Evelyn Cheatham was a rare person of remarkable integrity and held a deep commitment to securing human rights for all people. Anyone who met Evelyn could see immediately the huge love and light coming through her eyes. Many people know and support Evelyn’s valuable work mentoring those who are often called “at-risk” youth. In reality, they are actually just our YOUTH. Less well known, but equally important and related, was Evelyn’s deep work since 2013 on improving law enforcement relationships with disadvantaged and vulnerable communities of our county.
Evelyn was born in 1953 in San Francisco, CA. She had a long history of involvement in issues of community empowerment. As a single, working mom in the early 1970s, she became a community organizer with the Black Panther Party in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco, working to empower black communities in those cities. Even within the Black Panthers, Evelyn soon was known as someone you did not take lightly. Like many Black Panthers, Evelyn took with her from that experience a deep, lifelong commitment to improving the lives of those in the communities surrounding her.
After moving to Sonoma County in 1985, Evelyn worked as a chef in many venues, including her own restaurant, Tweety’s. Evelyn reported a camp counselor while working as a chef at the Sonoma County Probation Camp for teen boys. The counselor was sexually involved with a teen in detention at the camp and Evelyn suffered retaliation for her brave action. Evelyn sued the county and the case settled for $75,000, allowing her to open her new venture that combined many of the themes of her life.
Evelyn’s non-profit, Worth Our Weight, was opened soon after. She taught youth how to become chefs and servers who could work and make a good living in the finest restaurants. In 2013, Evelyn said, “A lot of these kids are society’s throwaways and they’re precious. They are funny and they’re sweet and they’re smart and they’re kind to each other. I’m just so proud of them. They’re worth their weight in gold.” That was Evelyn in a nutshell. Loving, supporting and mentoring youth while linking that work to understanding and improving how law enforcement interacts with our communities.
After the killing of Andy Lopez in 2013, Evelyn served on the county task force charged with recommending changes to prevent a repeat of that
family and community trauma. She worked hard through challenging weekly meetings for 15 months and was key to the creation of IOLERO, the civilian oversight agency that came from that effort.
In 2016, Evelyn was appointed to the IOLERO Community Advisory Council (CAC), charged with bridging the gap between the Sheriff and the community. Evelyn served on the CAC for over 2 years, most of that time as its chair. Everyone was impressed with Evelyn’s unique ability to work with everyone, regardless of their views, as well as her deep belief that improving law enforcement was important to helping youth survive and thrive in our county. She guided the CAC through many important recommendations to improve Sheriff’s policies, some of which were accepted by the Sheriff’s office During Evelyn’s last year as CAC chair. She came to believe we needed to strengthen IOLERO, the oversight office she was key in creating. That’s why she sponsored the ballot proposal to strengthen IOLERO for which we are now gathering signatures for the November 2020 ballot.
To honor Evelyn’s significant work and legacy in this area, the Committee to Support an Effective IOLERO has named the proposed initiative ordinance in honor of Evelyn: the Evelyn Cheatham Ordinance for an Effective IOLERO. We all miss Evelyn deeply. But we carry on her work in her name and in honor of her loving presence. It’s the least that we can do.