For the past 18 years, Teamsters 856 member Jovanka Beckles has dedicated her career to helping children as a mental health specialist for Contra Costa County. However, Jovanka’s commitment to community doesn’t stop when she leaves work. Since 2010, Jovanka has sat on the Richmond City Council working to implement policies that reduce crime, pay workers a living wage, and give residents hope.
Now, Jovanka wants to take her message to the Capitol with her bid for State Assembly. Learn how a terrifying home invasion motivated Jovanka’s run for public office, why she refuses to take corporate money, and about her plans to put working people first in Sacramento.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Why are you proud of the work you do for the County?
I am a Mental Health Specialist II — a wraparound facilitator. Wraparound is a strength-based approach to increasing the quality of life for children. Kids are referred by teachers, school administrators, social services, and probations. As a wraparound facilitator, I meet with all of the providers in the child’s life.
I’m proud of my work, because I can really make a difference in the lives of children and their families. Children can’t heal if their families don’t heal. With wraparound, I bring them all to the table, we come up with one goal, and we all work towards that one goal of helping the child and the family.
Why did you decide to run for the State Assembly?
This is my second term as a Richmond City Council Member, and I want to continue to create policies that support workers, children, and families. We need to have strong advocacy and representation at the state level. I’m running because we have shown in Richmond that when we unify as one, we can take back our government. That’s what we did in Richmond. We unified with our allies, the Richmond Progressive Alliance — an alliance of community organizations and community leaders — and because of our unity, organization and mobilization, we implemented rent control and raised the minimum wage. Our minimum wage will be $15 an hour next year. I’m running to do what we’ve done in Richmond at the statelevel, and that’s take back control of our government, and make it work on behalf of the people and workers.
What prompted your first run for office?
One night, my wife and I were returning from a wedding in Napa where I was the DJ, so we got home late. As we were pulling in, two young men walked up our driveway. They pulled out a gun and we were then victims of a home invasion. Our 17-year-old son was in the house and didn’t hear any of this, as the men walked around with a gun to my chest with my wife sitting in the living room. It was the most traumatic event of my life. By the time they got to our son’s room, they put the gun to his head and demanded to know what gang he was in and if he had any drugs. He didn’t do any of that. He had his guitar and his video games, that’s it. The men looked around my son’s room and said, “it must be nice to be loved.” At that time, I told them you got money and laptops, you can turn around and walk out now.
It was at that moment I realized that even though both my wife and I worked in mental health helping young people, young people needed more than we could give. I decided what they needed more of was legislation that leveled the playing field to give them opportunities.
After I got over the shock, I realized I needed to run for city council to create legislation to give them and their families hope. Hope for employment and for a future. I wanted to give hope to young people and create the kind of policies in our city that made young people feel they didn’t have to go and traumatize others because of the trauma they were experiencing.
What was Richmond like when you first ran and what is it like now?
The Richmond Progressive Alliance had begun running candidates who were completely free of corporate funds. Before that, Chevron had a desk outside the city manager’s office. They were running things and helping elect the majority of the city council. That meant the city council was not working on behalf of the people — they were working for their corporate bosses. Once we started running corporate-free candidates, it resonated with people. We now have a super majority of five councilmembers who took no money from Chevron or any developers.
We’ve recognized that it’s about a holistic approach to healing the city. You reduce crime, you open libraries, you open community centers, you improve the city so people feel good about where they live. Since I won in 2010, we have banned the box, which means returning citizens don’t feel like they have to resort to crime, because they can actually get their foot in the door on employment. Now we’re doing the same for public housing. Because if you are a returning citizen, you have to come back to the city where you offended, but right now you can’t return to your home if it was public housing. So, we’re banning the box for that, as well. You have to give people hope, a place to live, a living wage. We also made Richmond a community policing model because we want our police and community interacting. When they have a good relationship, they will trust each other.
Why is it important to elect union members like yourself?
We have to put each other in seats of power to change the laws, to change oppressive, corrupt and racist policies that are affecting us. Politics impacts everything — where you live, how much you’re paid, what kind of contract you get, so we have to put ourselves at the table. If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu. So, we as union brothers and sisters have to be at that table if we are going to get the kind of policies that benefit us. We can no longer afford to have other people creating policies for us. We have to create the policies for ourselves.
Go to www.jovanka.org to get involved in Jovanka’s campaign.