Our Legacy

Nearly 40 Years of ED’s: Neva Walker (2011-pres), NTanya Lee (2004-’11), and Margaret Brodkin (1978-2004)


Over the last 40 years, Coleman has been a uniquely successful grassroots community voice for all of the city’s children and youth, inspiring activists and organizations around the country. Over the last four decades, we have:

  • Won hundreds of millions of dollars in city funding for kids, by establishing the first tax set-aside for children’s services called the Children’s Fund in 1991 (and reauthorizing and expanding it in 2001 and then again in 2014)
  • Created new public systems for quality, affordable child care, and alternatives to incarceration for vulnerable youth
  • Developed and won major equity-based reforms to the San Francisco public school system, including the landmark College and Career for All Policy in 2009 and Safe and Supportive Schools Policy in 2014.
  • Mobilized tens of thousands of people to take action for children
  • Intensively trained thousands of parent leaders and young people of color


The brainchild of Coleman’s longtime Director Margaret Brodkin, Coleman Advocates’ landmark 1991 “Prop J” campaign created the San Francisco Children’s Fund, and ultimately, the city’s Department of Children,  Youth, and Their Families (DCYF).  Initially it was a controversial idea, setting aside local tax dollars specifically to benefit children, but the measure won, and was reauthorized by city voters in a landslide vicory in 2000 as “Prop D”. In 2011, the Children’s Fund celebrated its 20th Anniversary San Francisco’s City Hall with the majority of the city’s elected officials and hundreds of community members in attendance. At this point, DCYF had a budget  of more than $100 million, including the Children’s Fund ($50 million) and additional city government investments in children that had been won over the years through grassroots community advocacy and organizing. These funds support more than 40,000 children, more than 200 community-based children and youth programs, programs in our public schools, and a wide range of services that create opportunities for thousands of low income children struggling to stay and survive in San Francisco.

In 2012, Coleman began staffing and helping to lead the Children’s Funding Community Coalition of more than 50 organizations and agencies that ultimately developed and won passage of Prop C, the “Children and Families First” ballot initiative in 2014. Prop C renews more than $125 million in annual funding for school and children’s programs across the city, for the next 25 years.

Official Children’s Fund Site – The City & County of the SF Department of Children, Youth & Their Families

Brodkin Speech on the Children’s Amendment (1996)

New York Times Article on the Children’s Fund (1991)

From Sand Boxes to Ballot Boxes – book about the Children’s Fund by former Director Margaret Brodkin


Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth is one of the oldest and most prominent child advocacy organizations in the country, with a unique focus on community engagement that led to its recent transition to a membership-based community organization.

Stanford’s Gardner Center Case Study: Institutionalizing Children’s Rights

Read more reports about Coleman’s model of change >>here.

The Jean Jacobs Community Center >> Google maps link here


Honoring our Founder & Serving Our Neighborhood

Forty years ago, it was a three year old in an isolation cell in San Francisco’s Juvenile Hall that was the spark which led Coleman’s courageous founder, Jean Jacobs, to begin a lifelong campaign to help children in the juvenile justice and foster care systems. Gertrude Coleman, impressed by Jacobs’ resolve, left a small trust to the San Francisco Foundation, which created Coleman Advocates and appointed its first Board of Directors. Coleman began operations in 1975.

Jean Jacob’s outrage and commitment to defend the rights of disenfranchised young people remains a guiding force of Coleman’s community work to this day.

To preserve Jean Jacob’s legacy, and to ensure that Coleman Advocates would impact the everyday life of San Francisco children for generations to come, former Director Margaret Brodkin led a successful public-private community campaign to purchase, renovate and open the Jean Jacobs Community Center in San Francisco’s Excelsior District – the neighborhood with the highest density of children in the entire city. Today, the Center is a vibrant hub of community activity, with tenants who provide direct services to low-income immigrant children (APA Family Services & MNC Head Start), a large community room with a full kitchen, used for neighborhood meetings, community events, special family celebrations for Coleman members, and even overnight youth retreats.

For more information about directions, or renting space at our Center, please contact our Office Manager at (415) 239-0161.  

Coleman Advocates: 40 Years of Making Change for the Next Generation

1970: Jean Jacobs begins a life-long campaign to help children in the juvenile justice and foster care systems.

