The Class of 2022-2023
Jessie Lloyd O’Connor Scholar
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 Chichi Castillo, an independent filmmaker, visual artist, and musician based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her narrative and documentary film work focuses on themes ranging from sex worker advocacy, anti-carceral politics, and queer histories/futures. Following a lineage of anti-racist, feminist, and queer resistance movements, Chichi’s filmmaking practice is collaborative and anti-capitalist, seeking to redistribute skills and access amongst her creative communities of queer people, BIPOC, and sex workers. Chichi believes that social change is a multi-generational struggle and a consistent move away from the systems upholding white supremacy, patriarchy, and racial capitalism. She believes that moving towards liberation happens on all levels, from personal healing of intergenerational trauma, interpersonal harm reduction/repair, and transforming/challenging/rejecting the oppressive systems we live under. Chichi is currently attending San Francisco State University’s MFA in Cinema program, where she is excited to deepen her creative practice and further explore what resistance and social change through cinema can look like.
Marilyn Buck Award
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 csupportive 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. Phil Hartsfield is our awardee this year. Incarcerated since a teenager, Phil now 38 has spent much of his adult life focused on trying to change the system both inside and out. He interned with the Northwestern Law School’s Children and Family Justice Center and organizes with Parole Illinois working for a comprehensive parole system in Illinois. He has been a “jailhouse lawyer” doing paralegal work in support of fellow inmates and created templates for fellow inmates to use as they apply for early release. He published multiple op eds, articles and poems for a documentary, and is currently co-editing “Building Bridges and Crossing Borders: From Incarceration to the Front Lines of Justice.” He earned a BA and is completing a Masters in Criminal and hopes to use his decades of experience in the prison system to fight for real change whether on the inside or outside.
Jason Ozaoghena Ajiake
Jason Ozaoghena Ajiake is a Digital Organizer/Strategist originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. As a seasoned popular education facilitator, his work primarily involves using social media to shape movement narratives. Rooted in the Black Radical Tradition, Jason has worked alongside organizations such as the SNCC Legacy Project, ONE DC, CDF Freedom Schools, and more. He is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Jason plans to attend graduate school to become a certified counselor. His goal is to provide mental health support to marginalized individuals/groups using a Black Queer Feminist lens. In his spare time, Jason loves to make music (specifically “Hip-Hop”) and connect with nature. One of his favorite songs of all time is “The Healer” by Erykah Badu.
Valencia Alvarez is pursuing a Global Health/Health Policy degree at Washington University in St. Louis to study and support Black and brown community health, specifically mental health, and interventions in policy. She has historically worked with asylum seekers and detainees in support of liberation and abolition. She also worked to support migrant children who were trying to adjust to society in the US. Valencia has done cross disciplinary work in Mexico while deepening her connections to her Mexican heritage with much of her focus around migrants and their interactions with ICE. She intrinsically understands that everything is connected to capitalism and racism and was radicalized with her friends through seeing the 2020 uprisings happen around the country online, and wanted to organize in Yucaipa. She organized the first and only BLM march to date, putting forward a vision for Yucaipa, which drew a lot of push-back and counterprotesting. She wants to learn from Third World nations how to delink capital and health and ultimately wants to create organizing spaces in communities who have been failed by and forgotten by the system.
Nyché “Skavaq Sivulliuqti” Andrew
Nyché “Skavaq Sivulliuqti” Andrew is Yup’ik and Inupiaq Alaska Native, from Anchorage, Alaska. Nyché helped create a policy that would allow students to wear their cultural regalia during high school graduation ceremonies by gaining support from organizations, legislatures, villages, and people and her testimony to the Anchorage School Board. She championed a policy extension to honor more aspects of traditional regalia. In her first year of college, Nyché continued to help with expanding the policy for high school students still in the district that was fully resolved in the Spring of 2022. As a student at Yale University, Nyché is a member of the Native and Indigenous Student Association at Yale, a research assistant within the Yale School of Medicine department of psychiatry assisting in research regarding Alaska Native and American Indian communities, and is hired with the Yale Native American Cultural Center.
