2015/16 Jessie Lloyd O’Connor Scholar – Jasson Perez
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 Jasson Perez.
Growing up a ward of the state, living in a variety of neighborhoods, Jasson became addicted to drugs and was incarcerated for drug possession. Seeing first 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 14 years and committing his life to working for social change. Having difficulty finding a job, post-incarceration, he was hired by the 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 is as co-chair of the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) in Chicago, “creating justice and freedom for all Black people within a feminist queer praxis”. Building a Black Freedom Movement from Chicago to New York to DC, New Orleans and Oakland. 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. His goal is to be an activist/ scholar, building a movement for social, political and economic liberation. He is seeking a BA in Economics and Black Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago. We’re sure Jessie and Jasson would be quick comrades, both with revolutionary spirits and a desire to create caring community while organizing for racial economic justice.
The Marilyn Buck Award – Sandra Brown
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 Sandra Brown.
As an incarcerated student, Sandra is committed to promoting social change through personal empowerment and professional development. She was encouraged to begin her path of transformation while acting in the play, “Night Mother” with the Acting out Theatre Troupe within the prison. She pioneered educational opportunities and earned an internship as editor of Within These Walls. She has encouraged many women to join her in academic pursuits and in doing so, they have been able to transform their lives now out of prison. She is the president of A Woman’s Voice, developing leadership and communication skills. When she is released, she wants to teach Humanities courses in correctional facilities, changing the lives of those she teaches. She says, ” As an incarcerated woman, I understand how education and knowledge transcend barbed wire and bricks.” While incarcerated, she has completed an AA in Liberal Studies and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Specialized Studies at Ohio University. She is now working on an MA in Humanities and Literature at UC Dominguez Hills.
Alexa Bailon – Entering High School, Alexa’s dream of college was dashed by a counselor who discouraged her from the possibility. She joined Padres Y Jovenes Unidos, working for rights for undocumented students like herself. She was an active member, organizing rallies, protests and lobbying elected officials – ultimately DACA passed which provided some relief for students like Alexa. She then began working on Colorado ASSET, a bill in the state legislature allowing in state tuition for undocumented students. Passage of this bill solidified her desire to be an organizer. Since then she has worked on marriage equality campaigns, anti-fracking and ending the school to prison pipeline. She attends Metropolitan State University.
Brittany Brathwaite – Growing up in Brooklyn in high violence high poverty areas, Brittany is determined to create change that will 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 as those in her community, she co-founded SPEAK, Speak Positively by Educating Adolescents about Konsciousness, 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 Jordan Health Policy Scholar in the House of Representatives in 2012 examining health care policies and impact of institutional racism, classism and sexism on public policy. Currently, she continues as an organizer with Girls for Gender Equity, mobilizing communities to remove barriers for women and girls to live self-determined lives, this year focusing on Black girls, LGBTQ and Gender non-conforming youth being pushed out of schools. In response to the non-indictments in the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, she organized countless efforts; die-in, forums, mobilization for the Millions March NYC, petition to the dean of the Columbia University Mailman School for Public Health. She 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 through a dual MPH/MSW degree.
Mariana Bruno When we funded Mariana in 2011, she was part of (and continues to be) a vibrant youth movement in Santa Ana, organizing popular education workshops on colonialization, cop watch, know your rights, deportation, and more. She led mural workshops, organized protests and mobilizations, while working with farm workers and food truck workers with the UCLA Labor Center. Through all of this work, she became involved with Radio Santa Ana, a project at El Centro Cultural de Mexico, transcribing the audio of a documentary on a US military mapping strategy in Oaxaca that would criminalize communally owned indigenous land. She was hooked on the power of media/communication as a tool for social justice after that experience and wants to do a project based upon oral history documentation, preserving the collective consciousness of residents of Santa Ana, Santaneros, how they have found agency, identity and built power. She is seeking a master’s degree either in Social Documentation or Oral History at Cal State Fullerton.
Johnny Buck was a 2014/15 grantee and 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 ecosystems 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 and is working to expand the vision and scope of the youth committee. He presented on Food as Medicine and attended the First Stewards gathering of indigenous leaders addressing climate change and is committed to building the skills of high school students related to environmental policy and leadership development. He is pursuing a BS in Environmental Science at Northwest Indian College.
