2012-13 Jessie Lloyd O’Connor Scholar Rachel Miller
Each year the Fund selects a grantee who honors the legacy of commitment to peace and justice modeled by Jessie Lloyd O’Connor, a labor journalist, organizer and an early member of our Board, who with her husband Harvey, opened heart and home to activists seeking respite. Our Jessie Lloyd O’Connor Scholar this year is Rachel Miller. Most recently working with Direct Action for Rights and Equality, and prior to that as the executive director of Rhode Island Jobs With Justice, Rachel’s roots are in labor organizing and coalition building. She coordinated the first ever JWJ student labor preconference in 1998 and was a founding member of United Students Against Sweatshops. She was a Global Justice community organizer for the DC Central Labor Council, national organizer for Pride at Work and the LGBTQ caucus of the AFL/CIO. She plans to complete a Biology degree at Rhode Island College, followed by a Physical Therapy degree, bringing her passion for justice to healthcare, specifically addressing the needs of workers suffering from their labor. Like Jessie, Rachel knows sustainable movements require care for body, mind and spirit in the ongoing struggle for justice!
Quaratul “Ainee” Athar is a Pakistani immigrant who initially came to the US for medical treatment and now faces deportation hearings. She has been working actively since 2010 with the University Leadership Initiative, United We DREAM and the Texas DREAM Alliance for immigrant rights and educational access and has organized immigrant communities in the Rio Grande Valley, planning protests, workshops and coordinating political and media strategies and lobbying efforts. Currently, she is organizing a strategy to resist the “Secure Communities” program (S-Comm), encouraging communities to minimize cooperation with ICE. She has received recognition for original research done on Asian undocumented youth as an activist anthropologist, receiving the best Undergraduate Research Paper award from the Center for Asian American Studies. She is seeking a BA in Activist Anthropology at University of Texas.
Alicia Bell began her social justice journey at the age of 14 when she became involved with an LGBTQ group for youth, an experience that caused her to dedicate her life to social justice particularly as it relates to young people. She works from a place of collaboration and intersectionality and is involved in several projects and organizations. She co-founded the Bigger Than Hip Hop project which seeks to empower young people through teaching the elements of hip hop, skills building and providing mentorship and also provides mentorship to young students of color in the NYU system. With the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, she organizes a religious initiative creating safe spaces of LGBTQ people in places of worship and has interned with the Participatory Action Research Center where she organized parents around school access and equity issues. With the Troy Davis Response Collective, she has organized rallies, speak outs and teach ins and helped evolve the group into the ongoing challenge of the institutionalized racism inherent in the prison industrial complex system. She is interested in working in student affairs at a community college because of the stigmatizing based on race and class that occurs in the community college system and ultimately would like to pursue a PhD and research community organizing modalities. She completed a BSW at NYU in 2011 and is working toward an MA in Educational Leadership at NYU.
Matthew Birkhold – While attending the University of Utah, he began working as an anti-racist activist, and in Chicago as a housing organizer learned the importance of organizers and community members working together to develop strategy. While studying at Temple, he developed a critical analysis of capitalism and its intrinsic link to racism in this country. He returned to Philadelphia joining the National Hip Hop Political Convention (NHHPC) and for the next two years was a lead organizer, journal editor and developed education programs and events. He went to Brooklyn with NHHPC, facilitating community study circles and organizing against police brutality and formed New York Students Rising and organized for public education. He moved to Detroit to research his dissertation on visionary organizing, working with the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership and the Arcus Center for Social justice at Kalamazoo College. Now, back in Brooklyn, he is completing his dissertation and hopes to create the same kinds of visionary movement building there as is happening in Detroit, focusing on building community based dual power structures and beginning to transform the capitalist system. He earned a BS in Sociology from University of Utah, an MA in Urban Studies from Temple and is now completing a PhD in Sociology at Binghamton University.
Mary Bowman– Learning of the Tamms C-Max prison (a facility in southern Illinois where all inmates are held in 24 hour solitary confinement) at an Angela Davis lecture in 2008, Mary became involved with the Tamms Ten Year Campaign. Most recently she has been the lead organizer for mobilizing and transporting supporters 7 hours away to Springfield as legislators hold hearings to decide whether or not to close the facility. When Dr George Tiller was assassinated in 2009, media coverage of the shortage of abortion providers convinced her to focus her career as a Nurse Practitioner on reproductive health and abortion provision. She founded Nurses for Reproductive Justice, working to add abortion provision curricula to RN and NP programs and is committed to the radical re-visioning of the US healthcare and correctional systems; integrating direct patient care with structural and systemic change. She attended Shimer College, Columbia College and U of I Chicago and has completed a BA in Fiction Writing and a BSN equivalent certification. She is working toward an MS in Nursing and ultimately will pursue a doctoral degree in Nursing.
