in the coming days. I was ashamed at my eagerness to intellectualize and jump ahead to imagine how this experience might “fit” into my life, recognizing, even at the time, the privilege that enables such an instinct. So, I drew myself against the window and tried to just be present, as I would try to do countless times in the coming days.

Just before sundown I stepped off the Greyhound onto Maxwell Boulevard, one of the first streets along the Alabama River. That evening, we gathered in the hotel lobby occupying our in-between time with light banter about the slower pace of life best captured through the 90-second timer at a nearby crosswalk. 

That night, we walked to the basement of the Dexter Baptist Church, which would come to be our local Freedom Hall, the place where a young 25-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. got his start as a minister, and where the organizers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott would hold late night gatherings. Just across the street is the Southern Poverty Law Center, demonstrating the power of proximity, and the rich history of collaboration between judicial activists and spiritual leaders.

Montgomery is the birthplace of modern civil rights activism in America, so casual encounters with residents led to powerful stories and important context. Through a side conversation with a tour guide from a local nonprofit, our group was able to meet the guide’s father, Chap. Chap was born and raised in Alabama in the 1950s, before migrating to New York City as a result of Alabama State University’s segregation policies.

Chap remembers how then-Governor George Wallace stood on the steps of the state university pronouncing his favorite catch phrase, “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Around that same time, the murder of the four girls at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church turned Chap’s frustration into rage, motivating his decision to head north.  

History books often describe George Wallace as a young man desperate for power. He began his career as a progressive judge until it proved politically stale, at which point he turned to channeling fear and white supremacy, later becoming a seminal character in our historical through-line from slavery to the modern era. You can imagine the complexity Chap faced when, decades later, George Wallace offered him a job, appointing him to lead ministerial services for inmates on death row. Chap would accept, returning to Alabama to deliver last rites for over two decades.

Now, in his early 80s, Chap addressed our group, in the basement of Dexter Baptist Church, with a simple message: It is more difficult to forgive than it is to hate. I could not begin to imagine what it takes for a man like Chap, who has seen true evil, to arrive at that lesson. The next day would continue to expose more challenging truths.

Chap addresses the group in the meeting room at Dexter Baptist Church.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and its Legacy Museum are housed in repurposed slave barracks. Just 200 yards east is where the slave market once was, and 50 yards west lies the train station, its tracks laid by slaves for their inevitable transit and sale throughout the American South. I wrote in my journal that morning about the elusive fact that our public spaces reflect and contain our history, values, and collective memory. It reminded me of the violence in Charlottesville in 2016, following attempts to remove confederate statues and iconography associated with the same painful and oppressive history. The statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville sparked a series of events that allowed the world, for a moment, to peek behind the curtain at a painful American history and culture. In the case of EJI, they chose to reclaim spaces that you might walk by a thousand times before considering their original use, and to build new monuments there.

In Montgomery, a city whose very cobblestones and roundabouts evoke similar traumas, there is no single monument you can point to, no one thing you can get rid of—everything about the city breathes its past. Just as the history of slavery cannot be removed from the fabric of Montgomery, it also has not vanished from our institutions. EJI and its powerful Legacy Museum exist to bring about a more complete American narrative, one that makes clear that slavery, far from ending in 1865, has only evolved. There is a clear chronology through American history from slavery to mass incarceration and the type of policing that grips and terrorizes Black communities across this country. EJI is trying to help America heal and move forward by addressing old, suppressed truths.

For example, Bryan Stevenson and EJI make it possible for stories and voices like Anthony Ray Hinton’s to reach a national audience. Anthony Ray Hinton was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death row in 1985. A simple ballistics review would have swiftly undermined the decades-old verdict, but the state DA rejected his appeal in the early 2000s, condemning him to another 15 years before Bryan Stevenson and EJI took on his case. Finally freed from death row, Hinton expressed his tremendous resilience in the face of such persecution in these words, “They took my thirties, they took my forties, they took my fifties, but they can’t take my joy.”

Yet, it was impossible to hear his story and not feel rage towards the extrajudicial measures that robbed Anthony Ray Hinton of his freedom. To date, he has never received an apology from the state for the wrongful conviction. As he saw it, this was no mistake. “No one with power will ever apologize to someone with no power,” he told us.