Lindsey Chen is part of Seattle’s queer Asian-American community, working for economic justice through UNITE-Here Hyatt Hotel protests speaking as a queer youth with OutSpoken! She has worked for policy campaigns related to access to education for students of color and co-created a campaign called Queer Vision Access Project, which breaks down gender and sexuality binaries. She works with mental health services in the API community and has done some work around rights for homeless folks. Her other current project is called Parisol, an anti-capitalist, anti-racist Chinese/Chinese Diaspora organization. They are committed to environmental justice, resisting heteropatriarchy and ableism, currently organizing #Asians4BlackLives. She believes an MSW/MPA from the University of Washington will give her tools to analyze and influence policy decisions and hopes to continue building anti-racist-anti-oppressive coalitions.
Nathalie Meza Contreras – Schooled by her grandmothers on the history of civil rights, labor organizing and Salvadoran solidarity, Nathalie began her radical organizing work in LA with the October 22nd Coalition Against Police Brutality. As a union organizer with UNITE Here, SEIU and the Teamsters she learned and put into practice legal and political tactics, but especially the power of grassroots mobilization. Her decision to go to law school is rooted in her desire to build radical transformative change in her community, focusing on the intersection of critical legal theory, race and power . She is studying at Southwestern Law School.
Cynthia Diaz – As a high school sophomore, Cynthia’s life changed after ICE visited her home and her mother was deported. She took over “mothering” duties at home and during her senior year, became involved with Puente Human Rights Movement. Hearing her story, the group asked her to be a public presence telling her story at rallies and protests. After enrolling at the University of Arizona, she joined MEChA where she was introduced to folks from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, the group responsible for the DREAM9 action in 2013. She began working with NIYA on the DREAM120 action, organizing in Arizona and working to bring her mother home. She worked with 20 families in Arizona, coordinating the action and went to Mexico to be with her mom when she turned herself into Immigration. After a month of her mother being in detention, she along with the folks at Puente planned a hunger strike action in April 2014. After six days without food, her mother was released under a “credible fear” ruling on $7,500 bond. She hopes to work for an organization like Puente in the future and continue telling her story to benefit movements for social change. She is entering her 3rd year toward a BA in Mexican-American Studies at the University of Arizona.
Enrique Garcia Narajo – As a writer, performer, artivist, Enrique began his work through the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam. Through poetry he has explored his Chicano roots, educated and mobilized community around school to prison pipeline and anti-immigrant legislation like SB 1070. He has become a teacher of poetry with TYPS and Liberation Lyrics and joined a local MEChA chapter. While in High School, he organized with other students to protest potential school closures and cuts to school bus transportation. After community forums, petition drives and work with Tucson Bus Riders Union, the council voted to restore school bus service to the affected areas. He has won awards, led and planned poetry conferences, slams and artivist activities for community organizations. He has worked with Tucson’s Borderland Theatre and hopes to continue with school at Pima Community College and complete a degree in Creative Writing, further utilizing his talent and skill for spoken word to move forward movements as an ally to Chicana/Latina Feminists, LGBTQ and Trans communities.
TJ Jourian – As a Trans* man who grew up in a working class Lebanese-Armenian family in Cyprus, TJ has been called to social justice work through lived experience on the margins. Since 1999 as an undergraduate at Michigan State University, he has been involved with and led multiple organizations and campaigns, including; campus organizing against war, for LGBTQ rights, disability rights, anti-violence campaigns, Kick Coke off campus and work to defeat Prop2 that banned affirmative action by public institutions in 2006. He co-created the Drag King Rebellion, an artivist project, gender performance troupe challenging power, privilege and oppression, capitalism, colonialism and militarism. As a scholar/activist, he has created the Journal of Critical Scholarship on Higher Education and Student Affairs, which seeks to dismantle the ownership of knowledge in academia. He co-created T*Circle, a collective of trans practitioners and scholars in higher education and works with the Brown Boi Project. Seeking a PhD at Loyola University-Chicago, his research centers on how trans* masculine college students conceptualize masculinity, which he believes has the power to influence and transforms the ways in which white heteropatriarchy impacts movements and communities.
