.Contra Costa Focuses on Racial Equity

New County office vows action on social justice

The murder of George Floyd in 2020, and subsequent national reaction, helped galvanize an idea that Contra Costa County Supervisors John Gioia and Federal Glover had been discussing for years: an Office of Racial Equity & Social Justice.

“Federal and I have been working with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity since 2014,” Gioia said. GARE is a national network of governments working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all.

“We proposed creation of the office to the board of supervisors in 2020,” Gioia said. “[Sales tax increase] Measure X had been approved and would fund the office.” The two supervisors were resolved on community input to determine the office’s structure, priorities and goals.

“Foundations provided $200,000 to fund an independent community process,” Gioia said, resulting in an 18-month-long Community Listening Campaign, which culminated in the 53-page report, “Recommendations for the Contra Costa Office of Racial Equity & Social Justice.” County residents involved in the process included 400 individuals in “listening sessions,” 2,600 in the community survey and 300 in five “community cafes.”

Every effort was made, Gioia said, to ensure that populations most affected by systemic racism were included. In November 2022 the report was presented to the board of supervisors, which agreed that the new office would become a separate county department, reporting to the Equity Committee of Gioia and Glover.

The community process also produced a new administration model: Two co-directors as opposed to a single director. “There were no other co-director models that we knew of,” Gioia said, explaining that the “Core Committee” spoke with King County in Washington, for example, and was told that although it did not use this model, administrators thought it was an excellent idea.

Contra Costa County community members were also involved in the selection process for the co-directors, he said, making recommendations that were narrowed down by the county’s HR department and eventually resulting in the October appointments of Kendra Carr and Peter Kim to the positions by the board of supervisors.

Carr holds a master’s degree in education, equity and social justice, and a doctoral degree in educational leadership. She will focus on assessing, supporting and coordinating racial equity work within and across county agencies and departments.

Kim holds multiple ethnic studies degrees from the University of California Berkeley. His focus will be ensuring all community members have equitable access to the programs and services offered by county agencies.

“Perhaps the best way to explain our differing roles is that [Carr’s] is more internal-facing, aligning county systems with the goals of this office,” Kim said, “while mine is more external-facing, dealing with residents and activists.”

Carr said she was motivated to accept the co-directorship because she has largely focused on social justice during her career, working with young people and others. “I was impressed that community members had a seat at the table, and that we would continue to collaborate with them,” she said. The co-directors model appealed to her because she sees it as one of the “future models of leadership.”

Kim noted that he has spent his career engaging with community organizations and community building. “This position spoke to that,” he said, while also referencing the co-director structure as a draw.

Currently, during the new office’s first 90 days, priorities include staffing, collecting data and building relationships across Contra Costa County, Carr said. ORESJ’s first year will include hiring a reconciliation coordinator, a data analyst, and a budget and policy analyst.

The community report identified six goals for the office during its first three years:

1. Establish an interdepartmental team across county departments. This group will assess and coordinate racial equity efforts across the county.

2. Set a safe, welcoming and belonging culture in Contra Costa County.

[This would include, among other goals]: Finalizing the development and implementation of a Contra Costa County-wide language equity plan to ensure that residents and families have a meaningful and equitable opportunity to apply for, receive, participate in and benefit from services offered by county departments.

3. Build capacity to establish trust across race, ethnicity, income, immigration status, sexual orientation and gender identity.

4. Conduct a landscape analysis of racial injustice.

5. Review the extent to which county budget allocations are aligned with equity and social justice principles to address root causes of inequality.

6. Review and promote policies within county agencies that achieve equity, fairness and opportunity for all.

These are ambitious goals, Carr and Kim agreed. But clearly the need is there, as documented in the community survey, which asked respondents about demographics including their age, the city(ies) they live and/or work in, household income, race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and whether they are a member of communities including people with disabilities, LGBTQ+, Muslim and unsheltered people.

Respondents were given a list of 13 government systems and asked whether they had been harmed by them. These included the Health System, Mental Health System, Education System, Early Education System, Adult Criminal/Legal/Justice System, Youth Criminal/Legal/Justice System, Social Service System, Housing, Employment Services and Child Welfare System. The “Review of Systems Harms” section asked, “Have you ever been harmed by any of the [these] systems?”

 According to the survey:

  • 21% of respondents reported not having access or the resources to receive a service.
  • 19% reported racial discrimination.

• 10% reported being physically or emotionally harmed.

  • People across the county reported being harmed by all 13 of the systems listed in the survey.

“If one in five respondents say they can’t access services, clearly, this needs to be addressed,” Carr said.

“All six goals will be important for this office to be successful,” Kim said. “How do we build the trust to establish credibility with the county as well as with the community? It will be a different norm.”

As has been brought to the fore in recent months, Contra Costa County has divisions. “But no matter who people are, they all want to see healthy, thriving communities, safety in schools, good jobs,” Kim said.

“We will prioritize the people who are being harmed most,” Carr said. She believes the way in which the office was established, and its structure, will “allow us to implement long-term sustainable changes.”

Asked how the success of ORESJ’s work will be assessed, Carr said that the evaluation procedure is currently being developed. “We will deal directly with the Equity Committee, and there will be a local advisory board” gauging whether the office’s benchmarks are being met, she said.

In a statement released to the press, both Gioia and Glover expressed confidence in ORESJ’s potential to effect real change.

“We must center the priorities and lived experiences of our residents and families who are most vulnerable to [the] systems’ harms and inequities,” Gioia said in the statement. “This is how we will reduce racial disparities and improve outcomes for all.”

Glover said in the statement, “The work of this office is crucial for us as a county to focus on healing, justice, equity, and accountability through our service to the community. The ORESJ will embody these principles, commitments, and values in their work.”

1 COMMENT

  1. I hope that the Office of Racial Equity will start by looking at what the County is promising to do in its own Housing Element

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