At the end of our first night in Montgomery, Nathaniel Woods, a young Black man who sat on death row for over 15 years, was killed in an electric chair just a few hours’ drive from us. I feel disoriented and horrified when I think about the thousands of wrongly accused men and women of color who are unjustly pulled from their communities in silence, whose suffering is too diffuse and systemic to warrant a thumbnail on your mobile feed. I am certain I would not have heard of Nathaniel Woods had I not been in Montgomery at that time, and that is part of EJI’s mission, to raise awareness around these less-publicized acts of injustice.

Anthony Ray Hinton addresses the group at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.

I was in a constant state of unlearning. Walking to our next group gathering, I stumbled on a painted iron plaque memorializing the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I knew about Rosa Parks, but not much else. I was surprised to learn that Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old girl, was actually the first to sit in the whites-only section of the bus. The violent response from police and city officials inspired Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others to create a plan to advance their cause. Mobilizing an alternative transit system sponsored by a Black-owned funeral service fleet for rural communities, and understanding that their movement could drain and strain the city’s budget largely by slashing bus fare revenues, the bus boycott forced the city’s hand: its pocket book or segregation.

The most powerful tool in the EJI-led movement is the Legacy Museum, which takes visitors from slavery to our modern-day criminal justice system and policing. No one forgets what it’s like to walk into the Legacy Museum for the first time. On the left hand of the ticket booth is a large map of the city of Montgomery in the 1860s. Just as the domestic slave trade was exploding, this sleepy Alabama town was becoming its headquarters. The map highlighted the businesses, transportation hubs, and organizations that propped up this economy. At the center was the slave market, efficient and inhumane to its core. As my finger tracked across the map, I recognized a name: Lehman Brothers—a bank which up until the 2008 financial crisis represented the pinnacle of America’s financial sector, “the smartest guys on The Street.”

I suspect their origins as the banker and lender for a growing slave industry in America were rarely mentioned at their first-year analyst orientation. And if they were still around today, I suspect that would still be the case. I mention this not exclusively to shame Lehman Brothers, or any other organization which may have had their origins in circumstances that we would rightly find morally abhorrent, but instead to recognize that it is the responsibility of citizens to ask the question, and then to ask the follow-up question, to try to understand the truth behind our institutions. Because there is no reason to suppose that injustice doesn’t still have offices on Main Street.

Inside the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery.

I share these stories because they represent small moments in my personal journey of understanding, and in my development of a Justice Practice that I can rely on. Travel, reading, and difficult conversations are useful ingredients in understanding a more complete American story and informing sustainable, direct, and indirect action. I believe my personal decisions and journey have an impact on my friends and family, and will meaningfully contribute to the collective growth and transformation that our children will come to expect and rightfully demand of us.

Inscribed on the side of the Legacy Museum is a quote by Maya Angelou: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” There has never a better time  than  right now to dedicate ourselves to learning, practice and action.

Outside the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.


If you are a Bay Area–based young professional interested in learning more about the GLIDE Legacy Committee, please feel free to reach out to youngprofessionals@glide.org or go to our website. I would also encourage you to learn more about the mission and programs of EJI, Southern Poverty Law Center, GLIDE Ministry, and the GLIDE Center for Social Justice. Now is the time to support the experts, the local leaders and those with lived experience in the struggle against racism and injustice.

Chris Dowd is Co-Chair of the GLIDE Legacy Committee.

Minister Marvin K. White addressed GLIDE Staff at a vigil for Black lives lost to state and state-backed violence on June 9, 2020.

My job today is to remind you that the actions you take now and next are necessary. Because through your actions, you affirm that freedom is the goal and aim of this uprising. Yes, we are fighting for justice in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and Countless Named and Unnamed Black People Killed at the hands of the state and state actors but my job is to remind you that after justice, comes peace. And “after justice, comes peace” is a scientific and universal law right up there with Archimedes’ Principle of Buoyancy, Hooke’s Law of Elasticity, Bernoulli’s Law of Fluid Dynamics (Bernoulli’s Principle), Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressures and Fourier’s Law of Heat Conduction.