Jasmine Kent – Politicized following the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO and the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, Jasmine was a reluctant activist. But angered by this moment, she co-founded SATX4, and organization exposing systemic racial injustices. They organized protests and marches, beginning with 15 and growing to 150 protestors in downtown San Antonio. They marched in the annual MLK march and used social media to work in coalition with groups like, Southwest Workers Union, NAACP, Universidad Sin Fronteras and Esperanza, opening them to the interconnected struggles of oppression. They created 4 components within the organization: communication, education, activation and rejuvenation, which she believes has allowed people of all ages and experience levels to be involved. They have created a newsletter, art and activism projects, a book club, protests, rallies and “Black Brunches”. She became an activist out of necessity and hopes to learn more about using design as a component of activism, seeking a masters in Industrial Design at North Carolina State.
David Lemus writes, “…I am a direct result of US imperialist interventions in El Salvador”. Born in 1992, the year the civil war ended, his family fled to the US, but David was separated from them at the Mexico-US border. Although his dad and siblings were deported back to El Salvador, he made his way with a group of strangers through California to Los Angeles. Organizing for justice is a way of life for him. In junior high school he was involved with Immigrant Youth Coalition organizing Coming Out events and civil disobedience actions with other undocumented youth. When he began college, David met other Salvadorans through the Union Salvadorena de Estudiantes Universarios (USEU) which works to politicize students through cultural and political events. He joined the Multicultural Center on campus which has helped him develop leadership and organizing skills. He joined a group called Bridges which works to mitigate the damage done by Prop. 209, which essentially made affirmative action illegal. Most currently, he has been organizing in the wake of the appointment of Janet Napolitano as UC’s president, against tuition increases and further privatization, while working to complete a BA in Spanish Literature at UC Berkeley.
Danilo Machado – A 2014/15 grantee, 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. He has been 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, Spectrum. Additionally, he has been part of a campus group working to end gender based violence. He recently joined the steering committee of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, working around issues of trans justice, family acceptance and immigrant rights. He has studied queer theory in depth and hopes to continue in progressive movements at the intersections of LGBTQ, undocumented immigrant and feminist organizing. He is seeking a BA in English, Literature/Creative Writing at UConn-Stamford.
Jodi Lynn Maracle – As a scholar, an activist, an artist and a mom, she challenges the false histories, racist policies and disparaging stereotypes of her people, the Mohawk and all indigenous people. Through the Native Graduate Student Association, she became a leader in bridging the academy and the community, planning events such as an Anti-Columbus Day rally and many cultural events featuring film, traditional dance and Storytelling. She has been committed to learning her grandfather’s native language, Kanien’ke’:ha and teaching it to her son. In order to reclaim and heal the women in her community, she began a campaign to rename “Squaw-Island” to Ganigo:i:yoh or Unity Island. She has also been involved in campaigns to remove racist mascot names from local sports teams. Her research toward a Ph.D. from University of NY at Buffalo is on Haudenosaunee citizenship, nation building, language, dance and birth practices.
Alexa McMenamin grew up in a working class family going to Quaker schools, which instilled early lessons of social justice. Now at a Jesuit-run school, she works as a Social Justice Leader at the Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice. She has led mobilization and organizing efforts for the October 22nd March Against Police Brutality and the Millions March NYC in December 2014. In coalition with the Black Student Alliance she led a talk-back on post-Ferguson rhetoric and organized a campus wide die-in. She has plans to start the Fordham Justice Project this coming fall supporting students to do investigative journalistic work on topics such as solitary confinement. She hopes to study abroad this spring in Dublin, studying social justice movements and revolutionary activism which is an inspiration to her as a member of the Irish diaspora. She is working on a BS in English and Political Science
Swati Rayasam plans to research and advocate in the public health arena to support, serve and better understand marginalized communities. She has lived her life in service to others and at the age of 16 was creating audio documentaries about workplace discrimination and volunteering with the NC AIDS Action Network. In college, she was active in the Young Democrats and organized lobbying efforts for the DREAM Act and education reform. She was a leader in UNC’s LGBTQ group coordinating events, retreats, and publishing the LAMBDA Magazine. She worked with migrant tobacco farmworkers bringing together her desire to advocate for worker justice while researching the prevalence of green tobacco sickness. She has been a part of the Radical Angry Asian Alliance, which has participated in Moral Monday protests and marches and is focused on intersectional activism. She is beginning a Masters in Global Health & Environment at UC Berkeley.
