The Class of 2023-2024
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 Jorge Corona, a formerly undocumented, formerly DACAmented immigrant from Mexico who grew up in Texas and now lives in New York. He was a video journalist for various companies. In 2016 he was part of the union organizing drive at FUSION, eventually folded into the Gizmodo Media Group Union. There he organized for a fairer workplace and pushed the company to do right by the audiences it served. He volunteers visuals for Make the Road New York and is also a creative storytelling mentor with the Writer’s Guild Initiative. In his own work, Jorge loves to tell stories that embrace offbeat humor and bizarre visuals to explore the American experience through a Latinx lens. Jorge is currently an MFA student at NYU’s Graduate Film program. He hopes to push what American cinema can be while building up and supporting other undertold stories that move audiences toward a better world.
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 continued connection through 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. Dan Fortune is our awardee this year. Dan is actively involved in organizations inside and outside prison walls that advocate for justice-impacted individuals. He serves on the executive board of the only active NAACP branch in Maine, and is a member of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, the Maine Prisoner Re-Entry Network, and the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project. His goal is to help those who are suffering from trauma, to heal and find hope. He is committed to learning more about conflict resolution, gaining a deeper understanding of the root causes of conflict and how to resolve it effectively through George Mason University's Carter graduate school.
Alec Bates self-identifies as a “jack-of-all-trades Southern transsexual man” He is passionate about upholding community, mutual aid, and free education. Alec is currently enrolled as an online student at Middle Tennessee University and is working towards his bachelor’s degree in English and Sociology. Alec has been involved in queer activism for over a decade, including activism work in Chicago and Nashville. As a neurodivergent queer person, Alec has faced many challenges navigating America’s education system, and he is motivated to make education (in whatever form that may take) free and accessible for everyone. Currently, he is focused on sharing knowledge of alternative means of communication, including plans to build off-grid communication networks for local community activist groups.
Derrick Braddock has been incarcerated for over 20 years and was radicalized through disproportionate sentencing and false convictions. He became engaged with advocacy as a prison law librarian working with a fellow inmate who was wrongly convicted - connecting him to the MI Innocence Project. As a law librarian and a certified paralegal, he has been working with people to file cases. Currently in a palliative care unit where people are “just left to die”, Derrick works to address disability discrimination in the MI DOC system. He believes that he and other incarcerated folks deserve access to education and other programming. Derrick has completed multiple certificate programs and classes. He is currently completing an Associate of Arts at Adams State University, with a goal to complete a BA in Sociology with an emphasis on legal studies. He plans to continue pushing for criminal punishment reforms not only through lawsuits, but also through advocacy for state reforms in Michigan. Derrick represents the rising tide of the effects of incarceration on communities of color with aging populations.
Stella Caban is a graduate student at the Thompson School of Social Work at University of Hawaiʻi - Mānoa. She is also a parent, friend, sibling, agrecologist, land & water protector, to name a few mirrors of her, living in an off-grid converted shipping container with her five year old on Hawaiʻi island. She has been involved in various forms of organizing, activism, and regenerative agriculture for fifteen years. The last eight years have been dedicated to indigenous sovereignty movement work particularly in Hawaiʻi and Boriken (Puerto Rico). Her work was birthed from her own (often messy and on-going) process of decolonizing on Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) land and (also often messy and on-going) rematriation of her Taino Borikua (indigenous Puerto Rican) heritage. She pays deep homage to her matrilineal Korean ancestors that have also taught her how to transform colonized disconnection into embodied reverence.
Rene Cabrera is a student activist who, along with peers, took advantage of a snow day in Kansas and created a movement to rename his school district in Topeka. The Rename Seaman movement collected over 80,000 petition signatures, held countless protests, and put millions of eyes on the Seaman School District to leave behind its KKK-ridden record. Rene remained a key activist in the movement for some time, but took a step back to escape much of the bullying and pushback caused by his community. Now, Rene is stepping back into the activist realm and is working to create safe spaces for activists to fight against injustices in their communities no matter how big, small, urban or rural their community may be. For his freshman year in college, Rene will study in Topeka, but plans to continue his undergraduate degree at Cornell University, studying Industrial Labor Relations.
Ivette Casas organizes around health autonomy in the Southwest, focusing on increasing access to medical knowledge and care for undocumented and underserved peoples, while studying Biology.
Chichi Castillo is an independent filmmaker, visual artist, and musician based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their filmmaking practice is inspired by their experiences in skateboarding, DIY spaces, zine culture, QTBIPOC-led mutual aid networks, and collaboration. Common themes in their work include exploring queer, femme, and multi-racial identity, sex worker self-determination, anti-carceral politics, and ecologies of care. 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 possibilities exist in the medium of cinema.
