Tamika has a diverse background in law, community organizing and nonprofit leadership. As the Principal and Founder of Tamika L. Butler Consulting, she focuses on shining a light on inequality, inequity, and social justice. She provides consulting, training, and public speaking for a wide range of organizations in the public and private sectors.
Before starting her own consulting practice, Tamika was Toole Design’s Director of Planning for California and the Director of Equity and Inclusion. In addition to her responsibilities on planning projects, Tamika led Toole Design’s internal efforts to become a more diverse, inclusive workplace that employs people of all backgrounds. This included collaborating with Human Resources on recruiting, hiring and retention practices, leading trainings for staff, and serving as a resource for colleagues across the country.
Recently she was the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, a non-profit organization that addresses social and racial equity, and wellness, by building parks and gardens in park-poor communities across Greater Los Angeles. Before that, she was the Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Prior to leading LACBC, Tamika was the Director of Social Change Strategies at Liberty Hill Foundation, and worked at Young Invincibles as the California Director.
She transitioned to policy work after litigating for three years as an employment lawyer at Legal Aid at Work in San Francisco, CA (formerly Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center). Tamika previously served on the board of the Alliance for Biking and Walking. She also served as the co-chair of the National Center for Lesbian Rights Board of Directors and served on the board of an affordable housing land trust, T.R.U.S.T. South LA . She currently serves on the boards of the New Leaders Council – Los Angeles and Lambda Literary Foundation and is an advisory board member for Legal Aid at Work’s Fair Play for Girls in Sports program. Tamika received her J.D. from Stanford Law School, and received her B.A. in Psychology and B.S. in Sociology in her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. She lives in Leimert Park with her wife, Kelly, and son, Atei.
Women in Shared Mobility: combating social inequity and anti-black racism within the shared mobility industry and it’s services
Tamika L. Butler, Esq, Founder of Tamika L. Butler Consulting
Sandra Phillips, chief executive officer, movmi
Before we begin, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
TAMIKA L. BUTLER
Thanks for having me, I’m excited to be here. I run my own consulting firm, Tamika L. Butler Consulting and it’s been a whopping four weeks since I’ve been doing that. Most recently I was at a private transportation consulting firm as the director of equity and inclusion and the California planning director. When you know the pandemic hit and then civil unrest reached fever pitch, I just took this moment and paused and said, “Am I doing my best, most important work? How do I make sure i’m involved in doing racial justice, anti-racism and most importantly fight anti-blackness every single day?” Perhaps there are ways to do this on my own that I’m not able to do within an institution and so my practice is really at the intersections of fighting anti-blackness and being anti-racist and how that overlaps with the built environment and transportation and justice.
What right and wrong things have we done in the past when introducing new forms of transportation into the urban environment?
TAMIKA L. BUTLER
We’ve always struggled with doing equity and doing anti-racism work in the transportation field. I think part of it is that we’re bad at anti-racism and equity work in many aspects of society and I think it’s because for so long it’s been a topic that people don’t like to talk about. You know people say don’t talk about religion, people say don’t talk about sex and I think race and racism is right in there. I think when you say, “what are we doing right?” Well, we’re starting to talk about it and that’s important, because you can’t fix something and you can’t tackle something and you can’t start to think about how to deconstruct something if you’re afraid to even say it.
I think that’s something that we’re doing better but when you look at who has the power, when you look at who’s in leadership positions, it doesn’t reflect the diversity of of the world that we’re currently living in. When you look at who’s at the head of shared mobility companies, they don’t look like me. I think with shared mobility and especially when you think about technology and transportation, it’s this really interesting intersection but when you think about tech companies, they really have a race problem, where there are very few folks of colour, women or queer folks in leadership positions and then when you look at transportation, that’s the same. When you combine those two fields you’re really running into a lot of trouble.
How can we bring those other voices to the conversation so we can understand what we should be doing better?
