2019/20 Jesse Lloyd O’Connor Scholar – Nissa Tzun
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 Nissa Tzun is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Forced Trajectory Project, an award-winning guerrilla media outlet reporting on policing issues nationwide with a special focus on Southern Nevada established in 2009. As a family advocate for families impacted by police homicide for the last 10 years, Nissa has participated, sustained and helped establish multiple anti-police violence organizations including the October 22nd Coalition, Justice for Kenny Coalition, Families United 4 Justice, and the Las Vegas Police Accountability Coalition. Nissa is a communications fellow with Community Change and a media consultant for Mass Liberation Project. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Journalism & Media Studies and Social Work at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Anne Braden Award – Zyahna Bryant
The Anne Braden Award was created to honor this long-time civil rights activist and Davis-Putter Trustee. The award recognizes an undergraduate working in the South, keeping racism central to all aspects of their movement work. This year’s recipient is Zyahna Bryant, an award-winning student activist, community organizer, and author who published her first book, a collection of poetry and essays titled, “Reclaim.” in January of 2019. Zyahna founded the Charlottesville High School Black Student Union at the age of 14. In the Spring of 2016, Zyahna wrote the petition calling for the removal of Confederate statues from Charlottesville’s parks, and City Council voted to remove them in 2017. Zyahna was recently appointed as the youngest member of Virginia’s inaugural African American Advisory Board to advise on issues that impact African Americans across the commonwealth. Zyahna also serves as the youngest member of the President’s Council for UVA-Community Partnership where she hopes to amplify the work of student leaders and grassroots organizers who are actively working to bridge the gap between the Charlottesville community and the University. Zyahna will be attending the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, planning to double major in Sociology and Political Science.
Marilyn Buck Award – Tara Belcher & Sandra Brown.
Marilyn Buck was a political prisoner and poet who worked in solidarity with Black Liberation struggles to end white supremacy. She received grants from the Fund in 2003 and 2004, and died of a rare cancer in 2010. Marilyn supported the Fund with regular donations and supportive notes from her jail cell, and with a generous bequest following her death. To honor her memory and legacy, The Marilyn Buck Award is given to an incarcerated or formerly incarcerated activist working for justice. Tara Belcher and Sandra Brown share this year’s Marilyn Buck Award. Tara Belcher has spent her years of incarceration challenging the inhumane and abusive treatment by corrections officers and policies of the Alabama Department of Corrections. With the Equal Justice Initiative, she has made real change in policy and treatment of women inside the prison. She has advocated for voting rights, religious freedoms and is currently leading a letter writing campaign advocating on behalf of abused women who are serving LWOP for crimes against their abusers. She will continue studying through Adams State and Colorado State Universities to complete a BSW and use a restorative justice model to make change in her community once released. Sandra Brown, a first year doctoral student at California Coast University, is pursuing an Ed.D in Organizational Leadership. This poet/playwright/theatre cast member/social activist remains passionate about helping other women empower themselves through education. Her most recent activities include advocating for fairer sentencing policies & reentry opportunities for justice involved prisoners in Illinois punished excessively by Truth in Sentencing laws; Operation 10-10, a letter writing campaign advocating for the passage of SB2054 & HB2620; & #TIMEOUT, a movement to include long-term justice involved women in work release programs. Upon release, Brown plans to create & teach college courses for incarcerated students while speaking & advocating for incarcerated women working for justice.
Fernando Aguirre-Urbina is the last known participant of the Northwest Detention Center Hunger Strike in 2014, was recently released, after being detained for 6 years, as a result of his own struggle and the support of La Resistencia. He will now study Writing and Journalism at Seattle Central Community College.
Israt Audry [they/them] is a working-class Bangladeshi who grew up on the East Coast. Israt was first introduced to social justice work in 2012 while looking for a community who understood their experiences as an undocumented, Muslim person. Israt has since participated in immigrant rights struggles with various groups in NYC like RAISE and DRUM. As a member of DRUM’s leadership team, Israt has experience working in a multi-generational movement space with South Asian and Indo-Caribbean folx, and has worked in DRUM’s gender justice, immigrant justice, and racial justice programs. Understanding the complexities of their various identities, Israt hopes to engage folks in their community to organize, develop movement building strategies, and to explore their own leadership abilities. Israt graduated from The City University of New York- Hunter College with a Bachelors in English & Psychology and is currently pursuing a Masters in Social Work at the University of Washington.
