The Class of 2014-2015

2014 Annual Report


The Marilyn Buck Award – Paul Perry

Photo of Paul Perry.Marilyn Buck was a political prisoner and poet who worked in solidarity with Black Liberation struggles to end white supremacy. She received grants from the Fund in 2003 and 2004, and died of a rare cancer in 2010. Marilyn supported the Fund with regular donations and supportive notes from her jail cell, and with a generous bequest following her death. To honor her memory and legacy, The Marilyn Buck Award is given to an incarcerated or formerly incarcerated activist working for justice. This year, the award is given to Paul Perry. Serving a life sentence without possibility of parole at Graterford Prison in Pennsylvania, Paul’s movement work takes multiple forms, but is all based on the principle that “people in prison and people outside of prison are part of the same community” and need to work together to make wide-scale change. He is the internal director of the Prison Literacy Project, which he salvaged and grew over the last 14 years. He is a highly respected founding member of the Graterford Think Tank, the core group driving the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which brings imprisoned students and outside students together as classmates in dialogue-rich postsecondary courses. Paul has coached hundreds of professors from across North America about this Paulo Freire/Myles Horton-style pedagogy of liberation. Paul has offered workshops for and with other prisoners, as well as coordinating with former prisoners who are doing another arm of the work out in the community, often hosting speakers’ visits to Graterford such as Cornel West, Kahlil Muhammad, Michelle Alexander and other radical intellectuals. He works in a coalition building model, bringing incarcerated activists into working coalitions with community organizations and university groups on the outside to help make change. Paul’s published or performed work includes an essay on the tragically flawed logic of life without possibility of parole; another essay on intellectual and political awakening; and a section of the performance piece, Holding Up: A New Prison Legacy. He has begun a masters in Humanities program from Cal State Dominguez Hills.



2014/15 Jessie Lloyd O’Connor Scholar – Tamanna Rahman

Photo of Tamanna Rahman.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 and beloved 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 Tamanna Rahman who was politicized while attending an east coast private college where she experienced a very privileged environment. This disparity caused her to develop an analysis of power and wealth, labor and poverty. During summer internships, she worked with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force on an LGBTQ Immigrant project and then did a Union Semester in New York, working full time for a union, taking night classes and living in a radical community of student protests. She traveled to Bangladesh, retracing her parents’ journey and became involved with Nijera Kori, a socialist, peasant organizing collective. After graduating, she went to work for UNITE HERE!, deepening her belief in the strength of solidarity. Tamanna founded a radical mental health group, focusing on her vison of movement-based healthcare. She sees her work intertwined with organizing and plans to become a Psychiatric nurse practitioner, providing holistic care in poor communities, while fighting to change standards of healthcare for poor and working class communities. She has completed her first year toward an MSN at Yale University. We believe Jessie would love Tamanna’s revolutionary spirit and desire to create caring community while organizing for economic justice.


Photo of dåko'ta alcantara-camacho.
dåko’ta alcantara-camacho, a descendant of Chamoru people of the Marianas and Philippines, learned about his indigenous identity by reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. He began an exploration of the culture and language and began to use poetry as a way to educate others about his people and to call people to act against militarization and colonization. He joined YouthSpeaks Seattle, a youth poetry organization and performed at rallies, conferences and at Voices Rising, a queer people of color performing arts production and organized a monthly hip hop show called “HIP Hop Period” for young queer artists of color. dåko’ta received a full scholarship to UW, Madison for spoken word and community organizing and while there became involved with MEChA. He mobilized solidarity with the Immokalee Workers and organized a caravan to the School of the Americas protest. dåko’ta was able to do a semester abroad his ancestral homeland of Guahan (Guam) and besides learning more about indigenous culture, organized Occupy demonstrations protesting tuition hikes, hiring practices and challenged the militarization of a local festival and the continued imperialism and colonialism that impact native peoples. dåko’ta completed a BA in Gender and Women’s Studies with concentration in Chamoru Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.


