2018/19 Jessie Lloyd O’Connor Scholar – Jason Ajiake
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 Jason Ajiake. In 2016, Jason began writing as a columnist for The Hilltop, where he wrote about racial and economic justice in the District of Columbia. As an intern with SEIU Local 1021 the following year, Jason assisted organizers in building a campaign with gig economy workers. Jason plans to use the scholarship to complete his degree at Howard University.
The Marilyn Buck Award – Brandon Brown
Marilyn Buck was a political prisoner and poet who worked in solidarity with Black Liberation struggles to end white supremacy. She received grants from the Fund in 2003 and 2004, and died of a rare cancer in 2010. Marilyn supported the Fund with regular donations and supportive notes from her jail cell, and with a generous bequest following her death. To honor her memory and legacy, The Marilyn Buck Award is given to an incarcerated or formerly incarcerated activist working for justice. This year, the award is given to Brandon Brown who has been incarcerated in Maine State Prison since 2008. In that time he has worked to transform himself and his environment, inspired to activism through a history class titled, Race, Religion, and the U.S. Constitution. He learned more about the roots of minority oppression in the US; slavery, disproportionate disenfranchisement, poverty and incarceration. He began working with the NAACP chapter (and was elected its president in 2012) towards equal practices within the prison, fair enforcement of policies, and establishing connections from the prison to the community in order to create quality reentry practices for inmates being released. Recently he has been focused on restorative justice and has been accepted into George Mason University School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, to obtain a Masters Degree. Brandon will be the first inmate in the history of the Maine DOC to work towards a graduate degree while incarcerated.
Allen Silverstone Award – Tanya Bernard
Allen Silverstone was a dedicated member of our board of trustees for 38 years – a scientist, researcher and teacher, and a lifelong anti-war, environmental justice, civil rights, economic justice and public health activist. Following his death last year, family, friends and colleagues gave generous memorial gifts in support of our student activists honoring Allen and his legacy. This year we are giving the Allen Silverstone Award to a grantee who embodies the legacy of Allens work – that of Justice through Science, specifically public health and environmental justice. That student is Tanya Bernard who has spent 20 years organizing in Black and Latinx working class communities. She fought against systemic oppression through grassroots campaigns rooted in racial & economic equality and gender parity with the Labor Community Strategy Center. She worked to mobilize Black folks from across the nation to strategize a brighter future as the lead organizer of the Movement for Black Lives Convening in Cleveland. With Black Lives Matter, she made cultural transformations through art and healing. Through her personal journey, she became intimately aware of the politics of food that access to and knowledge about food is constrained by systemic economic and racial inequity. This led her to a newfound passion for nutrition, food sovereignty, and food justice work. She has begun a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics program at New York University to deepen her understanding of the scientific processes of food and be positioned to promote wellness in disenfranchised communities, at both the individual and societal level. She intends to challenge the complex socio-economic, cultural, and political forces influencing individuals and communities in regards to their food choices and access.
Abijah Archer is an organizer, artist and writer, born in Spanish Town, Jamaica. He moved to Minneapolis at a young age, where he developed his zeal for community organizing and a passion for creating music. He is currently organizing with Black Visions Collective and attending Stanford University where he’s pursuing a degree in African and African American Studies.
Jana Bonsu (she/her) is a Black queer feminist abolitionist from Columbia, SC by way of Brooklyn, NY. She is a fourth-year PhD student at Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois-Chicago. Her research focuses on Black women’s multidimensional experiences of violence, institutional trust, and help-seeking strategies in response to violence. She attended the University of South Carolina where she received a BA in psychology and criminal justice. After graduating, she went on to work in social policy research until deciding to pursue a masters degree in social work at the University of Chicago. While in Chicago, Jana was introduced to social justice work through BYP100, a national member-based organization of 18 to 35-year-old liberationists. Since joining, Jana has demonstrated a commitment to building organizational capacity, and carrying major campaign, public policy and direct-action projects to completion. BYP100 became her first political home where she lives and builds today.
