We’re excited to share that Jessamyn Sabbag, our Executive Director, will be welcoming a baby spring/early summer. A 3-day retreat with our collaborative partners and a 2-day management training this past March provided crucial space and support to ensure that our staff and collaborative have strong plans and systems in place to keep our work moving forward smoothly while she is out.

With some adjustments to our staff during Jessamyn’s leave from May through October, our Political Director Reverend Damita Davis-Howard will serve as Acting Director, overseeing our coalition building and organizational collaboration as well as the implementation of our programs.

Operations and Executive Manager Elly Rhee will serve as Interim Deputy Director, managing our finances, operations, and Movement Technology Projects. Strategic Partnerships Manager Beth Gunston will continue to manage our grant portfolio and is available to answer questions and provide information to funders. Our Board and Executive Committee along with Bay Rising’s Director, Kimi Lee, will provide outside support to our management team. Additionally, we are contracting with close allies for support around organizational, staff and financial management.

We thank our longtime partners for their understanding and support during this transition, and look forward to continuing our power building work by fortifying our voter base, our collaborative, our leaders’ development, and our campaigns as we look ahead to the epic battles around the Schools and Communities First Act and 2020 Census.


Reverend Damita Davis-Howard, Acting Director: Rev. Damita holds the distinction of being the first African-American woman to lead a statewide labor union in California as the Executive Director of SEIU Local 535. In the community, Rev. Damita has also served as a member and chair of the board of governors of the Alameda Alliance for Health, the organization that oversees provision of quality healthcare to Medi-Cal recipients and Alameda County’s underserved children and families. She also serves on the Community Working Group Committee of Oakland’s Operation Ceasefire where she works to reduce gun violence in Oakland.

Joining our staff in January 2018 as our Political Director, Rev. Damita has led our collaborative’s work and strategy, ran our field operations, and supported our growing leadership development and youth organizing work. A Bay Area native, she has lived in Oakland since she was 17, and has dedicated her life to building power amongst working-class folks. Self-described as a “dedicated community activist and advocate for race equity, community safety and labor standards,” she holds a deep working knowledge of Oakland politics and relationships with local elected and faith-based leaders which she uses to help further our mission of advancing policy centered in racial, economic, and environmental justice.

Elly Rhee, Interim Deputy Director: Elly joined Oakland Rising in Fall 2017 as the Operations and Executive Manager. Since immigrating from Korea as a teenager, Elly has called the Bay Area home (even when she was away in Southern California for graduate school). Her passion for economic and racial justice led her to work with organizations like Koreatown Immigrant Worker’s Alliance and Congregations Organizing for Renewal. She is passionate about Oakland Rising’s work to improve the lives of Oakland’s working class and residents of color.

Outside of her work for Oakland Rising, Elly supports domestic violence survivors as a Multi-lingual Access Model advocate at the Asian Women’s Shelter, and organizes with Hella Organized Bay Area Koreans (HOBAK) and Korean American Coalition to End Domestic Abuse (KACEDA). At rallies and community events, she can be spotted with a Korean traditional drumming crew, Ieumsae.

Elly holds a BA from UC Berkeley, with a double major in Ethnic Studies and Political Science, and an M.Div from Claremont School of Theology.

Beth Gunston, Strategic Partnerships Manager: As a proud East Bay native, Beth values being able to give back to her community as the Strategic Partnerships Director at Oakland Rising. After graduating with a double major in Anthropology and Urban Studies from San Francisco State University, Beth knew that she would devote her life to the social justice movement. She earned her stripes at the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) where she spent a decade educating voters and running grassroots campaigns to pass landmark public health and environmental protections and elect progressive leaders at the state level.

During 6 of her years at CLCV, she fundraised from individual donors, raising over $2 million dollars for political work. Beth currently serves on the board of the League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay where she helps elect environmental champions to local seats in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. You can find her spending her free time running trails, climbing rocks, or holding a sign at a rally.

Kimi Lee, Director of Bay Rising: Kimi brings over two decades of experience organizing and working with social justice organizations. Kimi has organized students with the University of California Student Association and served as field director for the ACLU of Southern California, executive director of the Garment Worker Center, lead organizer of the United Workers Congress, among many other leadership roles. Her first-generation family immigrated to the U.S. from Burma in 1971.

Oakland Rising’s Advisory Board:
Kate O’Hara, Exec. Director of East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy
Miya Yoshitani, Exec. Director of Asian Pacific Environmental Network
Vanessa Moses, Exec. Director of Causa Justa :: Just Cause




570 14th Street, Suite 1
Oakland, CA 94612

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