Photo of Brittany Brathwaite.Brittany Brathwaite – Growing up in Brooklyn in high violence high poverty areas, Brittany became determined to create change that would impact quality of life for her community. As a McNair Scholar, she conducted a study of young women in Syracuse and their access to reproductive health. After finding out that youth in Syracuse were experiencing similar problems to those in her community, she co-founded SPEAK, organizing girls summits with a critical pedagogy framework. As president of the Young Women of Color Leadership Council, she worked to educate and mobilize young women of color around sexual violence issues, reproductive health, lobbying for health and social policies impacting their lives. She was the Barbara Jordon Health Policy Scholar in the House of Representatives in 2012 examining health care policies and impact of institutional racism, sexism and class inequality on public policy. She has been an organizer with Girls for Gender Equity mobilizing communities to remove barriers for women and girls to live self-determined lives. She also organizes with the NY Coalition for Reproductive Justice, most recently responding to an NYC teen pregnancy campaign which stigmatized and shamed young women. As a follow-up she helped organize a “NoStigmaNoShame” conference. She completed a BA in Women’s Studies at Syracuse University and hopes to continue her work as a leader in the reproductive justice movement while gaining the skills to create policy that supports young women of color and their reproductive health, attending Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.


Photo of Johnny Buck.Johnny Buck is from the Wanapum community and a member of the Yakama Nation. He is physically, spiritually and emotionally connected to his homeland in Washington State and is deeply intertwined with the environment, culture, language and tradition of his community. His work is focused on decolonialization, encompassing healthy food and eco systems as well as strengthening communities, cross cultural and intertribal relationships striving for social equity. He has been the Northwest representative for the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, building collective voice of tribal college students and a leader in the Young People For program. He co-founded the Native Youth Leadership Alliance to develop community led organizations addressing unique issues of Native American communities. He is committed to building the skills of high school students related to environmental policy and leadership development. He completed a certificate from George Washington University and is enrolled at Northwest Indian College, pursuing a BS in Environmental Science.


Photo of Robert Chan.Robert Chan was incarcerated in 1993 and spent the first 10 years “learning the ropes” before becoming involved with tutoring and peer counseling. This led to elected leadership in the Men’s Advisory Council. When prison officials attempted to close the Honor Program, Robert organized his colleagues to write letters, call on family, friends and allies. “They couldn’t accept us as human beings, they saw us only as dollars in the head count of the prison industrial complex”, he said of prison officials. As a result of their action, in 2009 they were acknowledged as the Progressive Programming Facility and he has since worked to expand opportunities for vocational and post-secondary education as well as other rehabilitation and life skills programs. He has begun organizing incarcerated immigrants around challenging language disparities and California’s policy of arbitrarily denying requests for international transfers. He co-founded “The Other Death Penalty Project” to educate society on life without parole as a slow version of the death penalty and works toward sentencing reform. He is hopeful that he will be eligible for parole due to recent changes in California law regarding sentencing of young people and plans to continue working at the intersections of incarceration, immigration and sentencing using a grassroots approach. Since 2006 Robert has taken courses through Coastline Community College, earning a General Interest Associate’s Degree with full honors, has earned multiple credits by exam and is now enrolled in the Sociology and Criminology Programs at Colorado State University – Pueblo.


Photo of Victoria Crider.Victoria Crider became involved as a sophomore in high school with Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY) organizing for the reopening of a UC hospital trauma center situated in a high gun violence area. Then as the Chicago Teacher’s union began marching and striking, Victoria along with other members of FLY, refused to go to school and were arrested for civil disobedience. She plans to become involved with ongoing efforts to end the school to prison pipeline and want to be a math teacher. She is committed to equal access to healthcare, resources for underdeveloped communities and restored faith in young people. She is beginning her first year at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale studying Mathematics.


Photo of Denise Ford.Denise Ford marched for immigration reform in high school and joined the Black Student Union early in college, but became more politically aware through conversations during Occupy Wall Street. She joined Students for a Free CUNY (SUFC) where she read, discussed and deepened her analysis of US imperialism. She helped created the Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee, organizing a panel on Women and Revolution for International Women’s Day and working to block the militarization of CUNY when it was revealed that ex-army general David Petraeus and the ROTC would become an institutional part of CUNY. Through the Ad Hoc Committee Against the Militarization of CUNY, weekly protests were held and at one of the protests, she and 5 others were beaten and arrested by the NYPD. CUNY then closed the Morales/Shakur Community Center, one of the last liberated spaces at CUNY. Saving the center became the next focus of the RSCC and Denise was fully involved in mobilizing, speaking at rallies and leading the campaign. She was elected as Chairwoman of the RSCC last year and plans to continue building a revolutionary student movement at CUNY while training students to be revolutionary organizers. She completed an AA in Liberal Arts at Borough of Manhattan Community College and is enrolled at City University of New York (CUNY) seeking a BA in History and Political Science.