Dashamelle Robinson wants to help Black people liberate themselves – to awaken the Black race. She said she was moved by cases like the Jena Six, Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin, but did not get involved until Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson. She attended a moment of silence rally and the following weekend went to a Cop Watch training and joined the Bushwick Cop Watch team. Now she does trainings for youth on knowing their rights and participating in Cop Watch. She co-founded a Black liberation group called BREAKAWAY, which has traveled to Ferguson to support the effort there, planned solidarity actions in NYC and is now canvassing public housing to organize around tenant’s rights. Her goal is to have Freedom Schools with a social justice and Black History focus thoughout Brooklyn and NYC. Additionally, she wants to open a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth of color. She is completing an MSW at the University of Southern California.
Ernesto Rocha and his mother came to the US from Mexico in 1996 to be reunited with his sister and to escape poverty. He did well in school, especially math which led him to be tested for the gifted program and opened the way to attend UCLA. He enrolled just out of high school in 2005, but had a 5-hour commute each day and had no real way of consistently paying for tuition. He became involved with student organizing for the Federal and California DREAM Acts and jointly with classmates wrote Underground, Undergrads: UCLA Students Speak Out. He joined in a 13-day fast and caravan through California raising awareness of the DREAM Act. Unable to raise tuition funds and following his brother’s deportation, he left school after 4 years to help sustain his family. He applied to the UCLA Student Leadership Program which opened the door for involvement with the labor movement, working with SEIU, organizing long term care workers. He continued on for 3 years, learning the importance of storytelling as a tool in building strong social justice movements. He works with the LA Alliance for a New Economy to end wage theft for drivers, incorporating the curating of an exhibit of photos by a port truck driver. The exhibit is entitled Solitude to Solidarity: A Port Truck Driver’s Odyssey. He has started the Coalition to end Wage Theft in Long Beach and is completing a BA in Political Science and Chicano Studies at UCLA.
Seleny Rodriguez – As a low-income, undocumented queer woman whose parents were deported when she was 11 years old, Seleny discovered a passion for social justice, especially education, immigration, LGBTQ justice and mental health. In high school she helped organize a protest for justice for day labor workers and a social justice encuentro. While attending community college, she became involved with IDEAS – advocating for education of undocumented students. After transferring to UC Berkeley, she began to understand that passing legislation in and of itself was not enough and so she has shifted her fight to challenging US imperialism, capitalism, racism, sexism and homophobia from a transnational perspective. With the Students of Color Solidarity Coalition, she helped organize student protest of Janet Napolitano’s visit to campus among other actions. Her life and organizing so far has moved her toward the need for healing justice and although she is seeking a BA in Ethnic Studies now, she ultimately wants to complete a Masters in Counseling and Therapy.
Anthony Sandusky considers his primary work for justice building a movement against police brutality, gun violence and mass incarceration, which is the focus of some of his current work with LIVE Free. In college, he worked with the Nashville Homeless Power project and the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. He has worked collaboratively to restore felon voting rights and studied the effects of structural racism in relation to mass incarceration. He has been involved in protests around #BlackLivesMatter and works with Faith in New York organizing across issues of immigration, affordable housing and racial justice. He hopes to initiate a pilot program for a re-entry program he has developed while working on his masters in Ethics at Yale University.
Nayantara Sen names herself … queer woman of color, first generation Bengali immigrant, trilingual storyteller and racial justice educator and activist. She came to the US just after 9/11 amidst anti-Arab, anti-South Asian backlash and began organizing around the precursor to Secure Communities, 287G, working to build a movement around immigration justice focused on solidarity, storytelling and grassroots organizing strategy. Although she has worked for the past 10 years on struggles for economic, racial and gender justice, she believes her greatest contributions have been through political education, storytelling and art. She has worked with Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation and Colorlines.com, coordinating their “Better Together” project, building intersectional infrastructure between racial justice and LGBTQ movements. She provided leadership development trainings to the Trans people of Color Coalition among other groups and focused on a Southern Cohort of the Better Together Project. She is also a fiction writer and poet, using this as a way to mobilize and politicize. She is working on an MA in Post-Colonial Literature and Social Movements at New York University, Gallatin School of Indivdualized Study.