Xian Brooks is a Black, queer, trans, Southern gentleman, from Louisville, Kentucky. He received a BS in public health education from North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina and an MPH in community and behavioral health from University of Colorado Denver. Xian is a public health professional and, community-based birth doula (The Dandy Doula!). He is currently enrolled as an accelerated master’s nursing student at the University of Louisville and will be a certified nurse midwife. His goal is to stop educating non-directly affected people about cultural and structural competence and trans bodies and be the person that he and many others wish they had as a healthcare provider. This goal looks like opening a reproductive health clinic.
Zyahna Bryant began her organizing as a high school student in Charlottesville, VA, where she founded her school’s Black Student Union and fought successfully for the removal of Confederate statues in her hometown. She continues to live in Charlottesville and is now entering her senior year at UVA where she studies Sociology and Political Science. She says, “Since the pandemic, I have made it my priority to focus my work on building infrastructure and community practices that are sustainable.” During the summer of 2020, this looked like helping to establish the Black Youth Action Committee, a grassroots coalition of youth leading direct actions and building organizing infrastructure in Charlottesville. Zyahna sees her mutual aid work as a radical redistribution of resources and she sees her role now as leveraging university resources to get them back into the local community. She builds solidarity and connections between student organizations like UndocUVA and other student organizations at UVA with local groups.
Johnny Buck (he/him) is an enrolled citizen of the Yakama Nation and a member of the Wanapum Tribe. He grew up immersed in his cultural lifeways in his home village of Priest Rapids in southcentral Washington, along the Columbia River. Johnny is pursuing his Master of Science in Human-Centered Design and Engineering (HC&DE) at the University of Washington, Seattle, College of Engineering, and a graduate certificate in American Indian and Indigenous Studies. Johnny is passionate about empowering people, Tribes, and organizations to design and manage technologies that strengthen the relationships of diverse stakeholders, increase collaboration and meet diverse stakeholder needs in cross-sector, statewide-to-global initiatives facilitated within complex social and organizational systems. Upon completing his graduate studies, he plans to start a UX Design Tech agency and apply for a Ph.D. in HCD&E to further his knowledge and progress toward a career as a professional organizer and Indigenous Tech leader.
Nube Cruz is a 2 spirit (Yaqui and Oaxaquene) pursuing a Fine Arts and American Indian Studies degree at UCLA. For over a decade, Nube has engaged in movement work to support their community. The challenges posed by their identities have fueled their passion for art as a mechanism to uplift. Even more so the need for transnational indigenous solidarity organizing work. They believe in the creative and inherent political power of art, as not just an activist tool but an extension of themselves. Currently they are organizing transnationally with various indigenous groups to aid in land justice and indigenous sovereignty, taking language revitalization classes, helping organize a 2 spirit Yaqui cultural reconnection project, protecting local sacred sites, and working with local holistic groups in LA. They hope to do research work with indigiqueer diaspora histories at UCLA. And to continue to integrate their art practice into direct actions and community accessible installations and photo narratives. Nube is also hoping to apply to PHD programs to further their education and to pursue the advancement of Native people transnationally.
Arabella Colombier is a Racial and Social Justice Fellow at Columbia Law School. She is dedicated to supporting Indigenous-led climate/environmental justice movements and challenging the criminalization, repression, harassment, and surveillance of land defenders and water protectors resisting extractive projects. Arabella provides support to Wet’suwet’en land defenders resisting the Coastal GasLink pipeline and has worked as a research assistant on Thunderhawk v. County of Morton, a class action challenging constitutional violations by law enforcement during the #NoDAPL movement at Standing Rock. She has also worked as a legal intern at Honor the Earth, Center for Constitutional Rights, and Movement Law Lab. Before law school, Arabella worked as a program coordinator organizing popular education and community engagement events and served as a board member of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at McGill, an anti-oppressive social and environmental justice organization.
Erandy Flores-Bucio is a displaced indigenous (P’urhépecha) activist in Auburn, WA who has been organizing youth in her community since high school. Erandy was politicized by her parents who migrated from Michoacán, MX due to threats related to their labor organizing in factories in Mexico and through their leadership in the undocumented movement of the mid-2000’s. In high school she co-founded with her sister, a group called Youth United to bring youth together around a range of social justice issues with an intersectional lens, including immigrant rights and ethnic studies. Erandy and her sister were a resource to black student activists and helped organize during Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. She is currently the youth program coordinator for Ireta P’urhépecha, a collective that focuses on the preservation of P’urhépecha identity through the lens of social justice and ancestral knowledge. Erandy describes herself as a follower of Zapatista ideology, which she described as “knowing and understanding that the most radical changes that we can do in preparation for much larger movements is organizing within our backyard and in the communities we belong to.” Erandy is majoring in Ethnic, Gender, and Labor Studies at UW Tacoma.