After justice, comes peace. Or out of the mouth of protestors, “No Justice, No Peace.” It’s not a threat, it’s holding Peace as the aim. It’s holding Peace as the truth! And peace is what we are fighting through the justice to get to and return to. And we’re close! How do I know? Because White Supremacy and Oppression rears its ugly head like a bully daring us to cross the bodies of murdered black people to get to Peace every time. And look at us, and look at y’all, standing up to police brutality, standing down racism, standing up to silence, and standing down white fragility. We close to Peace. Because Justice in the air.

And we do the many named and unnamed Black people, killed by the police, no favors, if we don’t move into the Peace that they were headed towards for over 400 years now! And Peace, across Faith, across Race, across Gender, across Sexuality, across Class, does not die with us. Death raises the possibility of Peace even more. Keep fighting for Peace.

No Justice…

No Peace…

No Justice…

No Peace…

No Justice…

No Peace…

No Justice…

No Peace…

No Justice…

No Peace…


GLIDE’s Unconditional Legal Clinic

When Gary woke up in a Daly City hospital after suffering a brain hemorrhage, a hospital administrator informed him that his car had been towed. Unable to leave his hospital bed, Gary called the tow company to explain why he was unable to move his car. But despite explaining that he was not only hospitalized but homeless, and that his car was also his residency, Gary was told that his car would not be released until he paid $9,000 in fees.

This was in part due to San Francisco’s 72-hour law, which says that all vehicles parked on city streets can remain parked in the same spot for only three days in a row, at which point the city is permitted to tow the car without notice.

Gary spent the holidays hospitalized, trying to focus on recuperating, while his phone rang incessantly with demands to pay mounting tow costs—costs that were rapidly rising with exorbitant storage fees for every day his car remained impounded. By the time Gary was finally released from the hospital, the tow company had sold his only home at a lien sale, leaving him without any shelter or his belongings.

A civil justice gap

Across the United States, minor civil infractions like Gary’s are derailing the lives of low-income people who lack the savings necessary to cover an unanticipated expense. And few cities provide legal resources to support people who can’t afford a lawyer or other legal costs.

Legal resources are more readily available for some specific areas of the law, such as immigration; and in criminal cases, a defendant has a constitutional right to a court-appointed attorney. But what does a low-income person do in child custody cases, or evictions, or when they return to their parking place to find out their car has been impounded?

Founding the Unconditional Legal Clinic

James Lin, GLIDE’s senior director of mission and spirituality, recalls the day in September 2013 that “a preppy-looking white guy wearing a polo shirt” walked into GLIDE and introduced himself as Charlie.

At the time, Charlie Crompton worked as a lawyer at one the largest law firms in the city, Latham & Watkins. But Charlie was looking to help a clientele that rarely entered the privileged space of his office building. Charlie’s interest in public service led him to the Tenderloin, where he saw the need and the opportunity to integrate legal resources with the wide range of social services offered at GLIDE.

Word quickly spread that there was a trustworthy lawyer at GLIDE who got things done, for free. By leveraging his extensive legal network, Charlie was able to streamline the on-site, no-cost, drop-in legal services that would become the Unconditional Legal Clinic.

The free legal counsel and resources folded perfectly into GLIDE’s holistic approach to services, which provides loving non-judgmental support for people seeking to obtain and maintain the essentials of life—housing, jobs, benefits and family—amid the hardship of poverty and related challenges.

Like other services provided at GLIDE, the Unconditional Legal Clinic was born out of a need in the community, and it grew organically in its commitment to that need.

A new partnership

When, in 2014, Governor Jerry Brown tapped Charlie to be a superior court judge, the future of the Unconditional Legal Clinic seemed uncertain.

But Charlie is a creative problem-solver, and he once again turned to his network for possibilities. Having sat on the board of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR), Charlie went to them with a proposal and ultimately secured the collaboration of LCCR pro bono attorneys, supported in its administrative costs by two years of funding from his old firm of Latham & Watkins.

GLIDE was now a secure bridge for immigrants whose first language might not be English, for refugees who may not know their rights, and for low-income communities of color in need of legal guidance and support, all of whom could benefit from connecting with lawyers committed to protecting and advancing the civil rights of anyone and everyone in need.

Representation and dignity

“It has been very healing,” says Bréyon Austin, who studied Tribal and Criminal Law in Albuquerque before joining LCCR and who for the past year has been working at GLIDE’s Unconditional Legal Clinic. “I grew up homeless and will always feel that I am part of this community. I wanted to use my law degree to support people in the same situations I myself experienced.”

