San Francisco's Most Inspirational Couple: The Glide Co-Founders

An interview with legendary community activists Janice Mirikitani and Rev. Cecil Williams

Janice Mirikitani and Rev. Cecil Williams are arguably San Francisco’s most inspirational couple. For the past 50 years, the two community activists have led Glide, considered by many to be the heart of San Francisco. Featured in the film “The Pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith, Glide is one of the city’s major social service providers and the home of a diverse and energetic congregation (more than 11,000 members strong). Its music-fueled Sunday celebrations have drawn President Clinton, Dr. Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet and Harvey Milk.

Describe Glide to San Francisco visitors.

You have to experience the Glide Church celebrations on Sunday mornings. They’re radically inclusive celebrations of life. We practice unconditional love and acceptance. You’ll find all walks of life—a large LBGTQ community, the wealthy and the very poor and all races and ethnic cultures. And we see large numbers of visitors from around the world.

How is Glide important to the city?

Glide has been called the soul, the conscience, the heart of San Francisco, caring for those who would be ignored, forgotten and unwelcome because of their mental health challenges, the conditions of poverty they face or their sexual orientation. Glide offers holistic services that range from serving more than 890,000 free meals a year to providing affordable housing and free or low-cost state-of-the-art healthcare. Its nearly 100 programs that aim to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization include the Walk-In Center, Women Overcoming Violence, Men Unlearning Violence, the Family Youth and Childcare Center and the Graze the Roof garden.

How many people work for Glide?

We have 175 staff members. Many of them have benefited from the Glide programs or are ex-felons who have difficulty finding employment. About 15,000 volunteers per year help us with all the programs, especially our meals program.

How long have you been married?

Thirty-two years.

How did you meet?    

[Mirikitani] I was in graduate school, needing a temp job, and came to Glide to work in 1965, shortly after Cecil had been appointed as minister. When we met, we knew instantly that we were different—a little strange—and shared a passion to change the world, one life at a time.

What is it like to work together?  

It requires stamina and commitment. But our work is a love story, not only between the two of us, but a love story with the community we work with. 

How can visitors to San Francisco become a part of Glide's work?  

Come celebrate with us on Sunday mornings or volunteer your time in our meals program any day of the week. We turn no one away who is hungry, and we need constant support in monetary and muscle donations to keep our work vital and relevant.

For more information on Glide programs and volunteer opportunities, visit glide.org

 AT&T Park

A PERFECT DAY IN SAN FRANCISCO: JANICE AND CECIL'S ITINERARY

We asked the energetic duo to take us out on the town for a day in San Francisco.

Morning: Fitness and Brunch in Noe Valley

We keep fit and energized by training together on 24th Street at Living Active with Mark Duval. Our workout is followed by a quick brunch in Noe Valley at Toast Eatery or Chloe’s Cafe.

Afternoon: Community Engagement

We enjoy walking down Ellis Street and talking with Glide’s program participants. Whether they are waiting in line for Glide’s free lunch or coming for a number of other beneficial services, we enjoy sharing stories together.  

Evening: Dining Out

Dining with loved ones and taking advantage of San Francisco’s amazing and eclectic culinary offerings. Our favorite haunts are located in the Tenderloin, Union Square, Embarcadero, Chinatown, Noe Valley and on Fillmore Street.

Night: On the Scene

A night on the town! We enjoy watching a San Francisco Giants game (FTW!) at AT&T Park, experiencing the ethereal beauty of an Alonzo King Lines Ballet performance or hearing profound storytelling from our community at Youth Speaks, Intersection for the Arts or Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.