Ron Dellums, Our Shining Ambassador
Ronald V. Dellums was much more than a Council Member, a Congressman, and a Mayor. Born in West Oakland and nephew of C.L. Dellums (labor activist and one of the leaders of the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car porters), Ron was both a visionary and a humanist in the truest sense of the word.
I had the honor and privilege of meeting Ron on several occasions thanks to Margaretta Lin, and I will always honor the one-on-one time I had, listening to the wisdom that flowed through his words. What impressed me the most was the fact that Ron did not spend a lot of time “bragging” about his achievements and accomplishments- but rather spent significant time talking about family- something that spoke to my core as a single father.
What was abundantly clear to me was the fact that Ron not only valued people, he also saw his role as a servant to and of the People. It is this mindset that is not only sorely lacking but definitely needed during this current climate of hate, fear, isolation, and finger-pointing.
Many of us are familiar with the passage of the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 which led to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South America. What I did not know was the origins of those efforts, in which Ron shared with.
As a member of the Black Caucus Ron was in a meeting when there was a knock on the door. It was a group of Black folks led by a Black woman. Ron jokingly shared that one of the Caucus members said, “They look like Black Panthers, they might be from your district Ron- you handle it!” Ron greeted the group with a question- “How can I help you?”
The woman stated that in South Africa Black residents were required to walk around with a photo ID- and the photo was produced by an American company. Upon further inquiry she stated that Congress should stop the practice as she was an employee of the company. When Ron asked if the group was concerned about losing their jobs the woman replied: “We are not afraid to lose our jobs to do what is right!”
This was 1971 and for the next 15 years, Ron worked diligently to get the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act passed- imposing sanctions against South Africa with five preconditions for lifting the sanction ending apartheid. President Reagan, expectedly, vetoed the bill. Mind you, no foreign policy bills vetoed by the President had ever received the necessary two-thirds majority vote from Congress for an override.
Well, this bill DID receive the override, leading to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison a few years later, who went on to become President of South Africa. Ron shared that when Mandela was released and embarked on his “tour” of America, he insisted upon visiting the city and the people who voted Ron into office. I was 16 years old when Mandela spoke at the Oakland Coliseum in the summer of 1990 and even at that tender age, I knew I was witness to something so truly great yet beyond the scope of my understanding and perspective.
What was most inspiring to me was the fact that Ron did not seek to take sole credit for that legislation. Right away he credited the group that pitched the idea to him. This is refreshing during a time when so many leaders seek to focus on themselves and not about the people or the issues. Most folks, in general, would not have been intentional enough to give credit where credit is due. For this and so many more reasons, Ron’s leadership is not only inspirational- it also serves as a model. In closing, if Malcolm X was our Shining Prince (and he was in the words of Ossie Davis) then Ron Dellums was our Shining Ambassador.
Written by: John Jones III
John Jones III serves as the Director of Community and Political Engagement at Just Cities. As an inaugural member of the Board of State and Community Corrections Prop 47 Executive Steering Committee, the Vice-Chair and Chair of the Oakland Police Commission Selection Panel, and a Democratic Party Delegate by CA 18th Assembly District Member Rob Bonta, John is a passionate advocate for affordable housing, employment, ending mass incarceration and racial equity.
He leads the Fair Chance to Housing campaign in Alameda County, Oakland, and Berkeley, promoting access to stable housing for the formerly incarcerated. (Read more)