2016/17 Jessie Lloyd O’Connor Scholar – Andrea Flores
Andrea Flores is this year’s Jessie Lloyd O’Connor Scholar. She became involved with United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) during freshman year at UT Austin and is now the regional organizer leading the student-worker solidarity movement there. She works to expand the base for the labor movement by establishing new campus chapters as well as provide training and leadership skills for new organizers from marginalized communities. She has also been working with Austin Socialist Collective who is leading the Fight For 15 effort in the Austin area. She is focused on her own and others’ empowerment as women of color organizers and completely committed to her role in class struggle. She will complete a BA in Psychology at University of Texas – Austin next year.
The Marilyn Buck Award – Tara Belcher
Tara Belcher is this year’s Marilyn Buck Award recipient. Tara has been most concerned with at risk African American youth. After 17.5 years of incarceration, she has witnessed and experienced the negative aspects of criminalization over rehabilitation. She works with community leaders and detention centers to reduce rates of recidivism. She has mentored many and has been involved with conflict resolutions, led substance abuse programs and encouraged women to be healthy and care for their bodies. She has led letter writing campaigns to advocate for restoration of voting rights for felons who have served their time, which drew the attention of the Equal Justice Initiative. With the guidance and assistance of one of their staff, Tara founded African Females Against Repression Initiative (AFARI). She has been in contact with community leaders to help her in her vision of community revitalization. She hopes to continue studying, complete a BSW and use a restorative justice model to make change in her community once released.
Mumia Abu-Jamal – Of his own political activism, Mumia highlights his work inside the prison as a jailhouse lawyer, specifically the case in which he helped save the life of prisoner on Death Row, creating the conditions for removal from the facility. Since 1970, when he worked as assistant to the Editor of The Black Panther newspaper until today, nine books later, he has shared his knowledge, thoughts and reflections on social justice, social change…revolution. His book, We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party as well as his Prison Radio broadcasts continue to teach and inspire generations of activists and revolutionaries, including many of our past grantees. He wants to pursue a PhD in Comparative Studies which will inform his continued work inspiring social change in the US. Those closest to Mumia say, “Mumia is already a scholar and qualified for any PhD position and is one of the most important scholars of Carceral Studies in the world. His hunger for knowledge is truly what keeps him alive, so pursuing this degree is literally a survival technique, not to mention what it will bring to the world.”
Zizi Bandera – Zizi’s lived experience as the queer, trans, gender-resistant child of undocumented parents coupled with their experience in the immigrant rights movement has led them to creating policy that is community-led. Zizi co-founded a queer trans Latinx student group La Familia at UC Riverside, organizing, advocating and building community on campus. They continued their work by interning at a few civil rights organizations but quickly realized they lacked a focus on the most pressing issues affecting LGBTQ communities of color. Zizi then completed a social justice leadership development program, Americorp’s Public Allies, and was placed at CHIRLA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of LA. During Zizi’s time at CHIRLA, they co-founded “Todxs Somos Familia,” an intergenerational LGBTQ immigrant organizing and political advocacy project. They are now working in Community Engagement at Immigration Advocates Network, increasing access to justice for immigrant communities through free legal online tools and resources. They and their father are part of the cast of El Canto Del Colibri, a documentary exploring the relationships between Latino immigrant fathers and their LGBTQ children. Zizi is seeking a Masters in Public Policy at Mills College.
Lydia X. Z. Brown (Autistic Hoya) is a gender/queer and transracially/transnationally adopted East Asian autistic activist, writer, and speaker whose work has largely focused on violence against multiply-marginalized disabled people, especially institutionalization, incarceration, and policing. They have worked to advance transformative change through organizing in the streets, writing legislation, conducting anti-ableism workshops, testifying at regulatory and policy hearings, and disrupting institutional complacency everywhere from the academy to state agencies and the nonprofit-industrial complex. At present, Lydia is co-president of TASH New England, chairperson of the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, and a board member of the Autism Women’s Network. In collaboration with E. Ashkenazy and Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu, Lydia is the lead editor and visionary behind All the Weight of Our Dreams, the first-ever anthology of writings and artwork by autistic people of color. Most recently, Lydia was a 2016 Holley Law Fellow at the National LGBTQ Task Force and is now a Fall 2016 Visiting Lecturer at Tufts University’s Experimental College. Previously, they co-founded the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective with fellow disabled people of color and queer and trans disabled people. Lydia has been honored by the White House, Washington Peace Center, National Council on Independent Living, Disability Policy Consortium of Massachusetts, Pacific Standard, and Mic. Lydia’s work has been featured in various anthologies, including Feminist Perspectives on Orange is the New Black, Criptiques, Torture in Healthcare Settings, and QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology; and other media including Films for the Feminist Classroom, Tikkun, Disability Intersections, Black Girl Dangerous, hardboiled magazine, POOR Magazine, Washington Post; Sojourners, The Establishment, Al Jazeera America, NBC News Asian America, HerCampus, AfterEllen, and Vice Broadly. Lydia is now in their second year as a Public Interest Law Scholar at Northeastern University School of Law.