Photo of Gloria Galvez.Gloria Galvez – An organizer for prison abolition since high school, Gloria began working with the Youth Justice Coalition to end mass incarceration of youth of color. She became a youth organizer, leading campaigns to challenge school to prison pipeline and the Prison Industrial Complex. She worked on the Ending Life Without Parole for Youth campaign and then on a campaign that would take 1% of the police budget and put into youth programs. She has led a mural projects at juvenile detention centers and as an organizer with the LA chapter of Critical Resistance, worked to stop jail expansion through community education and direct action. With CR/LA she has been collaborating with TV.TV.TV, a media project out of Cal Arts where Gloria is pursuing an MFA in order to more fully use “artivism”, imagining new possibilities, creating community and transforming lives. She would like to establish an organization that aids communities of color to fully access art schools like Cal Arts. She completed a BA in Chicano Studies and Women & Gender Studies with honors at Cal State, Long Beach is beginning an MFA program in Photo and Media at Cal Arts.


Photo of Dustin Gordon.Dustin Gordon has been incarcerated since the age of 17 and with the encouragement of grantee Bruce Micheals began working toward a college degree, committing himself to the college education program at the prison. Understanding that mass incarceration is devastating an entire generation of young people, Dustin works to end the cycle of recidivism through education. He works to motivate other inmates to come to the library, get their GED and join the college program. He has been involved in producing procedures and orientation packets as well as scheduling study plans for the students. He teaches college prep courses and participates in the Chance for Life organization which works to end recidivism through community partnerships. He also participates in a group focusing on solidarity between races, religions and nationalities and hopes to establish the College Program throughout the entire Michigan Department of Corrections. He is beginning a BA at Idaho University.


Photo of Karen Hanna.Karen Hanna began organizing as an undergraduate at Brown University and for over 12 years has remained focused on the everyday struggles of marginalized people. She began organizing Filipino youth, campaigning for exploited restaurant workers, marching for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan and sponsoring anti-racism, know your rights and history workshops. She has worked with Damayan, a grassroots Filipina domestic worker organization. Now, studying Feminist Theory, she is able to strategize with these organizations using a gender, class, disability, citizenship analysis and determining that often movement work is not sustainable for those activists with social barriers. Since receiving the grant last year, she has continued working with Filipino youth organizations and researched and presented on Filipino movement building, studying the impact of gender, immigration status and class on Filipino youth regarding racial bullying. She sought to understand links between these experiences and the move for Temporary Protected Status for undocumented Filipinos in the US in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Her dissertation will be a history of Filipino Progressive Movement in the US, focusing on the US based Filipino anti-imperialist movement that continues today. She hopes to continue challenging the absence of women of color in academia and plans to remain an activist on the ground as she bridges community work and academia. She has completed the MA portion of her program in Feminist Studies at UC Santa Barbara and continues working on her PhD.


Photo of Mayra Hidalgo Salazar.Mayra Hidalgo Salazar As an undocumented young person, now with deferred status, a work permit and a driver’s license, Mayra is as committed as ever to the DREAM and immigrant rights movements. She has been a leader and youth organizer with the Florida Immigrant Coalition and Students Working for Equal Rights. She served as a project manager coordinating actions and arranging logistics and legal representation for the Trail of Dreams walkers in 2010 and is a founder and coordinator of the Lakeland Immigration Legal Clinic. She led efforts on the No Somos Rubios Campaign and travelled to Alabama to fight anti-immigrant legislation there. She is considered by her colleagues to be a fearless organizer and a trail blazer in Florida. She has also been an ally in LGBTQ and workers’ rights. After a year at Sarah Lawrence, she has risen as a leader in the Sarah Lawrence College for Immigrant Advocacy (SLC4IA) organization, moving administration to adopt immigrant friendly policies for admission and enrollment, supporting efforts to stop the deportation of a classmate’s father and mobilizing support for the New York State Dream Act. She also led grassroots fundraising efforts for the 2014 United We Dream Congress in Phoenix and facilitated strategy sessions while there. She is an undergraduate studying Public Policy at Sarah Lawrence College.