Jennifer Carcamo is an organizer, filmmaker, and a doctoral student at UCLA studying Latin American history. She has her M.A. in Documentary Film and History from Syracuse University, as well as her B.A. from UCLA in Political Science, Latin American Studies, and Labor and Workplace Studies. Born of migrant parents from El Salvador during the 1980s, Crcamo has a deep connection and commitment to the Central American community in Los Angeles, particularly as an organizer for the Human Rights Alliance for Child Refugees & Families and the Central American Resource Center of Los Angeles (CARECEN). In 2013, Carcamo directed and produced her first documentary Children of the Diaspora: For Peace and Democracy, a film about Salvadoran youth struggling to understand their complex history and identity as young transnational citizens. Currently, she is working on her second documentary film Los Eternos Indocumentados, a documentary about Central American refugees in the U.S.
Mary Carrasco witnessed the oppression of her undocumented parents, which along with her high school history education and the last Presidential election deepened her commitment to radical activism. She joined By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), organizing an ICE emergency response network against raids and deportations. During her first year at UC Berkeley, she organized direct actions, from the response to Milo Yiannopolis speaking engagement there to a fight against a deportation detention center in Richmond, California. She has organized on campus and in the local community to build the emergency response network. She has an international perspective on her anti-deportation work, and on economic injustice and exploitation. She is a sophomore at UC Berkeley, majoring in History and plans on becoming a middle school history teacher, sharing her knowledge and commitment to activism with children sheltered from the historical realities of oppression and peoples continuing fights against it.
Robin Castel Navarro has worked in movements for over a decade, focused on fighting evictions and criminalization of poor communities of color in the Bay Area. She and other Filipina women founded Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FIRE), now Gabriela New York, connecting the struggles faced by the Filipino/a diaspora in the U.S. to the issues in the Philippines such as colonization, imperialism and militarization. In recent years, she has also been working on the Save Our Schools campaign, one where transnational Filipinx communities work in support of rural indigenous, minority schools suffering under martial law. The goal of this campaign is both to support the organizing work in the Philippines to keep the schools open and protect teachers from political violence, and to share back information with transnational communities about how they can support Filipinx communities faced with military violence. With the help of DPSF, Robin has completed her MA degree and now is working on Post-MSW credential, required for social workers in California K-12 public schools and will complete the program through San Jose State University. Robin is passionate about the Save Our Schools campaign, continuing emergency anti-eviction work in the Bay Area, and working with immigrant and/or youth of color through outreach programs in public schools.
Dakarai Carter has been active in youth organizing in Detroit since age 12, when he got involved in a youth media/organizing program called Detroit Summer. He has been a leader with Detroit Summer, the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, and the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership and has worked on organizing a Detroit chapter of the national organization Black Youth Project 100. BYP 100 has allowed him to connect his place-based local youth organizing to national movements and issues, most recently Black Lives Matter and prison abolition. He is passionate about the local and individual implications of youth organizing and sees his own activism as arising out of his exposure to that movement. His broader vision is deeply influenced by Boggs theories and philosophies, particularly the concept of revolutionary humanism, which seems to guide his understanding of the links between individuals, local organizing and the broader goals of social change. He is a sophomore in Social Work at Wayne State University.
