Letter from the Director, Sandra Bass, Ph.D.

Sandra BassBay Area black people like myself are all too familiar with a form of nimbyism that lives in progressive places. This strand of parochialism is less about the ills of urban development (although that certainly exists), than the dogged belief that this region has somehow escaped the litany of isms that plague the rest of the country. That we are fortunate to live in a place that embraces difference and where moving up in life comes to those who have earned it. Racism? Not here. Not in our backyard. And then the 2016 election with its virulent celebration of rage took us all down the rabbit hole into this country’s foundational hatreds and landed squarely in the Bay Area.

So here is what’s true: Despite the extensive media coverage, the motley mix of white supremacists, Neo Nazis, and Proud Boys in Berkeley, as well as at extremist rallies around the country, were vastly outnumbered by opposing protesters at every turn. And while these events were not always free of violence, the majority of those protesting were animated but peaceful. What is also true: Many of the right extremists were homegrown Californians. White nationalism is on the rise throughout the state and hate crimes, just one measure of the growth of this movement, were up nearly 15% in 2016 in California’s nine largest cities.

In this beautiful place with its beautiful people a strange and bitter crop is unfurling its twisted leaves under the welcoming heat generated by our national political discourse. Yet despite this surge of extremism, my hope has not waned. For one, what looks like a new growth of hate is more likely the last desperate attempts of an old and dying order to take root and find relevancy. But beyond that, authentic hope is not a belief in a preordained happy ending or an untempered attitude of optimism, but a practice that grows in strength as we rise up together to right wrongs and cultivate new realities.

I see this in my work every day with Cal students. Planted in the hearts of these students are the possibilities for co-creating a society centered on radical inclusiveness, systemic transformation, and communal responsibility for our planetary home. As you will see in the articles in this newsletter, our dedicated students at the Public Service Center devote themselves to giving voice to Berkeley students who struggle with homelessness; they enhance the capacity of our partner organizations to conduct outreach through Cal in the Local Government; they help rebuild communities that are devastated by natural disasters through Alternative Breaks. Our alumni, inspired by their experiences with public service through Cal in the Capital, go on to found nonprofits to help children in developing countries get an education. Our students are afforded these transformative opportunities because our generous individual and institutional supporters share our vision of nurturing the next generation of leaders committed to creating a more just and equitable world.

And so we are faced with a choice, not just in this moment but for our lifetimes, and for many lives and lifetimes beyond our own. Will we continue to deny the existence of old yet persistent injustices, will we allow this current fury to sustain itself on alienation, anxiety, and fear, or will we act to ensure that what grows in our garden is what we love? Now is the time to let our collective imaginations till the soil, nourish seeds of change, and bolster fledgling shoots with ageless wisdoms, compassion, and courage. Not because we’re certain of a quick harvest, but because daily acts of loving and serving allow us to grow into our boundless, sacred humanity. Constant gardeners we must be, ever preparing the earth and ourselves for full and abundant life.

This Letter from the Director is excerpted from an article, “What Grows in Our Garden,” which Sandra Bass wrote for Endangered Species, Enduring Values: An Anthology of San Francisco Area Writers and Artists of Color, edited by Shizue Seigel (Pease Press: 2018).

Sandra Bass
Assistant Dean of Students and Director