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Tom Peters PhD

By January 12, 2017November 24th, 2020No Comments

Dr. Tom Peters, President & CEO of the Marin Community Foundation, made an impassioned speech at our Fall 2016 Donors’ Breakfast regarding the potential impact of the Presidential election results. Read his remarks to learn more:


marin community clinics

Annual Breakfast Briefing


First and foremost, let me acknowledge with heartfelt appreciation what an honor it is to be among a room full of long-time donors, community supporters, dedicated clinicians and outstanding board and staff.

In your support of the Marin Community Clinics, you have collectively contributed to building one of this community’s most venerable and valuable institutions.  A set of clinics that offer both expert care and deep respect, treatment and prevention. And you’ve done this for patients across a wide swath of our community, from isolated single adults to vibrant multi-generational families, from toddlers to elders.Congratulations and appreciation to one and all.

My direct association with MCC goes way back, dare I say, over a quarter-century.  This means I have watched through the eyes of a public health director and now as a foundation president, as the Clinics have grown and matured. I’ve seen how you’ve stabilized the clinics, financially, clinically and even physically.  In fact, when I reference physical stabilization, it shoots me back to a memory of 20 years ago. On the statewide ballot of 1996, there was a grievously misguided proposal to forbid publicly supported medical and educational services to undocumented children and adults.  Some of you may remember it by its innocuous ballot number, the still-infamous Proposition 187.

For a number of months leading up to election day, I was quite active in the campaign to protest and urge rejection of this woefully absurd proposal. I traveled up and down the state doing more than sixty TV and radio interviews. Late in the campaign I even found myself in New York being interviewed on Dateline NBC.The producers said they needed some “B-roll” film before the segment went on air……you know, the kind of background shots, just behind a ‘talking head,’ that show real people in real action.

So a couple of days later a network camera crew and I showed up at the then-Marin Community Clinic site on the edge of the Marin General Hospital parking lot. Many of you remember these, but for those who may not have seen them, the Clinic at the time was housed in two double-wide industrial trailers.  A real thing of beauty.  There they sat, propped up on their ‘temporary’ and somewhat wobbly supports.  (They were extra wobbly since, though they had already been there for some time, the clinic had no permanent zoning or use permits.)

Well, it didn’t take long for the camera crew to notice that things were indeed a bit shaky.  In fact, one of the sound-men took it upon himself to demonstrate just how shaky. He adopted wide-legged stance, and began to rock side to side, which got the Clinic rocking as well.

In just one of many indicators of the remarkable professionalism of the Clinic staff, and the grace of its patients, the business of the Clinic went on as though nothing like this little mini-quake had occurred. So now, fast-forwarding a couple decades to the beautiful physical facilities of today’s MCC is really quite amazing. And it’s a metaphor, if you will, for the notable stabilization of the Clinics that you have created over the years.

You have so much to be proud of! Over 35,000 children, adults and seniors have access to high quality medical, dental and behavioral health care. You’ve established a model pattern of combining professionalism and volunteerism to create not only outstanding clinical care, but also the surrounding context of respect and comfort, cultural and linguistic competency. And you’ve doubled-down on this model effort by your thorough-going use of creative partnerships. By partnering with the SF-Marin Food Bank, Extra, the County Office of Education, the Marin County Health & Human Services Department and others, you support access to healthy food and opportunities to exercise.

You’ve also extended connections to other agencies skilled in housing and employment, addressing basic needs critical to anyone’s overall state of health. It is creative partnerships and affiliations like these, and others that can be conjured, that hold the critical key to the future.  Especially in these stunningly uncertain times, people and organizations of good will must band together.

I say with no hyperbole that the health and well-being of this whole community will depend on these affiliations. In fostering and encouraging these partnerships, the Clinics can also count on the continuing creative participation of one of the Marin Community Foundation’s most outstanding staff members, our Program Officer for Health & Aging, Shirin Vakharia.

