FICPFM National Conference: Welcome from the Hosts

Dear Comrade:

As hosts of the 1st National Conference of the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People & Families Movement, and on behalf of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and All of Us or None, we thank you for registering for the conference, and welcome you to Oakland and the SF Bay Area.

We already have over 400 hundred activists & allies from over 30 states committed to coming to the Oakland Airport Hilton on September 9-10 to attend powerful panels, diverse workshops, and a day of activism all focused on recognizing the successes and challenges of the Movement to date, and charting out our future course to dismantle mass incarceration, restore our rights, and strengthen our families and communities.  We’re excited for you to join us!

Given the overwhelming interest in the National Conference, we are no longer able to assist with travel or lodging scholarships.  However, Free Registration is still available to formerly incarcerated people and family members: please send in your application so we can send you a link!  Please contact us if you’d like recommendations for lodging near the Conference.


  • Friday 9/9: Breakfast & Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. Friday
  • Friday 9/9: Opening Remarks begin at 8:30 a.m., program concludes at 6 p.m.
  • Saturday 9/10: Panels & Workshops begin at 9:00 a.m., conclude at 11:30 a.m.
  • Saturday 9/10: Justice Fair & #SchoolsNotPrisons concert begin at 1:30 p.m., conclude at 6:30 p.m.


Please register at the Registration Table upon arriving to the Conference. You do not need to print out a ticket. Just give your name and you will be given a name tag that will be your access ticket for both the panels as well as the meals.

PLEASE MAKE SURE TO REGISTER: If you do not register, we will not be able to provide you with meals!


On Thursday night, light snacks will be served at an informal reception for early arrivals from out of town. Friday and Saturday, Breakfast and Lunch (including Vegetarian and Vegan meals) are provided for Conference registrees.  Friday night dinner will also be available for Scholarship Awardees at a separate location, and for those who wish to purchase dinner.  In addition , Oakland is  home to some of the most diverse and inventive cuisine in the world: please don’t hesitate to ask us about our own favorite local restaurants, taco trucks, or watering holes.


Oakland in early September has lovely weather—currently projected to be 75 and sunny with a little wind—but the Bay Area has many “microclimates” and you can experience sun and fog, calm and wind, and 20+-degree variation just by passing through a tunnel or travelling a couple of blocks! While the Hilton Oakland Airport is air conditioned, people traveling around the Bay Area are encouraged to bring “layers” to adjust to the extreme temperature variations—mornings & nights can be quite chilly even when the day is a sunny and warm upper 70’s.


In addition to Hilton Oakland Airport’s own shuttles, FICPFM will also have vans on call starting Thursday night to transport people to either the Oakland Airport or the Coliseum BART Station (both 5-minutes travel from hotel).  AC Transit Line 73 also runs past the Hilton on route between BART and Oakland Airport. BART also runs directly from the San Francisco Airport to the Coliseum Station (about 30-40 minutes).  Car parking is available at the hotel for $8/day.


On Saturday, September 10th, the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples’ and Families’ Movement will be hosting a Justice Fair from 12pm to 5pm at the Hilton Oakland Airport. We will be providing free advice from attorneys, advocates and organizers on issues like housing and benefits rights, expungement and Prop 47, parole support, and immigration. You will also be able to apply for a FREE copy of your California statewide record of criminal convictions.

We at LSPC / All of Us or None are excited to host one of the largest gatherings of Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People & Families in American history! When members of FICPFM leadership organizations first met in Selma, Alabama in 2011, we dreamed that the Movement would grow, but having so many hundreds of formerly incarcerated people, family members and allies gather together is a wonderful reality and testament to the incredible hard work of everyone involved.

This Conference is proof that we can create our own Movement and lead effective change in our communities. The seven organizations that planned, developed, and produced this National Conference—LSPC/AOUON, ANWOL, TOPS, VOTE, CCF, JLUSA, and SCSJ are all led by formerly incarcerated people, and are committed to mentoring,  empowering and assisting formerly incarcerated leaders and organizations.  For example, LSPC/All of Us or None provides “Ban The Box” Toolkits,  and is currently offering several Policy Fellowships for 2017, and JLUSA currently has openings for advanced leadership training. Please connect with activists from all groups to find out how to best create, support, and advance FIP-policies and organizing in your own area!

We hope you enjoy the Conference and embrace all the opportunities: connect with comrades from all over America, learn myriad organizing and legislating methods, and build upon all the work that’s been accomplished. Work that must be done by those impacted the most: formerly incarcerated people and our families.


