Parks: I still love you. We all need you.

I am proud and humbled to be honored today by California State Parks Foundation with the Grassroots Champion award at Park Advocacy Day. They asked me to write a blog about why park equity matters to me.

When I was a kid, my local park was my second home. I perfected my jump shot and gooooooooooal celebration there. I tried to look cool waiting for the girl I liked to walk home from school through the park. I tested my gardening skills in our park. I even studied physics and engineering as I built and destroyed a ton of creations in the park. I needed the park. I loved the park. I still love parks.

This fondness for parks is what took me to my job as the Executive Director of the LA Neighborhood Trust (Neighborhood Land Trust).

The Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust Team

I wanted to fight for low-income kids of color who loved and needed parks just as much as I did when I was a kid. This desire is also what led me to fight for Prop 68 when it was on the California ballot last year.

Read the full blog on Medium

Tamika Butler
You are Perfect

Reading at the 2019 LA Time Festival of Books: The story of how I fell in love years ago at Stanford Law School

This past weekend I was lucky enough to participate in the LA Times Festival of Books. I was part of this amazing program put together by a dear friend, Brittany Ballard. With Hanna Bowens, she has put together this exercise in bravery and openness called Unsent. Like a modern day and even more revealing, Post Secret (I’m dating myself), Unsent is a live show where brave souls get on the mic and share that email, letter, or text message they’ve kept to themselves.

It was thrilling to get the piece off my chest. I followed it up by hoping on a plane and heading to the American Planning Association’s (APA)National Planning Conference in San Francisco.

The conference had a huge emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I was even there to moderate an equity focused panel. Yet, I was in many sessions where I saw people of color, and specifically women of color, and specifically black women, get up and talk about the doubt they felt in the space. The space was supposed to be open, welcoming, diverse and inclusive. Instead, they talked about the contradictory feelings they felt in the space. They talked about how no one spoke to them, except other people of color. They talked about how people assumed they were students or nonprofit organizers, not members of APA. They talked about being skipped in line when people just simply went past them to help the white people all around them.

This feeling of being invisible is the exact opposite of what I felt when I was onstage in Los Angeles the day before. Unfortunately, it’s a feeling that many people feel way too often. Being in white centered professions, spaces, and institutions means constantly struggling to be seen. Sometimes it means struggling with self-doubt. Sometimes it means struggling to feel loved or appreciated.

The juxtaposition of these two experiences made me want to share about a time in my life where I saw someone and loved her. The video is linked above. The words are pasted below. This isn’t the final piece as I threw it together in 20 mins before going on stage. I’ll keep work-shopping it, but just in case it helps any of the folks out there struggling to be seen or loved or appreciated, I wanted to share.

Read more and watch the video on Medium

Tamika Butler

Earlier this month, Vox published an article by Sigal Samuel titled, “A new study finds a potential risk with self-driving cars: failure to detect dark skinned pedestrians.”  In January, new research from M.I.T.’s Media Lab found that the facial recognition software Amazon is selling to law enforcement falls short on tests for accuracy, misidentifying the gender of darker-skinned women about 30 percent of the time. And recently, my friend and fellow transportation practitioner Veronica O. Davis reminded me of the study showing how some automatic soap sensors couldn’t recognize darker skin tones.

For me, as someone with dark skin, none of this is new. From automated handwashing to biased facial recognition data, folks of color know all too well that technology is often not built for us.

Many people I respect have been a part of the tech industry and are committing their lives to disrupting and transforming everything from how we communicate to how we get from point A to point B. I think these people are smart. I think they care. I hope they are successful in their endeavors.

But still, something about the tech industry always has me on the lookout for something to go wrong or turn out to not be quite what it first seemed. I do not think everyone in Silicon Valley lives in a bubble with no concept of life outside of their industry—that would be an unfair thing to say. But it’s well-established that the tech industry is primarily white, male, and educated, which leaves me unconvinced that things that come out of the industry can reflect the experiences of those of us who are not. Even as the tech industry calls for more diversity and creates ethics boards, we see similar results.

Read more at Toole Design.

Tamika Butler

I cannot believe I’ve already been at Toole Design for a whole month! During this month people reached out wondering what my new job titles mean, sending congrats, and sharing surprise that I’ve moved from the nonprofit space to a private consulting firm.

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked is, “How can you keep passionately caring at a consulting firm?” People are wondering if I’m still going to be outspoken. If I’ll still talk about things like equity and race. I get why people think something might change. Some things will. Like everyone, I’m constantly learning and growing and gaining new skills. I’m a mom now, I’m another year older, and the world around me continues to dynamically change. All of this would be true no matter where I worked.

But as to whether I can continue to care as a consultant–I have to! For me, consulting, like any profession, is made up of people. It’s not enough to throw up our hands and blame a system when fighting things like institutional racism. People make up these systems. And as people, we have a responsibility to take ownership for our actions. When choosing a firm to join as a consultant, I landed in a place made up of people who care. I’m not under any illusions– this is an imperfect business. But, how you do business matters.

Read more at Toole Design.

Tamika Butler

By June, I was completely exhausted, but also completely in love with my job. The month gave me a chance to connect and spend time with so many of our members and people in our larger bicycle community. It was also an important reminder of how much promise our movement has — and how much we are still falling short. To truly make transformational change for all people who bike, we have to go beyond a month. We also have to get beyond the narrative that the only people who bike, and are therefore worthy of our advocacy and celebration, are those who (too often self-righteously) make a lifestyle decision to do so. We have to get past a narrative that centers cisgender white maleness. We have to get past a narrative of exclusion. Once as a bicycle community we are able to get past these things, we will finally be to the heart of celebrating what Bike Month should truly be about. That’s what celebrating every single day on a bike should be about.

Read More on Medium

Tamika Butler
What’s Next?

With a special election coming up in my community on Tuesday and another death of a black man close to home in Sacramento, I’m thinking back to how I was feeling after the presidential election and still wondering…what’s next?

Read more on Medium. 

Tamika Butler
Why Does Black Scare You?

Cell phones. Skittles. Books. Hoodies. Wallets. Bike riding. Walking. Entering our home. Checking our mail. Being in our yard. Hanging with friends. Breathing. Doing nothing at all. You keeping track? When black is feared it’s hard for me to exist. #BlackLivesMatter

The death of Stephon Clark is just another reminder that black lives are not valued. This is something that weighs heavy on my mind each and every day. White kids are worried about getting shot at school and as black people, we’re worried about getting shot everywhere we are — even at home. As reports come out about cops fearing for their lives, but Clark being shot in the back, with nothing more than a cell phone, while standing in his own back yard, I’m reminded of something I wrote 2 years ago. Unfortunately, I feel it just as strongly today.

Read on at Medium. 

Safe Roads for All?

Vision Zero was invented in a European country far more homogeneous than the United States. When bringing this concept to the U.S., it is important to acknowledge, examine, and understand how the history of this country — marked with the scars of killing off the native peoples of this land, enslaving the native peoples of another, and the ongoing oppression of people of color — will influence our ability to save lives. Vision Zero cannot succeed in a vacuum devoid of context.


Read my full post on Medium.