SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — San Francisco Mayor London Breed is currently serving as the city’s first Black female mayor. In honor of Black History Month, she talked to KRON4 about what drove her to public service and the impact she hopes to make on the city she’s always called home.
“Everyday is a pinch me moment because it’s not something I thought was possible for someone like me,” Breed said about becoming mayor.
A native San Franciscan raised by her grandmother in the city’s Western Addition neighborhood, Breed is no stranger to San Francisco and its challenges.
“Growing up going to so many funerals of people that I was just hanging out with, we were just at an event together,” Breed said. “I thought it was so heartbreaking and sad that people all around me were suffering, especially with gun violence and drugs and poverty. And I would go ‘Why me? Why us?'”
Breed would learn to turn those questions into action, seeking out ways to help her community. She started out small, working several odd jobs as she grew up.
“I mean I babysat, I cleaned houses, I did things to make a little bit of money, I ran errands for all the older ladies in the projects,” she said. “I was able to make a dollar here and there!”
At 14, Breed was one of the lucky ones to get a spot in Mayor Willie Brown’s youth employment and training program where she learned even one or two small actions could create big change.
“There was a stoplight at a location in my neighborhood where traffic would just fly through, we would take our life in our hands just crossing the street,” she said. “And to make something happen like that as an intern, to get a stoplight at this intersection, that was amazing. To get a sidewalk that everyone would trip over, to get that fixed… I said there’s a lot of power here you can get things done.”
She would go on to work at the African American Art and Culture Complex, spending her days uplifting the youth, some of whom now work in her office.
As the city’s 45th mayor, Breed says her drive for public service comes from her own past of growing up in public housing.
“A lot of why I decided to do it was, why not me? Why not someone who has lived through challenging times who can help make and shape policies that will hopefully lead to some lasting change?” she said. “I feel we’re on that path, but I gotta tell you, it’s hard every single day to move the needle a little bit.”
She says she’s prepared for criticism, making sure her health and wellbeing are top of mind.
“I can walk and chew gum at the same time,” she said. “I take a lot of personal pride in showing up and being there, but I think it’s important to have a balance, and make sure you don’t get so consumed by the job that you don’t step away.”
Breed remains proud of her tenure so far, specifically her response to COVID-19.
“We were able to get rid of the city bureaucracy process and get down to what people of SF needed and deserved,” she said. “I wish we could do that with everything.”
She says bureaucratic layers make it difficult to address issues San Franciscans are concerned about, but it’s not stopping her from trying.
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“Folks don’t want to hear excuses they want results,” she said. “We provide so many resources around social services, treatment on demand. Our ambassadors, our response teams and alternatives to policing, you name it, it’s out there.”
As she looks toward to the legacy she wants to leave, the mayor highlights her Dreamkeeper Initiative, an annual, $60 million investment in her budget to support the Black community.
“It’s a response to the disparity that continues to exist,” she said. “SF has less than six percent African-American population but almost 40 percent of the homeless are Black.”
Dreamkeeper offers support for Black-owned businesses and downpayment assistance for housing. It recently led to 19 new Black homeowners in San Francisco.
“People say, ‘oh it’s not enough, it’s never going to be enough,’ but we have to start somewhere, and this investment is a start and my hope is it continue to change lives for the better,” she said.
She credits her grandmother for being a solid rock for her during challenging times and shares this advice to young people in similar situations.
“Never let your circumstances determine your outcome in life,” she said.