Staff

Jessamyn Sabbag, Executive Director

In 2009, Jessamyn joined Oakland Rising’s staff as Field Director and later Deputy Director, and coordinated the project’s collaborative of social justice organizations as well as its voter operations. Over seven years, Jessamyn grew Oakland Rising’s voter outreach operations from 1,300 supporters to more than 52,000 supportive voters citywide. From directing campaigns to leading political education trainings to lobbying City Hall, Jessamyn has contributed to policy and ballot box victories. These wins include increasing taxes on the wealthy to fund education, requiring jobs and community benefits from new developments, establishing more transparency and public participation in the city’s budget process, and expanding rights for immigrants and formerly incarcerated community members. 

Prior to joining the team at Oakland Rising, Jessamyn directed GenVote, a national youth civic engagement coalition; created a national online directory of progressive youth organizations; became the first Civic Engagement Coordinator at the Marin Grassroots Leadership Network; mobilized against the Iraq war, and created a free arts and theater after-school program. 
 
Jessamyn serves on the City of Oakland’s Budget Advisory Commission and the Board of Directors of California Calls, an alliance of 31 grassroots, community based organizations across the state. She is driven by a profound love and belief in Oakland and democracy, and brings deep values and experience around police accountability and anti-racism. She is profoundly committed to building collective progressive political power for Oakland’s working class, immigrant, and communities of color. When not working for justice and liberation, she and can be found at the beach, in the garden, and on the dance floor. 
 
Jessamyn is a graduate of Brown University, with a double major in ecological and evolutionary biology and history and public policy of education. 
 

Reverend Damita Davis-Howard, Political Director

You may know Rev. Damita most recently from her organizing at Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) or previously from her labor work. She holds the distinction of being the first African-American woman to lead a statewide labor union in California as the Executive Director of SEIU Local 535.

In the community, Rev. Damita has also served as a member and chair of the board of governors of the Alameda Alliance for Health, the organization that oversees provision of quality healthcare to Medi-Cal recipients and Alameda County’s underserved children and families. She also serves on the Community Working Group Committee of Oakland’s Operation Ceasefire where she works to reduce gun violence in Oakland. 

Joining our staff in January 2018, Rev. Damita will lead our collaborative's work and strategy, run our field operations, and support our growing leadership development and youth organizing work. A Bay Area native, she has lived in Oakland since she was 17, and has dedicated her life to building power amongst working-class folks. Self-described as a “dedicated community activist and advocate for race equity, community safety and labor standards,” she brings a deep working knowledge of Oakland politics and relationships with local elected and faith-based leaders which she will use to help further our mission of advancing policy centered in racial, economic, and environmental justice.

 

Beth Gunston, Strategic Partnerships Director 

As a proud East Bay native, Beth is excited to be able to give back to her community as the Strategic Partnerships Director at Oakland Rising. After graduating with a double major in Anthropology and Urban Studies from San Francisco State University, Beth knew that she would devote her life to the social justice movement. She earned her stripes at the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) where she spent a decade educating voters and running grassroots campaigns to pass solid public health and environmental protections and elect progressive leaders at the state level. During 6 of her years at CLCV, she fundraised from individual donors, raising over $2 million dollars for political work. Beth currently serves as the Board President of the League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay where she helps elect environmental champions to local seats in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. You can find her spending her free time running trails, climbing rocks, or holding a sign at a labor or environmental rally.

Laneisha Butler, Community Organizer

Laneisha is a third generation Oakland resident committed to fighting poor educational opportunities, criminalization, gentrification and other injustices in Oakland and in communities similar to her own. She recently received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and wants to use her education to change public policies for the better and lift up the voices of people of color. For Laneisha this fight is very personal. For decades, members of her family have had to deal with poverty and the challenges that come along with it. However, as a research assistant at UCSC she was exposed to grassroots organizing and movement building electoral organizing and saw how young people in her own community were making a difference. Inspired by youth and the staff who guide them, she realized that she has a role to play in working towards positive change and helping others do the same. As a participant in YVote's New Majority Fellowship, Laneisha looks forward to learning from and networking with others who share similar goals. 

Dominique Gipson, Youth Organizing Fellow

Upon working her 12th campaign with Oakland Rising, Dominique took an official leadership role for the first time by serving as Assistant Team Leader. She then went on to become Team Leader in the Fall of 2017, and now serves as Youth Organizer Fellow. Her advancement means a lot to her as she feels that people see her as someone who is gifted enough to make a difference in her city, and trust in her leadership ability.
 
Dominique grew up in Oakland and became politicized in high school when she formed the Rainbow Clique, an all women of color social justice group fighting against homophobia. She envisions a world where all people of color stand up for what they believe in and don’t allow society to define their worth. Dominique loves working at Oakland Rising since it gives her a vehicle to fight against injustices. In fact, she has brought Oakland Rising to her family –Dominique registered her dad, Eric, to vote and recruited him to work at Oakland Rising, and also recruited her grandfather to volunteer with us.
 
Outside of work, Dominique pursues her goals as a singer and entertainer, and links her singing to her political activism.
 

liz suk, Leadership Development Manager

liz suk grew up in the Bay Area with deep roots in East Oakland. She has worked in various non-profit and grassroots organizations in the Bay Area for over 20 years. Currently, liz sits on the Board of Directors of Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN). She shares her time between Oakland Rising and Bay Rising while studying to apply to nursing school and working as a birth doula. A single mother of two school aged children, liz enjoys camping and imaging a new world rooted in love, peace, and justice. 

