CDT welcomes our Chief Network Officer, Rebecca Hamburg
Rebecca, Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I’m a native Californian, born on the Peninsula south of San Francisco. My mom was born and raised in Montebello and much of her large Mexican family still lives in Southern California, including my 30+ first cousins. My dad’s family came to California (also to Montebello!) when he was 3 years old, but moved to Foster City within a decade and put down roots there. His much smaller Jewish family is scattered all over the place now, including near Joshua Tree, and in Arizona, Florida, and Israel. I spent much of my childhood abroad in Germany and then Japan. It was a wonderful way to grow up, and I still love to travel and immerse myself in other cultures. We always seemed to land back in California, though!
I went to college at UC San Diego, then relocated to the East Coast for several years, including law school at the George Washington University Law School. I practiced law in Washington, DC and Philadelphia before a family emergency brought me back to Los Angeles. During my years in private practice, I represented federal workers and private employees in individual and class actions around the country. I also litigated police misconduct, priest abuse, and international human rights cases. A very broad civil and human rights practice.
Over a decade ago, I moved into the nonprofit sector, first with the National Employment Lawyers Association where I led their amicus curiae program, filing dozens of briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court and federal Courts of Appeals each year. I also led their judicial nominations work including spearheading a professional diversity project to expand the pipeline of public interest attorneys as well as public defenders on the bench. I’m very proud to see that the Biden Administration has finally made this form of diversity a priority for their judicial picks. I later moved to Alliance for Justice where I led their work outside of Washington, DC including opening their office in Los Angeles as well as one in Texas, and providing counsel and guidance to nonprofits and foundations across the country. I began my own consulting firm in 2016 to embrace my passion for organizational development and legal consulting which allowed me to work with nonprofits and foundations to understand the rules for engaging in and funding advocacy work and incorporating it into their strategic plans.
I’m also a single mom of two young boys who keep me on my toes and remind me of the importance of balance in our lives.
What is one moment that got you involved in social justice, and what is one moment that has kept you involved?
When I was in the 5th grade at my public elementary school in San Bruno, we were learning about the Bill of Rights and discrimination. Our school had a dress code with one set of rules for boys and another stricter set for girls, including setting the length of girls’ shorts and disallowing tank tops. Being the precocious 10 year-old I was, I told my teacher I thought the dress code was discriminatory against girls and asked what could be done about it. She suggested that I write a letter to the School Board with a petition to show that others felt the same way and ask them to change it. So, I did. I stayed after school to write the letter and went around at recess the next day gathering signatures. On the second day of signature gathering, the principal came up to me and asked to see the petition. I happily showed it to her thinking that she would want to sign it. Instead, she tore it up in my face. I went home devastated and told my mom. My mother, ever the advocate for her children, decided we should call the ACLU and tell them what happened. We did and their attorneys reached out to the school. The principal was made to apologize to me, which she did. I still have the letter that the ACLU sent inviting me to speak at a conference on students’ rights. I realized from that experience that there were people who stood up for those that didn’t have a voice and I wanted to be one of them.
The workers that I represented and people who I’ve met through the nonprofits I’ve worked with have kept me in this work. Representing the employees of Kodak at their Rochester, NY facilities in the late ’00s drove home for me the reality that blatant, violent racism still exists in this country and in places that many people don’t realize. I didn’t realize until I worked with those workers that Rochester at that time was much like a Southern town in the 1950s, segregated and racist. Rochester had been the site of violent racial tensions in the 1960s and the town was still grappling with those divisions when I began working on the case. There were Confederate flags in trucks around town, nooses in lockers, racial epithets and graffiti drawn on walls in feces, and one client was even hosed down with a high power water hose by his racist co-worker after being called a racial invective. All of this in addition to the more subtle discrimination that found its way into their pay and promotion systems and kept Black workers from advancing and being paid appropriate wages. I’m proud of the role I played in securing a $25 million settlement, including acknowledgement of the hostile work environment for Black workers at the Rochester facilities, for those workers. Knowing that this situation was not unique keeps me in this fight.
What brings you to CDT and what do you hope for the organization in the future?
I’ve known Ludovic from when we worked in the same office building in downtown Oakland and have admired the work from afar. I’m excited to join the CDT team at a time of growth and expansion. I am very much looking forward to continuing to build upon the work that CDT has been doing to lift up communities of color in California by empowering them to have a voice in the decisions that affect them and being able to govern effectively with their electeds to address the issues facing their communities. The old adage that all politics is local has certainly been my reality and I have seen first hand that people who come together to raise their voice can be effective at making change. My goal is to be able to take the work of CDT to the next level by expanding our membership base through both new individual donors, but also broadening the work we do with foundations to support organizations doing vital work on the ground in communities around the state.
Finish the sentence… When not working, you can find me spending time with my little hellions or cooking something fabulous in the kitchen (apologies in advance to my new CDT colleagues if you gain a few pounds in the process!).