Long Beach Commissioners Say Get On Board
By Dianne Anderson
Just about every area of city government has commission seats up for grabs for everyday people that want to help their community, push policy, grab the attention of decision-makers, and give advice on new projects and programs.
Right now, there are 42 vacancies on 28 commissions in Long Beach. Mayor Rex Richardson will be making his first appointments in April.
Chris Wilson, a long-term volunteer with the 100 Black Men of Long Beach, said since he was appointed to the Signal Hill Planning Commission in 2014, he doesn’t take his role lightly. He was the youngest, and youngest person of color appointed in the history of the planning commission.
Of his numerous boards and positions, he serves on Signal Hill Diversity Coalition Commission created after the George Floyd murder, which he attributes to the 100 Black Men of Long Beach, where he also volunteers.
But he feels it’s not just about volunteering on boards and commissions. It’s how he does life.
“I look forward to understanding how to make things better. I don’t see it as I’m struggling to juggle balls in the air. It’s a matter of I’m going to do what I can to make a difference” he said.
In his day job, Wilson is a senior policy manager for Los Angeles County Business Federation, known as BizFed, representing 235 businesses and 410 employers. Before that, he served 12 years working with state assembly members.
As part of the 100 BMLB, he works on governmental relations, reviewing legislation and policy to move advocacy forward for the youth. Volunteerism takes some time, he admits, but his love for the community allows him to love what he does in the community.
“You have to have the compassion to want to improve people’s tomorrow. I don’t see it as you have to be a bionic person. You just have to care,” he said.
Last year, local advocate Robbie Butler was also appointed as an Ethics and Human Relations Commissioner. Generally speaking, she feels that intolerance is a big issue facing society, but charity begins at home.
When one young commissioner came under fire, almost forcing a resignation because of a comment on social media, Butler stepped up in defense.
“You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. What is that going to solve? I had to pull from myself a sense of diplomacy,” she said. “All of us have made mistakes.”
A vacancy is available on her commission as another young lady, who is African American, recently resigned for family reasons.
She encourages community members to check out if the commissions are a good fit for them. Butler is a Delta Sigma Theta Sorority member and a member of Black Women United for Progress, which actively recruits more Black women onto boards and commissions.
“All commissions are online and list requirements and responsibilities. You can see members of every commission and terms. Our meetings are once a month for two hours, and the listing tells you what times so you can manage your expectations,” she said.
Next up, she is preparing for her 7th annual Ms. Single Mom Empowerment Forum, a collaboration with Sullivan International and the Long Beach Community Improvement League. Butler, president of Speak Up Empowerment Foundation, Inc., was one of 16 Black-led organizations that received grants through the Black Health Equity Fund.
On Saturday, April 22, moms will access numerous resources. Panelists will cover business development, finances, health and housing. Admission is free with complimentary childcare.
Over 150 are expected to fill the Long Beach Marriott Grand Ballroom. Single moms are invited to RSVP to the event.
“This is a white tablecloth lunch, no brown paper sack. We’re at the Marriott where they deserve to be treated,” she said. “I’m turning the corners all the time, putting flyers in the hands of anybody and everybody who will talk to me.”
Also one of the newer members, Dr. Sharifa Batts said someone told her about joining the commission after she had earned her Doctorate of Business Administration in equity and inclusion.
Last year, she was appointed to the Human Relations Commission, which has been a learning curve, even though she sits on several other boards, including the YMCA, the Long Beach City College Foundation board, and boards for the Port of Long Beach.
But she feels people of color are often out of the loop about the benefits of serving on a commission.
“With access to boards, women and minorities have no idea. It’s something that I uncovered in my research. A lot of the majority culture – they are referred,” she said.
Her commission meets monthly, is open to the public and focused on addressing inequity and barriers, such as housing, mental health, senior citizens, and the Black and Brown community. Recently, they held their first in-person meeting, but participation was much stronger on Zoom during the pandemic. They are now working on a hybrid model for community convenience.
They also cover hot topics.
“One was police surveillance. Community members were extremely passionate over a couple of meetings about why the city should not be funded [for that]. Our commission wrote a letter of recommendation to the council, I think the community had such a strong voice,” she said.
Whatever the commission seat, she believes the experience offers great access to what’s going on in the community.
“Your human capital can be strong, but it’s nothing if you don’t have a strong social network,” she said.
In her day job, she is Vice President of ESG & Safety at Ports America. She is also president of Beta Pi Sigma Sorority, Tau Chapter, and a member of the NCNW, Long Beach, the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and the Martin Luther King Jr. Democratic Club.
“It’s called time management. As I told my team at work, we work hard so we can play harder,” she said.
To find out more about commissions, see https://www.longbeach.gov/mayor/administration/commissions-boards-committees/
For more information on the 100 Black Men of Long Beach, see https://www.100blackmenlbc.com/
For more information, see www.speakupempowermentfoundation.org