Robert Chan marks the election as president of the Mens Advisory Council at the Lancaster County prison the start of his activism. He organized the group for letter writing campaigns for restorative and rehabilitative programs at the prison. He created a program for prisoners to share text books that also brought them together across lines of race. In 2009 he co-founded The Other Death Penalty project (which has become an official 501(c)3 to educate about how life without parole is a slow death penalty. With the group, he has published an anthology and used stories of prisoners to impact decision-makers and legislators, especially with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. He also worked to help pass 2 different CA Bills impacting incarceration of young people. In 2015, he launched grassroots efforts to challenge the monopoly of the JPay company as the only for-a-fee communication system in the CA DOC and to end strip searches of folks visiting CA prisons. Both campaigns were successful. He has worked closely with Critical Resistance and believes that incarcerated people should be fully involved in their own struggles. Most recently Robert organized resistance to a policy that transferred Life without parole (LWOP) inmates to old facilities in disrepair as a way of dealing with over-crowding. Robert also continues to work to end LWOP with Critical Resistance, professors at UCLA and community and prisoner groups. Robert says, Whether its living conditions, immigration, education, sentence reform, or legislation, its all part of the larger fight to dismantle the prison industrial complex and bring social change. He is pursuing a masters degree in Organizational Leadership at Adams State University. His application for resentencing is currently in process, never giving up hope for parole and will continue working inside or out for increased rehabilitative options for incarcerated folks. He says his ultimate goal is to build a more just society where people can reintegrate without having to waste away in these modern day plantations.
Rafael Diaz Gonzalez is the Vice-chair of Youth People Resistance Committee, organizing in coalition at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee with Students United for Palestine and the Black Student Union to create a sanctuary campus. Their demands include more academic, financial and mental health resources for undocumented youth and expansion of the cultural centers to include a Latinx Center, which he believes will serve as a hub for organizing. His past experience with Voces de La Fronteras has allowed him be a lead strategist for the creation of the campaign and a mentor to new members. He wants to use his art and skills with filmmaking to tell the story of campaigns in Milwaukee, making these struggles known to more people to organize and mobilize support. He is working on a BA in Film Production.
Janiya Douglas, a freshman and sociology major at Spelman College, created Educational Justice (EDJ) to organize community-wide campaigns to advance educational justice in Memphis. Educational Justice has facilitated workshops for more than 800 youth over the past two years and partnered with organizations such as Black Lives Matter Memphis and Stand For Children. Douglas is also a regional strategy team member and student leader for 9-0-ONE (Organizing Network for Equity). She also has spoken at the National Civil Rights Museum in her city, coordinated a webinar on social justice and service for the National Youth Leadership Conference, and presented on Education Not Incarceration.
Sarah Fadem Sarah Fadem builds power for environmental regeneration and workers’ rights, working with young people in Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island to develop leadership and organizing skills in their communities. After founding Vermont Student Power Network with a group of organizers at a few college campuses across the state and activating nearly 1000 students across 15 campuses, they decided to take a year off of school to dive into activism more fully. Now, they are returning to school as a junior studying the History, Theory and Art of Social Movements, and leading the Student Union as they deploy Workers’ Solidarity and Student Access campaigns targeting administrative accountability and transparency. Long-term they plan to focus on the intersections between labor organizing and environmental racism, perhaps working on Rural Electric Co-Ops and public banking in order to undermine entrenched systems of capital.
Arlene Gamio Cuervo learned about immigration, social justice and grassroots work through the campus DREAM Team. They organized rallies, intercollegiate conferences and provided technical support to new leaders, mobilizing support of DACA-mented and undocumented community members. Arlene became involved with the LGBTQA+ Center on campus, where they found community and created coalitions with POC, Latinx and first generation students. They became a leader in the Princeton University Latinx Perspectives Organization advocating for university support of undocumented family members attending graduation; planning a cross racial dialogue about anti-blackness and anti-indigeneity in the Latinx community; organizing a series of educational workshops and lecture speakers. One of most successful activist projects has been the Call Out, Call In series which focuses on discussing issues pertinent to first-generation, low-income, queer and trans people of color students within the Latinx community. Arlene completed a BA in History at Princeton University and will be pursuing an MSSW at Columbia University.
