“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

“Wow – so you grew up in the city? I’ve never met someone actually from San Francisco.”

Recognizing their unmistakable look of astonishment, I state that I am the proud product of San Francisco’s Haight / Ashbury district. But, like a flame extinguished by the wind, their amazement quickly turns to frustration as they recall a recent trip to my hometown.

All too familiar with how this scene plays out, I ready myself for a discussion of the city’s much publicized faults. I cringe when I hear stories of frightening encounters with the mentally ill. Sprawling homeless camps. Cars broken into. Syringe needles lining the sidewalk. I’m ashamed, yet I know these words are true.

When people hear I grew up in SF, they automatically assume my childhood consisted of immense privilege. Million-dollar mansions and fancy jobs in tech. In reality, it consisted of family friction and financial insecurity. Never-ending psychological, financial, and legal battles. Separated parents. Promises unkept. Therapy.

Ever since receiving a scholarship to boarding school, I’ve avoided my past. But I’m done running. Because few things are more special to me than my hometown. As a third generation San Franciscan, I yearn to revitalize the city. Provide the mentally ill with help they so desperately need. Build affordable housing. Purge the sidewalks of broken glass and human waste.

I’ll make San Francisco a place people are proud to call home.

— Brian Sykes