Barbara was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, where her parents migrated to escape the brutality and inhumanity of legalized discrimination and to provide opportunities for her and her siblings; they are the first generation in their family’s history to go to college. Barbara’s mother was a sharecropper and her father grew up in a poor farming family.
Barbara and her three siblings were raised in a strong union household. Her father was a merchant marine and proud member of the Marine Cooks and Stewards union. Her mother was a hotel maid and a member of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Workers union. Barbara’s parents were able to provide their children with health, dental and vision insurance because of their unions.
During her childhood Barbara’s family traveled to the Jim Crow south to visit her grandparents where she experienced first hand the oppression and degradation and fear that they endured and lived with everyday. One experience is seared into Barbara’s memory: her grandmother literally snatching her off the sidewalk into the street in downtown El Dorado, Arkansas when she was around 7 years old. When Barbara asked her why, her grandmother said “white folks are coming.” Barbara realized that she was terrified because they could be assaulted or killed or arrested for simply walking next to the oncoming whites.
Barbara is a longtime, award-winning trailblazer, and lifelong legal advocate for civil rights, justice, women’s empowerment and children. From a young age she was inspired by the civil rights leaders of her youth. At the age of 12 she led a sit-in at Woolworth’s, a segregated lunch counter in Seattle. Barbara remembers having eggs splattered on her family’s home by whites yelling the “n” word when they moved into a predominantly white neighborhood the summer before Barbara entered high school. These childhood experiences inspired her to become a lawyer in order to fight for civil rights and equal opportunities for all and forged her commitment to seek justice and equality and to end discrimination against African Americans.
In the early 1970s, she was one of the very few African Americans and women admitted to Harvard Law School. She had to fight hard every day against the entrenched attitude that a woman—and an African American woman at that—did not belong in law school. When Barbara graduated from Harvard Law only 10% of the law students were women or African American.
During her more than 40 - year legal career, Barbara has been committed to using the law as a tool to champion African American and other people of color, women and other underrepresented communities that are victimized by systemic racism and discrimination, create opportunities, and fight for equal rights, opportunity and justice for all, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, or economic status.
Barbara has served as an attorney 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, where she represented the U.S. in federal court litigation regarding complex policies and laws.
In 2005, the State Bar Board of Governors selected Barbara for an appointment to the prestigious State Judicial Council. The constitutional agency chaired by the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court is responsible for ensuring the consistent, independent, impartial, and accessible administration of justice in the California State Court system.
Prior to becoming City Attorney, Barbara served for 20 years in the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, including 10 years as Chief Assistant City Attorney, the second-in-command in the office. As Chief Assistant City Attorney, she oversaw all legal advice to the Mayor’s Office, City Council, and all other City departments and commissions. and the creation of groundbreaking, nationally-recognized legislative initiatives, such as Oakland’s Anti-Predatory Lending Ordinance, the City’s “Bubble Ordinance” assuring women safe access to reproductive health services, and the decriminalization of medical cannabis.
Daughter Savannah, whom Barbara adopted and raised as a single parent, graduated from Spelman College in 2012. Barbara is the proud grandparent of nine year old Koda and four month old Kairo. She has resided in Oakland’s Haddon Hill neighborhood, near Lake Merritt, since 1989.
AWARDS & RECOGNITION
2018: Received Distinguished Service Award as Law Firm of the Year from Alameda County Bar Association
2016: Named a "2016 California Champion of Choice" by NARAL Pro-Choice California
2015: Named California’s Public Lawyer of the Year by the California State Bar
2013: Received the Susan B. Anthony Woman of the Year award from the National Women’s Political Caucus
2013: Received Distinguished Public Service Award from the International Municipal Lawyers Association
2013: Received the Ella Hill Hutch Statewide Award from Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA)
2012: Recognized as “One of the Most Powerful and Influential Women of California" by California Diversity Council
2011: Received “2011 Bay Area Achiever” Award from the National Forum for Black Public Administrators
2005: Appointed to the prestigious State Judicial Council by the State Bar Board of Governors
Sankofa Holistic Healing Institute, Co-President
Charles Houston Bar Association, Member
Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area, Member
Black Women Lawyers Association of Northern California, Member
Alameda County Bar Association, Member
California Association of Black Lawyers, Member
Women Lawyers of Alameda County, Member
Black Women Organized for Political Action, Member
East Bay College Fund, Mentor
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Berkeley‐Bay Area Alumnae Chapter, Member
Black Adoption Placement & Research Center, President for ten years