Sandra Castro Solis – The daughter of migrants from Mexico, has experienced first-hand the intersections of oppressions – racism, colonialism and class oppression causing her to dedicate her life to the struggle for human rights. She has organized in Arizona with the Puente Movement for five years and as a founding member has been a part of terminating the 287(g) and Secure Communities agreements between the government and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Dept that would allow rampant racial profiling, criminalization and deportation. She was also involved in efforts to repeal parts of the Arizona Senate Bill 1070 which targeted immigrants and set off a fire storm of copy cat bills around the country. She has spoken at universities all over the US, and been referenced in publications, on film and news outlets and organized in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi against anti-immigrant laws. She studied for a time with Zapatista communities to learn more about indigenous resistance, land rights and the impact of NAFTA and completed a BS in History at Arizona State University. After completing a Masters degree in Human Rights at NYU, she plans to return to Arizona to continue building a sustainable movement creating autonomous spaces for resistance, empowerment and healing.
Thomas “Kareem” Cotton, III – Kareem’s work while in prison is focused on reversing the high rates of incarceration of economically and socially challenged communities. Growing up in a part of Philly known as “the Village”, he is all too familiar with impact of police occupation, violence and hopelessness on the young people growing up there and longs for transformation of these kinds of areas. He is a member of the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program Think Tank, where he has developed workshops, led dialogues and prepared reports on changes needed in the criminal justice system. He promotes and advocates for educational opportunities for those in the prison and believes a higher education for incarcerated people is critical to any changes they may make as individuals and as community change agents when they are released. He has an Associate’s Degree and Certification from Montgomery County Community College and a BA in Liberal Studies from Villanova University and is studying Organizational Management at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
Brooke Eliazar-Macke began her activism with the Civic Media Center, a non-profit library and progressive meeting space in Gainesville, FL. Through her work there, she became involved with the local NOW chapter, the Redstockings Activist Archives Project, co-created a chapter of National Women’s Liberation in Gainesville and subsequently became part of a Morning After Pill coalition, organizing to make the drug available over the counter. She worked for the Gainesville Chapter of the Labor Party, advocating for national healthcare and now at CUNY law school is involved with their NLG chapter and is part of the Correctional Association of New York Women in Prison project. Her work with prison abolition in the past year has deepened – she is involved with Coalition for Women Prisoners, the parole Reform Committee and continues her work with National Women’s Liberation and the Mass Incarceration Committee of NLG. She believes that along with the law, there must be strong movements to fight mass incarceration and domestic violence. She aims to do both, interning with the Alternatives to Incarceration program working with survivors of domestic abuse and raising awareness of how the criminal justice system fails them. She completed a BA in Anthropology at University of Florida in 2006 and is in her third and final year of law school at CUNY.
Pascal Emmer – Through fifteen years of community organizing, he has worked in rural Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming on LGBTQI activism, founded a Transgender Alliance at McGill University while in school in Montreal and worked with Solidarity Across Borders, a migrant justice organization fighting the criminalization and deportation of LGBTQI people. He has been very involved with ACT Up! and created the Philadelphia Oral History Project in 2008, believing in the power of storytelling in movement building. He worked with a trans health organization focusing on the ways gentrification displaced LGBTQI youth and with past grantee, Adrian Lowe and others founded Heart on a Wire Collective, which seeks to keep LGBTQI prisoners less isolated. Conducting a three year participatory action research study documenting the stories of imprisoned LGBTQI people, Pascal co-wrote, This is a Prison, Glitter is Not Allowed: Experiences of Trans and Gender Variant People in Pennsylvania’s Prison Systems, which has been an important resource for trans activists, prison abolitionists, as well as city officials. Now, a teaching assistant at UC Santa Cruz, he continues to use the report with his students and plans to use the PAR model to foster movements for prison abolition and trans justice. His doctoral work is focused on what he calls meta-generational organizing, or the role of inter and multi generational affinity in radical LGBTQI movement, interviewing ACT-Up veterans who are primarily activists of color. He received a BA in Art history from McGill University, Montreal in 2004 and is currently enrolled in a PhD program at UC Santa Cruz in Sociology.
