Social Justice Activist Dies at 58

Photo: Ronald Stevenson III
Ronald Stevenson III

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Ronald Stevenson III, a UC Berkeley alumnus and social justice activist best known for founding the Break the Cycle Program and working with disadvantaged youth in Berkeley, died on July 19 from a brain aneurysm. He was 58.

The political climate in Berkeley during the 1960s and Martin Luther King Jr.'s message fueled Stevenson's social justice activism, according to his daughter Sonia Waters.

"Ronnie was a force of nature," said Pedro Noguera, professor of education at New York University and former president of the Graduate Assembly and ASUC. "People who disagreed with him came to respect him because they knew he was motivated by a genuine drive to do good in the world."

Stevenson was an early member of the Black Panther Party, working in the free breakfast program in Oakland at age 16. As president of the Black Student Union at Berkeley High School, he worked to secure one of the first high school African American studies departments in the nation.

Stevenson continued his activism at UC Berkeley in 1983 where, as a re-entry student at age 31 with three children, he founded many campus organizations, including the Break the Cycle program.

The program, which ran for over 20 years in Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond with funding from the university and city, hired undergraduates to tutor at-risk elementary and middle school students with a focus on mathematics.

"He developed a curriculum that was proven to work, and it was really one of the best programs I've seen," said state Senator Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who was mayor of the city at the time. "Everyone benefited - the students at every level, not just the ones being tutored."

She said she shared elements of the program with the U.S. Department of Education when she worked there during the Clinton Administration.

In 1985, Stevenson worked with the Martin Luther King Convocation - another student group he founded - to name the ASUC Student Union and Plaza after King. He also led efforts to change the name of Grove Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Stevenson founded the United People of Color organization the same year to support the anti-apartheid movement, which asked the UC to divest money from companies doing business in South Africa.

After graduating with a degree in African American studies in 1990, Stevenson became a lecturer in the department.

He also continued community work by creating the Racial and Ethnic Sharing Providing Empowerment to Our Community Today program, or R.E.S.P.E.C.T., in 1996, which allowed youth from South Berkeley to meet with police officers on a weekly basis to discuss racial profiling.

"They did workshops where they would get to know each other, so there wasn't so much of a divide," said Ronald Stevenson IV, Ronald Stevenson III's son. "It helped build relationships that were positive with the police."

Stevenson also founded the Berkeley Guides program, which pays students and members of the community to provide additional security in downtown Berkeley by reporting crimes and giving free walks home from the BART station.

Stevenson is survived by his wife Linda and their three children Sonia Waters, Tania Jean Stevenson and Ronald Stevenson IV. A service will be held in his honor August 13 in the Alumni House at UC Berkeley from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.


Contact Alisha Azevedo at [email protected]

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