Roya Banan focuses movement and academic work at the confluence of movements against mass incarceration and for environmental justice. Through The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons Roya fights against the horrible conditions in the nation’s prisons using the lens of environmental justice. In the wake of climate chaos and extreme flooding they have focused on the need to evacuate inmates. Roya has supported nation-wide prisoners strikes and is clear that in doing the Inside/Outside work they follow the leadership of incarcerated folks. Roya works in the No New Youth Jail Movement using art and music to resist the construction of a juvenile detention center expansion of a toxic site. Through Rising Tide Seattle she is involved in direct action to challenge the root causes of climate change, which they identify as capitalism and colonialism. Roya is a co-founder of Students of Color Environmental Collective to center marginalized voices to focus on environmental racism, and works with a student labor committee organizing solidarity with campus workers fighting for increased wages, benefits and an end to outsourcing. Roya will complete a degree in Geography this year at UC Berkeley.
Jenny Bencomo-Suarez is a radical Latina, cross cultural community organizer, and an unapologetic feminist and leftist. She has been part of the Abolish ICE and Sunrise movements organizing on immigration rights, reproductive justice, and climate justice. In 2015, Jenny was a recipient of American Youth Leadership Program and traveled to Cyprus to study Near East environmental policy and intercommunal conflict. She has studied Arabic in Morocco and gained her TEFL certificate teaching high school students there. Now she studies Latin American/Latino studies and Middle Eastern/Islamic studies at University of Louisville and is an Explore Brazil scholar. Jenny was a hub coordinator at the Sunrise Louisville Hub, a volunteer at La Casita Center, and has been recently hired at SEIU labor union as a union organizer. With core principles of conviction, passion, and consistency, she strives for liberation and justice within a collective of movements.
Tanya Bernard began organizing as a high school student in Los Angeles, focusing on racial justice using art and culture. She worked at the LA Labor Community Strategy Center. Tanya contributed to the structuring and branding of Black Lives Matter movement dreamed the annual BLM Black Futures Month (February) and organized the historic youth caravan from California to Ferguson in the wake of the murder of Mike Brown. She was the lead organizer for the Movement for Black Lives gathering in Cleveland, Ohio in 2015. More recently, Tanya has worked with United We Dream and is working on community health needs, especially those related to food. She is completing a masters in Nutrition and Dietetics at NYU and plans to engage in the fight for food sovereignty in oppressed communities. Her plan is to have an impact on public health policy based on her academic training and 20 years of engagement with marginalized communities.
Aliyah Blackmon came in to social justice work thru the Dream Defenders 4 years ago as a 14year old, and is now part of their Youth Committee. She quickly became a leader within that space and now is on the Youth Leaders Board of S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective, an empowerment program for “girls and femmes of color… to interrupt cycles of state violence, poverty, and oppression.” She is a member of Black Girls Matter, and currently is helping to co-found the “Black Girls Miami Coalition.” She has been working with Power U, in collaboration with the Miami Workers Center, doing lobbying as well as actions, including press conferences and a sit-in in at Tallahassee state legislature targeting sexual assault, housing rights and birth doulas for women of color. She has traveled around the country to participate in events including the March for Our Lives in Washington, DC and a youth conference at Highlander Center in Tennessee. She participated in direct actions to combat private prisons influence on elected officials, canvassed to get people committed to vote, volunteered at community events, phone banked, and text banked to ensure that 1.4 Million folks got their right to vote back thru the Rights Restoration Amendment. Aliyah is beginning a Bachelors in Social Work program at Alabama State University.
Kryssia Campos was born in El Salvador and migrated to the U.S. with her family when she was thirteen years old. The struggles she faced growing up as an undocumented queer immigrant empowered her to get involved in the immigrant rights movement and also affirmed her passion for a career in medicine. In 2013, she earned a B.S. in Psychobiology from UCLA and is currently a first-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. At UCLA, she helped design and present the first UndocuAlly Training for staff and served as a mentor for undocumented students. Kryssia served as the board Vice-President of Clinica Romero, ensuring low-income patients received quality health care. She also advocates for the rights of Central American refugees and is an organizer for the Human Rights Alliance for Child Refugees. Kryssia is committed to becoming a physician to serve immigrant and LGBTQ patients and believes that to transform the health of underserved communities we must shed light on the way systemic inequalities affect people’s health.