Gloria Gonzalez is a powerful student organizer and working class, single, Latinx mother who works to end PIC, defend criminalized youth, close youth jails and end school-to-jail track primarily with Youth Justice Coalition (YJC). She is a former student in YJCs Free LA High School, has worked with students returning from lock-up and led the #StudentsNotSuspects campaign to end searches of students by police. She has worked in coalitions against legislation for underage prosecutions and unlawful suspensions in addition to many other youth/criminal justice related legislative coalitions. She is currently pursuing an A.A. degree at LA Trade Tech Community College and eventually will transfer to a four-year college and pursue a degree in criminology. She is inspired by what she calls the Harriet Tubman model of working from the inside to free her people. Glorias work is strengthened by the rage she felt through her encounters with the criminal justice system, her relief and validation upon discovering a community of organizers, and the transformative affect her organizing has had on her understanding of herself, her community and the world.
Oloth Insyxiengmay, a DPSF grantee last year while incarcerated, was released from prison after serving 23 years and sent directly to an ICE detention center for deportation proceedings. He was finally freed last January. After being incarcerated since age 15, Oloth has hit the ground running with his activism. While re-learning how to engage in community, he has continued organizing with the groups he worked with while in prison such as: the APICAG (Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group), the BPC (Black Prisoners Caucus),PARISOL (Pacific Rim Solidarity Network),& FIGHT (Formerly Incarcerated Group Healing Together). Alongside his extended community as a free person, Oloth is now helping to strategize around the racist practices of institutions that encourage mass incarceration.As part of the “No New Youth Jail” coalition, he has been co-organizing campaigns to stop the building of a new youth prison in Seattle and has also been participating in actions supporting others being targeted by ICE. Oloth is attending the University of Washington to pursue a Bachelors degree in Comparative History of Ideas and is dedicated to keep fighting for incarcerated peoples, as well as building with API, Black, and Brown communities marginalized by a racist society. I have a chance to be out here for a reason Now that I am liberated, I have to liberate others.
Colby Lenz is a community organizer and legal advocate with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) and the Transgender Advocacy Group. Colby also organizes with Survived & Punished, a national organizing project they co-founded to end the criminalization of survivors of sexual and domestic violence. To do this work, Colby has been visiting people in Californias women’s prisons for the past 14 years, organizing across prison walls to build peoples capacity for survival and to achieve release. Colby is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Colby researches criminalization, gender violence, and social movements in California, with an emphasis on life and death-term criminal sentencing and the ethical contradictions and social movements that emerge from these conditions.
Lynn Lewis has been involved in key struggles against racism, extreme poverty, and housing insecurity for decades. Her goal has been to promote the leadership of those most impacted in grassroots organizations fighting for social change. She became involved in antiracist struggles as an undergraduate at New York’s Empire State College, where she first encountered Marxist analyses of the structural causes of racism, imperialism, and poverty. Her movement experience includes moving to Nicaragua in the 1980s to work with the Central American solidarity movement. She has organized struggles in New York City against broken windows policing, homelessness, and poverty with Community Voices Heard, Picture the Homeless, East Harlem/El Barrio Land Trust and Communities United for Police Reform. She is pursuing an M.A. in Oral History at Columbia University and believes that oral histories of activism are important because it allows people to learn new ways to resist oppression. Her thesis documents the stories of the members of Picture the Homeless she hopes this work will breathe additional life into the housing movement and believes that the lessons contained in these interviews will provide deep organizational lessons for the housing movement around the world.
Gabriela Lopez Dena is an architect and artist born and raised in Mexico City. She is currently a graduate student at Parsons School of Design, and an Arts and Social Justice Fellow at the Vera List Center for Arts and Politics in New York City. Her present work explores ways in which anti-capitalist feminist practices are addressing the issues of labor rights, land ownership, and affordable housing. Gabriela is developing her thesis projectFeminist Urbanism a five-issue magazine that seeks to foster collaboration and give visibility to the social, spatial and cultural initiatives through which women are reshaping New York City. As a graduate student fellow at the Vera List Center, she is organizing a Feminist Manifestos public program in which speech functions as a collective act of re-appropriation that calls for a larger recognition of women’s cultural production and for new forms of collective action.