Jaylen Cavil (he/him) is a community organizer, activist, and law student at Northeastern University School of Law. Jaylen’s activism is centered in the politics of Black liberation with a focus on police and prison abolition. Jaylen’s commitment to social change has included working for various political campaigns and running for office himself. However, he strongly believes that the only path towards actual liberation is through mass movements of people engaging in direct action and protest. He has worked to provide resources to underserved and marginalized community members through mutual aid and non-profit work, and led the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement’s Advocacy team for three years, which focused on issues impacting Black Iowans at the local and state level. Jaylen was inspired to attend law school because of personal experiences with mass incarceration affecting people close to him. He also recognized that obtaining a legal degree can help advance the social justice movements he is committed to. When Jaylen was arrested twice for protesting in 2020, he had a skilled attorney represent him pro bono, eventually beating both cases. Jaylen wants to be that attorney for future protesters, which is why he is interested in movement lawyering and civil rights law.
Paige Chung is a writer and DJ. She researches intimacies within nail salons, hip-hop, and DJ turntablism. Critical Ethnic Studies and Lavender Phoenix shaped their organizing. Now, they organize using music to unite, heal, and create freedoms. Her article “You have Wings, Learn to Fly — Learning Turntablism and Party Rocking” explores hip-hop’s problems Tricia Rose outlined in The Hip Hop Wars by analyzing hip-hop’s entanglement with Blackness as a fixed ontological categorical position. She demonstrates Shao and Zeke from The Get Down as an illustrated DJ-MC relationship; Beat Junkies Institute of Sound as the model for hip-hop turntablism; Soul in the Horn Party as an elsewhere; and Natasha Diggs as leader of the movement. Born x Raised in Los Angeles but she rolls everywhere. She currently trains at the Beat Junkie Institute of Sound and studies Performing and Media Arts at Cornell.
Lucille Elliott is a freshman at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts where she hopes to study painting and printmaking. She is the creator of intersectional radical zine Riot Ghoul RVA which works to amplify the voices of everyone in the wider Richmond, Virginia community. She works with the Queer student lobbying group the Pride Liberation Project which has been collectively named an Outstanding Virginian of 2023. Additionally, she is proud to have been named a Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate Ambassador, serving as a representative of the power of poetry for young people. Most importantly, she is the daughter of an amazingly supportive father, the sister to a wonderfully bright young boy, and constantly working hard to make her late mother proud.
Aysia Gilbert is a community activist, former educator and Master of Public Policy Candidate at Duke University. Aysia is dedicated to social justice and racial equity efforts, and plans to apply her experience and expertise to inclusive policy creation post-graduate school. She attended the University of Florida (UF) for undergraduate, where she majored in History and minored in African American Studies. At UF, Aysia served on the Presidential Task Force for Honorary Namings, supporting the university’s racial equity initiatives encompassing the honorary naming process of campus buildings. After graduation, Aysia moved to home to Jacksonville, Florida and became the Co-Chair of the Jacksonville Community Remembrance Project’s Research Committee in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative. As Co-Chair, she worked diligently to uncover her communities history of racial terror, tie the events to modern inequities and to educate civilians. Aysia also serves as a board member for a non-profit called 904Ward, which has a mission of creating social justice and fostering racial reconciliation within the community.
Dustin Gordon co-founded a Restorative Justice Club where he and other incarcerated members planned, organized, raised funds, and hosted via video a Social Justice Conference in the world, which has become an annual event. The third and most recent one was held this past April, entitled: Radical Mission: Inspiring Collaborative Action Through Restorative Culture. He spearheaded a first of its kind peer-mentorship program, working with psychologist and social workers to mentor incarcerated men with severe mental health issues. He volunteers training therapy dogs and teaching English classes to aspiring writers and college bound incarcerated activists while working in Michigan's only prison hospital on the hospice wing taking care of incarcerated men dying alone. He is working on a M.A. in Humanities from California State University that focuses on Prison Abolition and Liberation.
Nicholas Greven is a long-time abolitionist community organizer from Indiana who is now pursuing a JD at the City University of New York School of Law in order to advance the causes he has been organizing around for years. Nicholas has been involved in the prisoner solidarity and abolition movement by organizing with IDOC Watch and FOCUS Initiatives LTD for the past eight years. He has also been involved in tenant and worker defense through the Little Village Solidarity Network in Chicago and Bloomington Solidarity Network in Bloomington, IN, and student organizing through IU on Strike and Students Against State Violence. Nicholas holds a BA in History and an MA in Latin American & Caribbean Studies from Indiana University-Bloomington. His goal upon completion of law school is to establish an abolitionist law firm in the Midwest.
