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Barbara Parker

Posted By CMCP, Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 27, 2015
Untitled Document
Barbara Parker, Oakland's City Attorney
by John Hong, Litler Mendelson, P.C.


In November 2012, voters of Oakland elected Barbara Parker as Oakland’s City Attorney. Congratulate Barbara on this monumental achievement, and she is quick to point out that she is not the first woman to occupy the position. Barbara is also quick to point out that Oakland’s mayor is a minority woman, that Oakland’s City Administrator is a minority woman and that Oakland’s City Auditor is also a woman. It is an easy transition into a discussion about how far we have come in spirit and practice to diversify the workplace and eradicate discrimination. But Barbara adds: "Keep fighting.”

This fighting spirit is born of a lifetime of lessons. Barbara’s family experience with legalized oppression and sharecropping in the rural, segregated South caused the family to migrate to the Pacific Northwest. Even in Seattle and after enactment of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Barbara’s family faced race-based obstacles, not the least of which included discriminatory lending practices that challenged their ability to purchase a home in a majority neighborhood.

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In high school, Barbara was befriended by two teachers who became her mentors. Mr. Sato, her civics teacher, taught Barbara not only about the fact of the Japanese American Internment but also lessons therefrom based on the personal effect that race-based exclusion, removal and detention had on him. Barbara learned from Ms. Lupis, her English teacher, that it was acceptable for a woman to be hip, to be well-traveled and to make a difference in her community.

The lessons continued in college. Barbara spent one year at Occidental College, where she was mentored by Dr. Marguerite Archie-Hudson, prominent African-American educator and politician. It was in college when one of Barbara’s role models, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. After one year at Occidental, Barbara returned to Seattle and earned an undergraduate degree in Economics from the University of Washington.

Barbara was one of the very few African American women who gained admission into Harvard Law School in the early 1970s. It was in her first year of law school when Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) was published. Barbara was excelling in law school and received many offers to interview for employment. It was about this time Barbara recalls sharing her optimism regarding the rights of minorities and women and her father’s admonition that discrimination is cyclical, there will be ups and downs and, through it all, the fight has to continue.

Barbara hardly took her first step into the real world when her father’s teaching became reality. Barbara vividly recalls one job interview with a partner at a law firm. Barbara easily navigated the standard panoply of questions regarding her academic credentials. In a thinly veiled attempt to justify denial of Barbara’s application, the partner reached back to Barbara’s high school test scores: "What was your SAT score?” Barbara’s response: "1600.” Notwithstanding, Barbara was not offered a position with that firm.

Barbara is an accomplished attorney who has developed extensive expertise at all levels of government – federal, state and local – including more than five years as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of California. Barbara also has worked in the private sector for private law firms and Kaiser Hospital.

Over the last twenty-plus years, Barbara has tirelessly fought the fight at the Oakland City Attorney’s office. Barbara Parker has been a strong supporter of racial equality, gay marriage rights, a woman’s right to choose, living wages and equal access to city services. Most recently, through the City Attorney’s Office, Barbara has supported gun reform legislation at the state and local level. Barbara’s office has taken legal action against financial institutions for price fixing. Barbara’s office established the Neighborhood Law Corps, a community law unit that puts attorneys in the streets to tackle drug houses, nuisance liquor stores and hotels that traffic in prostitution, slumlords, blight and other problems affecting the quality of life in Oakland. Barbara has been a strong advocate for transparency and good government and has led or supported efforts on important issues including: creation and legal defense of Oakland’s "Bubble Ordinance,” which ensures patient access to reproductive health clinics without harassment, decriminalization of medical marijuana, enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, passage and enforcement of Oakland’s anti‐predatory lending ordinance, the fight to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), and policy reform within the Oakland Police Department.

Outside of work, Barbara serves as President of the Black Adoption Placement and Research Center, an organization that assists in the research, education and process of adopting African-American children from the foster care system into permanent and supportive homes. Recognizing that an inordinate number of prison inmates and prostitutes come from the foster care system, Barbara has participated in this organization for nearly 25 years and served as its president for 10 years.

Barbara also serves as a mentor in the East Bay College Fund, a non-profit organization that provides college access services, scholarships, mentoring, counseling and life skills training to primarily Oakland public school students from low income families and communities with historically low college attendance rates. Barbara’s mentee, whom she has mentored since 2009, is graduating from college this year.

Barbara acknowledges that the fight is time consuming and hard work. It becomes easy to lean on achievements realized by others in the community. But Barbara remembers her father’s admonition and keeps fighting on.

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