Jane Kim ’95, a San Francisco Supervisor, District 6, presented on the topic of “Women in Politics: Lessons Learned” on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, for the second annual Mary Frosch Lecture for Equity & Justice.Click here to view a gallery of photos.
Head of School Bodie Brizendine opened the gathering by saluting Frosch as a beloved teacher and “friend to us all,” who brought systemic and important curricular change to Spence during her tenure of more than 30 years.
Senior Rix C. introduced Kim as a San Francisco supervisor who has experience as a community organizer, civil rights attorney and president of the San Francisco Board of Education. Rix noted that Kim represents the lowest-income residents as well as those in the city’s wealthiest zip code.
Kim opened her speech by recognizing three teachers—Frosch, Michèle Krauthamer and Kelly Jewett—who she said “indelibly touched my life.”
“I’m not sure I would be doing what I’m doing if not for these three women,” Kim said. “Teaching is such a noble profession. It’s amazing that over 20 years later, they’re still touching the lives of so many young women. I want to thank you so much for your service.”
Kim said several experiences in the Middle and Upper School at Spence led her to pursue a career in public service. She had her first real encounters with people struggling with homelessness while taking the public bus as a sixth-grader, and, as a freshman, she started volunteering by making food runs to homeless residents.
In ninth grade, Kim remembered that an assembly after the Rodney King riots marked a very important moment in her life. At the assembly, students were encouraged to speak about race, police and their reactions to the acquittal of four officers who were videotaped beating an African-American man with excessive force. Kim, who described herself as painfully shy, eventually got the courage to speak about what it meant for her to be an Asian-American student at Spence. It was the first time she spoke in front of a large crowd, and as she was leaving the assembly, Frosch grabbed her hand.
“You said something along the lines of, ‘I’m watching you,’” Kim recalled, turning to Frosch in the front row.
Kim shied away from the idea that she could be a leader. But in Kim’s senior year, it was Krauthamer who insisted that she was a leader. “I remember I was so shocked by that statement,” Kim said.
“Over my time here at Spence, this school grew me, developed me into someone who was very confident, someone who knew she was committed to public service,” Kim said. “And I knew I wanted to continue to speak up. … These moments have shaped my life, and I’m so grateful for the foundation with which Spence prepared me for the life I really couldn’t have imagined when I graduated over 20 years ago.”
As a San Francisco supervisor, Kim is a fierce advocate for the homeless and for affordable housing and care. When the San Francisco mayor went out of town and Kim was named acting mayor for the first time, Kim spent the night in a homeless shelter to better understand the reservation process and facilities. She saw firsthand how homelessness is not just an economic issue, but a public health issue as well. It took her a year of fighting, but she eventually secured full-time nurses to staff homeless shelters.
She also fought to pass the Fair Chance Act of 2014—the first “ban-the-box” law in the country that prevents employers from asking potential employees if they have been arrested or convicted of a crime on the application. This act, which gives people the opportunity to be judged by their qualifications and experiences before a background check is done, gives individuals a fair chance at securing a stable job and housing.
Her job as supervisor is not without challenges. Kim said she is often confused for one of her assistants. Some people come to her office and say, “Please give this to the supervisor.” She also said the work can be overwhelming and defeating. She sometimes feels clumsy and unskilled, and she questions the impact of her work.
However, one experience with a constituent serves as a good reminder of why she continues her work in public service. Kim shared a story about a man in a wheelchair who regularly came to her office because he had been evicted due to accessibility issues at his previous residence. Kim and her staff worked hard to find him new housing, but it was a difficult process. At one point, Kim bumped into him on the street, asked him how he was doing and gave him a hug. Years later, at a re-election party, he told her he had finally won affordable housing in a nice neighborhood, and a few months later, he stopped by Kim’s office with a friend who needed help with housing. He also gave Kim a card, which described the difficulties he had when he was homeless. He said he had almost given up and committed suicide, but he ran into her one day and after they hugged, he decided that life was worth living. Kim said she shared this story because it shows how change can happen on many different levels; sometimes it is a gesture as small as a hug that can make a difference in someone’s life.
“Far from me saving his life, he in many ways has given me so much, and that is hope,” Kim said. “That is what keeps me going in the work that I do. It’s stories like this that commit me to the work of change. It can be big or small, but these are the moments that you know that change is possible.”
The event ended with a few questions from students, including junior Brooke H., who recognized the issues homeless individuals with prior convictions have and asked how Kim could help people not get convicted in the first place. Kim talked about an $80 million grant that San Francisco wanted for a new jail. Kim was one of the few supervisors who opposed it from the start, but it took a year of education to get the rest of the board to vote against accepting the grant. Instead, the city asked the state of California if they could build a health clinic with the money. Kim talked about how jails are often used as the “solution” to the problems society cannot solve, such as poverty, substance abuse and mental illness, but money can be used in better ways to help tackle these issues. Another student asked about how she can make a difference in the community, and Kim encouraged her to start small, to volunteer and educate herself and her peers.
The Mary Frosch Lecture for Equity & Justice was established by the Board of Trustees in 2015 to salute Ms. Frosch’s dedication to equity throughout her more than 30 years at Spence.