Nur Jannah Kaalim
Nur Jannah Kaalim's upbringing in Mindanao, Philippines, shaped her activism. Seeing her father's commitment to organizing indigenous and Moro communities for self-determination, she was inspired to also advocate for the rights of marginalized communities. After moving to the US, she became a full-time organizer at Filipino Advocates for Justice, where she fought for the rights of immigrant domestic workers and saw how worker and immigrant rights are intertwined. She is currently Membership Manager at the National Partnership for New Americans, working to strengthen grassroots movements for immigrant and refugee inclusion. Nur Jannah is committed to human rights both in the U.S. and abroad, participating in the human rights struggle in the Philippines and the global fight against militarism, state violence, and displacement. Nur Jannah is pursuing a Masters degree in Migration Studies at the University of San Francisco, aiming to blend migration theories and social justice practices to empower and advance the rights of immigrant communities.
Banah Khamis, born and raised in Amman, Jordan with Palestinian heritage, has found her home in the city of Philadelphia for past few years. Pursuing her B.A. in Global Studies, Political Science, and French at Drexel University, Banah is a student, writer, and organizer. Thus far, she has worked in establishing the Philly Palestine Coalition and currently takes the lead in Drexel's chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. Banah actively organizes within her community, collaborating with various solidarity groups within Philadelphia, working toward land justice, Black, brown, indigenous, and queer liberation, and transnational solidarity. Banah has led the annual Nakba Day march in Philadelphia for three consecutive years; she envisions establishing vital connections with organizers on the ground in Palestine, paving the way for future collective efforts. Banah continues to pave the path towards a more equitable and compassionate future both through academia and on the ground efforts.
Darrin Lester was released in June 2021 after serving numerous incarcerations, including 12 years at Mt. Olive Correctional Complex. While incarcerated Darrin created The Olive Tree in 2014 bringing together a group of men holding each other accountable to promote and encourage change. After almost twenty-five years of numerous prison commitments, Darrin has a unique vantage point in understanding the need for education and transformative programs. Darrin has launched several unique programs within the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, including the first Hospice program in the WVDCR, which is now operating in two facilities. Darrin has a passion for those who are or were caught up in the cycle of addiction, poverty, and ignorance simply because he also suffered from those same mindsets. As a MSW candidate 2023, Darrin’s plan is to work closely with this specific demographic in hopes of helping others to understand past trauma and ways to heal from those experiences. He is a staunch advocate for education within the prison industrial complex. Darrin received his Bachelor of Arts in 2019 while incarcerated at Mt. Olive Correctional Complex.
Jelina Liu is a senior at the George Washington University in D.C. She organizes with Dissenters, a new QTBIPOC led anti-militarist, anti-imperialist, anti-war youth organization. She founded the Dissenters chapter at GWU, leading the launch of a divestment campaign targeting GWU's investments in weapons manufacturers (GW was ranked the 4th most militarized school in the U.S. by Business Insider, 2015). She is also a former coordinator for the College Climate Coalition and was heavily involved in the movement to Stop Line 3. This past summer, she was a Seeding Change fellow. Jelina has a background in filmmaking and photography and is passionate about the intersection between media and social change. She is currently in a stand up comedy program for women and nonbinary people! In her free time you can find her playing soccer with LeftWing FC, exploring nature, or playing the ukulele.
Shayna Naranjo (she/they) is from Kha’p’o Owingeh, one of the 19 Pueblos in New Mexico. She’s currently a second-year MPH student at the Yale School of Public Health’s Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Knowing the transformative power of communal joy and cultural practices in helping Indigenous youth process intergenerational trauma caused by systemic injustices and legacies of colonialism, Shayna believes that incorporating compassion and joy into advocacy efforts can counteract feelings of hopelessness and despair that often accompany discussions around health disparities. Furthermore, she believes that community care and creativity need to complement such efforts for them to be truly anti-oppressive and anti-colonialist. Her commitment to strengthening Indigenous community capacities for health, community care, and well-being–health equity–is directly tied to her involvement in local, state, and institutional efforts to support Indigenous youth advocacy, sacred site protection, and ethnic studies.
My name is ijeoma okoro. I am a junior public health science major with a minor in health humanities and medicine at the University of Maryland college park. I hope to go into both research and medicine. Currently, I am an on campus intern for Maryland ROPTA(Reinforcing overdose prevention through training and advocacy), health profession liaison for Charles R.Drew pre health society and an on campus volunteer. I hope to become a physician and with the help of this scholarship, I am one step closer to that goal.
