It’s hard to miss The California Endowment’s latest billboard on Broadway in Sacramento. It features the names and faces of seven Sacramento men who were killed by police. The text reads, “#RestInPower.”
Stephon Clark’s face is not on the billboard. It was designed before the 22-year-old was killed by Sacramento police officers in his grandmother’s backyard last month. But it’s taken on new meaning as Sacramento protesters call for justice for the young man and for better living conditions for the city’s black residents.
The billboard design came from Sacramento's Black Lives Matter chapter. Tanya Faison, the group's founder, said the image speaks to the community's uphill battle for transparency and accountability.
"I want them to know that it’s happening here in Sacramento, it’s not something that’s isolated or that only happens once in a while," she said. "It’s a constant thing that’s happening in this city."
The billboard is part of an ongoing public health campaign that zooms in on violence, police shootings and other issues facing communities of color. Some of the group’s prior ads faced pushback for being too political, but leaders behind the movement say their message is about health.
“[Clark’s death] has put an even brighter spotlight on the fact that certain people, races, neighborhoods, demographics in Sacramento are less safe than others and more likely to fall victim to these kinds of tragedies,” said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of the nonprofit health advocacy group.. “And from the perspective of a health foundation, that’s a public health problem.”
In recent years, Endowment campaigns have highlighted gaps in healthcare and education access for undocumented immigrants, incarceration rates for people of color and other problems that disproportionately affect marginalized groups. Most of the messages have stemmed from collaborations with community organizations.
There’s some research to show that giving people more voice actually makes them healthier. A 15-year study of nearly 10,000 young people found that those who engaged in volunteering, voting or activism had higher education and income levels, and better health outcomes, down the line.
But social justice messaging on billboards and bus stops isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. In 2014, the Sacramento International Airport took down a California Endowment billboard advocating for health care for all Californians, regardless of immigration status. In 2015, Fresno city officials rejected an ad from the group that highlighted the lack of parks in poor parts of the city.
Matt Peterson is the director of education for the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank in Southern California. He said the Endowment’s advertising strategy isn’t explicitly political, but it does drive forward partisan ideas about what California’s future should look like.
“Philanthropic organizations are always seeking to influence politics in some way,” he said. “You’re going to continue to see this kind of war over the narrative in California and the rest of the country, and I think people are paying closer attention to it since the national election.”
The Endowment said it will continue to focus its campaigns around safety, or lack thereof, in communities of color.
Editor’s Note: Capital Public Radio receives funding from The California Endowment.