If it Bleeds it Leads?

January 14, 2010 //

The Politics of Attention in the Tenderloin

By James Tracy


The power of story and different conceptions of leadership are two themes we continue to explore with our blog. Today, we’re pleased to present this post from guest blogger, James Tracy, who runs the Community Housing Organizing Project of TWI grantee Community Housing Partnership. The Community Housing Partnership was created as a partnership between formerly homeless individuals and housing developers. The Community Housing Organizing Project, led by James Tracy, provides structure for the organization’s community-building work, improves advocacy, and strengthens the leadership development pipeline.]

Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?

Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared.

Tupac Shakur, North American Major Poet

Last month, Community Housing Partnership joined our community partners the Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco and the North of Market Community Benefits District in a celebration of community safety. With over 200 people in attendance, the event was a chance to educate ourselves and public officials in attendance about what everyday people in the Central City have done to make their neighborhood a safer place.

In this neighborhood, the Tenderloin, community safety is like affordable housing or decent healthcare—it can be hard to find and harder to hold on to. However, just like in Tupac Shakur’s song, roses in fact do grow in the concrete. The event celebrated two cutting-edge community driven initiatives—the Safe Passage and Safe Havens program.

Both are radical in their simplicity. In the Safe Haven program, a project began by Community Housing Partnership, a network of small businesses, non-profit housing organizations and churches provide “fifteen minutes and a phone call” to anyone who feels they are in distress. Safe Haven sites have helped over 125 people find their way to safety through various emergencies. Community volunteers staff the project, and oversee outreach to the sites.

In Safe Passage, a project housed by the Boys and Girls Club, local teen-agers walk young children home from after-school programs and bus-stops. Many of these teenagers are themselves often the target of race, class and age stereotypes. Yet, these youth put themselves on the frontlines protecting their neighborhood by walking their younger neighbors home.

With the diversity of the Tenderloin in attendance, there was one notable absence: the media. One reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle told asked an event organizer “Was there a shooting recently?” When she replied no, she was told that the reporter considered it a non-story. Another reporter at the SF Bay Guardian reacted in much the same way.

This leads us to an uncomfortable conclusion. If a teenager shoots someone in the Tenderloin, the media will show an interest in it. If a group of teenagers get together and create a way to make the community a safer place, they get ignored. Likewise, if there is a stabbing in front of a small business, it is front-page news. If a small business owner provides Safe Haven to a community member, and violence is prevented, then it is not.

At Community Housing Partnership, we think that building a successful community rests on two pillars: recognizing the strengths that already exist, and honestly reckoning with the realities that face us. Through the three years of the Safe Haven program, we have watched people with seemingly little in common work together to improve the neighborhood we live and work in.

The Safe Passage folks quietly and humbly show a completely different picture of youth in the Tenderloin. In both situations, the leadership, logic expertise and volunteer hours came from low-income communities of color. While the realities of violence and poverty are all-apparent here, we believe that the solutions will continue to come from the grassroots.

This quiet change doesn’t sell newspapers. It doesn’t grab television ratings. What it will do is save lives, and build the kind of community cohesion necessary to collectively tackle the even larger problems we face.


  1. Pia on January 21, 2010 at 1:21 pm


    Thank you for bringing this to us – very rich and timely. I am heartened by the rise in publications like Good News that help to highlight the many daily contributions of citizens to creating a better world for all.

    Please guest post anytime!


  2. Chris Hartman on February 2, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    As a recovering all-or-nothing ideologue, I also appreciate a "small step toward a much better world" like this project.

    It typifies the sort of practical "pushing in the right direction on the margin" that I believe will typify my Gen-X generation as we move into our 40s and begin directing projects and enterprises in a big way. It's a tremendous relief to realize that it's not necessary to solve all the world's problems; that all that is required is that we work hard, be kind, and push together in the right direction, and let the "great leaps forward" take care of themselves.

    Thanks for posting this.