April Martin is a black visual artist working in photography, film and printmaking. Her largest work to date, Cincinnati Goddamn (2015), is a feature length documentary using news reports, first-person accounts, and cinema verité footage to trace a wave of protests in response to the deaths of 15 African American men at the hands of the Cincinnati Police Department between 1995 and 2001. In partnership with the National Lawyers Guild and Lucia Palmarini, Martin produced We Know Our Rights (2018) a multimedia video toolkit equipping vulnerable populations with practical information to protect themselves and their neighbors from unlawful arrests. April is the 2018 San Francisco/ Bay Area National Lawyers Guild Unsung Hero. For her work, April has been awarded a Puffin Foundation Grant, the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award and received fellowships from Northwestern University and C-Span Television. In addition, she has been awarded artist residencies at the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Headlands Center for the Arts. She is currently finishing an undergraduate degree in photography at the San Francisco Art Institute.
Orlando Mayorga is a returning citizen whose 20 years of incarceration in the Illinois Department of Corrections informs his passion to stop mass incarceration. He is a Restorative Justice practitioner and prison abolitionist whose mission in life is to dismantle the Prison Industrial Complex and put an end to the School to Prison Pipeline. He currently serves the Back of the Yards neighborhood at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation Community Center as a full time re-entry case manager and CAVE (Community Anti-Violence Education) Coordinator. Orlando is currently enrolled at Northeastern Illinois University where he will obtain a MSSW in order to better serve the community at large.
Bruce Micheals Bruce co-founded a College Education Group at Lakeland prison in 2007, advocating for educational opportunities within the prison system and encouraging fellow inmates to participate in study groups. He and 5 other members of the group were funded by DPSF in 2010. He published, College in Prison: Information and Resources for Incarcerated Students and plans to continue producing literature and programs that will help prisoners become educated, responsible, socially active members of society. Because of his work, he was transferred to what is considered the worst prison in Michigan, Kinross, where he introduced an NAACP chapter as well as coordinated the reorganization of the prison community groups calling for solidarity in action. He organized his new community quickly, but his typewriter and other property was destroyed by guards and he was transferred once again. Now at Muskegon, he continues teaching classes 5 days per week, presses administration to expand programs and organizes the student body to advance their own education and resist the PIC. He has completed a BA in Sociology and Psychology through Adams State College and has one year remaining of a masters program in Humanities at California State University Dominguez Hills. As a juvenile lifer he hopes to be resentenced and released for time served in the spring and will then enroll in law school. Bruce has committed his life inside the prison to expanding educational opportunities for incarcerated folks thereby encouraging their humanity.
Yemisi Odetoyinbo is a passionate teacher, educator and organizer invested in the healing of Detroit. She is a leader of Black Youth Project 100, a member-based organization for black people ages 18-35 that strives for black liberation through a black queer feminist lens, serving as the Healing and Safety co-chair. Yemisi has worked to achieve black liberation by organizing against water-shutoffs and gentrification and holding healing spaces for victims of violence. She has worked with the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools, promoting healing from trauma through Generative Somatics. She works to create and sustain a Detroit that is actively healing from trauma and is even more proactive in preventing trauma. She is pursuing an MSW at Wayne State University.
Kanyinsola Oye started her movement work in high school with the creation of PARACHUTE, an immigrant rights organization focused on building leadership of young women. Her current movement work is based on women rights, immigrant rights, voting rights and an end to sexual violence and police brutality. She is beginning a BA degree in political science and Africana Studies at Howard University and ultimately wants to be a radical lawyer that truly defends people in the community.
Sharmin Piannca became active in Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) at 15 when she noticed discrepancies between her high school and the white high school across the street. DRUM helped her develop a systemic analysis and she became a leader in the NYC movement to stop school closures. Using DACA as a means to base build for larger immigration reform, she continued working with DRUM and now in law school has begun focusing on gender justice. She is an organizer interested in building sustainable power for long term change and is pursuing a law degree at City College of New York School of Law so that she can increase peoples access to legal justice and increase peoples understanding of what they are entitled to under law. She hopes she can help educate people on the importance of being part of movements in order to make community change.