Johnny Buck – My name is Johnny Buck, and I am a proud father of a beautiful and intelligent daughter, Tatiwyat Buck. I am Native American, a Wanapum from Priest Rapids Indian Village on the mid-Columbia River in Washington State and also an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation. My ancestors have lived on these lands since time immemorial. We are deeply rooted in our homelands and our spiritual, emotional and physical lives are intimately intertwined with our environment. My long-term goal as an activist and a leader is to strengthen communities’ resilience to climate change through scientific research and engineering design integrated with Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge. My long-term educational goal is to obtain my PhD in Environmental Engineering and JD in Environmental Law from the University of Washington. As a Native American scientist, engineer, researcher and attorney, I will be able to make decisions that best support the future of all of our communities and our world. I chose these diverse disciplines to be able to comprehensively address our planet’s unique needs in the coming decades and for our future generations. As a scientist, I will be able to connect my traditional ecological knowledge with the technical expertise of Western science in the best interest of how we manage our cultural and natural resources. As an engineer, I will have the knowledge to help us build our communities in a sustainable way and also protect, preserve and enhance our natural resources. As an attorney, I will be able to advocate for policies that support the wellbeing of our environment and communities. As a leader, I will combine all these areas of expertise to develop and sustain strategic partnerships with diverse communities and stakeholders to move us to a more sustainable future. For my undergraduate research at Northwest Indian College, I am developing an Indigenous phenology observation network to help strengthen communities’ resilience to climate change and natural disasters. An indigenous phenology observation network would also support the revitalization of native languages, traditional ecological knowledge and traditional phonological knowledge by strengthening relationships indigenous communities have with the natural world.
Lindsey Chen is exploring concepts of transformational justice across difference. She co-founded Queer Vision Access Project in order to end heteropatriarchy in the Asian community so it could better show up for the work of racial and economic justice with other communities of color and white folks. Lindsey organized community events through ACRS and Parisol in order to engage Asian-Americans around prison-industrial complex, heteropatriarchy, ending anti-Black racism, imperialism & colonization. She also organizes with the Burmese/Myanmar Student Association to advocate for language reclamation and engage in issues around how anti-Black racism both hurts and is perpetuated by SE Asian-Americans, anti-Muslim oppression in Burma, and neoliberalism. Enrolled in University of Washington’s MSW program, she is looking forward to field education to help build capacity for OPS’s Stopping Sexual Exploitation group that invites men to unpack toxic masculinity by reconnecting with their own humanity through a context of understanding systems of power and privilege & how their actions hurt others.
Luz Flores grew up in South Central, LA and was able to leave a gang with the encouragement of a teacher, graduating high school in 2011. She became involved with MEChA and was hired as a youth organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition, working on youth incarceration, school to prison pipeline, gang injunctions and police brutality. She interned with Dignity and Power Now serving as an advocate to empower people who are incarcerated, their families and communities who have been impacted by mass incarceration and police misconduct. She then became a leader with the LA Chapter of Black Lives Matter. She was arrested during one of their peaceful protests and while she was inside she witnessed that there was so many women who needed a healing alternative to incarceration. This experience led her to move toward a path to law school and/or getting involved with public policy. She wants to continue working to end current incarceration practices and research girls and women with gang affiliations. She will complete a BA in African-American studies and minor in Public Service at UCLA.