For any questions about Registration, please contact Mark Fujiwara at 415-625-7050 or:

For any questions about the National Conference events & programming, please contact Manuel La Fontaine at 415-225-7036 ext. 328 or:

We look forward to seeing you in Oakland soon!

Dorsey Nunn
Executive Director, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
Co-Founder, All of Us or None


We need to keep in-person visitation!

In-person visitation is crucial to the well-being of incarcerated people and their families. And there are many benefits for our communities too: in-person visitation has been shown to reduce recidivism, increase the chances of securing employment post-release, and facilitate successful reentry.

Yet, 11 California counties have eliminated, or plan to eliminate or severely restrict in-person visits in at least one of their jails. These counties have decided that video calling an incarcerated loved one from the jail lobby allows for the same human connection as an in-person visit. We know that’s not true.

That’s why we are co-sponsoring California SB 1157 (Mitchell) – Strengthening Family Connections: In-Person Visitation. SB 1157 would allow counties to install and use video visitation as a supplemental option but would prevent them from eliminating in-person visitation.

Can you help us protect the rights of families to see and communicate with their loved ones during incarceration?

If you have any experience with video visitation or jail/prison visitation in general and want to share your story with us, please visit our campaign page and check out the different ways to take action: Nation Inside Campaign: Strengthening Family Connections.

SB 1157 is co-sponsored by: Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in ConfinementThe Ella Baker Center for Human RightsThe Friends Committee on Legislation of CaliforniaLegal Services for Prisoners with Children,The Prison Law OfficeProject WHAT!, and the Women’s Policy Institute.

Thank you!

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

Why We’re Talking to Uber: Our Need to Work, Feed Our Families, and Speak In Our Own Voices

Dorsey_head shot with AOUON capBy Dorsey Nunn
Last September I attended an Uber roundtable discussion on public safety standards, representing Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) and All of Us or None. Uber held the discussion because background checks have become an issue for them – some taxi unions and government officials are demanding all Uber drivers be required to go through Live Scan fingerprinting checks.

It should come as no surprise to anyone following our work on Ban the Box and ending structural discrimination for formerly incarcerated people that we would be invited. I, for one, welcomed the discussion. After all, Uber has done something most other corporations fail to do: invite formerly incarcerated experts to the table to discuss the use and impact of background checks within our community.

My preparation for the meeting included research of news stories and social media, as well as talking to friends, allies and comrades. Someone said Uber would misuse me, and I needed to be careful. Another said the “real” issue was the litigation to determine if the workers were employees or private contractors. Someone else implied our involvement was somehow undercutting the transportation labor movement. I ran into people questioning if I should even be meeting with Uber at all. But most disconcerting was when an ally suggested we would be better represented by professionals like lawyers or union representatives.

In the first Uber meeting we discussed Proposition 47, at that time recently passed. Months later, I attended a gala in Southern California where Uber announced changes in their policies:

  1. Revise their background check process to focus only on relevant criteria related to driving, and remove convictions for irrelevant misdemeanors like check fraud. Uber also went a step further, and removed convictions like evading and resisting arrest – a catch-all that tends to disproportionately impact minorities.
  2. Notify people who don’t pass Uber’s pre-screening process that they may be eligible for getting felonies on their records reclassified under Prop 47, and pointing them to resources to help them do that.
  3. Referring people who still don’t qualify to an organization called Defy Ventures to get work counseling and learning opportunities. Uber’s partnership covers the cost of the program.

It is also important to note that Uber is a corporation where formerly incarcerated actually have opportunities to earn a living. I could easily rattle off a list of friends currently driving for Uber, which I cannot do in the case of taxi companies or other car sharing services. LSPC and All of Us or None have always valued and will continue to value our allies and collaborative partners. Still, I want to take a moment and consider some of the complicated issues raised by these conversations.

  • As a movement for basic civil and human rights for formerly incarcerated people, it would make no sense at all for us to turn down a meeting with a major corporation considering background checks policies on formerly incarcerated people.
  • While we appreciate the concern that some have voiced about Uber taking advantage of us, it should also be clear that we never could have come as far as we have as a movement without abundant amounts of political and organizing savvy.
  • Our primary goal in these meetings is to expand access to meaningful work for formerly incarcerated people. We have the right to feed our families and to pay our rent. I was not there to determine the conditions under which people worked but to insure that we had at least the same access as others to work. Marginalized communities need something other than crime to make a living. If we are not working at all, the question about whether Uber workers are employees or independent contractors loses urgency.
  • From the very beginning, All of Us or None demanded the right to speak in our own voice. It is no different for us than it was for the African-Americans who founded Freedom’s Journal, one of the first Black newspapers. Their lead editorial in 1827 stated “We wish to plea our own cause, too long have others spoken for us.”