Irene Franco Rubio
Irene Franco Rubio is a senior at the University of Southern California, majoring in Sociology with a minor in Race, Ethnicity and Politics. On campus, Irene engages in student advocacy through USC Agents of Change — the nation’s first undergraduate civil rights clinic. Currently on track to pursue a PhD through the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF), Irene seeks to continue her public thought leadership as a writer and advocate for historically oppressed communities at the intersection of media, writing and activism as a catalyst for social change. An activist, writer, and community organizer of Guatemalan and Mexican descent from Phoenix, Arizona, Irene Franco Rubio is rooted in community and devoted to the movements for justice. She has multifaceted experience as an intersectional movement builder, beginning with grassroots community organizing in her hometown, interning for former U.S. Congresswoman Deb Haaland, organizing nationally for Michelle Obama’s nonprofit When We All Vote, and now centering her impact in abolitionist spaces in Los Angeles.
Jessica Francois is a radical queer feminist from Boston, MA currently residing in Brooklyn, NY, where she is obtaining her Master’s in Public Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. After graduating from Wesleyan University in 2014, Jessica worked for Rosie’s Place, a homeless shelter for women, and Sanctuary for Families, a nonprofit combatting gendered violence. Most notably, in the summer of 2020, Jessica and a group of her friends created a nonprofit, Public Assistants that sought to counter systemic inequity and neglect with solutions that were guided by creativity and community. In nearly two years, Public Assistants has served over 1,000 community members and families, in hyper-local spaces extending to every borough, upstate New York, and virtually. Our work together has led to an annual Youth Mural Residency program, a series of 20-hour community medic training, an open-air acupuncture clinic, a community fridge and garden, holiday community distribution events, resistance and protest media fabrication, eco-conscious urban design projects, a free bike repair and refurbish initiative, and countless public events, performances, and publishings. In particular, Jessica has helped Public Assistant gain 501c3 status, legal representation, and a host of vibrant new board members. At this time, Jessica hopes to bring elements of her public health degree into all of the bodies of work she chooses moving forward, including Public Assistants.
Vikrant Garg is a medical student at the University of Illinois College of Medicine-Chicago. His scholarly work is in Public Health, Educational Studies, Sociology, and Postcolonial Studies. He believes in the power of organizing for our collective liberation. He is a Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of The Chicago People’s Rights Collaborative, a non-profit clinic focused on supporting clients seeking asylum and/or release from detention/incarceration with clinician testimony. He also worked with folks to develop the Chicago Health Coalition 4 Black Lives, and worked primarily on the Political Education Team. He worked to organize medical students and residents as street medics during the uprisings of 2020 as a part of this effort as well. He believes that education lives at the nexus of these struggles for justice and plans to continue honing his own pedagogy for a liberatory medical education.
Aline Gue is a Black first-generation Haitian American born and raised on Munsee Lenape land who orients their life towards Black joy, rest, and liberation. For the past decade, Aline has worked as a legal worker – more recently at TakeRoot Justice where they also worked on the formalization of TakeRoot’s participatory internal governance structure and union. Aline has organized with groups like Black Women’s Blueprint and BAJI. They were a member of GenSex NYC, a collective focused on gender and sexuality workshops. They are also a collective member of Black Legal Observer Collective which trains and mobilizes Black legal workers to support Black-led NYC actions. Having observed nonprofits and coalitions struggle to commit to and align with anti-oppression values, Aline is currently a student at NYU Wagner with the hope of learning additional tools to continually answer the question of how we avoid recreating the systems we seek to dismantle.