Yessica Gonzalez is an Undocumented Queer Femme, born in Tijuana, Baja California and raised in Perris, (Southern) California. Shortly after completing High School in 2012, they got involved with the undocumented youth movement. In 2013, they began organizing with the Immigrant Youth Coalition to stop the collaboration between Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement. Their work has consisted of organizing alongside youth/family members to fight against deportations and lead “free the people” campaigns. As well as, creating intentional spaces for youth to become politicized. Currently as Statewide Coordinator their focus is on supporting the development of IYC’s coordinators. Their activism comes from an abolitionist perspective to ensure that white supremacist, cis-hetero patriarchy systems of oppression get dismantled. Aside from being a community organizer, they are currently pursuing their BA in Gender and Ethnic Studies and will be transferring to the University of California, Los Angeles from San Diego Mesa College. Ultimately they want to pursue a Law Degree to further support immigrant communities facing the trauma of detention and deportation.
Amrah Salomon Johnson participated in some anti-militarization actions in high school before poverty and domestic violence forced her to drop out of school and endure over two years of on and off homelessness. Older generations of her extended family have been involved with farm worker and other labor struggles as well as the Chicano movement but she was fully introduced to student activism after beginning community college in San Francisco in her mid twenties. As a former garment worker and now college student, she was recruited to join United Students Against Sweatshops where she learned about the history of workers’ rights and struggles and anti-oppression styles of organizing. She went abroad to organize in solidarity with workers in Kenya, Venezuela and the UK challenging imperialism and capitalist exploitation. She organized students to rally in huge numbers when the school was hit by state budget cuts and then began to shift to local community organizing with PODER San Francisco around gentrification, immigrant rights, Indigenous struggles, and environmental justice. During her time with PODER and through student clubs like Mecha she began learning about and studying with the Mayan Zapatista movement and traveled to Chiapas most recently in 2014 for an exchange with women’s cooperatives. Amrah transferred to San Francisco State University and completed a BA and some coursework for a masters degree. During that time she worked for labor unions, for an environmental justice advocacy organization, for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, at a worker owned coop, and at the San Francisco State University Women’s Center where she became involved with INCITE. Amrah moved to San Diego in 2011 to be closer to her extended family and ancestral roots. She has learned more about her mixed Mexican, Native American, and European heritage and is very active in Indigenous and Latinx organizing in Southern California. Her work now is focused on transformative justice, autonomy, and anti-oppression processes to build and heal communities and her future goal is to develop an organization or center that supports this work. Amrah believes that changing systems of oppression and dismantling colonialism requires both confrontational protest and holistic and healing community building. She is currently working on a PhD in Ethnic Studies at UC San Diego.
Cyrée Jarelle Johnson is a Black, non-binary trans, disabled intellectual, poet, and librarian living with Asperger’s Syndrome and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Cyrée Jarelle is a charter member and former chapter lead of Black Lives Matter Philadelphia where they worked on the administration team and helped coordinate local responses to the organization’s national campaigns. As a survivor of police sexual violence, Cyrée Jarelle knows better than most that now is the time to abolish police and prisons. Although Systemic Lupus and the allergy to the sun that comes with it often keeps them from being able to march in the streets, their activism takes care of the paperwork and thought leadership behind the movement for black lives and disability justice. In their current position as Instructional Librarian at The AIDS Library, they provide health, employment, and benefits information to people living with and communities disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS and formerly incarcerated people. They are a Poetry Editor for The Deaf Poets Society, a d/Deaf and Disabled literary magazine. Cyrée Jarelle will be attending Columbia University’s Masters of Fine Arts program with a concentration in Poetry.
David Lemus says, “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 then, is a way of life for him. Since Junior High School he has been involved with 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 organized on campus in the wake of the appointment of Janet Napolitano as UC’s president, against tuition increases and further privatization. Over the past year, David has focused on organizing with the Student Labor Committee in solidarity with campus custodial workers, the #Justice4UCWorkers campaign. Together, they won their demands to make these workers UC workers, rather than outsourced, providing better wages and benefits. He has also begun organizing Central American Youth for Temporary Protective Status (TPS), launching Central American Refugee Acton (CARA). He is working to complete a BA in Ethnic Studies and Spanish Literature at UC Berkeley.