Shawn Reilly recently graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor of Science in Human and Organizational Development, and is currently a master’s student at Vanderbilt in the Learning and Design program at Peabody College. They currently serve as the program coordinator for the Trans Buddy Program at LGBTQ Health at Vanderbilt. Recently, the Program for LGBTQ Health opened the first transgender health clinic in the US South. As an undergraduate, Reilly was instrumental in a successful campaign to gain gender inclusive housing to support transgender and gender expansive students on campus. Reilly is involved with a number of organizations, and serves as the Student Engagement and Leadership Chair of GLSEN Tennessee, Youth Advisory Board member of Youth+Tech+Health, and as a member of the TN Department of Health Transgender Task Force.
Amir Sharif became an activist out of his curiosity and discomfort with societal norms and his ethnicity – Oromo, an oppressed minority in Ethiopia. As a high school student, Amir co-founded a group Educate Ya Self, aiming to fight systemic racial oppression and white supremacy. He is affiliated with several groups in Minneapolis; YUIR, a multiracial, intergenerational community group that organizes Freedom Schools, BLM Minneapolis, Black Liberation Project, and Neighborhoods Organizing Change, leveraging people power to organize around issues like housing, education, jobs, civic engagement and racial justice. During his first year at The New School, he joined a POC student group which demanded and won permanent space on campus and has been organizing with the school cafeteria workers. For the last 3 weeks of school they occupied the cafeteria, held protests and supported worker picket lines resulting in new negotiations and the workers regaining their jobs. Long term he wants to take on a teaching role with youth, says he will take his activism in to whatever career or branch of academia he enters. Tired of seeing POC students struggle, he dreams to structure new ways of sharing knowledge.
Nissa Tzun is a multimedia journalist, organizer and educator. In 2009, Nissa founded the Forced Trajectory Project, a documentary project illuminating the narratives of families impacted by police violence. FTP has been exhibited across the nation and has received numerous awards and recognitions. In 2014, Nissa supported the inception of Families United 4 Justice, a nationwide collective of families affected by police violence. Nissa and her team have raised ,50,000+ to subsidize150+ family members affected by police violence to convene at FU4Js first two national gatherings in Detroit and Oakland. Nissa’s other works include documenting the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the movement for sustainable solutions for Haitians. Nissa publishes on the Change Wire and Arts Everywhere. She teaches in the Journalism & Media Studies Department and works for the Division of Student Affairs at UNLV. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Social Work and Journalism & Media Studies.
Veronica Virgen began working with Comunidades Unidas En Una Voz, organizing to prevent deportations. Because of the increasing rate of incarceration and police brutality towards people of color she became a part of a local grassroots organizing for enforcement transparency, pushing for a Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board.Being DACA-mented in Memphis Veronica saw gross abuses of the Latinx community by immigration lawyers. She got involved with Mid-South Peace and Justice Center providing direct legal services to undocumented residents, doing know your rights trainings around immigration, and in providing translation of documents into Spanish. Through this work she decided to go to law school. After moving to Little Rock she was exposed to rural immigration struggles and began to organize against housing discrimination. She continues her work mobilizing undocumented residents to build a struggle against police cooperation with ICE. She is in her second year at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law and wants to someday practice non-profit immigration law.
Jennifer Walkup is an activist, leader, and trainer with the group IfNotNow, founded by American Jews working to end their community’s support for the occupation of Palestine. While activating American Jewish youth to stand up against institutions that support violence and occupation is the organizational goal, her focus is on infrastructure, community building, member retention, and making sure that power remains horizontal in the movement. She has built coalition with Black and Latinx groups to end deadly exchange between local police and Israeli training institutions and also been involved with Jewish Voice for Peace and the DSA chapter in Pittsburgh. She is pursuing an MA in Public Anthropology from American University to continue her research on progressive social movements. She believes in the power of relationship-building, storytelling, and narrative crafting to create positive and lasting change.