Photo of Ren-yo Hwang.Ren-yo Hwang is a core member of Dignity Power Now, a re-entry and resilience support space for formerly incarcerated queer/trans people of color and has also worked with Letsgo! Liberation, a mobile legal clinic and collective serving low income trans communities of color as an activist and researcher. The documentation of the group’s political life was the topic of Ren-yo’s master’s thesis, focusing on internal and external authority and negotiations of power. Ren-yo’s current research is on the documentation of community accountability alternatives and transformative justice over the past decade using LA and NYC as research sites and looking at queer trans organizations with an intersectional political analysis. The goal is to show a vision of a political landscape that presents the ways in which state violence impacts community organizing, non-profit funding streams and health and health/mental and social services. Ren-yo has earned a BA with honors in Philosophy from Bryn Mawr, an MA in Women’s Studies from UCLA and is enrolled in a PhD program in Ethnic Studies at UC Riverside.


Photo of Luis López.Luis López – With his father in the US working construction and his mother in Tijuana, Mexico working as a maquiladora, Luis traveled with his siblings through the mountains and to the US. He became an activist after realizing he was seen only as “illegal” in his new country. When Anastasio Hernandez was killed by border patrol agents and solidarity protests rose up, Luis was there challenging the racism and brutality of this murder. He joined an indigenous rights organization called Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales (FIOB) and learned about and embraced his Mixtec identity. He is a poet and editor of the el Coyote newsletter. Luis has also been involved with solidarity work with the Oaxacan teacher’s union strike. Luis is working on a degree in Political Science at San Diego City College and wants to become an immigration attorney.


Photo of Danilo Machado.Danilo Machado – Much of his activism and scholarship has been driven by his undocumented and queer identities. Facing countless impediments to his path to college, Danilo became involved in the Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D). He has organized for national immigration reform and planned clinics for students applying for DACA. Danilo is currently organizing to open institutional aid to undocumented students and is involved with United We Dream on a national level, participating in detention center marches and a student convergence in Phoenix protesting legislation that would discriminate against LGBTQ people in public accommodations. He has been part of the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project and has increased the visibility of undocuqueers in the campus LGBTQ group. Additionally, he has been involved in efforts to end gender based violence on campus. He has studied queer theory in depth and hopes to continue in progressive movements at the intersections of LGBTQ, undocumented immigrant and feminist organizing, while studying at the University of Connecticut.


Photo of Marco Maldonado.Marco “Mu” Maldonado is part of the Restorative Justice Project at Graterford Prison, creating and designing workshops that help incarcerated individuals develop a philosophy and practice that they can then use within the institution or back in the community. The program helps create a sense of ownership, changing the ways in which program alums engage in their lives and communities. Marco has also been an Inside-Out Think Tank member, gaining facilitation, communication and workshop design skills. He is aware that his ability to do the kind of activism he would like is not possible inside the prison, but he works to make the change he can – writing under the name “Mu”, for activist groups like DeCarcerate, PA, he shares his perspective on the Criminal Legal System and gives voice to the realities and injustices of prison life. He hopes to complete a master’s degree in Humanities at Cal State Dominguez Hills.


Photo of Rickke Mananzala.Rickke Mananzala became involved with FIERCE, an LGBTQ youth organization as a youth organizer; eventually, becoming 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. Rickke has 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 has facilitated and convened summits and trainings designed to build leaders and strong organizations at the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality. Rickke designed and facilitated the Arcus Foundation’s National Transgender Advocacy Convening. His goal continues to be to work as a resource person to grassroots organizations struggling with strategic decisions around multi-issue work and organizing and will complete an MPA in Political Science and Public Policy at Columbia University this year.