Ivette Casas organizes around health autonomy in the Southwest while studying Biology. Her work is focused on increasing access to medical knowledge and care for undocumented and underserved peoples. Her work is possible because of the generations of health workers who have dedicated their skills to creating mutual aid models outside of privatized healthcare.
Daniel Casillas began organizing as a freshman against arming campus police. His campus group created a solidarity network with the other two campuses to carry out a series of walkouts, rallies, and education campaigns. After successfully organizing against the arming of officers, the coalition turned to focus on to other immediate threats to the LGBT, immigrant, undocumented, and Muslim communities, developing a list of demands—ranging from a Dream Center on every campus, to Palestinian studies, to providing low-income food, to free community college for all—which they presented to the Board of Trustees. He serves as the only formerly incarcerated member of his county’s Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Commission, has created a radical library and radical history commemoration for the new Dream Center. Daniel has been deeply involved in an anarchist collective, taking part in direct actions including anti-white supremacy actions, protests against the Muslim Ban, a freeway shut-down before a Trump rally and an Occupy ICE encampment. He will complete a degree in Ethnic Studies/Administration of Justice San Mateo Community College.
Laura Elaine Daza is an immigrant born and raised in Bogota, Colombia, where she started working with communities living in the city slums after graduating from high school. At community college Laura worked in different campaigns against budget cuts and remained involved in a variety of activism efforts for food and budget justice for students throughout her undergraduate years. She became involved with housing advocacy and has supported hundreds of tenants in San Francisco, mostly Latinx, low-income families and seniors to fight for their right to dignified housing. Laura recently left a position as tenant counselor & organizer for Causa Justa: Just Cause to pursue a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning with a concentration in Housing at UCLA, as a first generation student. She has been inspired by the acts of resistance of tenants and houseless individuals and she is deeply committed towards the decolonization planning and climate change as well as the de-commodification of land.
Erika Franco-Quiroz works to mentor, educate, organize, and protect undocumented communities in poor and working-class North Carolina immigrant communities. As a student at UNC, she joined, and then launched a number of initiatives to mentor and organize undocumented youth, “bridging the gap” between UNC and the local community. Quiroz founded Apoyo, N.C. to organize undocumented communities, including in neighborhood mobile home parks, factories, and schools, so that communities can defend themselves against ICE raids. This group organizes activities such as: hotlines, door to door rights training, hurricane recovery, and fundraising efforts to subsidize families if a breadwinner is deported. Quiroz also organized employer trainings throughout Orange County and Durham to limit and disrupt ICE raids. Her goal is to make sure that communities don’t live in fear “but in dignity.” Her organizing efforts have been so effective that one community was so informed, connected, and confident, ICE called off the raid. Her goal is to do this for every community. She is pursuing an MSW at University of North Carolina to gain tools for her organizing work.
Oloth Insyxiengmay is a previous grantee having received his first in 2017 while incarcerated and his second in 2018 upon his release. He has been engaged in an intense activist practice informed both by his experience behind the walls and a sophisticated understanding of neo-liberalism, racism and the marginalization of people of color and immigrants. Oloth’s activism started inside as he agitated for education access. Post incarceration he has focused on keeping youth out of prison and works to stop the construction of a youth jail in Seattle. Focusing on the impacts of incarceration on API communities, he is very intentional in engaging the Abolitionist community to keep them accountable to incarcerated folks. Since his enrollment at UW he has begun the fight for education justice for students of color. He is in his second year at University of Washington, studying History and Law, Societies and Justice
Jonathan Janvier was recruited by a youth organizer from Power U, a local community organization in Miami that is developing the leadership of Black and Brown youth and Black women in South Florida. He co-founded the Racial and Social Justice Alliance (RASJA) at his school to do political education with fellow students on school/prison pipeline, restorative justice, police brutality, and violence against LGBTQ people. RASJA joined Power U’s campaign for restorative justice in Miami-Dade schools. After the shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, the Miami-Dade commissioners voted to invest $21 million in security at Miami schools. In response, Jonathan and youth activists with Power U conducted a survey of Miami Dade high school students and found that the vast majority felt less safe with more police in schools. This survey became the basis of an ongoing Invest/Divest campaign which he is leading. He is beginning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and sociology at the New College of Florida.
