Best of the Bay 2009: Local Heroes

Our celebration of Bay Area people and organizations who strive to make a difference
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ANGELA CHAN

As staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, Angela Chan has been at the forefront of a yearlong effort to ensure that all undocumented juveniles have the right to due process in San Francisco.

That effort began last summer, shortly after Mayor Gavin Newsom, who had just decided to run for governor, announced that undocumented juveniles henceforth would be reported to federal authorities the minute they are booked on suspicion of having committed a felony — and before they can access an immigrant-rights lawyer.

These changes primarily affect Latino youth, but Chan, whose Cantonese-speaking parents ran a restaurant in Portland, Ore., sees the broader connections to other immigrant communities.

"I grew up in an immigrant community in a white working-class neighborhood," Chan explained. "I saw the barriers — language, culture, racism, xenophobia — and I realized that there was not a lot of power and awareness. I learned to appreciate civil rights."

As a teenager, Chan was determined to become an attorney. The temporary passage of California Prop. 187 — prohibiting undocumented immigrants from using social services, health care, and public education — intensified her determination. Chan graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School, and has been able to focus on this particular juvenile justice battle thanks to a Soros Justice Fellowship and the ALC's "innovative, fluid, creative, and client-centered vision."

"I've tried different ways of challenging inequality — direct confrontation, anger — but I've found the best way is through policy, and being very educated and strategic," Chan said.

She said she's hopeful that Sup. David Campos has the votes this summer to pass veto-proof amendments to the city's undocumented-youth protection policy. As she put it: "People are starting to understand the difference between the juvenile and adult justice system and the issues around due process." (Sarah Phelan)

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JULIAN DAVIS

Take a look at just a few of the things Julian Davis has done: He ran the 2008 public-power campaign. He's on the board of San Francisco Tomorrow. He's president of the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center. He's a founder of the MoMagic Collaborative, which fights youth violence in the Western Addition. He's on the board of the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation. He's been appointed by the Board of Supervisors to serve on the Market-Octavia Citizens Advisory Committee. He's a founder of the Osiris Coalition, which is working to ensure that public-housing tenants have the right to return to their homes after renovations. He's hosted countless events for charities and political campaigns.

Then think about this: he's only 30.

Davis grew up in Palo Alto, and moved to the corner of Haight and Fillmore after getting bachelor's and master's degrees in philosophy from Brown University. Philosophers weren't exactly in demand at the time, so he wound up "playing my guitar on the streets for burrito money" while starting a PhD program at Stanford.

He also saw three people shot to death on his corner. "And I realized," he explained, "that the academic life wasn't going to be for me."

Davis started organizing against community violence, and, inspired by Matt Gonzalez's mayoral campaign, ran for supervisor in 2004. That got him started in local politics.