TAMIKA L. BUTLER
When I was working on a project for a transportation agency and we were doing scooter outreach and we wanted to know, how do we make scooter more equitable? It was the first year of the scooter program and so we wanted to figure out what was going well and what we wanted to change for next year. As we went to talk to low-income folks and folks of colour, scooters just weren’t the first thing on their minds.
I actually listened to a panel yesterday, a Canadian panel called ‘Black Alchemy: How Our Stories Transform Cities and Spaces’ and there was a woman on it, Eternity Martis, who’s who’s written a book, ‘They Said This Would Be Fun.’ One of the things she said is “no one owes you their story” and that’s something she learned as a journalist. Sometimes she would show up and say well ‘I’m black and I’m in a black neighbourhood and so I’m going to be able to to talk to people’ and no one owes you their story. I think that that’s sometimes a struggle we make in the transportation space. A lot of folks who do transportation work, we’re good folks we want to help people get where they want to be and have that sense of freedom and so sometimes we go into these places and we’re like ‘well, we have this thing and it’s going to help you, so tell us what you think?’ We have this expectation that they’re going to want to tell us and they’re going to want to talk to us, because we’re helping them but in reality, what the folks wanted to talk about was like ‘wait, what transportation agency?’ ‘Why is my bus always late?’ ‘How come at my bus stop I don’t have a sun shelter or a place to sit?’ ‘How much will these scooters cost me?” “How am I going to get where i’m going safely?” Sometimes you have to be willing to just go into a community and say “what’s going on?” and just hear questions.
I used to run a non-profit, i’ve run a couple of non-profits as an executive director and a president and something you learn, when you’re fundraising, is you can’t just go to people and ask them for something when you want money, because if people only see you come around when you want money, then they start to avoid you and I think it’s the same when we’re talking to folks about transportation we can’t just go to them when we want something. If we want a bike lane that requires a lot of community participation, we also have to show up at a lot of meetings get to know the community, understand what’s going on so that by the time we do come and we want to talk about shared mobility or we want to talk about lane reduction or a bike lane, we are a known entity. People know who we are, they know that we care and they know that we’ve been invested and that we’re there for them not just to tell them how we’re going to save them with our magical micro mobility machines.
The folks who are sitting in rooms saying “ah, there’s a problem, I’m going to create a solution, I’m going to market it, I’m going to start a company, I’m going to have an IPO, I’m going to get rich” – they aren’t people who look like me. When I’m in my black community and someone says, “well, there’s this new thing and it’s going to make everything better for you” It’s hard for me to believe it. When someone tells me that autonomous vehicles are gonna make my life better, it’s hard for me not to believe that there might be bias built into those machines, because the people who are making them have bias. It’s not like I don’t want to see machines like this, I want them and would love to use them, like when I get on a scooter, I love it, it’s fun, it’s quick and I don’t have to wait for the next bus. I want all these things to make my life more multimodal and I want to be able to decide that I love taking the bus, but it’s a really far walk and so I want to be able to take the scooter to the bus and then get on the bus. However, I still can’t divorce from the fact that I’m a black person and that if you tell me autonomous vehicles braking systems are less likely to stop for darker skinned people, I believe that. If you tell me that when I ride my bike, I’m more likely to be stopped if i’m black than if i’m not, in the same way that when i’m driving I‘m more likely to be stopped. I think as we approach community engagement and as we approach these solutions, sometimes we have to better understand the problem and we have to better understand the problem from the perspective of those who are most impacted and those often aren’t the people creating these solutions.
What do you think the pandemic and the racial tension in the US has done to change the perspective of this dialogue?
TAMIKA L. BUTLER
It’s been a very raw time, particularly for folks of colour who have to worry about catching this virus because the fact that you are black means that you are more likely to know someone who has gotten really sick or who has passed away. Then you also have to worry about just being out in the world, going on a jog, going to the store. My my wife’s family is French Canadian and so I have a lot of Canadians in my life and so as someone who has experienced life in Canada, as a black person, I wouldn’t say that it feels better there. I think that there are the same kinds of tensions and things you know just beneath the surface. So how are things going change post COVID?