Saundra Ferrell – Since being in prison, Saundra has begun the fight to improve the jail and overall prison system. After witnessing and then personally experiencing injustices against women in the prison including physical abuse and rape, racial prejudice and discrimination, she began speaking up, teaching herself about their rights within the system and how to advocate to expand protections. She serves as a jailhouse lawyer, teaching other women the basics of writing grievances and filing motions and has assisted women in finding support with medication dependency and home and family issues. She works in partnership with the New Leaf Alliance which assists women with their complaints, investigating and referring to appropriate agencies that may be able to respond. She is working toward a BA in Criminal Justice from Ashworth College.
Lucia Leandro Gimeno grew up in an activist family with a father who was a leading Puerto Rican activist and an organizer mom who taught her to take up space as a young woman of color. Lucia Leandro became involved in racial, economic, gender and sexual justice organizing with the Audre Lorde Project and co-founded FIERCE, both Queer youth leadership organizations. Leading anti-oppression trainings for a decade as well as working with Queers for Economic Justice and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. Lucia Leandro wants to pursue a social work degree to explore and effect how internalized oppression creates mental and physical health problems that impact movement building. “Dealing with trauma within the context of movement building is critical to our liberation”. Lucia Leandro completed a BA in Theatre in 2001 at Hampshire College and attends Columbia School of Social Work.
Martin Macias, Jr. credits a trip to DC to the National People’s Action Summit when he was a child as his political window, understanding for the first time the impact of community action and organizing. Growing up, he saw the detrimental effects on health in his family and community – unhealthy diets, a corporate controlled health care system and colonized communities, which radicalized him further. He co-founded a food justice/sovereignty group called Via Campesina and encouraged building sustainable communities. Favoring community school models, he dropped out of high school after attempting to change the highly militarized culture through counter recruitment campaigns, but returned and found a deep interest in media and storytelling, using alternative media tools and now hosts a social justice radio show, after training by grantee Tania Unzueta at Radio Arte, at Poynter Institute as well as the Fair Use Remix Institute. Martin is organizing with Chicago Fair Trade and No Games Chicago, challenging the Chicago bid for the 2016 Olympics and wants to study abroad in Brazil to learn more about their challenge efforts. He completed an Associate in Arts degree at Malcolm X College and is hopeful that the Urban Planning program University of Chicago will help him structure his many areas of interest into a cohesive vision to build a popular movement for justice in Chicago.
Rickke Mananzala – After being rejected by his family because of his sexual orientation and then experiencing racism and homophobia on his college campus, Rickke was forced to drop out of school. He had emancipated from his parents at 17 and did not have the family or community support to continue his degree. In 2003, after working a series of coffee shop jobs, he found FIERCE, an LGBTQ youth organization and became a youth organizer. Eventually, he would become their executive director. He has spent the last decade building organizations and coalitions to advance public policy in the LGBTQ, racial and economic justice movements and has contributed to these movements on a national level. Since receiving the grant last year, he has primarily worked to support grassroots community groups through trainings, strategy, leadership and base building, working with Domestic Workers United among others with the support of the North Star Fund’s Movement Leadership Program. He also joined the editorial Collective of Organizing Upgrade an online social justice think-tank, co-founded by past grantee Sushma Sheth. His goal continues to be to work as a resource person to grassroots organizations struggling with strategic decisions around multi-issue work and organizing. He will continue on for an MPA in Political Science and Public Policy at Columbia once his BA is completed.
Lulú Martinez moved from Mexico to Chicago with her parents and brother at the age of two and has struggled living in the shadows of her undocumented and queer identities. Last year she spoke publically about both aspects at a National Coming out of the Shadows day in Chicago and became politicized through Radio Arte, hosting the Without Borders radio show. The station led a grassroots campaign to stop the deportation of a peer and after the successful campaign, she co-founded the Immigrant Youth Justice League, the first undocumented led organization in the country in 2009. She has been a strong DREAM/anti-deportation/immigration reform activist and was one of 21 undocumented youth arrested in DC when the DREAM Act failed in 2010. She worked with Southerners on New Ground, an LGBTQ organization seeking liberation across all lines of difference and has been a part of fighting Georgia’s anti-immigrant legislation and the growth of the for-profit prison system there with the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance and Freedom University. She is studying at Harold Washington University in DC.
