A Year In Reflection from our CEO, David A Harris

On June 15, 2017, Urban Strategies Council celebrated its new CEO, David A. Harris with a reflection on his first year at the Council. Our iconic founder, Angela Glover Blackwell, led a conversation with David and we wanted to share some highlights from his vision for the Council as we embark on our 30th year.


By its nature, racial and social equity work is dynamic and with that comes frequent narrative changes for the issues we face, as well as changes in how organizations like the Council approach these issues. When Angela (Glover Blackwell) founded the Council in 1987, its area of focus was the intersection of poverty and early childhood education in Oakland and Alameda County. In recent years the Council has been most visible and is known in many circles for its vanguard work around Boys and Men of Color, yet its topics are now far more expansive, as is its geographic reach. As a regional research, collaboration, and advocacy organization dedicated to social, economic and racial equity, the Council is putting new thought and energy towards better messaging the depth, breadth and impact of its work.

Going Regional

Gentrification and displacement have dispersed populations that had been concentrated in denser parts of Alameda County, especially in Oakland. While the suburbanization of poverty warrants the Council’s regional expansion, for the past 10 years we have intentionally been doing work in Solano, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara Counties with plans for projects in San Francisco County as well. While we’ve been operating somewhat regionally, we’ve not made it clear to our partners that we’re more than just about Oakland.   I believe that our strategic expansion will enable us to more efficiently scale our work and impact. By replicating the Council’s one-off projects in policy, practice, and research, it can share lessons learned to aid policy makers and service providers to better serve the most vulnerable in our communities.

Thanks to the tables we convene among front-line service providers, the Council is often ahead of mainstream research on emerging equity issues. By expanding our regional footprint, we can share our analysis for policy makers and stakeholders sooner, enabling them to make data-based decisions in communities also facing the impacts caused by displacement, places like San Jose, East Palo Alto, and Richmond.

On Being an Intermediary (Don’t say backbone!)

When the Council was created, no one else was using mapping technology or even talking directly about inequities in race and class. The Council earned the community’s trust by calling out systemic failures in serving all people equitably. While this sometimes strained relationships with institutional partners, in the end, our transparency and integrity have ensured that most systems leaders also trust and want to work with the Council. This has strengthened the Council’s ability to bring diverse partners together to address complex social challenges like our current collaboratives which we lead or support:

  • Oakland-Alameda County Boys and Men of Color
  • Alameda County Community Asset Network
  • Justice Reinvestment Coalition
  • Opportunity Youth Initiative
  • Alameda County Violence Prevention Initiative

I firmly believe that the strength of a convener or intermediary lies in the strength of its partners and that investing in their capacity strengthens the table as a whole. Based on our current capacity and direction, these convenings will be distilled into two content areas: Education Opportunity and Economic Opportunity.

Urban Strategies still wrestles with making data actionable and its research digestible to lay audiences. This is something we’re working hard on currently, in thinking more about our audience and how we can best communicate the issues to them.

On Sustainability

There was a time when the Council received considerable funding from national foundations and part of our sustainability plan is to revive those relationships. In conjunction with our 30th anniversary, the Council will launch our first annual campaign later this summer to broaden our donor-base and diversify our funding streams. My vision for the Council’s future financial health also includes expanded regional public-private partnerships and implementing a comprehensive fund development plan to strengthen our impact on improving equity throughout our region.

What’s Next

Pathways have been an emerging best practice in how the Council approaches improved access to education, workforce, economic opportunity, and health equity. There are always nuances around this work, where we intend to stay highly engaged.

There are two new projects we’re eager to go deeper into. We want to look at how charter schools have impacted segregation in public schools, specifically if the composition of charter school boards have an impact on student outcomes. Access to mortgage capital is the other area we want to research. We want to know if home lending is impacting displacement and gentrification the way we anecdotally think it is.

The tables we convene are only as strong as our partners so if any of our stakeholders want to join our efforts through collaboration or funding, I invite you to contact me directly at davidh@urbanstrategies.org.