Marianna Luna is a Bronx, New York born and raised critical thinker, scholar, activist and artist. Marianna’s work focuses on healing, resistance, queerness, liberation, ancestral memory, and rituals. She has created a body of work that has addressed issues of borders, racial terror in dominant media, a growing militainment culture, love, migration, and the spiritual manifestations of resistance in communities. Her work is a mixture of critical race theory, media studies, and holistic healing practices. In addition to her art and academic work, Marianna is an organizer, focusing a majority of her work in youth organizing. Marianna started organizing as a youth with Sustainable South Bronx, working on environmental justice, the stop to jail and prison development in the South Bronx community, and job training for formerly incarcerated people in the community. At Hampshire College Marianna became involved with the Civil Liberties and Public Policy organization, where she began to focus her organizing work around reproductive justice at the intersections of race, class, gender, and environmental and mental health, this is when she received a Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps (RRASC) grant to work with the Third Wave Foundation. In college Marianna also began working with local organizations in the Western MA area, and reintroduced herself to youth based grassroots organizing and integrating arts education as a tool for social justice, mobilization and youth engagement. After graduating from Hampshire College, Marianna moved to Houston, TX and worked at a non-profit organization doing anti-gentrification work with community members while being the program coordinator for the organizations youth group. During this time Marianna along with other adult allies brought together a group of youth from Houston and founded Youth Organizing (YO) Houston. Together YO Houston participated in the protests of the Dilley Detention Center in Dilley, TX. The youth attended the Seeds of Fire camp, a youth centered and led space put on by the Highlander Research and Education Center. The youth taught each other about their work in the South ranging from restorative justice efforts, immigration rights work, reproductive justice work, and the Black Lived Matter movements in the South. Marianna is currently working on a Masters of Arts in Media Studies at the New School and continuing to engage with her communities.
Jake Maier – After four years in the ROTC in college, Jake was commissioned as a Marine officer in 2011. In 2014, he underwent a radical transformation that was triggered by the experiences of a gay fellow Marine who told him that the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had made little difference to LGBT military members. After challenging his superiors about this, he became convinced that their indifference to LGBT fellow marines indicated that Marine claims for compassion for peoples on both sides in wars were false, and that war itself was immoral. He filed for Conscientious Objector status in June 2014. While he waited for a ruling, he continued his work on behalf of military LGBT by waging a campaign to get the protections of the Department of Defense’s Military Equal Opportunity program extended to LGBTQ military members. Upon gaining his CO status and discharge, he became active in Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace. Most recently, as part of his participation in IVAW, he has been active in the #VetsVsHate campaign against Donald Trump, challenging the use of the “angry Veteran” narrative to prop up Trump’s racist and militaristic agenda. He is beginning a master’s in Social Work at NYU to explore and better understand what sustains toxic masculinity.
Marco “Mu” Maldonado has been a leader of the Restorative Justice Project at Graterford Prison, now called Let’s Circle Up, 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. Along with his work on education and rehabilitation, he is a peer facilitator in the Alcohol and Other Drug dept. Since he was funded in 2014, he has continued this work and became an Inside-Out instructor, co facilitating a course with the program Director. He has also become the president of the Villanova Alumni group at Graterford. 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 from Cal State – Dominguez Hills.
Mala Maya volunteered at the Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism at Boston University and then with Boston Feminists for Liberation, attending their March Against Mass Incarceration during their second year at BU. Over the past several years, Mala became more involved in attending and organizing community events and actions for choice, prison abolition, Palestine and in support of victims of police brutality. They were involved in the leadership of Black and Pink, a Boston based LGBTQ prison abolitionist organization and then with the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition’s New Leaders Institute in 2014. Mala then became the program manager for HUES, organizing cultural, social and political events for LBTQIAP+ women of color as well as organized and participated in #WickedPissed, an action which halted the 2015 Boston Pride Parade protesting the corporatization of Pride in solidarity with trans women of color. Other work they’ve done and continue to do is focused on youth of color programming and services in public health, community and movement building. They are currently continuing their personal study of African Internationalism and are a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, a revolutionary organization for the non-white masses that works under the leadership of the African People’s Socialist Party, a revolutionary party comprised of poor and working class African people who are fighting for the unification of Africa and Black liberation through revolution. Mala wants to continue documenting the work for social change in the non-white, colonized, oppressed community at large in Boston and beyond while completing a degree in Photojournalism at Boston University.
