By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
The Black women who have served in the state legislature have come from various backgrounds and walks of life. But each came to the Capitol possessing a determination to improve the system – and the lives of citizens – from within and having made a certain level of sacrifice to make that happen.
“I am a physician, mother and member of the California State Assembly representing the 79th District.” That’s how Dr. Akilah Weber introduces herself on social media.
The first two roles inform how she moves in the third.
Assemblymember Weber (D-San Diego), one of five Black women serving in the legislature, is featured in the third installment of our “A Powerful Sisterhood” series that highlights the contributions of past and present Black women lawmakers in California.
Two years after joining the assembly by way of a special election, Dr. Weber looks to join the ranks of California’s other Black women lawmakers who have gone on to higher offices – women such as Diane Watson, the first Black woman to serve in the state Senate before being elected to Congress, as did former assembly members Maxine Waters, Karen Bass and Barbara Lee. Waters is still “reclaiming [her] time.” Bass recently made history as Los Angeles’ first female mayor and Lee is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring icon Dianne Fienstein.
In the assembly, Dr. Weber represents the 79th district, which includes the La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley/La Presa areas and parts of El Cajon and San Diego. She was elected in 2021 to replace her mother, Dr. Shirley N. Weber, who left to become secretary of state.
In March, Dr. Weber honored her mother during a celebration of “California Women Making Herstory,” for having a trailblazing career in public service and making a significant impact on California residents and their communities. In January she participated in her mother’s second swearing-in.
“She has opened doors and smashed through ceilings, but also – and more importantly – has ensured that those doors and ceilings remain open for people to come in after her. I’m a living example of that,” she said during her introduction.
In her own time in the Assembly, Dr. Akilah Weber has increased visibility of Juneteenth, reparations and the importance of including ethnic studies in high schools.
An obstetrician/gynecologist by profession, she champions legislation securing reproductive rights for women. She’s currently supporting Assemblymember Mike Gipson as a co-sponsor to his Assembly Bill 360, which would ban the term “excited delirium” as a legitimate diagnosis or cause of death for those who have died in police custody.
Weber also has authored and supported bills that call for equal pay and improved access to health care. She and other members of the California Legislative Black Caucus called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to make a significant commitment to improve educational outcomes for some of the state’s lowest-performing public school students.
She authored AB 2774, but came up against backlash similar to what her mother experienced when attempting to address the achievement gap’s impact on Black students with AB 2635 and funding in then-Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2018-19 budget. Both bills were accused of violating California’s anti-affirmative action law, Proposition 209. AB 2635 resulted in a compromise – a one-time allotment of money to schools that applied to all students, regardless of race. Dr. Weber pulled her bill, AB 2774, in August 2022, “as a result of potential constitutional issues.”
Run The World
Assemblymember Weber recently announced plans to run for the 39th District state Senate seat. The declaration came after a San Diego County supervisor, Nate Fletcher, left the race following allegations of sexual harassment. The seat is held by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, who has to leave in 2024 due to term limits.
“As an assemblymember, I have successfully fought to improve access to quality health care, strengthen our education system, protect our environment, and further economic prosperity. As state senator for District 39, I will continue this fight,” Dr. Weber said in her candidacy announcement. “My promise to voters is that I will always be their voice to create a stronger and healthier San Diego for all.”
Sen. Atkins has a decades-long connection to the Webers, dating to when Secretary Weber was a leader at San Diego State University.
“Sen. Atkins is a longtime friend who we consider family,” Assemblymember Weber said. “I am deeply grateful to Sen. President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins for her service in the state legislature and I will do my best to build upon her legacy.”
“I call them the Drs. Weber, like the ‘surgeons general,’” Atkins joked at the January inauguration.
It was the senator who convinced the elder Dr. Weber to run for assembly in 2012.
“[After] the many, many times I said no to my deceased husband, that I was not going to run for state office no matter what he said, I gave in to Toni because Toni said the magic words: ‘And I will help you,’ Secretary Weber said.
“That makes a world of difference when women help each other to run for office.”
Female lawmakers can be powerful individually and collectively, Assemblymember Weber said. “I think having more women allows just for more representation of not only women, but Black women,” she said. “We are able to go into spaces where our brothers are not able to go. We can go into the women’s caucus and advocate on behalf of Black women, Black mothers, Black children, and make sure that we are dealing with things like legislation and the budget items that we will prioritize as a congress. We’re able to use that platform as well to make sure that the interest of the Black community is at the table.”
Dr. Weber has earned the respect of fellow CLBC members.
During her own interview for The OBSERVER’s “A Powerful Sisterhood” series, CLBC Chair Lori Wilson acknowledged the dedication and sacrifice Dr. Weber makes to represent the people and “support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
“I think about Dr. Weber, who has young children as well as being a doctor who has to maintain her credentials while still having to serve in that realm while doing this job just so she can stay up to date on the latest and greatest in her field,” Assemblymember Wilson said.
The Drs. Weber are the second mother-daughter pair to both serve in the California Assembly. The first was Yvonne Braithwaite Burke and Autumn Burke.
“She exposed me to politics, the bad and the ugly, which is why I never thought I’d get in it,” Assemblymember Weber said of her mother and Assembly predecessor. “But I think especially with her being in the legislature, I was able to see the important work that she was able to do and the significant impact that you can make on all residents of California, and understanding that there was a void within the health care space and having that same kind of advocate here in Sacramento to do those same things that she was able to do with education.
“It’s always an added pressure to perform when people are aware of who my mother is, but it’s good because it reminds me that I always have to be at the top of my game,” the younger Dr. Weber said. “But at the same time, I’m in a completely different field and have a very different background from her. Coming from the health space, I’m still able to create my own image, my own identity and my voice that’s very, very different from where she was.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: “A Powerful Sisterhood,” a series of feature stories highlighting the contributions of past and present Black women lawmakers in California continues next week with Assemblymember Mia Bonta.