Many see employment, housing, education and voting rights as individual issues – but taken collectively, for formerly incarcerated people they are the civil and human rights struggle of our day. It is imperative that formerly incarcerated people engage in this struggle in a manner that will allow us to identify and own our power. Our struggle goes beyond who gets to drive the car. We are also looking at how we can present our demands so employers are able to see our human potential not just as workers, but also in management positions.

People do have a tendency to differentiate between those with a non-violent conviction history and those with a violent conviction history. And we seem to be moving in a direction where we are willing to provide greater opportunities for people with non-violent convictions. However, people with violent conviction histories are being released, and they need to feed their families and have housing too. They are equally in need of meaningful work.

Many formerly incarcerated people know that there is no statistical or rational basis for many of the decisions being made about us as individuals or as a part of a community. In fact, research shows that formerly incarcerated people convicted of violent offenses are actually less likely to commit another crime than people convicted of non-violent offenses. Food, housing, and employment are at the root of public safety, and everyone is entitled to it, even people we fear.

Because of the politics of respectability not everyone is willing to make the argument that they be given a chance. It is in this gap that formerly incarcerate people must speak in our own voice, and maintain our solidarity and unity.

John Legend Speaks Out for Ban The Box Campaign

By Dorsey Nunn
We are proud to share a Ban the Box video made by singer John Legend, who has chosen to use his celebrity status to speak out against mass incarceration and in favor of community-generated solutions. His staff recognized that Ban the Box originated with All Of Us Or None, and so they contacted me. I told them about our national campaign for an executive order to Ban the Box.

I am extremely grateful to John Legend, not simply because he released this powerful video, but also because he recognized that this call comes from the heart and soul of our community. The Ban the Box campaign has our DNA all over it, and the voice we raised on this demand was our common voice.

We are also proud to share the op ed John Legend wrote in Time, titled “We Must Help Former Prisoners Get Jobs”. In the article he links to our Ban the Box campaign’s website, and makes the case for President Obama to use his executive order to Ban the Box now. He also joins us in encouraging Congress to make sure it passes legislation that really protects our rights.

So check out the video on his Let’s Free America website and also his op ed in Time magazine. The video links to our petition on, so please sign and share widely!

Ending the Racial Caste System Through Reentry Reform


By Dorsey Nunn and Meredith Desautels

On the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” a group of formerly incarcerated people took a 2,400-mile van ride from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. They joined thousands of others to commemorate the historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, and to raise their voices against the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated people.

The action was particularly meaningful at this moment, as criminal justice reform has become the new frontier of the civil rights movement. Today, more African Americans are under the control of the criminal justice system–in prison or jail, on probation or parole–than were enslaved in1850. As Michelle Alexander so aptly describes in The New Jim Crow, while many Americans think race discrimination in housing, education, employment, and voting rights were eliminated by the civil rights laws of the 1960s, this discrimination now abounds under the exclusionary laws and practices mounted against anyone branded with the label “felon.”

Racial disparities exist at every stage of the criminal justice system, with people of color policed, arrested, charged, sentenced and incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates than whites. African Americans and Latinos, who currently make up 70 percent of California’s prisoners and parolees, have been disproportionately targeted and penalized. Those entangled in the criminal justice system face the impact of these racist policies throughout their lifetime, with millions denied equal access to education, housing, voting, and employment because of their records. This systemic disenfranchisement has thwarted reentry, belying any possibility of meaningful community reintegration and tearing apart generations of families and entire communities.

In order to end discriminatory reentry barriers and move towards true reintegration, we must treat formerly incarcerated people as people and community members first–people who are on the verge of success with the right support, and people who are critical assets to their families and our communities. Challenge the dominant narrative about formerly incarcerated people, and you begin to change the paradigm that governs what opportunities they are offered. That’s why we have to bring in formerly incarcerated people to speak in their own voices about their reentry efforts and the barriers they face. Right now, there are some 60 to 70 million formerly incarcerated people in the U.S. They hold the answers to how to significantly improve reentry; they have to be at the center of reform.

Done right, the reentry process represents an important opportunity to help people exit the system for good. The twin goals of reentry reform are to end discrimination and increase opportunities for formerly incarcerated people.

