Jovanka Beckles is in her element.
Standing amidst community organizers and residents at a festival in North Richmond, the 47-year-old candidate is suddenly rushed by a trio of kids.
“Jovanka, Jovanka,” they shouted in unison, running toward her.
“How are you guys,” Beckles said matching their enthusiasm and kneeling her tall athletic frame to talk to the kids face to face. “It’s so good to see you.”
Beckles, who typically sports a dark colored pants suit, ditched the professional wear for jeans and a T-shirt that September afternoon.
The former Florida A&M basketball player, community activist, and businesswoman said her goal this campaign season is simple— justice, and that starts with youth.
“If we don’t focus on our children, we are going to be in trouble,” she said. “The only way we are going to move forward is to deal with issues holistically.”
Beckles ran for City Council for the first time in 2008, narrowly losing. But this year, she hopes her platform of youth enrichment, sustainable jobs, and a safe environment snags her a council seat.
Beckles, a mental health specialist with Contra Costa county, is closely aligned with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and, like the mayor, is on the receiving end of opposition research paid for by the Richmond Police and Fire Unions.
“They are trying to lump us together and attack us both with these lies,” she said while pointing to a negative campaign flyer at the downtown offices of the Richmond Progressive Alliance.
After 13 years of coordinating efforts with probation officers, parents, teachers and social workers, Beckles, seemingly unfazed, re-focuses the conversation on addressing Richmond’s issues.
Beckles acknowledges the city’s problems, citing the 18 percent unemployment rate, the high school drop out rate and poverty level of minorities in Richmond.
Still, detractors criticize Beckles for being impractical in how to solve these problems. Beckles has drawn backlash for her stance against casino development at Point Molate and her wariness about hiring more police officers.
But Beckles is firm on her beliefs. She notes that corporate and business interests have dominated the city’s politics for decades, a trend that began to shift when McLaughlin dethroned then-Mayor Irma Anderson in 2006.
“We’ve seen in the history of Richmond what happens when corporations control the City Council.”
Beckles said she is part of the new breed of progressive Richmond leadership.
Optimistic, she asserts that Richmond has the population that could sustain her vision of sustainable jobs, state-of-the-art facilities and community schools.
Those who disagree are only selling the city short, she said.
“What an insult to have such a low standard for a community that is tired of not having the same kind of opportunities that other communities have,” Beckles said.