Motivated By Data, Marin County Faces Racial Disparity Head On

When RACE COUNTS released its first report in 2017, it revealed that Marin County was the most racially disparate county in California. Since then, the people of Marin County have been working to address racial disparities in their community.

Located north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County is home to more than 250,000 residents. According to the last Census, Marin is almost 70% White; 16.4% Latinx; 6% Asian; 2.1% Black; and a mixed remainder. Marin County is regularly recognized as the healthiest county in California and one of the wealthiest counties in the nation.[i] However, RACE COUNTS has revealed that not all of Marin’s residents are thriving. 

When RACE COUNTS released its first report in winter 2017, it revealed that Marin County was, in fact, the most racially disparate county in California. Local media outlets published stories[ii] highlighting this finding and local officials and community members were truly alarmed.  Many people of color felt that they were finally seen, as their experiences were enumerated and validated by the report’s findings. Some people questioned the data and challenged the RACE COUNTS team for disrupting the status quo.

One community member who was very concerned with the findings was Michelle Fadelli, Policy and Communications Manager with First 5 Marin Children and Families Commission. Seeing the RACE COUNTS data in the news, she was in disbelief like many others.  “Marin likes to be number one in many categories, but being recognized for racial disparities was nothing to be proud of.” Fadelli felt compelled to reach out and invite the RACE COUNTS team to present their findings in Marin County– and to help the community have a frank conversation about racial inequity.

Through the Marin Communications Forum, a monthly policy event sponsored by First 5 Marin, RACE COUNTS experts led a deep dive into the data that revealed Marin County to be California’s most racially unequal county. A public meeting of more than 450 people—the Forum’s largest and most racially-diverse event ever– was attended by local elected officials, Superintendents of Schools, and leaders of local non-profits and community-based organizations, as well as staff from government agencies and community members. The forum was instrumental in providing a safe space for people to address these racial disparities and injustices. RACE COUNTS data was key in guiding that difficult, yet necessary, conversation around race, especially acknowledging the longstanding institutional racism Marin’s residents of color face. 

The  invigorating response to the RACE COUNTS data and presentation motivated Fadelli to create ongoing opportunities for Marin County stakeholders to engage and discuss ways to dismantle systemic inequities; she created a Facebook page (RACE COUNTS Marin) establishing an online community connecting Marin County residents who have a shared interest in promoting racial justice.  She notes that individual data points from RACE COUNTS may be posted on social media, helping to draw attention to specific disparities as a call to action.  In addition, when the Race Counts report was updated, the Marin Communications Forum invited RACE COUNTS back to present their findings in an online forum (where it was learned that Marin had dropped to number two for racial disparities among all California counties).

The release of the 2017 RACE COUNTS launch report spurred government officials and funders to join together in recognizing disparities and to collectively combat systemic racism. The call to action resulted in the production of a Race Equity Action Plan by the County’s Office of Racial Equity in early 2022. According to Office Director Jamillah Jordan, the “genesis for that plan update was in some ways, the RACE COUNTS report and the shared commitment of both the community and County staff to address racial disparities”, providing the local Board of Supervisors with a sense of urgency necessary to move into action.

Efforts to eliminate racial disparities remain a top priority for the Board of Supervisors. Based on community advocacy and leadership from the Board, about $1.7 million from the Sheriff-Coroner’s budget was allocated to augment funding for racial equity initiatives in the County. Additionally, the County has also allocated $5 million from federal stimulus funds to support community-initiated and County department-initiated equity projects. Jordan also shared the County’s launch of the “Race Equity Budget Tool” which is a decision-making model to integrate race equity into budgets and policies for all County departments. This investment of resources reflects and reinforces the County’s commitment to advancing racial equity across all its departments and services so that all Marin residents can thrive.

Marin County has made progress in its quest to reduce the disparities its community members of color experience. Jordan highlighted the powerful words of James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” RACE COUNTS data was key to this progress as it helped shine a light on the County’s inequities and served as a catalyst for change. It is an example of the impact that RACE COUNTS can have when Californians are moved to take action about the racial injustices that often go unnoticed and unmeasured.  The data is critical to documenting disparities, and the collection of so many data points in the RACE COUNTS report almost demands a response.