Jana Rickerson

Jana Rickerson

Born in Los Angeles in the mid 1950’s, Jana lived with her parents and younger sister near the LA Coliseum until she was 10 years old. Then they moved to Inglewood where they were the first African-American family on their block.

“We integrated our block,” said Jana, “My parents did a great job of normalizing a lot of stuff and of protecting me against racist attitudes.”
Jana moved to San Francisco to complete her Bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State University (SFSU) in Liberal Arts and English with an elementary school teaching credential. She was hardly a party animal, “I was there to make the grades,” she commented. “I loved to learn everyday and still do. Even as a young child I loved classroom learning and was always finished before everyone else. Once a teacher gave me a red pen to correct the other pupils’ spelling tests and I thought: I want to do this forever.” Upon graduation, in field was flooded with teachers, Jana was able to land a teaching position.

“I loved teaching third grade because the kids are still kids yet they’re just starting to change. You could make the best lesson plans, but the kids were so imaginative and creative that a conversation would guide us into a completely different and more exciting arena.”

Jana loved teaching but the salaries were low and the school budgets so meager that she took a second job as a fry cook at night to buy supplies for her classroom. She taught for about two and a half years until Proposition 13 passed in California, and she lost her job.

Jana is a very practical person, so when a friend told her about a job opening as at Southern Pacific Railroad, she submitted an application to be an extra board clerk. “I learned all the different jobs and tasks of the train yard office so I’d be able to fill in for anyone who called out sick or went on vacation. I went from doing the work I loved for very little money to a job where most of the people made a lot more than teachers but were locked into mundane routine work. It wasn’t for me.”

Jana entered the San Francisco lesbian scene by playing softball for one of the women’s bars. Her best friend in college had suggested she try out for a team after graduation. “At that time there were over a dozen women’s bars and each bar had a team. We played 3 games every Sunday.” Jana played mostly for Peg’s Place, a bar in the city.

Ultimately Jana left her job at the railroad and ended up working in health care for a decade during the early years of the HIV epidemic. She worked at Ward 86 at San Francisco General Hospital, and remembered how quickly people died. “When I went to see the AIDS quilt for the first time at the Moscone Center, I realized that I recognized too many names. There’s nothing as honorable as witnessing a person’s struggle and journey with death. It impacts and changes one’s own sense of spirit. That day, I understood I was holding too much grief and needed to change jobs.” She didn’t go far, though. Jana continued to care for people with HIV by joining Shanti Project as an emotional support program coordinator, working to train and support hundreds of volunteers. Eventually Jana returned to SFSU to complete a Master of Social Work degree, and finally returned to her first love: working with kids, this time at Child Protective Services. “I worked there for 10 years, in a variety of different roles. I worked with children, parents, policies and community systems that impacted children’s lives.”

She then spent over seven years as a traveling consultant for a national foundation in the same field and logged over 600,000 miles of air travel! When Jana stopped traveling, she returned to work in health care in San Francisco. Still a teacher and social worker at heart, Jana says, “I love to facilitate and coordinate processes that access systems in order make things run more smoothly and get better results.”

Currently, Jana is also involved as a facilitator for DIFO – Doing It For Ourselves – an upcoming women’s health & wellness program sponsored by San Francisco State University and Openhouse. Jana was initially a DIFO participant and was then hired as a facilitator and consultant.
“I love talking about our health in a safe and honest way so people can make the desired changes in order to lead a healthy life,” said Jana. “What makes DIFO unique is that it was designed by and for lesbians and is funded by the Federal Office of Women’s Health. There is no self-blaming about weight; the premise is that you can have health at any size.” DIFO focuses on stress reduction, healthy eating, movement and physical activity, especially tailored for 55 + year old lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.

Jana is especially interested in sharing DIFO’s resources with women of color, particularly African American women. (The Openhouse DIFO program is specifically designed for LGBT women of color 55+. See page 1 for more info).

Jana celebrated her own progress in the DIFO program by completing her first bike tour a month ago, raising $3,400 for diabetes research, education and treatment. Despite a bad fall in training and cracking two ribs, she said, “I’ve signed up for my second bike tour and I’m looking forward to training and riding again.”

Jana and her partner of 22 years love to laugh, walk, cook, and delight in watching “Chopped.” While they don’t have children of their own, “we are aunties to many kids through our families and friends.” A devotee of mysteries, espionage, and self-improvement books, Jana is a passionate football fan, loves playing games and going to the movies.

Interview by Emerald O’Leary


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