Nearly a third of the 2015-2016 California Legislature are first-term members. In this occasional series, The Bee introduces you to Sacramento’s newest lawmakers.
If not for a supportive cousin, Tony Thurmond might have ended up like the kids he’s made a career of helping instead of becoming a state assemblyman from Richmond.
Thurmond’s mother died when he was six, and the trauma of serving in Vietnam had led his father to “basically never come home,” Thurmond said. Rather than slip into the foster care system, Thurmond moved from San Jose to Philadelphia to be raised by a cousin who he says “basically saved my life.”
“We know the outcomes for most kids who end up in systems: they more times than not are homeless, incarcerated, don’t get much education,” said Thurmond, a Democrat. “They don’t have a chance to go to college and become city council members, school board members, Assembly members.”
While Thurmond flourished, becoming student body president at Temple University, he remained attentive to young people who had not been as lucky. He applied to a dual graduate program in social work and public policy and embarked on a decades-long career in nonprofits working with disadvantaged youth. Along the way he learned how to effectively press government officials for more funding and better services.
“Eventually that would become a big part of my work, being able to advocate for youth and families through a political lens,” Thurmond said. “I always wanted to be a full-time public servant so I could be fully engaged in doing the work of the people I represent.”
That full-time is key. Thurmond served on the Richmond City Council and the West Contra Costa Unified School District, positions he called “part-time jobs with full-time demands.”
He has the full-time Assembly job now. It may make him a more effective advocate, but it rules out indulging in a love of music that, in the past, led him to sing in a short-lived band after graduate school and in a San Francisco gospel choir. Making time to sing is no longer possible.
“Only in the car,” Thurmond said.
VIDEO: Watch Thurmond describe how working with kids pushed him towards public policy
Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.
Education: Bryn Mawr College, Master of Law and Social Policy Degree, May 1996, Master of Social Service Degree, May 1995; Temple University, Bachelor of Arts Degree, Psychology, January 1993
Experience: Richmond City Council, 2005-2008; West Contra Costa County School Board, 2008-2012; founder, CEO Youth; Marin County Manager, Golden Gate Regional Center; Executive Director, Beyond Emancipation; District Manager, Marin City Community Services District; Program Director, “I Have A Dream” Foundation, Oakland; Director of San Francisco’s Promise, United Way of the Bay Area