Oakland ‘Department of Equity’ promises opportunity

City of Oakland officials said Wednesday they are launching a new “Department of Equity” they say will try to achieve equitable opportunities for all people and communities in the city.

The department was proposed by veteran City Councilwoman Desley Brooks last January and approved by the City Council on June 30.

Oakland officials said that to create the new department, they have entered into an agreement with the City of Portland, Ore., to have its equity director, Dante J. James, temporarily loaned to Oakland.

James has led Portland’s Office of Equity and Human Rights since it began operations in 2012.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement:

“Oakland has a long, proud history of being a diverse and inclusive community. Bringing expert support to Oakland as we build a department of race and equity will help ensure that Oakland continues to grow as a thriving, equitable city.”

Schaaf added:

 “This is in keeping with our city’s rich tradition and my goals as mayor.”

Oakland’s new department of race and equity is charged with integrating the principle of delivering what the city describes as “fair and just” services.

James will provide technical assistance to Oakland officials for up to three months while they establish a foundation for the new department.

The department will be staffed with two positions including the director and a program analyst.

According to Oakland officials, James has more than 25 years of experience in national, state, and local government, performing work in the areas of social justice and civil rights.

He’s also been an attorney in private practice, a public defender and an administrative hearing officer as well as an executive director of two non-profit organizations focused on social justice.

In Portland, James oversaw the development of training curricula, provided technical assistance and developed equity criteria for budgeting, program and policy implementation.

He also oversaw the implementation of the National League of Cities’ Black Male Achievement Initiative.

Portland’s Office of Equity and Human Rights says its working definition of equity is, “Equity is achieved when one’s identity cannot predict the outcome.” Oakland has hired The Hawkins Company, which has offices in San Ramon and Los Angeles, to complete the executive recruitment for a permanent director for the race and equity department. The job announcement will be released early next week.