(Theo and his son Lennox. Photo credit: Deshawn Davis)
Theo Ellington grew up in San Francisco's Bayview-Hunter's Point Neighborhood in the 1990s and 2000s. Then and now it remains one of the city's most economically depressed areas, a densely populated, largely Black working-class district hit hard by the postwar decline of shipbuilding and industrial manufacturing in the Bay Area. But Ellington loved the Bayview and San Francisco.
"I realized the conditions in Bayview were not normal for a young people like me," Ellington says. "My walk to middle school was marked by balloon shrine after balloon shrine to young Black males who fell victim to gun violence. My childhood was spent trying to understand the socioeconomic conditions in my neighborhood, but I was able to venture out and grew to love everything in the city."
Ellington's grandfather came to Bayview from Mississippi and as a construction worker was able to build a home for himself and his family.
"He rubbed his pennies together and bought a house for all his family," Ellington says. "My dream is to do that for San Francisco. This city has turned into a city for the wealthy, but with the right organizing we can make sure everyone can earn an honest living and own a home in a city like San Francisco."
A veteran community activist, Ellington, along with Sarah Richardson-Baker, Cassandra James, and other activists founded Black Citizen in 2020 as a response to the murder of George Floyd.
"I was struggling with what to do, how to respond and where my place was in America as a Black man," Ellington says. "My first response was to write an open letter to my son. The gist of that letter was to never apologize for who you are and to wear your Blackness proud. I also realized I had to start organizing."
The goal of Black Citizen is to provide a platform that empowers people to create a movement for change and reform in the Bay Area.
"We offer micro grants and leadership coaching for emerging community organizers in Bay Area."
So far Black Citizen has received crucial startup grants from the Walter and Elise Haas Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, as well as funding from Salesforce and a few small family funds.
"We anticipate funding around health and wellness, education, the arts, and the general idea of advancing Black lives. There is a huge disconnect between funders and organizers on the ground in their communities. We are hoping to provide that middle ground. Bridging the gap is something that is super important to me."
(Rally for Black lives. Photo credit: Terry Scussel Photography)
Black Citizen is dedicated to training young community organizers and facilitate movement building and social change throughout the Bay Area.
With additional fundraising, Ellington hopes to hire five organizers and provide them with professional leadership coaching.
"If we set up this mechanism right," says Ellington, "these organizers will be the next leaders of the high-profile projects and orgs we will see in the headlines."
To get involved with Black Citizen, and to learn how to donate, please visit blackcitizen.org.
The Giving List highlights the work of exceptional nonprofits through an annual high-end print book and year-long digital presence. Nov. 2021 print runs in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Barbara will be 100,000, 75,000 and 60,000 respectively, reaching a minimum of 940,000 readers. TheGivingList.Com will have 1,000 unique visitors daily, and social engagements will exceed 1.25 million in 2022