Jamie L. Meade has been involved in prison reform groups writing letters to legislators regarding judicial reform legislation and started a group called Men of Change, attempting to create opportunities for community action. He is part of a College Education Committee at the prison, advocating for educational opportunities within the prison system, encouraging fellow inmates to participate in study groups and teaching classes in Math and English. His goal is to earn degrees in legal studies and criminal justice, working from the inside to make change in the Prison Industrial Complex as well as in the hearts and minds of those men returning to society. Jamie was recently transferred to a different facility where he continues the struggle to complete his education while providing leadership for those around him. Jamie recently wrote, “ Should a prisoner desiring change in his life have to fight for something that is a right. The Prison Industrial Complex is strong and growing, it is time we fight to dismantle it. More prisoners need to become educated and expose what goes on inside American prisons.” He is six classes away from a BA in Criminal Justice from Adams State College.
Ariana Ochoa Camacho was raised in the US but witnessed first-hand the extremes of poverty and violence in Colombia, compelling her to become an activist and leader. She did work with Center for Third World Organizing, Urban Arts for Social Change, Political Ecology Group and other Bay area organizations which made her more aware of her unique contributions of experience, training and bicultural abilities and is most proud of a “greening of hate” campaign seeking to root out the racism and privileged assumptions of environmental activists. During this time she also fought anti-immigrant backlash (Prop 187) by joining mass actions, staging conferences and debates. She is inspired by cultural Marxists in her research and for her dissertation is exploring “Racial Longings, Migrant Belongings”, examining the mobilization of nationalism among Colombians in the New York metro area. She explores how marginalized Colombian migrants negotiate as well as create potential out of their experiences. She continues to work with groups like Domestic Workers United in local organizing efforts as a mentor and a translator. She plans to build a body of work relevant to social justice working with local communities to gather information and participatory and community action research. She has completed a BA in Anthropology from Kenyon College, an MA Speech Communication from San Francisco State in 2006 where her thesis focused on her work with undocumented day laborers and analyzing how new members became political activists and is currently working toward a PhD in American Studies at NYU.
Thomas Owens – Growing up in the coalfields of Pennsylvania inspired Tom to become an environmental activist in 2006 as an organizer with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Energy Action Coalition, mobilizing communities around climate justice and clean energy. He spoke around the state on the impact of mountaintop removal and helped plan for Powershift, a youth climate conference that drew 6000 participants. He worked to stop a waste coal plant and after a multi-faceted campaign of legislative, regulatory and political strategy coupled with broad community engagement, the plant construction was permitted, but with the strictest emission guidelines. Leading up to the Copenhagen Climate talks, he worked with a youth team to mobilize and message around climate justice – planning actions, banner drops and press events. He is committed to non-violent direct action and organizing in solidarity with powerless communities impacted most severely by environmental injustice. After completing the MEM at Yale, he plans to work with a non-profit in the Appalachian region advocating for community led clean energy development and just transitions in the region. Tom completed a BS in Biochemistry at Virginia Tech University and is seeking a Masters of Environmental Management at Yale.
Carlos Perea – From a difficult and terrifying childhood, Carlos came to the US at the age of 14, learning to write and speak English in his first year of high school, taking AP classes by senior year and graduating with college credits. In high school, he “took over” a school club called Career Explorers, making it inclusive of undocumented students and creating coalition with LGBTQ and other student groups. He organized with the Orange County DREAM Team and joined the fight against police brutality and is currently working to create a youth movement of resistance in Santa Ana against imperialism and capitalism that oppresses his community. With RAIZ and El Centro Cultural in Santa Clara California, Carlos is organizing the 1st youth conference in Santa Ana that will bring 500 youth together to learn about Malcolm X, Colonialism, the Black Panther Movement, the Brown Berets and Zapatista ideology. He plans to complete an AA at Santa Ana Community College and will then seek a BA at Fullerton in Political Science.
Alexandra Smith returned to Canada with her parents after leaving South Africa and its racist apartheid government, instilling in her an ongoing understanding of racial injustice. Since becoming a law student she has been actively involved in movements for criminal justice reform, influenced largely by Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and the mass incarceration crisis. She advocates for prisoners rights and has worked with the New Orleans Public Defenders Office, Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project and helped organize a coalition confronting prisoner abuse in the NYC jail system. She has organized events and vigils around the Troy Davis execution and is a member of the CUNY Law’s Race Privilege Working Group, which is working to incorporate an anti-racist perspective into the law school curriculum. She completed a BA at Concordia University in Montreal, an MSW in Community Organizing at Hunter College and is now at CUNY School of Law. She plans to stay in the US and continue the fight against mass incarceration following law school.