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 organizations to bring awareness and change the conditions especially for women prisoners. She provides legal assistance to fellow inmates filing motions, clemencies and compassionate release requests. She wrote the judge on her own behalf last year and updated him on her scholarship from us. He has now assigned an attorney to work toward her release in the coming year or so. She works to educate prisoners on their rights, provide them with resources and advocate in the community for legislative prison reform. Myra hopes to advocate for prison reform once she is released. With the help of DPSF she completed a Paralegal certification last year and will complete a Psychology degree at Ohio University just in time for her release.
Adisa Stewart began organizing with FIERCE, a New York based queer youth of color leadership organization. As the Black Lives Matter movement has strengthened, he has been drawn to participate in the movement through healing arts. Given the particular and extraordinary violence and trauma perpetrated on people of color, Adisa aims to research and practice somatics to strengthen the movement. Somatics is “a methodology of embodied transformation” which he uses in concert with work around PTSD in African American Community called Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. Although somatics has been used mostly on an individual level, Adisa adapts this work to systemic trauma being healed in a social justice collective framework. He hopes to walk alongside those activists leading marches, actions and protests creating space for creative resilience within movements for systemic change. He will complete a a BA in Somatics and Trauma at Hampshire College – Concentration: Unpacking Oppression: Liberation from Trauma for Social justice and a Transformative Movement.
Eric Tolson Solis grew up in Mexico City, experiencing the great divide between rich and poor. He was politicized while in middle school at the start of the Iraq war, encouraging study of pacifist ideology and then began exploring more radical political ideologies reading Marx and identifying as an anti-capitalist. While attending a Charter School in Minnesota, he and some classmates formed the Young People’s Action Coalition (YPAC), dedicated to liberation and radical social change. They focused on popular education to develop individual and collective analysis of oppression and used the Climate Justice Alliance’s five-point strategy to organize their work … Change the story, change the rules, fight the bad, build the new, move the resources. They publish azine, standing in solidarity with local movements like the fight for $15 minimum wage, #BlackLivesMatter, challenging immigrant worker exploitation, “fought against liquid genocide” with Lakota people. They have built a youth run youth center and have created youth worker owned businesses to shift resources. He will continue his work with YPAC while studying Social Justice.
Romilly Tsinhnahijinnie – Rooted in the activism of her parents, protesting nuclear weapons plants in Los Alamos, Carlsbad and Albuquerque, she owned her activist title after participating in the Southwest Organizing Project program at the age of 17. There she learned about immigration rights and health disparities and worked on an anti-militarization/recruitment direct action effort. She has continued to research and educate the community about the health impact of nuclear waste on Native American, Chicano and Latino communities. Her long term goal is to eliminate nuclear weapons in New Mexico and to work on a Navajo Reservation and work as a primary care physician. She is working toward an MS in Physician Assistance at the University of New Mexico.
Shunya Wade was granted by Davis-Putter in 2009 as a high school senior working tirelessly with the Bus Riders Union in LA and involvement with the UCLA Labor Center. Throughout her undergraduate time at UC San Diego, she worked with the Black Student Union around access to education issues and then found her home with the Native American Student Alliance. Shunya is of Muscogee-Creek descent and identifies as a Black-Native. She helped establish the Inter-Tribal Resource Center as a support space for Native students. As a counselor with Inter-Tribal Youth, she works to foster more critical analysis skills. She is interested in tribal law, citizenship and environmental issues in tribal nations and wants to challenge discriminatory policies around tribal enrollment and disenrollment. She is beginning law school at UC Irvine.
Lonzo Young has developed programs inside the prison and provided assistance to other prisoners in legal research, filing grievances, parenting time motions and Civil Rights Violations. He hopes to finish a Business degree through Adams State and develop a financial literacy workbook, training inmates in planning for reentry. He has certificates in Victim Advocacy, legal advocacy and ministry.