Community honors local social justice advocate

Photo: Dorothy Walker, 81, has founded several city commissions and has been an advocate for social and economic justice in Berkeley since the 1960s.
Shirin Ghaffary/Staff
Dorothy Walker, 81, has founded several city commissions and has been an advocate for social and economic justice in Berkeley since the 1960s.

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Dorothy Walker: A Life of Action

Dorothy Walker, longtime Berkeley activist, talks about her contributions to the community.

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Longtime Berkeley activist Dorothy Walker was honored by city officials and community leaders on her 81st birthday Thursday night at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive for her lifelong contributions to the city, including the founding of several city commissions focused on advocating social and economic justice as well as a stint as assistant vice chancellor for property development at UC Berkeley.

The event, the proceeds of which will benefit the Livable Berkeley coalition, a group that promotes sustainable housing, social equity and environmental awareness that Walker co-founded in 2002 featured celebratory speeches from Narsai David, KCBS food and wine editor and longtime friend and neighbor of Walker, and state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, who highlighted Walker's achievements in the community since the 1960s.

"I have known Dorothy ever since she was on the Berkeley Planning Commission and dealt with issues around Telegraph Avenue and homelessness," Hancock said in an interview. "Dorothy represents the great generation of women who started as community volunteers and paved the way for those who came after."

Livable Berkeley executive director and co-founder Erin Rhoades, who planned the event, called Walker an inspiration and role model.

"She is an incredibly strategic thinker and always takes the leadership role and is the smartest person in the room," Rhoades said. "This was an opportunity to pull together groups who represent Dorothy's vision and the planning processes involved with development around Berkeley."

Walker, a longtime Berkeley resident, helped desegregate the city's schools in the 1960s as a community liaison and school board member.

"My hope was that integrating schools would lead to major changes in how we might live together in Berkeley, and that neighborhood segregation would be lessened," Walker said. "There were so many inequities in society at that time, and this effort was deeply important to me."

In a proclamation March 29, the Berkeley City Council honored Walker for her lifetime achievements in leading campaigns to fund new parks and schools, developing affordable housing and advocating for social and economic justice.

Over the past 50 years, Walker has helped organize and found the Berkeley Community Fund, Berkeley Dispute Resolution Service, Telegraph Area Association and Downtown Berkeley Association. As a former chair of the city's Planning Commission and founding president of the American Planning Association - a nonprofit organization that develops urban communities to include low-income families - Walker has focused on bringing people together through affordable housing projects while developing the Downtown. From 2005 to 2007, she worked on the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee.

David, who called Walker a "self- taught urban planner," talked about her involvement in the Free Speech Movement, including her interactions with government officials like former President Ronald Reagan.

"After a meeting with ... Reagan she walked up to him and said 'Let the blood of the people of Berkeley be on your hands,'" David said.

Five decades later, Walker is still active in community and currently serves as a board member of Livable Berkeley, sharing her ideas to improve everything from transportation to global warming, in the form of the city's Climate Action Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 80 percent by 2050.

"My whole life has been oriented around public service," Walker said. "That's been a thread that runs through everything I try to do, and is a deep commitment of mine."

Contact Anjuli Sastry at [email protected]

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