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 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 deeply 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, Acting 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 leads our collaborative's work and strategy, runs our field operations, and supports 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 on the board 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 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. 

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 Manager

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, Interim Deputy Director

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.  

 

 

Jackie Artman, Field Fundraising Team Member

Jackie Artman was born in Trinidad and Tobago and has danced her whole life. She lived in England and settled in Oakland in 1980. She received her BA and MFA from Mills College. Her passion for social and community justice has always played a major role in her life. She is the co-founder/organizer of Carijama Carnival, one of the largest multi-cultural music and arts festivals in Oakland. She has worked in both national and local elections as a poll and outreach worker. She believes that, “Together we achieve, together we aspire, together we stand and together we succeed.”

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.  

Vernetta Woods, Field Fundraising Team Member

Born in Dayton, Ohio and raised in Oakland, Vernetta Woods is a single mother of three. She’s been active as a community leader for the past four years with several organizations and schools. She presently attends Merritt College pursuing a degree in child development. Working with the community is her calling and feels her voice speaks for those who feel they can’t speak for themselves. She’s excited to continue what she loves and that’s to inform and educate people about Oakland Rising and what it believes in.

 

 

 

 

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