Cherise Morris identifies as “a rural, southern, poor, Black, lesbian, who is simply trying to live as freely as she can.” Her current work has been largely around prison abolition, community education for liberation, independent radical media and centering legacies of Black women’s resistances. She has organized with the Providence-based, DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality) on housing rights & anti-foreclosure campaigns, as well as with the Space in Prison for the Arts and Creative Expression program (SPACE) through which she ran arts workshops with incarcerated women at the Rhode Island state prisons for the last four years. She became the coordinator for the SPACE program in 2013, and rebuilt it by developing extensive internal political education for the staff before entering the prisons. During her first life-changing visit to Detroit back in 2014, she worked with formerly incarcerated people to help build organizing capacity in their communities, promoting abolitionist ideology “making incremental progress toward the ultimate goal of seeing prisons dismantled.” In that fall of 2014, she co- founded Students Against the Prison Industrial Complex (SAPIC), an abolitionist organization which worked against carceral logic perpetuated at Brown, supporting/participating in anti-police violence actions, and eventually finding creative ways to divert money and resources from Brown to local anti-prison activism groups. Cherise has been invited to collaborate with a number of groups such as Black & Pink, Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), and the Rhode Island ACLU. She has conducted community education courses on radical Black History, solitary confinement, the policing of Black women, the school to prison pipeline and other prison/policing related issues. She has also developed some national connections with organizations doing similar work, such as NYC’s Safety Beyond Policing initiative, Shut Down Rikers, The Responsible Endowments Coalition and others. During her undergrad, she wrote about social justice issues as an editor of The College Hill Independent and editor-in-chief of bluestockings magazine. She has been invited to present and facilitate workshops at several organizations in Providence, New Orleans, and Detroit. She recently graduated from Brown University with a degree in Africana Studies, and began a publishing internship at Truthout in July, and will have an essay published in an upcoming issue of The Feminist Wire. She is also a researcher for Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ). She has started trying to think about transformative justice, and developing the future she wants to see while fighting for justice against what we currently have. This past summer, she returned to Detroit to work on four social-justice oriented urban farms. Cherise is entering a Masters program in Public Humanities at Brown University.
Andrea Perez is a student at Whittier College, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in History and Global Cultural Studies, and a minor in Religious Studies. Her passions for humanity and history is reflective in the work and activism that she is part of. Her first exposure to social justice was in 2006, when she walked out of class to attend a march for immigrant reform with her mother. In high school, she created a Dating Violence Prevention project, helping teens understand the cycle of violence and in the process, heal one-another from the trauma of abuse and internalized violence. In college, she became involved with the labor movement and co-founded a student-led organization at Whittier College called Poets Organizing Workers’ Economic Rights (POWER), where she and other student-activists advocate for their campus cafeteria and janitorial workers and coordinate with local unions and campaigns. In summer 2015, she participated in UNITE HERE!’s Organizing Beyond Barriers program, and completed an intensive organizing training led by worker-leaders and union organizers across Los Angeles. This summer, she was a Ziegler Young Religious Leader with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), where she developed skills in faith-rooted organizing and engaged clergy across all denominations, community organizations, and workers in intimate solidarity for economic justice. After graduation, Andrea will continue her activism within the labor movement and plans to attend graduate school to pursue a Masters in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. She hopes to become a professor, write books on labor within Latin America, and create a space for her future students to explore, understand, and question the complexity of society and the effects of labor issues and violence in their own lives.
Claudia Perez came to the US with her family when she was 5 years old. She became active in the Orange County DREAM Team in 2010, focusing on organizing around immigration justice. As she transitioned from high school to community college, she and others from OCDT decided to form RAIZ (Resistencia, Autonomia, Igualdad, Liderazgo), a grassroots group focused on politicizing one another, creating consciousness and strategizing for community organizing. In addition to community mural making and other kinds of arts activism, RAIZ offered Know Your Rights Workshops, Immigration Forums and soon began a campaign called Keeping Our Families Together, focusing on ending deportation. Her father had been deported in 2011, creating a very personal connection to the work. They also created the Deportation Defense Network focusing on the school to prison to deportation pipeline, connecting issues of police brutality and immigration and in 2012 became a youth organizer with RAIZ. They offer an Annual Youth in Resistance Conference to continue political education. She is working with Girls and Womxn of Color, facilitating Xinachtli Circles with young and old women in Santa Ana working to infuse healing and cultural knowledge and experience within the scope of political work being done with RAIZ. She is seeking a BA in Sociology at UC Irvine.