Lenora Knowles Lenora R. Knowles is a working-class Black and Honduran-American organizer and organic intellectual. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland (on the unceded lands of the Piscataway Conoy tribe). Lenora is a PhD student in the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Maryland. Her most current scholarly inquiries pivot around the coalitional politics and anti-capitalisms of U.S. based Third World women organizers active during the 1960s and 1970s. Lenora is a member of Village of Love and Resistance (VOLAR) in East Baltimore. VOLAR organizes to bring about community control of land and housing, realize collective healing, and build grassroots community power among low-income Black folks in East Baltimore. She is happy to be building out the political education program of VOLAR’s Organizing School. Lenora finds joy in developing leaders and transformative relationships through VOLAR’s ongoing commitment to base-building.
Danny Murillo is the inaugural Smart Justice (SJ) Fellow at Michelson 20MM Foundation. He convened the Smart Justice Think Tank, a coalition of higher education champions and directly impacted leaders. The think tank established California’s Best Practices, a list of guiding principles that will serve as a common agenda for California’s post-secondary institutions serving currently and formerly incarcerated students. Danny is a co-founder of the Underground Scholars Initiative at the University of California, Berkeley. He was a media representative for the California Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, a statewide movement to end the long-term practice of solitary confinement in California prisons. Danny was the research and program analyst at Corrections to College, a project focused on expanding post-secondary education in prison or on-campus programs for formerly incarcerated students. As the program analyst at the Campaign for College Opportunity, Danny authored: “The Possibility Report: From Prison to College Degrees in California.” Danny received his associate degree from Cerritos College and his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He has been awarded the John W. Gardner Fellowship for Public Service and the Soros Justice Advocacy Fellowship. He has been featured in GQ Magazine, National Public Radio (NPR), The Appeal Podcast, The New Yorker Magazine, and 60 Minutes with Oprah. Danny is currently a graduate student at California State University, Long Beach, his master thesis examines the intersection of education and solitary confinement in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison.
Angelica Rodriguez is the proud daughter of Mexican immigrant farmworkers. Growing up in the Central Valley town of Delano, CA, Angelica learned to appreciate education because of her family’s experiences in farm labor which have motivated her to address the exploitation and socio-economic oppression that farmworkers face. Throughout her undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley, Angelica remained dedicated to her rural farm working communities. She often traveled between 440 miles from the Bay to Delano during weekends to organize voting and grassroot community efforts in Delano, like immigrant rights workshops and marches. In 2019, she co-authored a sanctuary city resolution and helped organize for its passage. She has also advocated for police accountability, utility subsidies, and access to clean, accessible drinking water in the valley. Now, as a second-year law student at Berkeley Law, Angelica is passionate about providing legal representation to marginalized communities, and she hopes to uplift her communities as a public interest attorney.
Cassie Rubio is a writer, educator, and organizer born in Los Angeles, California. As an undergraduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Cassie mobilized thousands of youth at the statewide and national levels around healing, reproductive and educational justice. A current co-chair of The Feminist Front, Cassie continues to center fellow LGBTQ, BIPOC, and working-class survivors in their organizing efforts. In 2018, Cassie began filmmaking to bridge their love of activism and art together. After completing film fellowships with Outfest and Justice for My Sister, Cassie joined Sunrise Movement as a national video team lead where they developed a specialized curriculum and politicized film training for youth across the country. Starting Fall 2022, Cassie will be moving to New York City to begin their MFA in Television Writing at Stony Brook University. Cassie believes that through film, greater connection, dreaming, and liberation is possible.
Femi Shittu was born and raised in North Carolina where she continues to make a home. She became active during the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement while also completing her undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. It was during that time that she grew a burning passion for the art of grassroots community organizing and Black queer feminisms as a way to shape praxis. During that time she was also able to start her journey as a trainer and facilitator for our movements. She believes that investing in the leadership development of the most marginalized can grow and shape power. Femi is a candidate for a masters of social work degree with a concentration in mental health and substance abuse at Fayetteville State University. Her goal is to open up a healing center that houses an array of wellness practitioners while serving as a trusted and sought out therapist for her community. Meridian Stiller (they/he) is a grassroots organizer with Starbucks Workers United, based in Richmond, Virginia. As a high school senior and part-time barista, Meridian successfully led their store through the unionization process, becoming the 24th unionized Starbucks store in the US. Meridian is a strong proponent of intersectional solidarity, and believes that in order to cultivate a vitalized community, different organizations must work together, show up for each other, and hold each other accountable. With this in mind, they have represented Starbucks Workers United at a multitude of community events, protests, and celebrations. Meridian is a go-to public speaker for the union and has spoken for Bernie Sanders, Marianne Williamson, and the New York Post, among others, and recently represented Starbucks Workers United at the AFL-CIO Convention. Meridian is attending Clark University in Worcester, MA as an incoming first-year, intending to double major in Geography and Political Science.
