This year, Derick Brown became the director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, a department charged with being the eyes and ears for the mayor in all of the city’s neighborhoods. A City College of San Francisco and UC Berkeley graduate, Brown, 35, grew up in public housing in the Western Addition and entered public service and politics through his work with youth.
“The overall goal for me is to make sure the mayor is involved in our community, and make sure the community is part of his agenda,” said Brown, who plans to grow the office with the mayor’s support. Once a much larger component of the mayor’s office, the program was scaled back after the 2008 recession.
The office links city government to San Francisco’s many diverse neighborhoods and communities and, as director, Brown acts as a liaison, coordinator and advocate for the city’s constituents, as well as the mayor’s “eyes and ears” for neighborhood issues.
“I keep him up to date and aware of what’s going on,” Brown said. “My goal is to expand the mayor’s footprint in San Francisco. Not only physically, but utilizing online presence: monthly newsletters, social media, getting word out there.”
Graduating high school was a major accomplishment for Brown, and soon after, he began to work with youth at the Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco and earn money for his family.
“When I finished high school, I thought I was done, thought it was over,” he said. “I started working with teenagers, trying to encourage them to go to school. And they said, ‘Why should I go to school if you’ve never been?’”
At City College, Brown surprised himself — he made national dean’s list two years in a row, was elected as student trustee, and graduated as both valedictorian and commencement speaker.
He credits Dr. Mark Robinson, former vice president of the school, and former chancellor Dr. Don Q. Griffin as mentors, who urged him to transfer to UC Berkeley at age 26, instead of just leaving with his associates degree as planned.
“I like political science, public affairs and American studies, kind of blending that history and politics,” said Brown, who graduated UC Berkeley with honors, and then took a job as a counselor at the Juvenile Probation Department, working with youth in maximum security.
Brown was accepted into Coro, a public affairs fellowship program, and spent a year exposed to various sectors — public, private and labor, discovering a love of real estate development and community engagement. After another stint at the Boys and Girls Club — this time as a consultant on the administration track — he came to City Hall to work as director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services.
“Derick brings an extraordinary level of experience and commitment to communities and neighborhoods across our City,” Joaquin Torres, Brown’s predecessor said. “He’s been passionate about serving those in need throughout his life and I know he will do all he can to best serve the needs of our residents and ensure they get access to the highest levels of service they need.”
MONS has four major components. Constituent services — working with constituents to determine their needs and finding ways to support them, is one. Coordinating events on behalf of the mayor, and meetings and events for other city officials, are two others. For instance, MONS may help coordinate a community development meeting for a city supervisor, or a large neighborhood festival for a city organization. The final component is staffing the mayor at events and meetings.
“If constituents have issues or concerns, we’re here. Our door is always open. Come in face-to-face, give us a call, shoot us an email… If you need help navigating this crazy system, we have people in place,” Brown said.
Brown is developing relationships with city supervisors. MONS once had a liaison for every district, and he hopes to someday have two or three who are responsible for several districts.
“I have the over-arching plan of expanding MONS presence. The mayor is giving me full support,” Brown said. “In our role, we help all districts. It’s like a big partnership.”