Monique Orozco is a Chicana native to Pacoima, California. Her lineage includes bloodlines from Michoacan and Jalisco Mexico and American Indian Ancestry. She has been the Head Dancer for Kalpulli Temachtia Quetzalcoatl for almost 20 years, bringing Mexikah ceremonies to local families, schools and events. She works closely with Tia Chucha’s Centro in Sylmar to bring free Mexikah Step Class to interested community members. Monique is also the co- founder of the Womyns Healing Resource Clinic (WHRC), a grassroots organization dedicated to educating and raising awareness about domestic violence and the trans-continental Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives crisis. She has led several protests, most notably the Northeast San Fernando Valley protest that led to the removal of the Junipero Serra statue at Mission San Fernando/ Brand Park. Monique has been a Special Educator since 2013. She earned her Master’s of Legal Studies in Indigenous People’s Law in 2018 and is now an entering 1L student at The Colleges of Law, Ventura- Ca. Monique’s professional goal is to blend the work of the WHRC with her future lawyership, establishing a system in which clients pay not only for the legal services of an attorney, but for holistic services of the organization, thus leading to a greater understanding and end to the cycle of abuse.
Leslie Denise Perez is committed to intersectional, decolonial, anticapitalist, and nonhierarchical community building. Laying the groundwork for liberation and solidarity, Leslie has taken part in various collectives such as free health clinics, free food distribution networks, harm reduction services, free skools, tenants unions, jail support and bail funds, support networks for and by people incarcerated, childcare collectives, and mutual aid disaster relief. Academically, Leslie attends the California Institute of Integral Studies (on unceded Ohlone land) where they are pursuing a PhD in Anthropology and Social Change. Their dissertation cross pollinates their indigeneity and passion for botany by contributing to indigenous knowledge of traditional Taíno medicinal/ceremonial plants. With this degree, Leslie plans to find further archeological significance to protect their native lands in Playuela, Boríken to stop the colonizer’s construction of Christopher Columbus Landing Resort, a 121-acre environmental and cultural disaster.
free is a proud native of Newark, NJ, a Haitian-American, student of abolition and a poet at heart. free is passionate about uncovering their own personal movement towards embodiment and liberation within their Black body, as well as supporting movements within Black communities around liberation and community self-determination. When they are not imagining fantastical futures with friends, free enjoys napping and losing at game nights.
Chanravy Proeung is a dedicated grassroots organizer and Khmer American with over 10 years of experience in campaign-based organizing focused on the school to prison to deportation pipeline. As the co-founder of SISTA FIRE, a membership-led organization in Providence, Rhode Island, she worked with women of color to unite and build collective power for social, economic, and political transformation in the state. Recognized for her impactful work, Chanravy became a Soros Justice Fellow in 2015 and coordinated the Southeast Asian Freedom Network (SEAFN), amplifying Southeast Asian narratives around injustice. Currently pursuing a graduate degree at Yale University in Healthcare Management with a concentration in Global Health, she aims to improve the quality of life for Southeast Asian Americans and refugees by promoting critical narratives on women and gender issues through public health advocacy. Chanravy's commitment to her community, paired with her nurturing roles as a mother and eldest daughter, continues to drive her passion for positive change and healing in movement building.
Alex Prolman is a nursing student at UNC Chapel Hill. They are a former member of Bull City Tenants Union in Durham, NC, with organizing roots initially in the climate movement. Alex plans to become a nurse advocate for an equitable and accessible health care system.
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 level 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 specialized curriculum and politicized film training for youth across the country. In Spring 2024, Cassie will be graduating with an MFA in Television Writing from Stony Brook University, based in New York City. Cassie believes that through film, greater connection, dreaming, and liberation is possible.
S. Danny Thongsy
Somdeng Danny Thongsy (he/him) is a 1st-gen low-income student of color. I am also a carceral impacted community leader. I’m majoring in Sociology in my senior year. I am a part of many communities on UC Berkeley campus, such as Berkeley Underground Scholars, Nav Cal, Disability Student Program, HOPE Scholars, Peter E. Haas Public Service Center Leader, and more. I am currently a Faith Organizer for an interfaith community-based organization called the Interfaith Movement For Human Integrity. For my studies in Sociology, I hope to bridge both my academic and practical skills to serve and fight for my communities that are marginalized and underrepresented. Also, as a refugee from Laos, I love to celebrate the richness of my people’s culture and roots by cooking traditional Lao/Thai food. I love the outdoors, drawing, and spoken words.
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.