Reflections on Recent Events & Justice for George Floyd

Here are my thoughts on recent events, justice for George Floyd and the impact we can make as City and County of San Francisco employees. I shared the same message with my San Francisco Public Utilities Commission colleagues last week. – Harlan Kelly Jr., General Manager of the SFPUC.

The tragic event in Minneapolis weighs heavily on my heart this week. 

As a member of the City and County of San Francisco’s leadership team, a father of two young sons, a black man, and a human being, I am outraged and horrified at the environment in which we find ourselves today.

It is a difficult conversation that I am having, yet again, with my children. They are asking me why a police officer would hurt a man In the way that they did. Our family has long-standing relationships with police officers, and even police chiefs. What do you say to your children? “Some people may not like you simply because of the color of your skin.” It’s appalling that I have to have that conversation with my sons in 2020. I’m tired of having to explain to them how they may be seen by others just because of the way they look. 

For too long, the African American community has suffered from racial injustice. I understand that the nationwide protests are a reflection of the grief, anger, and frustration that many of us are feeling as we reflect on longstanding injustices felt by the African American community, and by people of color. 

I have spent my entire career working to make a difference. As part of my professional journey, I have experienced first-hand what it is like to be one of the few African Americans in the room, like when I was enrolled in UC Berkeley’s Civil Engineering program in the 1980s or when I later joined the City as a junior engineer. As a result of those experiences, I have tried to create opportunities to have more African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and other people of color exposed to careers in our industry. It’s why I worked so hard to create Project Pull 25 years ago, providing real skill-building opportunities to hundreds of young men and women in San Francisco each year who don’t always get those chances

I am proud of the SFPUC’s firm commitment to ensuring Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our workplace. I am proud of what the SFPUC has been able to accomplish to advance environmental and social justice. As an agency, we have been and will continue to be committed to the health and well-being of the communities we serve, and this extends to our commitment to racial equality and justice. We stand against all forms of discrimination and injustice. For more than a decade, we have had policies in place that articulate our commitment to prevent and lessen disproportionate environmental impacts of our activities and to ensure that public benefits are shared across all communities. We believe in the fair treatment of all races, cultures, and incomes, and also that no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of negative environmental consequences resulting from the operations, programs, or policies of the SFPUC. 

Following the murder of George Floyd, however, I find myself wanting us to do more. It takes me back to 1995, when I walked in the Million Man March in Washington D.C. I felt compelled at that time to use my voice to join with others who wanted to shed light on the injustices facing the African American community. Twenty-five years later, I feel similarly compelled. How we come together as individuals and as an organization is as important as ever. There is so much more that needs to be done in order to address the systemic racism that permeates all aspects of our society. And I am committed to figuring out what more we can do together at the SFPUC to do our part. 

So, where do we go from here? We don’t need to have all of the answers right now. But there are steps we can take to make a difference within our own organization. I am committed to creating a space in which we can all have this conversation together. I’m sharing my story, and I want to hear yours. 

I encourage you all to consider what you can do, big or small, to make a difference. Together, we can be the change that we want to see in the world, in our own communities and in our workplace.