I was 29 years old when I became TransForm’s second employee back in 1998. I spent the next 17-plus years helping to build TransForm into California’s leading voice for transportation reform, and I served as Deputy Director during 2008-2016. I’ve been away for the past four years, but in May I returned to serve as Interim Executive Director.
I came back because I care so deeply about this organization, its people, and its mission. Leadership transitions are always challenging for nonprofits, and TransForm’s has been longer than expected — after our founder and my longtime colleague Stuart Cohen left last spring, our first search didn’t pan out. Now we’re about to re-open our search for a new Executive Director (update as of 7/14/2020: see the recruitment profile).
We’re also facing the most challenging financial situation I’ve seen, exacerbated by COVID and our ongoing executive transition, and we have some difficult decisions ahead. In these challenging times, TransForm asked me to step in and focus on fundraising and helping to strengthen our finances and infrastructure. My job is to put us in the best possible position to attract and support our next leader.
TransForm is a leader-ful organization: many staff and board members have stepped up very capably over the last year and a half. We’re blessed with a talented and committed group of organizers, advocates, educators who are rooted in the communities they serve, with an impressive suite of skills and knowledge and lived experience that informs their work. I’m here to focus on the internal fundamentals so our staff and board can focus on our critical mission and on finding someone to lead TransForm into a new phase.
I’m also clear that as a white, straight, middle-aged man who grew up with many middle-class privileges, I do not reflect many of the communities TransForm serves. I’ve always wanted my work to serve the themes of justice, community, and the environment. I believe in the rapidly growing movement for racial justice, and I believe TransForm has an important role to play in that movement. I took this interim role because I want to support the amazing team that is moving us in that direction, and I’m committed to stepping back once new leadership is in place.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated and exposed many of the systemic racial and economic injustices in transportation, planning, and public health that TransForm has worked on for years. Public transit is fighting to survive, threatening dire consequences for Black and people of color communities and for families who were already struggling to get by. Anti-black violence by the police often starts with traffic stops. Racially restrictive covenants enforced segregation and cut generations of Black families off from opportunities to build wealth. Our sector is long overdue for a serious reckoning about the racist and exclusionary ways we have planned, built, and maintained our transportation and housing infrastructure.
TransForm is ready to help establish new ways of doing things, because we’ve been doing that for years. Streets that are truly safe for people of color and low-income families, accessible and affordable transportation — including biking and walking — and secure housing for every member of our society will be essential not only to public health and a just recovery, but to upending the racist legacies in housing, transportation, and law enforcement.
TransForm’s staff and board are aligned in their commitment to advance a strong anti-racist policy agenda and seek an Executive Director to bring new energy and leadership to this ongoing effort. I’m proud to do my part to set the organization up for success to meet the challenges ahead.