Madison Tiaffay – During high school, I truly realized the importance of activism and using my voice to fight for others. I strongly believe education is the key to promoting awareness and empathy, and this led me to create and teach consent workshops to my entire class. They included information about consent, healthy relationships, and sexual violence. In response to photos being leaked of students in my grade captioned with racial and antisemitic slurs, I created a survey for students to take asking whether or not they experienced different forms of hate such as racism, sexism, homophobia, sexual violence etc. I used the data to create an informative video that I shared with my school so I could shine a light on issues that are often overlooked or ignored. I’m attending Emory University to study political science, and will use my education to continue to fight for others.
Crystal Vance Guerra
Crystal Vance Guerra has been an activist in her Southside Chicago neighborhood since she led a walkout against the war in Afghanistan in high school. As an undergraduate at Brown University, she co-created an undocumented student rights organization. Returning to Chicago she co-founded a number of organizations, Bridges/Puentes: Justice Collective of the Southeast (Chicago), which became the direct-action wing of the Stop General Iron Coalition, a recent successful campaign to prevent the relocation of a major polluter to her low-income BIPOC community. She also co-founded a women’s collective dedicated to direct action training and self-defense, and took part in We Charge Genocide, a successful campaign for reparations from the city for decades of police brutality. She has been commuting to Honduras 6 months out of the year, while fighting for reunification of her family and has been active in environmental justice work, doing research and writing about land seizures by the tourist industry and the environmental effects of development for poor people there. She ties the local campaigns to larger systemic issues through coalition work, both within Chicago and internationally. She now wants to turn to academic investigation of many of the same issues, particularly looking at the response to US imperialism in Honduras, and to bring her knowledge of those issues, particularly environmental activism, back to her local organizing. She intends to stay in her neighborhood while she completes a Masters and PhD in History at the University of Chicago and to remain there afterward, playing the dual role of academic and activist.
Cassandra Villanueva first began organizing as a youth to address the overrepresentation of youth of color in the high school dropout rate and school-to-prison pipeline. Several years later, she established herself as a seasoned organizer and campaign director with a 25-year career in the movement for social, racial and economic justice, working on campaigns and public policy at the local, state, and national levels. Most recently, she served as the Organizing Director for the American Federation of Teachers – NM after working as the lead organizer for the unionization campaign at the University of New Mexico. As a Chicana raised in Oregon and New Mexico, Cassandra believes that being an active participant in the movement is the only way to collectively pool together people power and resources that will create the change and justice needed most in our communities and world. Recognizing the importance of having bilingual, bicultural educators and advocates in public education, Cassandra is working on her degree to teach elementary/special education while serving as a leadership voice for her community.
Rafik Nader Wahbi
Rafik Nader Wahbi is a lifelong student and dreamer. He and his family belong to a proud and courageous heritage of Christian Egyptians and immigrated from Cairo to Southern California in 1995 when he was 5. Rafik is a community health scientist whose work centers around how public health is essential to social change. Specifically, he focuses on the harms and violence of the US carceral system and drug policy, and how abolition and harm reduction social movements are building systems and practices of healing and liberation for those with mental health disabilities or who use drugs. Rafik does this by learning, studying, and organizing alongside those who are currently or formerly incarcerated in Los Angeles. Currently, he is a PhD student at the UCLA School of Public Health. He teaches a course on community engagement and social change and hopes to mentor other students of color interested in doing work around abolition and harm reduction. He is actively involved in the UCLA Prison Education Program. Starting this fall, Rafik will be assisting with a community driven and designed research project, collecting oral histories of families who have lost a loved one inside of a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Jail. Lastly, he hopes to organize others in the field of Public Health and Medicine to engage in abolitionist theory and praxis and build local and national capacity for the growing public health abolition movement.