This is the uniquely reciprocal nature of GLIDE’s Legal Clinic: not only does it provide members of the community with the legal services they need, but it also offers lawyers an immersive experience into the reality of impoverished communities in San Francisco, people struggling to navigate through a confusing and often unjust maze of legal barriers.

For low-income people fighting to survive on the fragile footings of poverty, the results of minor violations can be devastating, especially considering how quickly they tend to snowball.

A vehicle tow, for instance, can mean the loss of transportation, or shelter, or both, which can lead to loss of employment as well as the loss of access to education and medical care. Not only is retrieving a car from a tow lot expensive, but it is also incredibly time-consuming. And for each day the car remains impounded, further fees accrue, as in Gary’s case.

In 2018, Gary visited GLIDE’s Unconditional Legal Clinic and connected with an attorney from LCCR, who provided him with the legal assistance and representation he needed to file a claim against the City and the tow company.

The result was justice: The judge ruled that the city should not have towed and sold his vehicle considering his inability to comply with the 72-hour parking law.

Of the more than 200 clients served per year by the clinic, more than half are experiencing homelessness and the majority are people of color over the age of 50.

Bréyon says the most common issues she hears about are City confiscation of personal belongings and housing-related matters. For housed clients, she deals with everything from eviction prevention to landlord harassment and uninhabitable living conditions in apartments infested with rodents and mold, and lacking running water, heat and electricity.

“The work is intense because it is bearing witness to injustice,” admits Bréyon. “But the healing comes from knowing I can help people achieve what they need with the representation and dignity they deserve.”  

Bréyon Austin, Clinic & Pro Bono Coordinator at LCCR

By Erin Gaede

The Unconditional Legal Clinic, a program of GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice, is open on a drop-in basis, Monday and Thursday from 2:00 to 5:00 pm, at GLIDE.

We are thrilled to relate that Antwan Matthews, a Phlebotomist and HIV Navigator on the GLIDE Harm Reduction Team, was recently awarded a prestigious fellowship from Rise Up, an Oakland-based organization advocating a better future for youth, women and girls globally. This year, Rise Up selected 22 winners out of 550 applicants who are using technology, innovation and advocacy to improve sexual and reproductive health, and advance rights and justice for women and girls in East Africa, South Asia, and the United States.

Antwan Matthews is a Phlebotomist and HIV Navigator at GLIDE.

In the United States, the committee only accepts applications from Mississippi and Louisiana. While Antwan lives and works in San Francisco, he grew up and attended university in Mississippi. Antwan had applied to Rise Up in 2017, and while he made the top 30, he was not selected as an awardee. This year, the organization called him and requested that he re-apply.

“I was thrilled that they were still interested in me, that they remembered my application and that I could still be funded even if I’m not living in Mississippi at the moment,” Antwan recalls.

“I want to help inform individuals about their bodies holistically.”
— Antwan Matthews

Antwan has the opportunity to receive up to $12,000 to help him conduct a year-long project.

“I’m planning on coordinating with some of the students at my alma mater in Mississippi, Tougaloo College, to create a curriculum that will be developed into a class about sexual and reproductive health that is taught every other semester,” says Antwan.

Antwan anticipates that his project will take significantly longer than one year, so he is already looking into additional funding.

“Developing a curriculum that can address sexual and reproductive health in the state of Mississippi is relevant because the HIV epidemic and other STIs are spiraling out of control, along with individuals not really knowing much about sexual and reproductive health,” Antwan explains, underscoring that the subject is relevant for everyone regardless of gender. “Most of the time when we think about reproductive health, we think about women. But men also have issues related to reproductive health. If they want to produce children, they don’t know what type of nutrition they need, how much water to drink, et cetera. I want to help inform individuals about their bodies holistically.”

When Antwan was an undergraduate, he started a public health organization at Tougaloo in which he and other participants worked with the goal of redefining the philosophy of health, a goal, he says, that is still reflected in his work at GLIDE.

“The program that I started as a student was always about training undergrads in certain skill sets to go into the professional world. We used to advocate to have HIV/Hep C testing, STI testing… Basically, what I’m doing on the fifth floor at GLIDE, I was trying to make it possible for students to do in Mississippi,” Antwan says.