Photo of Adan Martínez.Adan Martínez – In high school after verbal harassment from teachers and students, he co-founded VOCES, advocating for the culture, rights and acknowledgement of Latin@ students and was a lead organizer of the immigrant rights walk outs in Las Vegas in 2007. I involved with the local, regional and national leadership of MEChA, allowing him to become conscious of the ways race, class, gender, sexuality and nationality are linked. He became a community organizer with United Coalition for Immigrant Rights (UCIR), organizing May Day march/rallies, know your rights workshops, detention center protests, and campaigns to stop deportations of community members. He is committed to an intersectional approach in all organizing and is completing a BA in English and Women’s Studies this year at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


Photo of Lulú Martínez.Lulú Martínez came from Mexico to Chicago with her parents and brother at the age of two and has struggled to live in the shadows of her undocumented and queer identities. Three years ago 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, co-founded the Immigrant Youth Justice League, the first undocumented led organization in the country. 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. In July of 2013, she joined with 8 other young people and crossed from Mexico into the US as the Dream 9. They were detained and she was placed into solitary confinement for attempting to organize other detainees inside the prison. She continues to work on Bring Them Home campaigns and is working with Dr. Barbara Ransby and other radical feminist scholars to bridge gaps between university resources, professors and student activists. She is working on a BA Women and Gender Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago.


Photo of Bruce Micheals.Bruce Micheals co-founded a College Education Committee at Lakeland prison in 2007, advocating for educational opportunities within the prison system and encouraging fellow inmates to participate in study groups. He published, “College in Prison: Information and Resources for Incarcerated Students” in 2011, and plans to continue producing literature and programs that will help prisoners become educated, responsible, socially active members of society, including a series of college prep-correspondence courses and correspnodance courses for those in solitary confinement. He has completed a BA in Sociology and Psychology through Adams State College will begin a master’s program in Humanities at California State University.


Photo of Aisha Mirza.Aisha Mirza is one of the leading voices of fourth wave feminism, challenging the divide between the academic world and grassroots community, a divide which perpetuates the idea that feminism and activism should be the domain of the white middle class. In 2010, she co-founded UK Uncut, an anti-austerity direct action movement that spread all over the world, including Mississippi and influenced the Occupy movement social media platforms. She spent time in the US sharing skills with US Uncut activists and plans to continue this work once enrolled at NYU. She was also a founder of Everyday Sexism Project, providing a platform on social media for women to share their testimonies. The project partnered with the US based Women Action and Media and together they forged a campaign that resulted in Facebook changing hate speech policies to keep women safer online. She looks forward to exploring the realities of activist burn-out and finding ways to make the movement healthier and more sustainable, while working on a master’s degree in Feminist Activism at New York University.


Photo of José Mondragón Torres.José Mondragón Torres – As an undocumented student, José found home in spaces of resistance. He has been a part of MEChA, Raza Rights Coalition, Somos Raza American Friends Service Committee and was a co-founder of the San Diego Immigrant Youth Collective. This work allowed him to understand and analyze the foundations of education and inspired him to become involved with Engaging Education (e2), a retention and engagement program for students of color at UC Santa Cruz. He is focusing on becoming a social justice educator, inspiring other marginalized young people through radical pedagogies. His experience in social justice organizing informs this path – protesting against the War in Iraq, challenging “Border Protection” laws, and fighting against the militarization of the US-Mexico border, calling for an end to Operation Gatekeeper. With SDIYC, he continues working against deportations, and the growing Prison Industrial Complex while working on a master’s in Language Literacy at the University of New Mexico.


Photo of Maria Peniche.Maria Peniche began organizing with Student Immigration Movement (SIM) as a junior in high school, lobbying for the Dream Act and working to stop anti-immigrant legislation. With the failure of the Dream Act and passage of E-verify laws, life for Maria and her family became impossible, so they left and returned to Mexico. She became part of the Dream 9 in Nogales and trained with the group in preparation for crossing at the Nogales border. There, she along with the other 8 were detained, stripped, shackled, questioned and locked in a cell. While inside Eloy detention center, Maria along with grantee Lulu Martinez stood up in the cafeteria and began providing lawyer phone numbers and other information to the women who had been detained for weeks and months. They were sent to solitary, but were finally released with parole in August of 2013. She has continued to work with the Bring them Home campaigns and has helped bring her own parents and brother back home from detention. Her goal is to open a clinic run by undocumented youth fighting to free community members from detention centers. She is studying Political Science at Pine Manor College


Photo of Carlos Perea.Carlos Perea – From a difficult and terrifying childhood, he 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, 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. Disillusioned with the politics of the DREAM movement, Carlos helped create an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist youth resistance movement in Santa Ana called RAIZ. They launched Keep Our Families Together and began working with NDLON and Immigrant Youth Coalition to stop ICE raids and the collaboration between ICE and the city of Santa Ana. The group is fighting the “School to Deportation Pipeline” and have created a deportation self-defense network. He is beginning a BA in Sociology at California State University, Long Beach.