1975: Gertrude Coleman leaves a trust to SF Foundation to support Jacob’s advocacy, creating Coleman Advocates.

1975: Jean Jacobs hires Ira Okun, as the first and founding Executive Director of Coleman Advocates, to advocate for a comprehensive community based system for emergency housing for dependent children.

1978: Coleman hires Margaret Brodkin as E.D.

1978: Coleman Advocates releases report on the SF Comprehensive and Emergency Services (CES) system with reform recommendations.

1980: Coleman Advocates incubates Youth Advocacy Project (YAP) to advocate for reforms to the juvenile justice and juvenile dependency systems.

1983: YAP wins major reforms – youth arrested for truancy or running away are no longer jailed and are instead treated at Huckleberry House. The new community-based system includes 24-hour intake at shelters and 60 new family shelter beds.

1985: Coleman Advocates forms After School Task Force to explore reinstitution of programs that had existed prior to Prop 13.

1986:  Coleman Advocates persuades Board of Supervisors to sponsor a Ballot Initiative to fund after school programs for youth; Voters pass Proposition D.

1987: Coleman Advocates’ 10-point Children’s Agenda is adopted as official City policy by Board of Supervisors.

1988: Coleman Advocates’ speak-out on Children’s Issues for Mayor attracts 600 attendees; First ‘Children’s Budget’ is drafted and Coleman-led advocacy prevents budget cuts to children’s services.

From 1988 on, Coleman Advocates participates in annual budget advocacy activities, advocating for the protection and expansion of the most crucial children and families services and programs, winning millions of dollars annually in restorations and expansions.

1989: Mayor creates Office for Children, Youth, and Their Families, as recommended in the Children’s Budget.

1990: Coleman Advocates forms the Children’s Budget Coalition consisting of 50 children’s organizations working together to set children’s budget priorities.

1991: Coleman Advocates organizes fifty thousand voters to sign petitions to put the landmark Children’s Amendment on the ballot; SF becomes the first city in the country to guarantee funding each year for children.

1991: Youth Making a Change (YMAC) is launched.

1993: YMAC collaborates with the SFUSD Student Advisory Council to create YouthVote.

1994: Based on YMAC’s success, Coleman launches Parent Advocates for Youth (PAY).

1995: YMAC conducts first YouthLine survey that provides the foundation for its YouthTime campaign that results in the creation of Beacon Initiative.

1995: YMAC launches community campaign to win a city-funded Youth Commission, which is ultimately achieved through a ballot initiative.

1996: YMAC helps win new SFUSD Ethnic Studies requirements in English.

1997: Coleman successfully advocates for city funding for the first five SFUSD Beacon Centers.

1997: YMAC works with other youth groups to conduct a Youth Services Evaluation and related community outreach to influence city budget decisions; Work is institutionalized by the city as YouthLine.

1998: PAY is appointed by Superintendent to establish a Lunch Services Task Force to develop recommendations for improving the school lunch program.

1999: Coleman develops and incubates the Coalition for Responsible School Board, a citywide coalition to hold school board members accountable to youth, parent, and community interests.

2000: Coleman successfully advocates for the resources to launch the first Wellness Centers at seven SFUSD High Schools.

2000: YMAC youth work to build the power and consciousness of young people related to Prop 21.

2001: Coleman leads successful campaign to reauthorize the Children’s Amendment. The new legislation increases the size of the Children’s Fund and extends the Amendment until 2016.

2002: Coleman purchases and moves into its new building in the Excelsior District.

2002: Coleman leads & wins campaign to reform racially biased intake system at YGC/juvenile hall.

2002: YMAC helps to lead a community coalition in response to police violence against Black students at Thurgood Marshall High School.

2003: Coleman support efforts to win Proposition H, to provide better civilian oversight of the SFPD.

2003: YMAC creates Youth Justice Project to build the leadership of young people who’ve been locked up in the juvenile justice system

2004: N’Tanya Lee, Coleman’s Director of Youth Policy, becomes new Coleman E.D.

2004: YouthVote is institutionalized by the city.

2003: Coleman helps create the SF Parent Advisory Council, offering parents opportunities for engagement with SFUSD.

2004: Coleman provides key leadership to the Great Schools campaign that won passage of Prop H (known now as “PEEF”), which invests up to $60 million a year in local city funds to SF public schools.