According to Antwan, it is difficult to explore a career in public health with a focus on sexual and reproductive health in Mississippi because of the conservative-leaning culture and political class.

“It’s very Bible Belt—people think, my child isn’t having sex, your child isn’t having sex. The citizens are also very skeptical about introducing such a curriculum in middle and high schools because they just don’t believe their child is having sex! Actually, your child probably is. Not being informed about STIs [sexually transmitted infections] or PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis] or not knowing about condom usage, or, if it’s a guy who likes guys, that you need lube—the system is not in place in Mississippi to effectively address social determinants related to STIs.”

Antwan plans to work with undergraduate students to develop the curriculum, who will then be able to teach it not only at Tougaloo College but also in public schools in Jackson. Ideally, he wants to bring the curriculum to the Mississippi State Education Board and have it approved to be taught in public schools throughout Mississippi.

“The Bay doesn’t currently have an exchange with southern institutions to address such issues, and that is something I want to focus on.”
— Antwan Matthews

“Overall, my project’s aim is to help people be more aware of sexual and reproductive health, to protect themselves at an early age,” says Antwan. “There is no way you can have a healthy pregnancy if you don’t have access to information about how to have a healthy pregnancy.”

Antwan calls his project “The South-West Exchange,” referring to the flow of public health research and resources from Western states, and how they are implemented in the South.

“The Bay doesn’t currently have an exchange with southern institutions to address such issues, and that is something I want to focus on,” he says.

Left to right: Rio Amor, Sarah Thomas, Mayor London Breed, Khaiya Croom and Antwan Matthews providing outreach services and testing at a Juneteenth event in the Filmore.

Beyond this much-needed project, Antwan sees a larger future in health and advocacy, one that draws directly on the knowledge and expertise he has gained while working at GLIDE. He plans to eventually apply for a dual-degree program in medicine and law at Stanford.

“GLIDE has helped me grow by sending me to phlebotomy school and getting me trained to be a Hep C and HIV tester,” he says. “Working directly with the homeless population, individuals who are using substances, HIV-positive people, rape victims, sex workers, trans individuals—everything that I would see in the clinic or a hospital, I see that directly here.”

“As a young African American living with HIV, [Antwan] brings energy and lived experience to the team and he has demonstrated maturity beyond his years.”
— Paul Harkin

As a navigator and phlebotomist at GLIDE, Antwan, who is HIV-positive himself, helps people navigate and alleviate obstacles they may be facing while living with HIV, providing them linkages to care, facilitating focus groups, assisting them with securing housing, and much more. As a licensed phlebotomist, he conducts rapid HIV/Hep C blood testing at community events and sends reactive tests to the Department of Public Health. If someone is found to be positive for either disease, they are referred back to Antwan and GLIDE Harm Reduction navigation services to ensure they get the support they need.

Meanwhile, Antwan also guest lectures at City College, conducting seminars with undergraduate students about HIV and Harm Reduction practices.

“We are delighted to have Antwan on the Harm Reduction Team,” says Paul Harkin, Director of GLIDE’s Harm Reduction Program. “As a young African American living with HIV, he brings energy and lived experience to the team and he has demonstrated maturity beyond his years. Alongside this, he has a history of providing leadership on the issue of HIV in the African American community. Antwan has set his goal to become an MD/JD, and this is a great venue for him to learn what it is like working with marginalized populations. I have no doubt he will fulfill his professional goals.”

“When I do become a physician and JD, I will know who to advocate for, and how to do it effectively,” affirms Antwan. “Honestly, I can’t see myself anywhere else for my first job.”

This year, the GLIDE Center for Social Justice (CSJ) along with our community partners at Skywatchers have been proud to create a new Leadership Academy with residents of the Tenderloin.

Skywatchers is an arts-based ensemble that has been working in the Tenderloin for eight years with SRO residents, centering performance-based and multi-disciplinary art and stories to highlight and address the concerns and needs of its participants. The Leadership Academy builds on Skywatchers’ and GLIDE’s mutual belief in art and story-telling as a powerful basis of community organizing.

“It’s using art as a way to get in touch with themselves and tell their stories,” GLIDE Advocacy Manager Ben Lintschinger explains.