Jasson Perez is a scholar and activist who strives to build a Black Freedom Movement in our lifetime through popular education about structural and institutional anti-blackness and trainings on how to sustain mass disobedience campaigns to end state violence. Perez is the Project Coordinator at the Social Justice Initiative at the University of Illinois, Chicago, where he works with 2016-17 Sawyer Seminar, “Geographies of Justice: A Scholarly and Public Dialogue Series about the Contested Terrain and Meaning of Freedom in the late 20th and 21st Century World”; a project that focuses on the connections and contestations of the Black Freedom Movement in the United States, Palestinian Liberation struggle and the South Africa movement for economic justice. Perez is studying Economics and Black Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago. He is a rapper with BBU, a group rooted in the freedom and defiance aesthetics of Black Power Movement music. Previously, he worked as an organizer with the Black Youth Project 100, SEIU Local 73, and the Multicultural Youth Project working to abolish police and prisons, stop gentrification, fight for economic justice and equitable public school funding.”
Leslie Quintanilla began her involvement in movement work in 2006, a high school student whose community and parents were being targeted with anti-immigration laws. She became involved with MEChA and was the representative from that group on a student coalition including Black, API, Native American, Pilipin@, Muslim, QTPOC, and Disability Student Unions. They met weekly and she grew in her understanding of intersectional, cross-cultural and transnational organizing. She was part of the response to the infamous “Compton Cookout” racist fraternity event – the protest and coalitional demands led to the creation of Raza, Black and Inter-Tribal resource Centers as well as a requirement for all students to take an ethnic studies course. This coalitional approach to anti-racist organizing has become the framework for her life. She studied abroad in Italy in 2008 and was able to create transnational alliances with people of color in Europe and connecting them with US-Mexico Border struggles. This experience created a focus on dismantling global racist capitalism and colonialism. She is currently working in San Diego, organizing around the question of autonomy, the meaning of borders seeking decolonial possibilities. She hopes to become an Ethnic Studies, Chican@ Studies or Cultural Studies Professor at the community college level after completing a PhD in Ethnic Studies at UC San Diego.
Loubna Qutami is a Ph.D candidate in the department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside. She has completed a Masters of Arts degree in the College of Ethnic Studies: Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative at San Francisco State University completing a thesis titled Transnational Belonging: Palestinian Youth Searching for Home. Qutami’s research background is largely informed by her grassroots community organizing history and she particularly focuses on student and youth movements undertaking the intersections of political theory and practice. As an undergraduate student, Loubna was a student leader of the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS) and part of the team that fought to inaugurate the Palestinian Cultural Mural honoring Edward Said on SF State’s Cesar Chavez Student Center. The mural is the first and only of its kind on any public institution in the US. Loubna is most known for being a founder, member, and central organizer in the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), a transnational body of young Palestinians who have come together to re-vitalize a grassroots movement for the liberation of and return to their homeland. Loubna served as the movement’s international general coordinator from 2011-2014. In addition to her work with the PYM, Loubna served as the Executive Director of the Arab Cultural and Community Center (ACCC) of San Francisco where she spent five years prior working in various programs including youth empowerment, violence prevention, women’s programming, social services, cultural programs as well as racial equity and civic engagement campaigns. Loubna has worked with an array of coalitions and campaigns that build inter-generational and cross-movement alliances including serving as the coordinator for the Bay Area Campaign to Stop Urban Shield in 2015. She is also a member of the Anti-Oppression Committee for UAW 2865, the first labor union in the US to vote, by popular majority, to boycott and divest from companies profiting from Israeli colonization of Palestine.
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 has canvassed public housing units to assist them in organizing around tenant’s rights. Currently, she is pushing to advocate of healthy living and eating in the Black community. She educates about anti-blackness, trans phobia, misogyny, and intersectionality in the Black community, while continuing a letter campaign with political prisoners. Her goal is to create a network of Freedom Schools with a social justice focus and Black-centric focus. Additionally, she wants to open a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth of color. She is completing an MSW at the University of Southern California. She sought out to continue her education because she grew tiresome of seeing white social workers/people creating policies for the Black community and white social workers/people leading organizations that were believed to be created to assist Black people.
Lupe Salmeron was born in Mexico City, came to the US at the age of 6 and was in high school before understanding the realities of being undocumented. Through the Xicano Institute for Education and Self Determination held at East High School, she learned about her culture and began feeling pride as a Latina. This experience inspired her to be more involved – she began volunteering and then joined Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights organization and MEChA. She was elected Latino Student Union grant-writer as a senior in HS, followed by winning president of the Senior Class. She organized a school walkout for the city wide “A Day Without Latinos” protest of anti-immigrant bills. Over three hundred students and faculty participated and has solidified her desire to continue the work for justice in her community. She will study political science at Edgewood College and wants to work for an immigration focused non-profit.
