Yvonne B. Burke
How do you sum up the contributions of a woman who has more than 30 years experience in public service and has been named one of “America’s 200 Future Leaders” by Time and “Woman of the Year” by the Los Angeles Times?
Simply put, heroic.
Or you could just utter the name Yvonne B. Burke. The honorable L.A. County supervisor has served as a powerful ally for countless individuals, organizations and causes, including AIDS. Whether it’s declaring “I Stand With Magic” at the announcement of a campaign to reduce the spread of the virus among African Americans, or making sure her fellow elected officials understand the magnitude of the pandemic, this hero has been there and continues to be there for those infected by and affected by HIV/AIDS. This hero makes sure her colleagues stay informed and know that, “in Los Angeles County, infection rates are consistently highest for both African American males and African American females; 4,300 African Americans are currently living with AIDS. Furthermore, African Americans account for a quarter of all new HIV positive tests, despite representing less than 10% of the county’s population.”
Of course, plenty of disadvantaged, challenged and at-risk residents of Los Angeles and the world can say Yvonne Burke is someone who is there for you. No matter her call, she’s a woman ready to lead and inspire.
A native of Los Angeles, the honorable supervisor is serving the final year of her fourth term on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and doing so as Chair. While she has served the Second Supervisorial District for the last 15 years, she will be remembered in history as a dedicated public servant who amassed numerous “firsts” and innumerable awards, in addition to inspiring women and minorities to pursue interests in public service. At Manual Arts High School, she pursued her interest in public speaking by joining the oratory society and participating in citywide competitions. Her numerous extracurricular activities helped to earn her scholarships from the University of California, Berkeley, and later, the University of California, Los Angeles.
She earned her J.D. from the University of Southern California School of Law in 1956, before entering private practice. She received her legal credentials at a time when it was difficult for women, particularly African Americans, to practice law. During this era, many private law firms showed no interest in hiring women. As a result, she opened her own law office, specializing in civil rights and laws regarding housing, immigration, eminent domain, and the licensing of board and care homes.
Along the way, Burke remained active in the civil rights movement with memberships in various local and national organizations, subsequently landing a staff attorney position on the McCone Commission, which investigated the causes of the 1965 Watts Riots. She became a spokesperson for the underrepresented and through a grassroots campaign, won her first political office in 1966 as a California State Assemblywoman, a position she held for the next six years.
Elected to the U.S. Congress in 1973 representing California’s 37th District, she is the first member of the House of Representatives to give birth while holding Congressional office. She was selected to serve as vice chair of the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami and later on the House Select Committee on Assassinations. She did not seek re-election to Congress in 1978, instead running for Attorney General of California. After winning the Democratic nomination, she was defeated in the general election by Republican George Deukmejian.
In 1984, she was selected to serve as vice chairman of the U.S. Olympics Organizing Committee, before becoming the first African American elected to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, in 1992. As supervisor, she represents nearly 2.5 million residents in the nation’s largest county. Her efforts have focused on improving the lives of children, encouraging economic development and improving transportation throughout Los Angeles.
As for HIV/AIDS, Burke continues to make headway in her massive district, including increased support for hubs for HIV care, essentially one-stop shops for meeting clients’ needs. On the King Harbor campus, the County has joined a partnership with AIDS Project Los Angeles to build a new dental clinic for HIV-positive clients. The facility will be next door to the Oasis Clinic, where clients go for primary medical care. There are also mental health, nutritional and other psycho-social services located in the nearby vicinity so that clients do not have to travel to multiple locations to access needed services.
On the political front, Burke has championed state and federal legislation around increased testing, care and support services for incarcerated persons. She has also personally advocated for increased microbicides research. Over a decade ago, she established a “2nd District HIV/AIDS Coalition,” an unprecedented collaboration amongst AIDS service organizations to partner in working with the County, instead of fighting each other for contracts. The Coalition, which meets monthly, brings in technical experts and departmental representatives to provide agencies with resources, information and assistance.
Additionally, Burke has advocated extensively to ensure that community outreach for communities of color is a fundamental component of L.A. County’s AIDS portfolio. She has published numerous editorials urging Los Angelinos, specifically African Americans and Latinos, to collaborate in order to combat the epidemic, and to get tested during National HIV Testing Week.
The list goes on for this married public servant and mother of a daughter and stepdaughter. Some might wonder how she does it all. But then again, Yvonne B. Burke is one very super hero.