1935 – 2018
Committed to advancing social welfare through political leadership
Ronald Dellums – social worker, politician, civil rights activist, community organizer and reformer – dedicated his life to public service, most notably as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for 28 years. As a child growing up in a rough section of Oakland, California, Dellums dreamed of becoming a major-league baseball pitcher, but he was discouraged by the prejudice of his high school coaches. Instead, after graduating, he served two years in the United States Marine Corps, after which he used his GI Bill benefits to earn an associate of arts degree from Oakland City College. He went on to receive his BA from San Francisco State University and an MSW with a concentration in psychiatry from the University of California, Berkeley.
Upon graduation, Dellums passed the civil service exam and subsequently worked in Oakland, where he engaged with clients from the city and the neighborhoods he was most familiar with. His work in human services included positions as a psychiatric social worker at the California Department of Mental Hygiene and a program director serving San Francisco’s low-income Bayview/Hunters Point community. He also taught at both San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley – all the while engaged in political activism.
In 1967, Dellums launched his political career as a member of the Berkeley City Council. Throughout his campaign, he resisted the pressure to conform to conventional politics, choosing to run as a self-proclaimed reformist and radical, not afraid to take a solid position on hot issues such as the Vietnam War. In 1970, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where for nearly three decades he represented Berkeley, Oakland and the surrounding areas. He was known for his expertise on military policy and became Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; his early opposition to the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa; and for his strong stance on environmental, civil rights, labor and consumer issues. Dellums returned to Oakland to serve as the city’s mayor in 2006, where he worked to make Oakland a model city with fighting crime and giving citizens hope as his major priority. During his term, violent crime rapidly declined by more than 50% from the prior years.
When asked how his education and experience as a social worker informed his career as a politician, Dellums noted, “I have learned how to be a better member of the human family, period. As a black man, I understood fully that many of the obstacles that individuals face during their lives are social and structural – some especially arduous, such as racism – rather than personal. But I believe the combination of my upbringing and my education has allowed me to not get caught up in the cynicism of the moment. I learned that active involvement with other human beings can change the course of events.”