Employment is one of the most important factors in helping formerly incarcerated people reclaim their lives, reunite with their families, and reintegrate into our communities. However, most people with prior convictions find themselves severely limited by their records and struggling to land work, their hopes for the future shackled by their past. More than one in four Californians has an arrest or conviction record that can show up on a routine criminal background check for employment. The vast majority of them have not recently served time; their convictions may be decades old. Yet, once out, those with prior records will have a tough time finding employment, and are often barred from many occupations due to licensing laws.

One of the most visible and successful reentry initiatives in the country, the Ban the Box campaign, was started in 2004 by the Bay Area advocacy group All of Us or None, which puts the voices of formerly incarcerated people front and center. Ban the Box seeks to remove the question that asks about conviction history from initial applications for employment. Over 100 cities and counties, and 17 states have removed questions about conviction history from their public employment applications. In 2014, San Francisco adopted the Fair Chance Act, which also applies to private employment and affordable housing. Six states, Washington D.C., and 25 cities and counties now extend the Ban the Box policy to government contractors or private employers. Our next step is urging President Obama to issue an executive order to Ban the Box for federal contractors.

To expand Ban the Box and related protections, policymakers must call on employers to take a seat at the table of reentry reform. Employers have to view themselves as having a meaningful role to play–not their historical role of exclusion, but one of inclusion of formerly incarcerated people in the economic landscape of the country. And that pivot isn’t just about employers asking job applicants about their record later in the hiring process, a practice that can still lead to a rejection of qualified workers with records. Rather, employers also must begin to incorporate the new paradigm where formerly incarcerated people are viewed as individuals first, with talents to contribute if given the opportunity.

Another important policy milestone is the implementation of Proposition 47 currently underway in California, the nation’s largest record-change effort in history. Passed by voters in November 2014, the law gives people until 2017 to reduce six low-level, nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors, helping to mitigate barriers to jobs, housing, education, and more. More than one million Californians can benefit from this new law.

Removing barriers to reentry is not just good policy; it is also about human and civil rights, and affording people basic dignity as they seek to support themselves and their families. Reentry is not just a criminal justice issue: it is an economic and moral imperative. The population of people with prior records represents too great a wave of human potential to leave behind. Now, more than ever, it is clear that real progress is possible. Our recent policy successes prove that safety and justice can be achieved without sacrificing equality and fairness. Working together, we can continue to build on these reforms and begin to restore the communities that have been torn apart by the failed policies of the past.

Dorsey Nunn is the executive director of LSPC, and Meredith Desautels is a staff attorney in the Racial Justice program at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Major Legal Victory for Incarcerated Fathers

ACP victory_Steve Czifra

Steven Czifra with his son. Steven graduated from UC Berkeley this past May and is now the director of the Underground Scholars Initiative for formerly incarcerated students at Cal. He is a survivor of Pelican Bay Prison SHU.

By Jesse Stout

Yesterday, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) helped win a major victory for family reunification in California. The judge’s order in Sassman v. Brown allows some male prisoners to go home to care for their families through the Alternative Custody Program (ACP).

“This case is vital: we receive numerous letters from fathers parenting children at time of arrest,” says LSPC Executive Director Dorsey Nunn. “In my 25 years of doing this work, I’ve learned there are many fathers in prison who love their children. If they really want males to be participatory parents, they should make available every opportunity for us to do that.”

The Legislature created ACP in 2010 to allow incarcerated parents to finish their sentences outside prison, on electronic monitoring with their children. In 2012 legislators amended ACP to allow only women to apply.

In July 2014, LSPC and co-counsel firm Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld filed Sassman v. Brown in federal court, challenging ACP’s exclusion of male prisoners on the grounds that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. William Sassman is a male state prisoner who meets the ACP’s requirements except for his gender, and wants to finish his sentence at home to care for his young children.

In October 2014 Chief Judge Morrison England of the Eastern District of California denied our preliminary injunction, but wrote that the “primary objectives of the ACP are family reunification and community reintegration,” and invited us to file our motion for summary judgment on an expedited basis so he could reach the case’s merits.

On September 9, 2015, Judge England granted our motion and ordered CDCR to “immediately cease denying admission to the ACP on the basis that the applicant is male.”

The court order to expand the ACP stated that, “The State cannot use gender as a basis to grant or deny its citizens their freedom.” Judge England went on to say that if the court accepted CDCR’s argument, it would have to “categorically view male defendants as dangerous and aggressive, with no real regard for their families, punishing them for their perceived inferiority with respect to the potential for rehabilitation and family reunification.”

The Sacramento Bee published articles when the case was filed and when the judge ruled.