Fiona Joseph is a youth organizer with Make the Road NJ (MRNJ) building power for working-class and immigrant youth in her hometown of Elizabeth, NJ. Along with her fellow organizers, led a successful campaign advocating for the inclusion of teenage workers into New Jersey’s minimum wage increase bill. This success was made possible through canvassing into several Jersey cities to collect over 6,000 signatures, creating marketing campaigns to pressure state assembly into legislation reform, and organizing an emergency rally in response to a proposed tier system for wage increase. In addition, she’s helped in establishing a peer-based platform where first-generation college students support one another in pursuing higher education and co-hosting financial aid workshops for DACA-recipients. She hopes to further pursue workers’ rights, educational justice, and addressing the racial socioeconomic segregation in Washington, DC. She is a first-year undergraduate student attending the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University with a minor in Human Services and Social Justice.
Robert Kell is a graduate student at Vanderbilt Divinity School. He is studying religion and economic justice and is a fellow in the Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice. Robert spent the last five years as a community organizer building issue-based campaigns. Most recently, Robert worked in Southwest Virginia supporting grassroots leaders fighting for Medicaid expansion, school equity, school resource officer reform, rural hospital closures, and predatory lending. Robert is a native Appalachian and is the cofounder of the Young Appalachian Patriots (YAP). YAP models itself on the work of the Young Patriots who were a part of the Rainbow Coalition of the 60s. YAP is fighting for economic prosperity and democracy in the mountains by connecting the issues of young whites with those of the Black Lives Matter and Dreamer movements. Robert is passionate about labor rights, dismantling racism, liberation theology, addiction recovery, and Appalachia.
Olly Kelly is a queer and trans rights activist who was politicized their freshman year of high school when they joined the Safe Schools program to advocate for gender and racial justice. They have worked with a coalition of Massachusetts education and policy organizations and fought for living wages in food industry as well as student unionization. Olly worked with the campus Food Strike Justice Coalition and started food a pantry. They are also a member of the racial justice coalition to respond to white supremacy actions on campus and was a part of the campaign to ban gendered bathrooms on campus. They are working with ARISE, a community organization that focuses on a wide range of issues such as mass incarceration and tenant organizing, while studying Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies and Social Thought, Political Economy at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Colby Lenz has been at the forefront of organizing to change sentencing policies with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) and the Transgender Advocacy Group. Colby provides court support for members inside who are eligible for resentencing including organizing and training others to be support in this work and their clemency work continues, with a focus on people who are facing deportation. Colby is creating “Me Too Behind Bars”, a campaign in combination with legal action against some of the more brutal violence against women and gender-nonconforming folks to organize for change and accountability, particularly against guards and other folks and power. Colby brings passion and patience to addressing intersectional oppressions in the carceral complex while completing a PhD in American Studies at University of Southern California, after which they hope to create interdisciplinary post-conviction clinic focused on trans / gender-nonconforming people.
Erika Martinez is a youth organizer at Make the Road New Jersey, a community organization builds the power of immigrant and working class communities in New Jersey to achieve dignity and justice through community organizing, legal and support services, transformative education and policy innovation. As a Dreamer, she has and continues to advocate for the passage of the clean DREAM Act and lobbied for the recent landmark victory expanding access to state financial aid programs to New Jersey undocumented students. She is a second-year student at Rutgers University-Newark majoring in Sociology and minoring in Political Science.
Anahi Mendoza is a first-year student Columbia Law. Prior to law school, Anahi served as the founding Executive Director of the Immigrant Legal Defense Center (ILDC), an organization dedicated to providing equal access to justice and due process to immigrants in deportation proceedings. Under her leadership, the ILDC received the Chris Lanier Solidarity Award from the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County and she was named Congressional Woman of the Year by Congressman Salud Carbajal (CA-24). Prior to joining the ILDC, Anahi served as Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC) Fellow, a two-year fellowship designed to provide legal services to low-income immigrants. As a Department of Justice Accredited Representative, Anahi provided pro bono representation to hundreds of asylum seekers at Human Rights First and to Central American asylum seeking women and children detained along the U.S.-Mexico border. Anahi graduated from Harvard in 2015 with a degree in Social Studies and an award-winning thesis on the criminalization of immigrants. For her advocacy for immigrant communities, Anahi was honored at the White House in 2014 as a White House Champion of Change.
