Alumna Working at State Capitol in Fight for Racial Justice
By Brian Hiro
Like many people, Tiffaney Boyd’s daily life seemingly has become an endless parade of Zoom meetings. But one such virtual get-together last month will stay in her memory for a long time.
In late June, there was a surprise Zoom party to celebrate the housewarming of Jeremy Puckett, a Sacramento man who was exonerated and freed in March after serving 18 years of a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Ordinarily, exonerees face severe challenges in finding a place to live, but Puckett was able to move into a new home thanks to Assembly Bill 701, which took effect on Jan. 1 and requires California to pay housing costs for exonerees for up to four years.
Among those toasting Puckett on the call were Shirley Weber, the State Assembly member from San Diego who authored the bill; the founder of the national nonprofit Exonerated Nation; and Puckett’s legal team from the Northern California Innocence Project. Less prominent, but no less important, was Boyd, a Cal State San Marcos alumna and legislative aide to Weber who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help push the bill across the finish line.
“He was the first person to get AB 701 housing. He didn’t have any job history, any credit, and this is the first place he’s ever owned,” Boyd said. “It was such a fight to get that bill passed, and there was a lot of fine-tuning involved in implementing it. And then to see someone benefiting from it is really meaningful. I enjoy this work because you are able to see the impact firsthand.”
Boyd, a former CSUSM student body president, has been doing a wealth of vital social justice work since she moved to Sacramento to work for Weber in 2017, a year after becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college. Last year, Boyd was among many members of Weber’s staff who were integral to the passage of AB 392 (also known as the California Act to Save Lives), which updated legislative language from 1872 on police officer use of deadly force to include the “necessity” of that force. That bill was in response to the 2018 fatal shooting of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old Black man killed by Sacramento police.
AB 392 held great personal relevance to Boyd, who says she has been participating in protests of racial inequality since the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013 and who was part of a large protest of the Clark shooting two years ago before a Sacramento Kings game that forced the temporary closing of the arena.
This year, Boyd – with a primary focus on higher education – is the point person on two high-profile Weber initiatives. One is Assembly Constitutional Amendment No. 5, which passed the Assembly on June 10 and the Senate two weeks later. It places on the November ballot a proposition that asks California voters to repeal Proposition 209, which banned the consideration of race and gender in admissions decisions a quarter-century ago.
The other is AB 1460, requiring California students to take a three-unit class in ethnic studies in order to graduate. That bill has passed the state Legislature and can be signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom. It also could overrule a similar action by the California State University Board of Trustees, which recently approved the addition of ethnic and social justice studies to its general education curriculum.
“Working for Dr. Weber is perfect for me,” Boyd said. “We align in our values. She’s very much value-driven, and isn’t in office to try to get another position but really just to give back, both in education and public safety so that folks can move forward in life.”
Before being hired as a permanent legislative aide, Boyd first worked for Weber through the Capital Fellows Program, a public policy fellowship offered by Sacramento State University that pairs recent college graduates with a legislative, executive or judicial branch office for 11 months. Boyd’s assignment was no coincidence. In the fall of her final year at CSUSM, newly elected as president of Associated Students, Inc., she heard Weber speak about racial justice at the annual All Peoples Luncheon and came away awed.
“She’s a great orator,” Boyd said. “I was very inspired and said to myself, ‘I want to work for her.’ ”
When it came time to match new Capital Fellows with state offices, Boyd told the program director, half-jokingly, “If you don’t give me Dr. Weber, there are going to be some problems.”
Boyd’s colleagues on Weber’s staff would say she is as good a fit for the assemblymember as Weber is for her.
“Tiffaney cares deeply about social justice and helping people,” said Anthony DiMartino, a former legislative director for Weber and a San Marcos native whose father works at CSUSM as a laborer in Facility Services. “She was working on these issues prior to this moment of racial reckoning, and if this moment passes – which I hope it is a movement, not a moment – she will remain working toward justice.”
It is a worldview that dates back to her time at CSUSM. Growing up in Hemet, Boyd had never heard of the university and chose to go there because she was following her best friend. She didn’t see the campus until the summer before she enrolled, and her first impressions didn’t match her expectations.
“What I envisioned in college was not what CSUSM had,” she said. “No NPHC (National Pan-Hellenic Council) sororities or fraternities, very few Black people. The Black Student Union wasn’t super strong.”
Boyd could have transferred or simply concentrated on academics. Instead, she threw herself into campus life, deciding to try to change it instead of accepting it as it was. A communication and social sciences major, she worked for the communication department during her first year (all five years at CSUSM, in fact), then added resident adviser duties as a sophomore.
The next year, dismayed by the lack of female voices in ASI, Boyd joined the board as the representative from the College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences. In that role, she took the first plane flight of her life; in a bit of foreshadowing, it was to Sacramento to lobby for higher education.
Her involvement only grew from there. As a fourth-year student, Boyd served as ASI vice president of operations and also president of the Lambda Pi Eta honor society. And in her CSUSM swan song, she took on an almost crazy workload: ASI presidency, communication department job, internship at the San Diego County District Attorney’s office in Vista and UCLA School of Law fellowship in the spring semester.
Growing commensurately with the demands on her time was her interest in activism and advocacy.
“We got a front-seat ticket to Tiffaney’s growth as an intellectual and an advocate,” said Dreama Moon, a longtime communication professor whom Boyd counts as a major influence. “It was obvious from the beginning that she is a go-getter, destined to do amazing things, and she already has.”
With two years under her belt, Boyd knew the ins and outs of ASI by the time she became president, which allowed her to zero in on her agenda with laser focus. The achievements that she’s most proud of include setting in motion the creation of the Cougar Pantry, the Black Student Center and Sigma Gamma Rho, an NPHC sorority.
“I’m super excited that I got to be a part of those legacies,” Boyd said. “I feel like I left a little mark.”
Now she’s doing the same at the statewide level. Boyd doesn’t envision leaving her current job as long as Weber is in office, but she does hold higher aspirations that include jumping up to a legislative director or even going to law school and becoming a civil rights attorney.
Activism, though, is in her blood for good.
“I definitely feel like we’re on the right side of history and almost ahead of the curve in some ways,” she said of her work with Weber. “We have a little wind at our backs, and that makes me so excited.”
Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist
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