James W. Sweeney was born in Fresno, California on July 28, 1948, to the union of Lonnie Lee Sweeney and Evelyn Randle. He is the younger of two sons born to this union. Sweeney’s parents, and his brother Sherman Sr., preceded him in death.
While a portion of his childhood was spent in Fresno, where he enjoyed close family ties with family there, he also called San Bernardino “home,” as this is where he was mainly reared. He maintained a special bond with his stepfather, Provie Howard and a group of men he grew up with in this close, tight-knit community. At an early age James accepted Christ into his life and communed regularly at the New Hope Baptist Church in San Bernardino.
James was greatly influenced by the success of his uncle Wilmont, a Judge, and the first African American to serve on the Berkeley City Council. After graduating with honors from UC Riverside, James earned his Juris Doctorate degree from UC Davis, Humphrey’s School of Law, and served on the Berkeley City Council for four years. During that tenure, he strongly advocated and voted for the renaming of Grove Street in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Grove Street had once represented the dividing line between neighborhoods where African Americans could not live or buy property, and at the time of the city council vote, there was strong, organized opposition against the renaming. The street renaming was confirmed by city council in 1984. James was a member of the Camp Wilmont Sweeney advisory board, the Multi-agency Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council, served on the Berkeley’s Redevelopment Agency and Housing Authority, was Executive Director of the South Berkeley Community Development Corporation, and a Consultant at UC Berkeley, Communications and Transportation Division.
In his mid 40s, James met the love of his life, Renee, through a mutual acquaintance. They subsequently blended their two families: Renee gifting him with a daughter, Samantha; and James gifting her with two sons, Wayne, Jr. and Brett.
James had over forty years of experience working with governmental, educational, and political agencies. He was Director of Legislation with BAPAC (Black American Political Association of California); served as a Legislative Liaison with the California Office on Aging; Chaired, and was a 12-year board member of the New College Board of Trustees of San Francisco -allowing many full time workers a gateway to obtaining a college degree; served as Chief Lobbyist for California NAACP -played a major role in California’s divestment of funds from Darfur; received two California Commissioner assignments: was appointed by three Governors for the COMIO (Council on Mentally Ill Offenders); and by Governor Gavin Newsom as a Community Equity Representative for the Cannabis Advisory Committee.
James was a highly sought-after lecturer, writer, and emcee. He was an Adjunct Professor for the Howard University’s National Fair Housing Training Academy. He appeared in the documentaries, “Darfur Now” and “Fair Legislation, The Byron Rumford Story.” He was a founding board member of the 33-year-old cultural organization, Berkeley Juneteenth Association, Inc.-singlehandedly ensuring its non-profit status in 1987. He also served as Master of Ceremony at the Festival for many years and contributed his poems and political commentary to the Festival publication, Vision Magazine.
James W. Sweeney was the Founder and Managing General Partner of James W. Sweeney and Associates, an advocacy and small business consulting firm located adjacent to the State Capitol. James worked with major companies and clients and was involved in deals exceeding 3.5 billion dollars. James was founding stockholder of Revere Bank. Starting with twenty million in assets, the bank now exceeds one billion in assets. James was co-owner of First Federal Financial Services, a credit card processing firm that has successfully processed over 500 million in transactions.
Over the years, James became a fine art collector. His current art collection is revered by most art aficionados. He served on the board of directors for several Sacramento art agencies: SAAAC (Sacramento African American Art Collective), Center for Contemporary Art, and Evolve, The Gallery.
In his leisure, James was an avid reader who was always impacted and inspired by happenings around him, so he wrote poetry about what he saw and how he felt, which he generously shared with friends, acquaintances and during his public speaking engagements. He personality was infectious and contagious. He loved people and social events and he “worked a room” with ease, exchanging niceties, humor, and often profound ideas. He impacted people on all levels, and no one was too high or too low for him to engage with. Given his generous spirit, James’s friendships were abundant. In spite of his busy schedule, he always had time to patiently listen and offer his special kind of advice, without judgment. He was positive and upbeat and was quick to let you know that he was indeed “blessed”. He adored his family and showered them with attention, love and affection, especially his grandchildren.
James W. Sweeney was called home on February 27, 2020. His memories will always be cherished by his loving wife, Renee; his devoted adopted siblings, Jerry King and Toni Turner; his children, Wayne Sweeney, Jr. (Angela); Samantha Stonework- Hand (Eric); and Brett Sweeney; his grandchildren, Shayne Sweeney, Ronan Sweeney, Xavier Hand, and Roosevelt Hand; and a host of other family and friends.