“Our children navigate trauma-filled streets and homes and suffer from complex PTSD as a result – yes, PTSD is not just for soldiers who return home from war. Our kids don’t get to leave their battlefield. We need a revolution – a revolution of tenderness, a revolution of kindness – where compassion and empathy are not nice to have. They are required.”
President and CEO of the East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC)
Earned a Certificate in Executive Education from Harvard University (2009)
Served as a Fellow with The Center for Leadership Innovation (2013-2014)
Served as a Fellow with the Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Leadership Program (2014)
Received the O2 Initiatives Sabbatical Award (2015)
Fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation since 2017
Though no one can predict the future, it remains important to prepare for any potential opportunity or outcome. That preparation, or lack thereof, can make all the difference in the world. Regina Jackson, the president and CEO of the East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC), has devoted her entire career to preparing some of the nation’s most at-risk youth living in Oakland, California for a chance at positive professional and personal lives, as well as social leadership roles.
Jackson was raised in Oakland and graduated in 1984 from the University of California, Berkeley. Following graduation, Jackson participated in the Coro Foundation’s Fellowship in Public Affairs, a program dedicated to developing emerging leaders in a variety of professional fields. It was through that program that she was invited to serve on the board of the EOYDC, a community-based, corporate-funded organization founded in 1978. Jackson’s appointment to EOYDC made a lot of sense; she’s been dedicated to service since she was in the Brownies. As she noted in a 2011 interview with LPAC TV, “Service was very important to me, and I’ve been a cheerleader all of my life. So I’m happy to cheer here [at EOYDC] for the development and future moulding and shaping of Oakland’s young.”
In 1994, the EOYDC hired Jackson to serve as its president and CEO This was a challenging time as the organization was over budget and lacked focus. Jackson completed a full re-organization of EOYDC that included a significant budget reduction, as well as the elimination of several positions. This was an effort not only to streamline the organization, but it also was an opportunity to secure EOYDC’s long term fiscal health. She built on the organization’s long-term relationship with the Clorox Company, bringing in other partners, including the Hewlett Foundation, the Oakland A’s, and the Golden State Warriors.
As part of the restructuring, Jackson implemented her three-pillared “theory of change” model: 1. character building; 2. readiness (for future opportunities); 3. access (to higher education and/or professions that may interest young people). Jackson stated that young people need to understand that “[l]eading is not about when things are going great. True leaders show up when things are falling apart, and those pillars [character, readiness and access] and … respect for them will see [young people] through.”
EOYDC is located in a section of Oakland that has been called the “Killer Corridor,” and Jackson has worked tirelessly to make the EOYDC a safe harbor in a sea of urban troubles. Jackson, in an interview with the National Basketball Association’s website, pointed out that “[t]here needed to be a beacon of hope, a north star, a safe place where you can go and get away from some of the negatives of the community. You can come here and be empowered, encouraged and valued. That is the culture that runs through our organization.” This sentiment works in tandem with Jackson’s belief that “[c]hildren should be allowed to be as innocent as possible for as long as possible.” Jackson and the people she’s hired to help run EOYDC expect a great deal from the young people they work with; “[w]hen young people don’t have high expectations, they often won’t try. Because my staff and I believe our youth can perform at high levels, they often rise to meet and exceed those expectations.” Jackson adds that “[y]ou have to build young people up in order to give them the tools and the skills to allow them to succeed.”
Jackson’s methods and high expectations of the young people under her charge make a difference. High percentages of EOYDC youth go on to college and graduate school, the military, and directly into full-time work. Jackson has led by example, continuing with her education through certification programs and fellowships. She earned a Certificate in Executive Education from Harvard University in 2009, served as a Fellow with both The Center for Leadership Innovation (2013-2014) and the Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Leadership Program (2014) and has been a fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation since 2017.
In 2015 Jackson received the O2 Initiatives Sabbatical Award. This award, given to leaders of nonprofit organizations, provides awardees with an opportunity to go on sabbatical from their organizations for three months, while providing assistance to maintain the ongoing efforts of the awardees’ organizations.
Taking full advantage of this opportunity for a respite, Jackson traveled to Cuba, Tanzania and Turkey. She also wrote a blog post titled “Creative disruption facilitates transformational doing,” chronicling her travels. Jackson, in an interview with O2 Initiatives, noted that “[a]ll too often, leaders of community-based organizations don’t care for ourselves the way we do for our organization and our communities. I don’t know how much I know about how to relax, so I am looking forward to learning that.” And though Jackson recognized how her sabbatical would be beneficial to her, she also recognized it as an opportunity for the EOYDC staff members. Jackson said to O2 Initiatives, “…what I’m most excited about is the power, possibility and capability of my staff. … This sabbatical is an opportunity for them to emerge from my shadow to demonstrate what they can do. They’ll push forward the well oiled machine we’ve built together.”
Travel has been an important programmatic aspect of EOYDC since the organization started conducting college tours in 2008. These trips aren’t limited to campus visits ; the trips provide opportunities for young people, many of whom have never traveled outside of Oakland or the San Francisco Bay area, to experience different cultures and see the world. Through two Obama administration initiatives (My Brother’s Keeper and 100,000 Strong), Jackson took delegations of EOYDC students to China.
Jackson wanted to make sure that her young people didn’t feel intimidated by engaging with a culture with such a long and intact history, different from the African American experience which has lost histories due to slavery. As Jackson noted in an interview on the Oakland program Spotlight with Shonda: “What I didn’t want to do was to have [the EOYDC delegation] get over there and feel somehow inferior, because they didn’t have that vast history.” She continued by noting that the delegation “learned about how the Chinese actually immigrated to Oakland and to this country, and what challenges they had that are quite similar to ours coming from slavery and building this country.”
Jackson is showing no signs of slowing down in her commitment to EOYDC and to the young people of Oakland. Jackson says that “[t]here’s nothing more exciting and enriching to see that each and every day you’re having an impact on a child’s life. And that’s what keeps me here.”
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