“We’re showing a group of people how to do that with each other, so that folks can feel safe with each other and talk about their lives and what is important to them and also listen in a way that is nourishing and powerful. That creates the community to do the kind of work we need in order to make systemic change.”

I feel like I’m helping to heal, and I’m being healed at the same time, in this process with Skywatchers. — Shakiri

GLIDE CSJ staff co-designed the Academy’s curriculum along with Skywatchers founder Anne Bluethenthal and local artist and Skywatchers facilitator Shakiri.

“For me, prior to partnering with GLIDE, it seemed like an important piece of work both for raising the caliber of the art we were creating but also raising the discourse we were having in our circles,” says Anne.

“There was a need to contextualize our participants’ stories in a more social, political, historical and cultural frame. Several years ago, I started to write a curriculum for leadership training that would provide a venue in which we were not just making art but specifically in a process of learning together and thinking about our stories in a systemic way.”

Anne says she hopes that their training will help each cohort develop the skills necessary to help one another navigate systems that can often be difficult to navigate alone, and to become advocates for each other and for their immediate communities.

Reggie graduates from the inaugural class of the GLIDE/Skywatchers Leadership Academy. Shakiri, Lauren Small and Anne Bluethenthal present the graduates with flowers, certificates of completion and hugs.

GLIDE and Skywatchers have already successfully run their first 16-week course, and graduated 10 people, most of whom are continuing to meet weekly to share their work and collaborate. The second cohort is currently in session.

Shakiri, who has worked with Skywatchers for the past three years, is a choreographer, writer and dancer, and greatly values the work being done through the Leadership Academy.

“As an artist, I feel that I’m doing something worthwhile and that’s important to me,” she says. “I feel like I’m helping to heal, and I’m being healed at the same time, in this process with Skywatchers.”

“The participants are moving on from the Leadership Academy to creating and participating—dealing with the issues that they are interested in,” Shakiri explains. “They all identified something they were passionate about and then were asked, What do you want to do about this passion? Then they had to figure out what that was, and they’re working on that now. I’m so happy and proud of them.”

Participants’ “passion projects” address a range of pressing issues faced by residents of the Tenderloin, from overcoming domestic violence, to homelessness and public health, including mental health and dietary practices.

I would like to teach people how to cook healthier meals in SROs using things like crockpots, hotpots and electric skillets. — Tony Page

Tony Page is an active Tenderloin resident who regularly eats at GLIDE in the Daily Free Meals program dining room, otherwise known as Mo’s Kitchen. He is now both a performer with Skywatchers and a graduate of the first session of the Leadership Academy. Tony identified his passion as teaching people how to eat healthier in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood notoriously known as a food desert within San Francisco.

“I am very, very passionate about cooking,” says Tony. “One of the changes I would like to see is access to healthier foods in stores, and more vegetables and fruits available in this neighborhood. I would also like to see our community take advantage of resources like food banks, community gardens, farmers markets and co-ops,” he continues.

Both Tony and his fellow Academy member Reggie believe that too many Tenderloin residents rely on corner convenience stores as their primary source of groceries in part because many people do not have a full kitchen in which to prepare fresh meals.

“These foods [in convenience stores] are foods that we really shouldn’t be eating. Reggie is a diabetic and I was born with heart disease, so food is a big deal for us. I would like to teach people how to cook healthier meals in SROs using things like crockpots, hotpots and electric skillets,” Tony explains.

In addition to their passion projects, enrollees did a lot of collective activism around housing, since everybody in the group identified affordable housing as a top concern.

“They’ve done marches to get people to vote, media interviews and community events,” relates Ben. “You need to have connection, be able to listen to and learn from each other, and feel comfortable being authentic with each other in order to do good community-based work.”

Tony Page and Shakiri celebrate his completion of the inaugural session of the GLIDE/Skywatchers Leadership Academy.

Skywatchers and GLIDE are excited about the future of the Leadership Academy, and similar programs in the Tenderloin, for what its graduates can foster in the neighborhood.

“My hope is that we keep finding more and more creative and professional development opportunities for the folks who are participating,” says Anne, “and for everybody who is struggling with housing and poverty and a lack of enfranchisement in this culture.”