Ash Stephens is a PhD student in Criminology, Law & Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago who is committed to racial and gender justice. In his academic and activist work, Ash works toward the abolishment of state and interpersonal violence of people of color in the criminal legal system. He worked with Project NIA’s Chicago Girl Talk Collective, supporting girls in juvenile detention who had experienced trauma as a result of incarceration. He is a member of Love & Protect, a collective that organizes in support of women and gender non-conforming people of color who are criminalized or harmed by state and interpersonal violence- which grew out of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander. Through Love & Protect, he was part of organizing two exhibits: “No Selves to Defend” and “Blood at the Root: Unearthing Stories of State Violence Against Black Women,” which he used as teaching tools with UIC students. Ash was also a key organizer on the local planning committee for INCITE! Color of Violence 4 (COV4). He is a member of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, which is a revolving fund that pays bond and advocates for the abolition of money bond, due to its social and economic impacts of people charged with crimes in Cook County, Illinois. In June 2015, he helped organize the #BlackOutPride protest of Chicago’s Pride led by Black queer, trans and gender non-conforming activists in Chicago. This action proved to be pivotal, as it drew national attention and created much needed conversation around the history of LGBTQ Pride as riots and protest, as well as police violence against Black trans and gender non-conforming people of color, during the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Ash’s dissertation research focuses on Black trans and gender non-conforming people’s experiences of policing and state violence, as well the growing Black Lives Matter movement as forms of resistance.
Nancy Uddin is an abolitionist with activism focused on divestment. She supported in starting CUNY Prison Divest at Hunter College when she realized that CUNY benefits from private prison profits and the majority of students there are students of color. Nancy was a founder and a leader in this campaign, inspired by the divestment work she had done as an activist in Students for Justice in Palestine. With the support of the Responsible Endowment Coalition, she started CUNY Prison Divest and plans to start NYU Prison divest next semester. She is committed to systemic change as she sees that the system is not set up to benefit the marginalized. Nancy was politicized in high school and interned with the Arab American Association of NY and has worked as a part time staff organizer with Youth Activists-Youth Allies Network (YA-YA) for the last few years. With YA-YA, she has done counter military recruitment work and facilitated workshops on a range of topics from Islamophobia to transformative justice. Last summer, Nancy interned at Justice Now, a radical prison abolitionist teaching law clinic. She spent the last year at NYU learning about the activist groups that already exist and participating peripherally in the Ban the Box campaign there and a fossil fuel divest campaign. She also has participated in Black Lives Matter work in NY, include Black Brunch. She is working on a BA in Journalism and Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU.
Elizabeth Vega is our Anne Braden Awardee this year. Although she had organized for fair wages on Berea’s campus and mobilized to take a bus load of students to NYC for Occupy Wall Street at the age of 40, her life as a full time activist began the day Mike Brown was murdered by police in Ferguson, MO. Living 10 minutes away and seeing the news on tv and social media, she grabbed posterboard and markers and headed to Ferguson. She spent the next year fully immersed in protests, providing jail support, making art for use in actions and being arrested for civil disobedience 8 times. In standing with the young people of Ferguson during that critical time, she came to understand this as “generational genocide” and in that moment became a full-time activist. She has co-founded Artivist STL, a collective committed to making social justice visual. A mirrored casket they made for Ferguson October has been accepted into a collection at the Smithsonian. She created ArtHouse, Achieving Resilience Together, a space for grassroots organizers imbedded on the North side of St. Louis and an open space for neighborhood involvement. The DPSF scholarship will enable her to continue melding all of the pieces of her life — artist, activist, counselor, student. Her goal is to provide emotional justice through accessible mental health and to that end is working on a Master’s of Education in Community Counseling at the University of MO – St Louis.
Gisela Zuniga – Gisela’s work is centered on making films around her identity, US-Mexico border politics and Chicana feminism. Because she felt invisible in her program as a woman of color in film, she founded an activist organization at the art school (Tisch). She has plans this year to organize a showcase of work about and by people of color communities and a zine to address inclusion and retention of students of color. She is involved in NYU’s Dream Team, the Feminists of Color Collective, Incarceration to Education Coalition and NYU’s Latino Student Union. She is committed to continue making art that resists oppression and creates something beautiful and liberating. She will complete a BFA this year at New York University.