Stories of Impact

Yoana Tchoukleva: Disrupting the school to prison pipeline

Yoana Tchoukleva

Yoana Tchoukleva (formerly “Ioana”) is a civil rights attorney and restorative justice circle keeper devoted to building practices, policies and spaces that further collective healing and liberation. In her current role as the Judge Constance Baker Motley Civil Rights Fellow at Equal Justice Society (“EJS”), she uses both litigation and legislative advocacy to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and reduce the impact of individual and systemic bias on communities of color interfacing with the education and criminal legal systems. She is also the Institute Co-Chair of New Leaders Council Oakland, the Interim Board Chair of the Embodiment Project, and a circle keeper with the Oakland-based Social Justice Collective. Prior to her role at EJS, Yoana was engaged in community restorative justice and policy work, clerked for the Honorable Judge Thelton E. Henderson in the Northern District of California, and served as a Litigation Fellow at the ACLU of Northern California where she advocated for an end to juvenile life without parole in California. She is a graduate of Berkeley Law.

Q&A: Dr. Vasu Sunkara

Vasu Sunkara headshot

Dr. Vasu Sunkara was a UC Berkeley undergraduate in Development Studies and Molecular and Cell Biology when he was selected for a Human Rights Center Fellowship to work with the Comision Mexicana de Defensa y Promocion de los Derechos Humanos in Mexico in 2001. He is currently Chief Medical Officer at Parktree Community Health Centers in Pomona and Ontario, California, and on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Was there a moment that stood out to you in your fellowship? 
Traveling to San Antonia de la Laguna, a village three hours from Mexico City, with my colleagues, Kevin Hsu and Kohei Nagasawa.  We spent time interviewing and understanding the healthcare infrastructure for the local Mazahua Indians. Through the support of the local school teacher in the community, Señora Alfonso, we saw the impact of the local curandera on everyday health and well-being in the village. In a single room clinic, she touched the lives of hundreds of her community members. 
How did your work as a Human Rights Center Fellow prepare you for your work today?
Being an HRC Fellow helped bolster my conviction on the central role of healthcare access in shaping a more equitable society and the powerful impact of combining theory with practice to create novel models of care. I built on the lessons of that summer by completing my undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley in Development Studies and Molecular Cell Biology, my medical training with a focus on primary care and improving healthcare access for the underserved, and later postdoctoral training with Amartya Sen at Harvard. Today, in my current role, I see the work that I do as a Chief Medical Officer in Los Angeles and San Bernardino County as an extension of that critical and formative summer in Mexico City.
How do you see your work as crucial to furthering human rights? 
The work that we do is centered around increasing access to health care for the underserved. On a daily level, we confront the challenges that our patients face related to food insecurity, lack of stable housing and transportation, and economic inequality. By instilling a model of innovation to our healthcare programs and seeking to advance the boundaries of primary care, I see the work we do as expanding the essential freedoms of our patients to live a healthier and safer life.