“There are many leadership programs in the Tenderloin,” she continues, “a lot of great partner agencies like Hospitality House, the Coalition on Homelessness and Faithful Fools, who are offering different kinds of learning opportunities. My dream is that we connect all of these programs and have a kind of Tenderloin University!”

Stay tuned for more news about the Leadership Academy and its second cohort. In the meantime, to see Skywatchers in action, check out their 8th annual Festival, At the Table: Visions, beginning on Friday, May 17 and running until Sunday, May 19. All performances are free.

GLIDE’s blend of meals, celebration and social justice adds up to a delicious holiday feast for the community

When Rabbi Michael Lezak joined GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice last year, one of his main goals was to connect broader Bay Area Jewish communities to GLIDE’s dynamic work. And what a year it’s been! Michael has brought in hundreds of community members from local synagogues and schools to serve meals, engage in proximate justice training courses, and, with the help of a steady volunteer group and our Daily Free Meals team, bake challah to give out to GLIDE staff every Friday morning on the principle that “you need to feed the people who feed the people.”

Continue reading “Challah for Christmas!”

The Key to Transforming the Homeless Crisis

GLIDE assists people who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness every day, and we have witnessed the effects of the housing crisis on everyone from working families to retirees to disabled veterans on waiting lists for shelter. As a community that values unconditional love and radical inclusivity, we are compelled by our faith and our love to act.


That is why we are urging you to vote yes on San Francisco’s Proposition C, a November ballot initiative that will make stable housing accessible for thousands of San Francisco residents who might otherwise be on the street.

We have created a generation of refugees in our own city, of our own people.

The consequences of remaining passive are already apparent — houseless people are swept up by police and public works staff, but have nowhere to go because the shelters are full, or can only offer a bed for a few nights before ejecting them again onto the street. We have created a generation of refugees in our own city, of our own people.


This measure emphasizes real change by addressing the needs of the more than 15,000 people our homelessness system touches each year. With its passage, San Francisco would finally be able to get its residents off the streets and in permanent housing, shelter and services. This measure would make our city a model for homelessness services nationwide and benefit all San Franciscans by saving lives, cleaning and rehabilitating streets, and creating a community where all its citizens are cared for.

Permanent solutions    
At least 50% of the fund or $150 million must go to housing
Housing solves homelessness! Prop C would pay for construction, rehab, prevention and operating subsidies of approximately 4,000 units of housing, 1,000 of which would serve families. Our goal is to house all those who are currently experiencing long-term or chronic homelessness, suffer illness or disability, or who are families with children.

Transforming our severely underfunded mental health and substance abuse system
At least 25% or $75 million targeting this population
This is funding the San Francisco Department Public Health would use on intensive wrap-around services, street-based care, treatment, drop-in services, residential facilities and housing to care for and stabilize our highest-needs people suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders.

Preventing homelessness
Up to 12% of the fund or up to $40 million will be allocated towards prevention
This measure would ensure 7,000 San Francisco households get legal, rental, and other essential assistance so our neighbors can stay in their homes and stop falling into homelessness in the first place.

This is a rare and historical moment where conditions are in place to affect great change for thousands of San Franciscans.

Eliminating the shelter waitlist and keeping our streets clean
Up to 10% or $30 million will be used for to pay for immediate needs 
There are over 1,000 people on our city’s shelter waitlist every night. This measure would provide 1,075 new navigation center beds as well as keep our streets clean by funding public bathrooms and showers.

Prioritizing services
The measure would cap the city’s administrative costs at only 3% of the total funding.


This initiative was crafted with input from dozens of stakeholders, including homeless people, business leaders, homeless service providers, tenant groups, religious organizations, city department heads and a host of concerned San Franciscans.

yes on C

Tech workers rally for Prop C along with local non-profits and housing advocates outside the Chamber of Commerce, October 10, 2018.


This is a rare and historical moment where conditions are in place to affect great change for thousands of San Franciscans.

As property values and rents skyrocket while tents proliferate, residents are more motivated than ever to see homelessness addressed. Raising revenue to address homelessness has been a great challenge given California’s restrictive laws that require two-thirds approval of voters for any special tax that is dedicated to a particular use.


This would mandate fair share contributions of an average of .5% from earnings over $50 million from SF businesses ($5 per $1,000 annually). Those industries with lower profit margins would receive a smaller percentage increase, while those with higher margins would receive a larger increase.