Please know, you can count on all of us at the Foundation to be there with you, through our Buck Family Fund and the participation of our nearly 500 extraordinarily generous donor families. Family names like Hughes and Haas…. Kelso and Cahill… Meislin, Grimsley and Buss…. Ablin, Patterson and Gilardi. Through their generosity, these families and many others, along with the bequest of Dr. and Mrs. Buck and the Sutter Health Access to Care Fund, have made it possible over the last number of years for MCF to send the Clinics more than $15 million. But let me emphasize this point: more than ever, given the striking uncertainty of the times that lie ahead, everyone in this room and beyond has a critically important role to play.  Whether by financial donation, volunteer participation, political exhortation, or all of these, lending your voice and your support to the Marin Community Clinics will be more critically compelling than ever.

Before I close, I feel it is incumbent on me to acknowledge the storm clouds on the horizon. Exactly a week ago today, many of us awoke both startled and saddened by the outcome of the national election.  Now, this is neither the time to litigate the mega-issues of the campaign, nor the place to speculate on the politics of the future. But it is precisely the right time to recognize the uncertainty, the fright and the palpable panic that many of the Clinics’ patients and families are feeling.

Not just since last Wednesday, but over the last year and more, many of the children and families on the Clinic’s roster have been subject to dismissive, demeaning, and deeply disturbing public aspersions. Whether by virtue of race, ethnicity, legal status, religious affiliation or loving relationship, many have felt the sting.  Not just elsewhere in the country, but here in our own community. The slander and vilification that has made its way into the public realm is as repulsing as it is shocking.  And it’s even worse.  Words not only have meaning, but they have real impact.

Children afraid to leave their homes.  Adults frightened of what awaits them.  Families terrified, made physically and emotionally sick, by threats of their home being torn asunder. Words have the power to change not only the external environment, but also one’s internal chemistry……not only the outer reality, but the inner biology. So it is our community obligation, and indeed, a clinical obligation, to use our words.  Words of care and comfort, of companionship and friendship.

Now it’s painfully obvious that not one of us in this room can know all that will happen on the national scene.  Over the next weeks and months, we must steel ourselves to hear a drumbeat of announcements and appointments that will leave us gasping for air.

Many pronouncements will be tied directly to actions that can be immediately implemented, and they will come with a swiftness that is quite jarring. But it’s also true that even the powerful, especially the newly powerful, are subject to the surprising gap that frequently exists between rhetoric and reality.

To use just a single example, appropriate to this morning’s breakfast, it can be announced with great fanfare the intention to replace the Affordable Care Act. But I’m reminded of a novice swimmer standing on the shores of Angel Island, boldly announcing that he’s going to now swim the Bay’s channel across to San Francisco. Lo and behold, midway through an exceedingly challenging swim, he’s startled to look up and instead of the City, see the Farallon Islands, with Japan on the far horizon. Cross-currents and rip-tides have surprising strength here in the San Francisco Bay… as they certainly do in the roiling waters of Washington, D.C.

Let me close by telling you why I’m so hopeful.  Apprehensive and worried, yes, but at the same time, determined and hopeful.

It’s because the most challenging times often beget the most galvanizing action.  It’s because while in a democracy we’re often maddeningly slow to acknowledge threats, we can be creatively effective in response.It’s because I continue to believe that the concept and structure of public health provide a template for community action.  I believe in the basic precepts of public health, both as a system of care and a set of principles:

That the conditions that foster health for some, are the exact conditions that foster health for all. That equity is not just a philosophical principle, but a societal imperative.That the health of your children and your grandchildren will be determined not just by your family, but by your community. That it’s not just a political slogan, but a biological reality: we are, indeed, stronger together.

And one last thing.  What gives me tremendous hope, as I sincerely hope they do for you, are the three words that have proven to be fundamentally true over many years and many challenges: love trumps hate.

Thank you.

– Dr. Thomas Peters