Noemi Grace Teppang – Her activist consciousness began in 2007 when a young high school student was brutalized by police and she became involved in the Justice for the Custodio Campaign. Through this campaign she learned about solidarity and became involved in multiple Filipino community and economic and social justice organizations like Californians for Justice. She co-founded Anakbayan Silicon Valley, a chapter of the leading Filipino youth organization working for democracy in the Philippines and challenging imperialism and capitalism. She educates and organizes against deportations and for living wage and a domestic workers bill of rights. On the frontlines, she has seen firsthand how systemic oppression is connected to mental health. Her goal is to be “an active resource for communities of color experiencing mental illness issues and to engage families as essential component in the journey towards recovery and collective empowerment against systems of oppression”. She graduated from San Jose State University with a BA in Social Sciences and Asian American Studies and is pursuing an MSSW at San Jose State University.
John Thompson became politicized when he came out at the age of 15 and began queer youth organizing in San Francisco. Soon he became more radicalized, becoming involved with multi-issue direct action organizing and has spent the last several years focused on queer and trans organizing against the prison industrial complex. He co-founded Write to Win Collective, a Chicago based pen-pal project for trans folks in prison. While working at the that time with queer youth in HIV prevention, he found that time and again, the youth he was serving in the community often ended up in prison requesting to be a part of Write to Win. He is currently involved with Youth Justice Coalition leading participatory research trainings and supporting the direct action work of YJC. He is focusing his studies on bridging gaps between direct social services and social movements developing a model that he calls abolitionist social work, using direct service as a starting point in addressing harm caused by the PIC. He plans to start a community center for “system-involved” queer and trans youth providing services while training and fostering organizing and leadership skills. John completed a BA at Columbia College in Chicago and will complete an MSW at University of Southern California.
Tyler Thompson became involved with a racial awareness justice group on campus during freshman year, which was a political awakening about systems of oppression. As he began to come out as transgendered, he became involved in a campus trans group, GenderBloc. He focused energies on educating on campus and then nationally at conferences and has organized a quarterly drag show on campus to raise awareness. Through GenderBloc he has been a part of policy changes, adding gender identity to the non-discrimination policy, the creation of an LGBTQ center and policies for gender neutral bathrooms, fair campus housing, among others. Wanting to explore more about intersections of race and sexuality, he founded Colors of Pride and continues creating spaces of queer students of color to join with others on campus to shift consciousness and make change. He is studying Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Cincinnati, with the goal of bringing Trans equity to medicine.
Maya Wind learned the stories of Palestinian youth at a summer camp program with students form areas of conflict around the world. So when it was time for her to enlist in the Israeli army, she and 9 other high school seniors formed the group Shministim, writing a letter to the government refusing to serve which sent them to prison for 40 days, plus another two months in detention. Following a speaking tour of the US, she returned to Israel and continued organizing against the Occupation and for demilitarization. She has served as a coordinator for Rabbis for Human Rights, organizing weekly marches in West Jerusalem and has worked with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Since arriving at Columbia University, she is a campus leader with Students for Justice in Palestine building solidarity campaigns and creating coalitions with other student groups to coordinate events and actions for racial and social justice. She is involved with the Stop Community Displacement campaign in Harlem and plans to finish her degree and stay in the US creating transnational coalitions for racial and gender justice. She won the Political Science Quarterly prize for a research paper written on the effects of military on women’s occupational and political opportunities in Israel and while completing a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Women and Gender Studies is writing a comparative study of mass incarceration of African Americans in America’s war on drugs and mass incarceration of Palestinians in Israel’s war on terror.
JM Wong – As a first-generation college student who came to the US from Singapore and Malaysia at the age of 19, JM sought out progressive political conversation and learning around race, gender, imperialism and democracy. While on scholarship at Brown University, JM was also active in student groups that challenged the arming of campus police and grew politically as wars in the Middle East increased, engaging in Palestinian Solidarity efforts. After graduating, JM moved to Detroit to organize with the Boycott Divestment Sanctions at Wayne State and has continued that work in Seattle. As they began to question their gender identity more and learn about queer history and struggle, JM also wrote “Queer Liberation is Class Struggle.” They were active in the Decolonize/Occupy movement, and engaged in much of the organizing that emerged. JM is now seeking a degree in Nursing, both as a means of supporting their family, but also to work for systemic change in the healthcare system and the ways in which communities of color are served in the healthcare arena. They graduated with honors from Brown University with a BA in Ethnic Studies and is working toward an Associate’s degree in Nursing at Seattle Central Community College.