Jovanka Beckles’ story is the story of California. She is a black Latina immigrant, born in Panama City, Panama, where she grew up in a bilingual, multicultural family and country. Her parents moved to the U.S. in 1972, and she went through the challenging process of immigration and cultural adjustment. At home, her parents taught her the critical values of respect for self and others, along with hard work and integrity. As a result of her multicultural experience, she has learned to respect and value differences and similarities. This allows her to easily and comfortably bridge many barriers.
Jovanka attended Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida on a full basketball scholarship, graduating cum laude with a BA in Psychology. She later earned an MBA from the University of Phoenix.
Jovanka moved to the Bay Area in 1989 and has worked as a counselor, youth educator, team builder and strategist, client advocate, crime prevention specialist, housing case manager for the homeless, and mental health specialist for 22 years. For the past 18 years she has worked in Richmond, where she is also a Richmond City Council Member.
As a long-time resident of Richmond, she could not sit on the sidelines and watch a vibrant community continue to suffer with crime, neglect, and pollution. She decided to help create a local grassroots movement, and helped form a merchants' association on San Pablo Avenue as a community response to crime and violence. With these experiences, she joined forces with the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), ran for the city council, and was elected to office in 2010.
When she ran for re-election in 2014, she received a lesson in how corporate special interests try to dominate the political process. Chevron spent more than $3 million in an attempt to defeat Jovanka and her running mates because they insisted on strong environmental protections for the Richmond community. Despite Chevron's spending more than $70 per voter, thousands of Richmond residents re-elected Jovanka and voted for a progressive direction for Richmond. Jovanka helped win many concessions from Chevron, including a $114 million revenue agreement with the city. Billion-dollar corporations that buy elections are not going to create the future we want and need. That is why Jovanka does not take contributions from corporations and never will.
Jovanka stood up to big real estate interests and helped Richmond become the first city to enact rent control in more than thirty years. Big Soda spent millions as she campaigned to tax their deeply unhealthy products and invest the funds in nutrition and youth athletics. She also helped create the Richmond Municipal ID Program, which allows immigrants to safely identify themselves to the police. She introduced and led the effort to raise the minimum wage and "banned the box" (removed questions about former conviction) in job applications for the city, city contractors, and public housing applications in Richmond.
In addition to her work as an elected official and as a counselor for underserved youth, Jovanka is a strong advocate for Black Lives Matter as well as immigrant and LGBTQ rights. She co-directed a short film titled De Colores, Our Lives, and is currently running to represent District 15 in the California State Assembly.