July 14, 2015; USA Today

Fred Blackwell is the CEO of The San Francisco Foundation, but he is also an Oakland native and former city administrator, so it must have been a particularly sweet moment when he stood in front of an Oakland crowd to announce that an anonymous East Bay donor had contributed $34 million dollars to 15 Oakland nonprofits.

The money has some clear outcomes it hopes to achieve—to help create more than 700 new affordable housing units, create 2,500 new jobs, and serve more than 60,000 people. But the donor and Blackwell apparently understand that community is strengthened by the arts and similar elements and that nonprofits overall are strengthened by helping address their balance sheets, as evidenced by a grant to Destiny Arts Center, which reportedly has or will receive $1.3 million to eliminate its debt and expand work with youth in the Alameda Juvenile Justice Center and LGBT youth. The money is also intended to strengthen partnerships among Oakland Unified School District, the Alameda County Public Health Department, the Mayor’s Office, and more than 15 community-based organizations.

Among the other recipients are

  • East Bay Asian Local Development Corp. ($1 million to support neighborhood development in Oakland’s San Pablo corridor)
  • East Oakland Youth Development Center ($1 million for capital campaign)
  • Oakland Codes, housed at San Francisco Foundation ($4 million to fund seven Oakland groups that focus on helping underrepresented groups find tech jobs)
  • Oakland Community Land Trust ($2 million to support the “stabilization” of Oakland neighborhoods)
  • Oakland Public Education Fund ($6 million to provide pre-kindergarten support for young children)
  • Unity Council ($3 million to support Fruitvale Transit Village)

Blackwell said the $34 million gift is intended to aid those Oakland residents “with the greatest barriers to employment,” including people with prison records, undocumented immigrants and “low-income entrepreneurs starting small businesses,” as well as women and people of color who are typically underrepresented in Oakland’s developing tech sector.

Blackwell says that he received a call from the donor in February and that the gift was conditional on getting the money to the streets by summer. He says that this is the first such massive funding “cold call” he has fielded, but clearly he was well placed to do so with a long history in community development. From his bio, his background includes serving as interim city administrator for the City of Oakland, where he previously served as the assistant city administrator. He was the executive director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Development in San Francisco, served as the director of the Making Connections Initiative for the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the Lower San Antonio neighborhood of Oakland, was a Multicultural Fellow in Neighborhood and Community Development at The San Francisco Foundation, and subsequently managed a multi-year comprehensive community initiative for TSFF in West Oakland.

Dr. Tony Iton of the California Endowment initiative Building Healthy Communities called the anonymous gift “absolutely fantastic.” That initiative supports about 70 percent of the nonprofits tapped to receive the new money. “It’s timely and exciting, and we’re looking forward to leveraging these investments and building on the capacity of these organizations,” Iton said.

In acknowledging the gift, Mayor Libby Schaaf said that it would be used to strengthen Oakland from its roots, to help make sure that “Oakland stays our Oakland.” This is a reference to fears that San Francisco’s overflow will gentrify the East Bay, pushing current residents out.—Ruth McCambridge