Our current spending of 3% of the city’s budget does a lot – it houses 7,000 formerly homeless people and creates temporary beds for 2,500. But, we have more than twice that many souls still on the streets. Federal spending on housing has failed to keep pace with rising costs — we must replace that funding at the local level if we want to see a turnaround.

Register to vote by October 22 to vote in the upcoming November 6 election. You can also visit City Hall day-of for last-minute registration).

Visit www.ourcityourhomesf.com for the measure’s comprehensive plan, ways to get involved and more. Call Louis Solano at 415 674 5538 to come volunteer with GLIDE in the field each Saturday.

Volunteer with us on Election Day! You can sign-up here: http://bit.ly/cgotv

Finally, please share this news with anyone concerned about homelessness, advocacy and the rights of tenants. With the power of community, we can radically change the state of housing in San Francisco.

Ben Lintschinger, Advocacy Manager at the GLIDE Center For Social Justice. “Eye on the Ball” is Ben’s semi-monthly series that highlights GLIDE’s most urgent advocacy priorities. 

Building social justice mindsets in law enforcement communities

With the arrival of Rabbi Michael Lezak last year, GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice (CSJ) has been able to expand and deepen the ways we emphasize truth and reconciliation in our efforts around advocacy, staff development, and community building. In April, CSJ welcomed police departments and district attorneys’ offices from around the western United States for our first “An Officer and a Mensch” training. This curriculum seeks to instill greater understanding and care between law enforcement and the people of historically oppressed communities like the Tenderloin.

Rabbi Michael leads the initiative in partnership with Chief Matt Carmichael from the University of Oregon Police Department, and Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig.

“I look at GLIDE as a lifeboat in a sea of need,” says Matt. “It’s a simple idea, to come where the need is and teach our criminal justice professionals that to be a good leader you have to know your community and who you serve. What better way to learn who you serve than spending time at GLIDE.”

Matt and Jeff along with about 25 law enforcement professionals spent three days at GLIDE, discussing everything from racism in the criminal justice system to the causes of the opioid crisis to what truly compassionate human interactions should look like. They also volunteered as a group in our Meals Program and met with GLIDE staff from across the organization to learn about our values-based approach towards serving our Tenderloin community.

“The vision was to create an opportunity to change the paradigm, to bring law enforcement leaders into this experience of opening our minds and broadening our perspectives, even if it’s just a little bit, to a different way of approaching the issues that affect us all: homelessness, poverty, addiction, mental illness,” says Jeff. “The goal and the prayer is for law enforcement leaders to develop more hope, more understanding and maybe change the way we do the job a little bit.”

GLIDE Senior Director of Programs Kyriell Noon speaking to the group about GLIDE services and community engagement. Photo credit: Alain McLaughlin

The training left a positive and lasting impression on the participants, so much so that Rabbi Michael and GLIDE are already prepared to welcome another group after Thanksgiving this year. Michael, along with Director of the CSJ Miguel Bustos, are in the process of refining the curriculum and in conversation with various law enforcement professionals about instituting it as part of the core training for officers in departments across the west coast.

“This partnership at GLIDE is the only one of its kind in the country,” says Matt. “What’s wonderful about what you did for us is that it’s a re-connection, a reminder of our responsibility to leave no one behind. We have to serve everyone.”

Chief Matt Carmichael speaking during the final session of the training. Photo credit: Alain McLaughlin


Thoughts from GLIDE staff who attended our pilgrimage to Montgomery

On April 25, a group of 85 people from GLIDE, The Kitchen, the Rafiki Coalition and Stanford Graduate School of Education traveled to Montgomery, Alabama for the opening of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The trip was the culmination of a series of courses organized by Rabbi Michael Lezak, Isoke Femi and James Lin of GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice focusing on the issue of justice and reconciliation. We have come back from Montgomery with a range of feelings and thoughts concerning the deep connections between the history of the country and the ongoing challenges we as a society face here in the Bay Area. GLIDE continues to work for personal and social transformation toward a more just and equitable world. The following reflections from members of the Alabama trip speak to the power of this pilgrimage on our own understanding and resolve around the nature of the work ahead.
Continue reading “Reflections on Justice and Reconciliation”