It seems like with these two things coming to head at the same time, that a lot of folks eyes are opened, a lot of folks are seeing things that they haven’t seen before and I think I feel two ways about that. I feel hopeful that this is finally going to be a point where we say, “wow, it’s not just doctors who are essential, it’s the person who’s brave enough to go to work and and check me out at the grocery store, it’s the bus driver who’s making sure that the folks who need to get to work do get to work.” It’s all of those people. When I want to go back out, it’s the people who are keeping everything clean, it’s finally seeing this group of folks, who frankly, other people didn’t see and that’s different than being invisible. They weren’t invisible, they were always there, just like racism and all of the civil unrest wasn’t invisible, just like health disparities were not invisible. Now we’re talking about health disparities with COVID but you’re more likely to die as a black woman giving birth.
So all of these things were always there and for many people they were invisible but because they chose to look away, they chose to close their eyes and they chose not to see them. There’s this part of me that has hope that now that folks are really focused in, they’re not going to be able to pretend like this doesn’t exist anymore and so everything we’re doing when we’re thinking about the built environment, when we’re thinking about who gets to have space and what is space used for, we can’t have people walking in the street but we can take over we can expand a sidewalk because just as much as we want people to have six feet of space so they’re not breathing on each other. However, if there was a mom with a stroller and a person in a wheelchair, they probably need it six feet before any of this, so there’s this hope in me that now things are going to be different and we’re not going to be able to unsee the truths that have been laid bare. There’s also this part of me that’s nervous again because I’m black and all of these things were there before and people chose to ignore them and so I‘m nervous that for some people, we’re going to pass this moment and then they’re going to be done thinking about these issues, planning for these issues and incorporating these issues and all that they do.
What do you have in mind for for Tamika L. Butler Consulting? What do you see for the future?
TAMIKA L. BUTLER
For me it’s that I can be authentically myself. I think that whether or not you’re a woman or a racialized person or someone with a disability or someone who is LGBTQ, I think you have been in those situations where even when you are comfortable with who you are, sometimes when you see who’s in leadership and they don’t look like you, you start to feel like, well to succeed I have to do this thing. I think the first thing is whatever I’m doing, i’m going to just fully be myself and I think again any of those folks i’ve mentioned in any of those groups, we know the weight and the burden of having to code switch and play this part, so that we can make other people comfortable.
I think Tamika L. Butler Consulting, first of all is just about a lightness and a happiness. I think that’s really important. I was on the panel you mentioned with Jay, and something Jay’s been talking about is black joy and I have another friend Zahra who’s in Atlanta and she says, ‘I don’t want to do things that don’t make me happy, as as a black person, I deserve to be happy’ and so I think that part of my practice is finding joy in all that I do and finding joy and saying ‘it’s okay to talk about these things that are hard it’s okay to have feelings of guilt and to feel bad but to push through them and to do the work.’
One of the nonprofits I ran was a parks organization and I think that one of the things this pandemic has really shown us is for the first time in a long time, in a lot of institutions, we needed the transportation people and the public health people and all of these different departments together to talk about one issue and I hope that intersectionality sticks, because that’s how I like to see my work. I think in particular in streets and open space and parks, there has been a lot of talking during this pandemic about how those things are related. I think built environment means a lot of different things and I really want to be focused on how we help people with mobility, how do we help people move freely but beyond just helping people move freely, how do we help people stay in place. Even me, as an oppressed person, as a queer black woman, I am a settler, I am on land that belongs to the Tongva people and so I think there’s something about thinking about built environment and how we can help people move freely and filled with joy and feel like they can be their authentic selves, with dignity. But I also think there’s a lot of work on how we help people feel like they can be rooted in place and their land as theirs and how do those two things come together. That’s really what I want to start pulling apart as part of my work.
What are your thoughts on the future of shared mobility and what developments are to be expected in 2020? If you would like to be interviewed or to nominate a woman working in Shared Mobility for our next series, get in touch with us here.