Written by Caroline Peattie, Executive Director
It has been a crushing week following isolating and dark months of the pandemic. We are reeling from the police brutality that led to the senseless murder of George Floyd, and the country has erupted in protest, not only because of his death, but also because of the killing of Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, and countless other Black men and women who came before him. It is no coincidence that protests follow months of a pandemic that have brought into focus the very issues that so many have been fighting against: the racial disparities underlying the disproportionate occurrence of the virus and death rates among people of color. George Floyd lost his job as a result of this virus, reminding us of the deep inequities in our country — lack of access to housing of choice, health care, transportation, protections in the work place, and injustices that most affect people of color and vulnerable communities, not to mention an unequal criminal justice system that leads to mass detention and incarceration of Black men. Further, we now know that prisons are hotspots for outbreaks of COVID-19.
In these moments, I am reminded of how these injustices connect to the work my colleagues and I undertake daily, and how we as a community can and should respond. Our collective work is pivotal to the response. Housing is a key part of the struggle.
What can we do? This is a question that has plagued and pained many of us not just in these last weeks, but for decades. The news has been soul-crushing, particularly when, instead of exhibiting any understanding or leadership, Trump calls for a militarized response to peaceful protesters with the infamous words, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” repeating a 1967 quote from a white police chief cracking down on protests and other segregationist politicians.
I remind myself how important it is for us to make our voices heard — whether by shouting George Floyd’s name, joining protesters, posting on social media, reaching out to our local, state, and national representatives with our voices and our votes — working in any way we can to dismantle the structural racism that allows tragedies like the killing of George Floyd and others, and fails to hold police and leaders accountable. Amplifying the message, so everyone hears and understands: Black Lives Matter. I am recommitting myself to anti-racist work. I live in a county where most people are white, and many who live here don’t understand the history of institutionalized racialism, and the multiplicity of ways in which our whiteness allows us privilege that we don’t even have to think about; whereas many of our Black and Brown friends and colleagues are confronted by the lack of them daily. As a white person, it’s my job to work hard to change that. For white members of our community who want to know what they can do, right now, start with something from this list: https://bit.ly/370uzO0.
We know that our country’s racist housing policies are directly connected to racial inequities and to the disinvestment and over-policing of Black and Brown communities. We at Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California recommit ourselves to our work to address structural racism and the racial disparities resulting from segregation and discrimination. This includes taking a serious look at how we do our work, how we can become more effective as individuals and as institutions, and how we can partner with others in more inclusive, meaningful, and powerful ways. I invite you to join me in this work.
Written by Caroline Peattie, Executive Director
In the midst of the pandemic and two days after the killing of George Floyd, the world lost a fair housing warrior and I lost a dear friend. Nancy Kenyon passed away peacefully at home surrounded by family last week.
When I first met Nancy almost 3 decades ago, I was the Executive Director of a fair housing agency in Oakland. We immediately hit it off and began working together on a shared project. It was a wonderful collaboration and I was extremely impressed with Nancy’s energy and vibrant personality.
Nancy managed, in a small organization, to retain many highly competent and committed staff members for years, and in many cases, well over a decade — probably because of the outstanding qualities that she exuded as a person, as well as the easy, yet caring and committed work environment she created to inspire others.
As one long-time staffer said, “What I most appreciate about Nancy is her deep belief in justice and civil rights and her willingness to defend these beliefs, her ability to look at obstacles as challenges,” — and I would add, “opportunities”— “the connections she easily makes with diverse groups of people of all ages, her gracious and relaxed leadership style, her adventurousness and love of life.”
Nancy saw the humanity in people and really listened to people’s stories about themselves, and this manifested in the workplace in a variety of ways — including allowing for flexibility in schedules and work styles. It’s no wonder that she had a number of working mothers on her staff over time, because she allowed them to reach their working potential and be mothers, too. When, shortly after beginning my tenure at the agency, my 18-month-old baby was diagnosed with diabetes and hospitalized, Nancy couldn’t have been more supportive. That support continued through the years as I raised a child with special needs. Her love of her own family — and she was so proud of her kids! — expanded to include her extended work family; we responded with loyalty and respect.
Nancy remained an unabashed hippie over the decades, and she represented some of the best things about the 1960s – a certain kind of openness, optimism, and passion for activism. Her experience working on civil rights issues before there were the laws to back up those rights gave her a rare perspective.
Intrepid traveler that she was, her adventurous spirit took her wandering all over the world. She returned refreshed, regaling us with tales of her adventures. She was an avid birder and loved nature.
Nancy also had colorful stories to tell of her earlier years – being arrested for blocking a train carrying munitions (and even in prison, of course, they all took care of one another); working in New Jersey at a housing rights agency, where she and other staff told members of the mafia what they were doing wrong as landlords, then quaking with fear that their cars would explode when they turned the key in the ignition that night.
Perhaps it was some of these early experiences that helped shape some of her toughness. It took some doing to begin her fair housing work as a small program in 1982 that was part of a much larger umbrella organization, and then build it into the thriving and multi-faceted organization it became. Although we often heard Nancy’s peals of laughter ringing through the agency, there were times when she was tough as nails. She was not only the founder of our fair housing agency, but she was also a founding member and board member of the National Fair Housing Alliance, the sole national organization dedicated to ending discrimination in housing.
It has been an honor to follow in her footsteps. Nancy Kenyon will be sorely missed. I am only one of many she touched deeply.
Because of Covid-19 the family will not hold a celebration of life until a future date; if anyone has photos or stories please send them to her children at email@example.com or mail to 1375 Masonic Ave, San Francisco, CA 94117 or give them a call at 415-592-4581. If anyone is interested in making a donation in her name, please give to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.