Sheryl Walton, Field Fundraising Team Leader

Leading our effort to build our individual donor base is Sheryl Walton, an Oakland-native and longtime organizer, volunteer and activist with various groups including Oakland Rising, Oakland’s Community Police Advisory Board, Healthy Black Families, Inc., Block by Block Organizing Network, and the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club. Sheryl knows Oakland neighborhoods and politics on a deep level, having even ran for city council in 2012. Her leadership on this team brings a mature knowledge of organizing and outreach in our communities, while her early career in sales provides the skills to acquire donations.

Sheryl holds a Masters in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley.  

Elly Rhee, Operations and Executive Manager

Elly joins Oakland Rising as an Operations and Executive Manager. Since immigrating from Korea as a teenager, Elly has called the Bay Area home (even when she was away in Southern California for graduate school). Her passion for economic and racial justice led her to work with organizations like Koreatown Immigrant Worker’s Alliance and Congregations Organizing for Renewal. She is excited to support Oakland Rising’s work in fighting to improve the lives of Oakland’s working class and residents of color. Outside of her work for Oakland Rising, Elly supports domestic violence survivors as a Multi-lingual Access Model advocate at the Asian Women’s Shelter, and organizes with Hella Organized Bay Area Koreans (HOBAK) and Korean American Coalition to End Domestic Abuse (KACEDA). At rallies and community events, she can be spotted with a Korean traditional drumming crew, Ieumsae. 

 

Elly holds a BA from UC Berkeley, with double major in Ethnic Studies and Political Science, and an M.Div from Claremont School of Theology.  

 

Nemo Curiel, Movement Technology Manager

From the Tijuana/San Diego region, Nemo had a Mexican upbringing followed by a Us-ian adulthood in San Diego, Boston, abroad, and finally Oakland. 

With a background in Mathematics, he worked as a high school teacher, college mathematics Instructor, Tutor, Wedding Singer, Peace Corps Volunteer, Ed-Tech Specialist, Web Developer, Digital Communications Strategist, Online Organizer, and now Technology Manager. 

Traveling, people’s stories, and living in Oakland helped shape Nemo’s convictions and determination to work more fully and intentionally for personal realization and the greater good. Prior to joining Oakland Rising, Nemo worked as a Product Analyst and Developer in Ed-Tech, coding bootcamp Program Coordinator, Online Campaigner, and Communications Consultant. 

An avid Capoeira practitioner, he also leads an afrolatin-electro-funk band in Oakland, and is developing a web application to give a voice to low-wage workers. 

 

Nemo holds a BA in Mathematics from UC San Diego and an MS in Mathematics from Cal State San Marcos.

 

Mekhi Enis, Field Fundraising Team Member/ Administrative Assistant

The youngest member of our team, Mekhi is both our Administrative Assistant and one of the original members of the Oakland Rising Fundraising Team. He grew up in East Oakland, graduated from Oakland Tech High School (class of 2017), and plans to go to college to major in both Mechanical and Computer Engineering/ Computer Science. He joined the Oakland Rising family not only to find out more about what's planned ahead for Oakland, but also to be active in the movement to help Oakland be the best it can be.

Claudine Tong, Field Fundraising Team Member

Claudine graduated from Oakland High School and is a proud alumnus of the Oakland Youth Chorus. She is a founding member of Genesis, the Bay Area's regional affiliate of the Gamaliel Foundation who trained President Obama as a community organizer. When she is not advocating for the rights of her fellow Oaklanders (often with other members of the Justice Council of First Unitarian Church) or as a volunteer tutor with BOOST West Oakland, she can be found singing in her church choir or laughing and eating with friends and family. 

 

Somdeng Danny Thongsy, Field Fundraising Team Member

Danny was born in a refugee camp from parents who escaped wars in Laos. His family resettled in an impoverished community in US in the 1970’s. When he was 17 years old, his brother was murdered, resulting in his experiencing deep grief and loss. Not knowing where to seek help, he made a horrible choice which landed him in state prison.

Incarcerated, he found healing through spiritual practice, and earned a college degree in Social Science. He became an advocate for self-help programs and took on a leadership role by facilitating groups and mentoring other prisoners. After two decades of incarceration, he was granted parole.

Since returning home in early 2017, he continues to advocate for criminal justice reform and immigrant rights as a member of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee and as a 2017 Yuri Kochiyama Fellow at Asian American Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus. He speaks on panels, performs community outreach, protests in rallies, organizes and lobbies elected officials. His work at Oakland Rising is a continuation of his efforts to uplift fairness, justice, equity and compassion for all.
 

DeVon Allen, Field Fundraising Team Member

DeVon was born and raised in Oakland. He has always admired the natural beauties and history of the Town. After four years of being a part of numerous community organizations to help change his neighborhood for the better, he finally found Oakland Rising. He first joined staff as a voter outreach worker, and is excited to now use his skills to help raise money for the cause. His work here has given him a deeper political analysis and understanding as to why working in community organizing is so important. He looks forward to seeing where it takes him.

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