Yemisi Odetoyinbo is rooted in abolition and community healing with Detroit Black Youth Project local and national safety and healing team. Her work involves developing and sharing safety and healing techniques to build community capacity to divest from the need to use police to solve community problems and conflicts. She works in Detroit to struggle against Project Green Light, a DPD program that increases community surveillance and criminalization of Black people locally. With the Detroit Safety team, an attempt by grassroots organizers to build an alternative to the police by providing mediation and conflict resolution for people who have community conflicts. She is completing an MSW at Wayne State University which has accelerated her political education, especially as it pertains to law and policy, ways to connect the personal to the political, exposure to a wide array of theories of community organizing and improved her facilitation skills.
Kanyinsola Oye is a sophomore in Political Science & History and African studies from Columbus, Ohio, by way of Lagos, Nigeria at Howard University. She founded an organization based on women’s empowerment called She Can Make a Difference and will be expanding that work to her home community in Lagos this year. After being unable to vote for the first time in the 2018 midterm election, Kanyinsola instantly took action and started an organization based around Voting Right is called The Fifty. The Fifty is dedicated to providing POC students with access to voting rights within their community. She believes that Voting suppression has never ended but only transformed into another angle that strategically targets communities of color. Kanyinsola believes that voting connects to all issues that organizers are fighting for in social change movements, and once POC students can vote, communities will change.
Citlali Perez came out as undocumented and started speaking publicly at rallies in 9 th grade. She started a DREAM Pursuers club at her school to support undocumented students and then joined the Student Voice Committee. Through this committee, she began to organize with other students around over-policing of students and disparate disciplinary action. She connected with city-wide efforts against family separations and for sanctuary policies and also learned about the No Cop Academy and Erase the Database campaigns, as well as efforts related to education equity and school closings in Chicago and began organizing students at her school around police accountability. She worked with other youth in the city to disrupt political fundraisers of politicians who support building a new police academy while also closing many Chicago public schools. Part of Assata’s Daughters she describes herself as “an unapologetically undocumented, abolitionist organizer.” She is a Freshman studying Journalism, Latino studies and Political Science at DePaul University.
Yasmeen Perez (she/her & he/him) is a queer, gender queer, Jewish Filipinx pursuing a Masters of Urban Planning at the University Washington. Originally from Seattle, Yasmeen has been a community organizer in racial and economic justice, youth liberation, and LGBTQ left movements for over 15 years. Her interest in urban planning started in 2008 when she worked as the Leadership Development Director at FIERCE in New York City, an LGBTQ youth of color organizing group that led grassroots campaigns to increase access to safe public space. Yasmeen has worked on issues of displacement and housing justice for the last seven years through roles at Right to the City, Social Justice Fund, and Puget Sound Sage. He most recently helped launch a training cohort on community stewardship of land and housing for 20 BIPOC led organizations. Yasmeen lives in Seattle with his partner and their two cats and enjoys singing karaoke.
Simone Salvo is a cultural producer and strategist, leveraging the power of artistic expression to inform and mobilize the public on pressing social justice issues. Simone has produced interactive activations and public-facing exhibitions in Paris, San Francisco, and New York with #Dysturb, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and For Freedoms, amongst others, on issues of climate change, poverty, and the family separation crisis at the US–Mexico border. Simone received her BA in Photography and Human Rights from Bard College, and for the past six years has been leading communications at the Magnum Foundation, a non-profit organization expanding creativity and diversity in documentary practice. She also advises individual artists and other non-profits on messaging and digital communications strategies. Formerly, Simone was a research and communications fellow at Human Rights First. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, exploring creative applications of technology.
Angel Two Bulls grew up just minutes from Wounded Knee and understands that generational trauma combined with informed healing work is political work. Angel is a leader in bridging gaps between individualized clinical services and political movements for American Indian Movement leaders and works to mobilize youth in broader political visions for Indigenous peoples by making connections with representation in film. She will be using both film and clinical settings as a way to help folks make sense of themselves, especially those involved with Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) and Standing Rock activism. Angel offers a broad and comprehensive understanding of the relationship between trauma and healing as political work and is working on a PhD in Counseling at Oregon State University.