By Linda DuShane White
SueVon Gee (AAO) is Oakland’s Citizen of the Year
(Photo courtesy of AAO)
"Create a legacy and leave this world better than you got
it." These words, which her mother used to say, have guided SueVon Gee’s (AAO)
community activism and involvement in her hometown of Oakland. Last week
the New Oakland Committee recognized her efforts and contributions by
making her the 2002 Oakland Citizen of the Year.
Greg Loew (DO) attended the award dinner, which featured a
speech by Senator Barbara Boxer. Congresswoman Barbara Lee was also in
attendance. But Gee was the star of the evening, Loew said. "Our own
SueVon Gee, also known as Shirley, received a standing ovation from a
packed house for her many contributions as a volunteer activist in the
Asian American Community. Most touching was to meet her whole family and
especially her parents who emigrated from China many years ago and who
have good reason to be proud of their daughter!"
Eight years ago the New Oakland Committee partnered with
the Oakland Tribune to give this award to "exemplary long-term
volunteer community leaders," according to Executive Director Ruth Rodwell.
"It is like a lifetime achievement award for activists." Rodwell said the
Committee is made up of labor, business and community service organizers
and leaders of all ethnicities.
Gee, who has worked in the Equal Employment and
Affirmative Action field at SLAC for over 25 years, believes her long
standing involvement in assuring equal access and representation among
multi-cultural communities led to her award. "We need to find ways to work
with each other instead of being on parallel tracks. Society is better
served when we work together based on our similarities, not differences,"
Gee spent two years on a reappointment process to re-draw
City Council districts to ensure all communities were institutionally
represented. By doing extensive research, organizing communities and
implementing a city-wide strategy, she was able to achieve institutional
standing for Asians and Hispanics in the political structure at a time
when Caucasians and African Americans dominated the political landscape.
"The City of Oakland wanted to be known as an inclusive
and multi-cultural city and I’d like to think that I played a small part
in that development," she said. "In a city where 125 dialects are spoken,
it is important to assure all citizens are well represented and have
access to all available privileges and resources. The city as a whole is
more peaceful and stable when all citizens are vested."
Gee works on public policy and civil rights issues both in
the community and at work. At SLAC, she manages the Affirmative Action
Office, helping the Lab meet Federal, State and local equal employment
opportunity standards. She also counsels staff on issues related to
ethnicity, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, age, and
disability orientation and tries to help them resolve such issues so "they
can focus on why they are really here... to help SLAC realize its
"We all have one life line and our world is on loan," said
Gee. "Why not make it count by striving to create a world that is better
than the one we inherited."