Photo of Jasson Perez.Jasson Perez – Growing up in state custody, Jasson became addicted to drugs and was incarcerated for drug possession. Seeing the disproportionate incarceration of people of color, he decided at that time that upon release he would recover from his addiction and begin working for justice in his community. He has done just that, being clean for 13 years and committing his life to working for social change. Having difficulty finding a job, post-incarceration, he was hired by a Jobs for Youth program and became involved with the South West Youth Collaborative. For the next 11 years he worked as a Youth Organizer for Multicultural Youth Project, SWYC and Batey Urbano, organizing campaigns to stop zero tolerance policies, militarization in the schools and gentrification. He became a union organizer with SEIU Local 73 working to keep schools open and to end corporate tax subsidies. His primary work has been as co-chair of the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), “creating justice and freedom for all Black people within a feminist queer praxis”. He is a rapper with BBU a group rooted in the freedom and defiance aesthetics of Black Power Movement music and performs live at Stone Soup Housing Cooperative where he and his daughter collectively build community and work for justice. He is working toward a BA in Economics at the University of Illinois Chicago.
—–


Photo of Conor Tomas Reed.Conor Tomas Reed has worked since 2006 as an anti-capitalist participant historian of City Univeristy of New York (CUNY) and is dedicated to revolutionizing it. He has been a proponent of urban freedom schools publishing and presenting on multiple topics associated with radical community education. He was involved in the early assemblies leading to the Occupying of Zuccotti Park and Wall St, developing teach-ins and planning mass mobilizations. He was arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge during the Occupy protests and again at Baruch College protesting a board of regents hearing on a tuition increase. Conor is a co-founder of Free University – NYC, creating pop-up education/organizing spaces for Strike Debt, Copwatch and May Day. He has been involved in the anti-militarization struggles at CUNY protesting the presence of Ex-General Petraeus. At the Medger Evers College where he teaches, organizing efforts have resulted in the removal of the ROTC program from campus. Conor is working toward a PhD in English at CUNY Graduate Center.


Photo of Myra Solliday.Myra Solliday entered the prison system in 1990 at the age of 32 hoping for rehabilitation and finding abuse, rape and harassment by prison guards. Her experiences have motivated her to advocate for prison reform now and after her release. Myra works with New Leaf, Prison Legal News Legal Accountability Work Group and others organizations to bring awareness and change the conditions especially for women prisoners. Her goal is to advocate for prisoners, work with attorneys on post convictions issues and challenge internal prison abuse and neglect. She works to educate prisoners on their rights, providing them with resources and advocating in the community for legislative prison reform and hopes to continue this work once she is released. With the help of DPSF, she completed a Paralegal certification last year and is beginning a Psychology degree at Ohio University.


Photo of Charity Tolliver.Charity Tolliver has organized for over 15 years for labor and tenant’s rights and youth leadership development, working with youth to change their relationship with Blackness. She founded the Black Diaspora Project to connect Black youth to their collective experience and common purpose, creating opportunities for young people in Chicago to travel to Haiti and Jamaica and then write stories of struggle, pride and resilience. She helped found the Center of Change, a youth organizing space in southwest Chicago, creating a place for “Drop-in for Push Outs” who have become leaders in campaigns to end school to prison pipeline. She was a leader in the Audy Home Campaign to make change to the deplorable conditions in the Cook County Detention Center. The young people decided reform was not enough and the Center should be closed – after a four year campaign, it was! Currently she is working to build a new generation of Black Organizers in Chicago through the Black on Both Sides project. She says, “I acknowledge that I am committed to spending the rest of my life building towards change – change is led by people that believe it is possible.” She has returned to school for a BA in Education at the University of Illinois, Chicago.