2005: YMAC wins campaign to fix and improve the quality of SF public school bathrooms.

2006: Coleman carries out an intensive agency-wide process culminating in the development of a new five-year strategic plan that includes a formal transition to a more traditional community organizing model, while maintaining the best of our advocacy roots.

2006: Coleman releases report – Families Struggle To Stay: Why Families are Leaving SF & What Can Be Done

2007: As part of our Next Generation SF Agenda Campaign, Coleman successfully advocates for an increase in city plans for affordable family housing units.

2007: Launch of Coleman’s sister c4 organization, Coleman Action Fund.

2007: As part of our “Jobs Stop Violence” campaign, YMAC helps to develop and implement Job Assist, a new school based employment services program.

2008: Coleman releases report – Is There A Future For Children: An Analysis of Family Income, Race & Opportunity.

2008: In response to Coleman advocacy, the Board of Ed passes the Close the Racial Achievement Gap Resolution.

2009: Coleman wins the SFUSD “A thru G/College and Career for all” Policy designed to graduate all SFUSD students ready for college, career or trade in SF.

2010: Coleman, along with SOMCAN, PODER, FCC, CPA, CJJC, MUA, SF Day Labor/La Collectiva, POWER, launch the San Francisco Rising (SFR) Electoral Alliance to build political power in low-income communities of color.

2010: Coleman helps win Board of Ed Resolution to expand Ethnic Studies Pilot program to five High Schools.

2011: Coleman hires Neva Walker as its new Executive Director.

2011: Coleman successfully advocates for the Mayor to commit city funds to restore summer school for approximately 1,000 9th graders.

2011: Coleman and Youth Commission successfully advocate for the prioritization of disconnected, undocumented and transitional-aged youth in the Mayor’s Summer Jobs Plan.

2012: Coleman, as part of the Progressive Revenue Coalition, helps develop and win Prop E, an alternative business tax structure ballot initiative that raises additional revenue for critical services.

2012: YMAC successful advocates for an expansion of the Mayor’s Summer Jobs for Youth Initiative to include opportunities for undocumented youth.

2012: Coleman, with partners in CUHJ releases Putting the Pieces Together: People Powered Solutions for Neighborhood Jobs and the Local Economy

2012: Coleman, with partners in CUHJ, wins campaign to pressure SF transit officials to convert an old rail yard known as the “Upper Yard” into an affordable housing complex. 

2012: Coleman successful advocates for new funding for job readiness programs in District 11, where there has been zero historical city investment in workforce development.

2012: Coleman hosts the SF Rising field operation to pass Prop 30, the statewide increase in the income tax for wealthy that brought in additional millions for local school districts.

2013: Coleman participates in a successful campaign to win a Local Hiring Policy for SFUSD.

2013: Coleman and allies successfully advocate for Board of Supes to pass a $2.3 million supplemental appropriation for SFUSD to support the 1,800 students at serious risk of not graduating the following year.

2013: Coleman participates in successful state-level advocacy to win the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) legislation that creates a more equitable allocation of state funding for public education.

2014: Coleman wins the first phase of its Solutions Not Suspensions Campaign: major reforms to SFUSD’s approach to school discipline with passage of the Safe and Supportive Schools Resolution, authored by Commissioner Haney.

2014: After three years of negotiation, the Board of Ed approves a new MOU between the school district and the San Francisco Police Department to reduce student arrests and police presence on campus.

2014: Coleman partners with local filmmaker Kevin Epps to produce Solutions Not Suspensions Documentary Film.

2014: In partnership with USF, Coleman designs and launches a Vocational English pilot program focused on the custodial industry, the most common field in which our members seek employment.

2014: Coleman leads a 2-year coalition effort to develop and win the passage of Prop C, the “Children and Families First” initiative. Prop C renews more than $125 million in annual funding for school and children’s programs across the city, for the next 25 years.

2014: Coleman, as part of the SF Rising and California Calls, supports voter outreach and education efforts to win Prop J (an increase to the SF minimum wage) and Prop 47 (statewide criminal justice reform).

2014: The SF BOE passes a Resolution to institutionalize Ethnic Studies in ALL schools in the district, including new courses, teachers, coaches, professional development, and student/family engagement structures.

2015: Coleman Advocates turns 40!