Next lesson

Tamika L’Ecluse says she’ll listen to Sacramento’s forgotten voices

Tamika L’Ecluse spends a morning in South Land Park.

Tamika L’Ecluse spends a morning in South Land Park.

Photo by Scott Thomas Anderson

How does one balance being a full-time parent, education innovator, civil rights activist, community health worker and leader in one of Sacramento’s neighborhood associations?

If it were easy, Tamika L’Ecluse probably wouldn’t have been named Assembly District 7’s Woman of the Year.

When L’Ecluse accepted the honor in the state Capitol last March, the 37-year-old mother of two reacted with a modest smile. And while lawmakers that day celebrated what L’Ecluse has done on the regional level, it’s Sacramento City Council’s District 5 where she’s about to make her stand.

L’Ecluse is challenging eight-year incumbent Councilman Jay Schenirer, a man whose feuds with developer Paul Petrovich and watchdog group Eye on Sacramento have garnered enough press to cloud his reputation as a razor-sharp policy wonk and youth advocate. For L’Ecluse, who’s spent her career finding ways to connect with and inspire children, leading through confrontation runs counter to her instincts.

“You have to embrace the fact that people are going to have a different opinion,” she says. “I know it’s something we all struggle with as human beings, but if you’re truly leading in a way that’s fair, just and transparent, you have nothing to be afraid of.”

It’s a point L’Ecluse is careful to make without singling out Schenirer. She wants her campaign to run on positive platforms that make residents feel empowered—not distracted. And living in Sacramento her whole life has convinced L’Ecluse change is needed in the areas that have suffered from decades of neglect and disinvestment. The district is a collage of neighborhoods in varying states of flux, from Oak Park’s gentrification struggles to violence in South Oak Park and increased homelessness in South Land Park.

To her, these communities feel far removed from Schenirer’s backroom development battles and grousing about EOS’ public records requests. She says it’s time to start listening to the people who feel they don’t have a voice—and time to give them one.

“Being raised by a single parent on public assistance, living in apartments and not knowing where my next meal was coming from, making that really difficult choice when I was young between going to school or working two jobs to pay the rent, I think all those things bring a fresh perspective and a different look at how to create policy,” she told SN&R.

L’Ecluse’s first taste of fighting for a better California came when she was 20. She was working as a downtown server and becoming more aware of the discrimination her friends in the LGBTQ community faced nearly every day. When the state got embroiled in a clash over Proposition 22, a ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage, L’Ecluse joined the campaign against it, posting fliers, helping publish op-eds and organizing meetings aimed at mobilizing young voters. After Prop. 22 temporarily became law, she learned there were other ways to make an impact. L’Ecluse hosted a weekly deaf awareness night at the Town House for members of Sacramento’s gay and lesbian community. Its success prompted her to start taking sign language classes, which serendipitously sparked a passion for early childhood education.

L’Ecluse graduated from the National Center for Montessori Education in 2006 and spent the next 10 years as a preschool teacher. Over time she developed an expertise in positive discipline, a teaching approach that looks to help kids explore their sense of belonging and significance.

Meanwhile, in her free time, she developed the unusual hobby of hauling gloves, buckets and trash-pickers out to McClatchy Park.

“They called it ’Needle Park’ at the time,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to sit back and say, ’that’s unfortunate’ or ’that’s the city’s job.’” With a laugh, she adds, “But people were like, ’You just go around picking up trash?’”

This self-starting volunteerism got L’Ecluse invited to join the Oak Park Neighborhood Association, where she eventually served as president.

In 2016, L’Ecluse transitioned from teaching children to trying to save their lives. That’s when the Greater Sacramento Urban League hired her to be Oak Park’s program manager for the Black Child Legacy Campaign, a regionwide initiative to address disproportionate infant morality rates. L’Ecluse says she’ll never forget June 24, 2017, when a woman eight months pregnant was caught in a hail of gunfire at Memorial Park. As doctors were inducing labor, L’Ecluse arrived at the hospital to help the family with whatever community outreach was needed. Looking at that tiny baby—a shivering miracle of survival—reminded L’Ecluse of both the city’s tragedy and its communal toughness.

“I think the most profound lesson from the Black Child Legacy Campaign is how deep some of this trauma goes, in some cases generations prior to what we’re responding to,” she says. “But I also learned that there are people here that, no matter how bad or ugly things get, will always be there. And that’s what it takes, us handling these things together. If we’re brave enough to go outside those lines people define for us, then we can really help others.”