Obama won’t reform prisons by focusing only on those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses

Dorsey Nunn_close-up with plantThis week, formerly incarcerated people and their families will march to the White House to push the president to sign a federal order that gives people who have served their time in prison a fair chance at employment when they get out.

The rally follows a week of firsts. President Obama became the first commander in chief to visit a federal prison. He spoke passionately in support of a national campaign to “Ban the Box” on job applications so the formerly incarcerated can find work. He questioned the overuse of solitary confinement in America’s prisons. He commuted the sentences of 46 people convicted of drug crimes in the most extensive use of his executive powers to help address the unfair sentences of those convicted of nonviolent offenses.

The president’s views are evolving when it comes to the rights that should be extended to the formerly incarcerated. But he has farther to go.

He has focused only on the rights of those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, maintaining that the reason our prison population is so high is because more people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses are serving longer sentences.

That is political expediency.

If the president wants to solve this crisis, he has to address the rights of all incarcerated Americans.

About half of the 200,000 people in federal prison have been convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. But state prisons hold the majority of incarcerated people, about 1.3 million, and only 16 percent have been convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, according to federal statistics.

Meanwhile, a small army – more than 650,000 people – is released every year from prison, tens of thousands of whom have been convicted of violent crimes. About two-thirds of those released are doomed to failure, ending back in the prison system.

We’ve wasted enough money – $80 billion a year – on short-sighted solutions to crime that are rooted in a thirst for revenge and only leads to the meaningless repetition of an action that expects a different result each time – the imprisonment of millions.

It’s time for a new vision for the formerly incarcerated that is based on forgiveness and can shatter the misconception that relentless punishment, even after these men and women served their time, actually works.

I know the reality of life in prison. I know the reality of life coming out of prison. These are the realities that bind me, like the shackles I once wore. I know the struggle to find a job, to reconnect with loved ones, to succeed when the system is set up for us to fail.

I’ve spoken to many a friend who couldn’t stay out of the clutches of the criminal justice system because he couldn’t find work or opportunities to make ends meet on the outside. Over and over, these friends told me that crime was not a first choice but a last option that stood between them and hunger, homelessness and despair. These friends made me acutely aware of the role that structural discrimination played in their failure.

Their failure is society’s failure. We have made no commitment to rehabilitate the formerly incarcerated or invest in jobs and opportunities in the distressed communities where they are destined to live upon their release.

In recent years, formerly incarcerated leaders, such as myself, have pushed the Obama administration for employment rights for those released from prison. We have pursued an executive order to Ban the Box for federal contractors. Current policy demands immediate disclosure of conviction history, which keeps jobs out of reach for millions of formerly incarcerated people. Banning the box would delay the question until an applicant receives a conditional offer of employment, making the hiring process fairer.

We have won Ban the Box measures in more than 100 counties and cities in 18 states and in corporations, such as Koch Industries, Wal-Mart and Target. Our effort enjoys bi-partisan support, but more importantly, it has created a movement of formerly incarcerated people who demand to be heard.

It would be a reach to think that one speech, visit or executive action will erase decades of oppression that targets people of color, especially black men, for prison at higher rates than other groups. Or that the president’s actions will erase stereotypes of incarcerated people or change notions of crime and punishment.

But our movement for the dignity and respect of incarcerated people is at a turning point.

The president should sign an order banning the box for contractors. But to do that, he has to see the waste of human potential. He has to see the people occupying prison cells as assets, not liabilities.

That’s why we march this week. So he sees us as human beings.

Nunn is the executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. He is also a co-founder of All of Us or None, which initiated the national Ban the Box campaign.

LSPC Staff Perspectives on the Charleston Massacre

At a recent LSPC staff meeting, we found that we were so shaken up by the racist terrorism in South Carolina that we were unable to continue with the meeting as planned, and devoted most of the meeting to a deeper conversation about it. The perspectives here by five staff members come out of that larger, very impassioned and honest, discussion amongst all of us. Our hearts go out to all those in Charleston and elsewhere grieving this tragic loss.

The murder of nine people in Charleston is part of a larger picture – it is an act Dorsey-Nunn_close-up-with-plant 2that could take multiple generations to heal. Last night I was watching this on the news with my granddaughter. She knows me and how I react. When the story first broke, all we heard was that it happened in an AME church, so I immediately knew it was Black folks and that it was probably a white person who did it.

There are certain defining moments when people remember where they were when they heard about it, like the assassination of MLK or JFK or, going back further, the bombing of the Birmingham church or the murder of Medgar Evers. This could be one of those moments for my son, my grandchildren, and my great grandchild.

Dylann Storm Roof said that he was trying to take back his country. But how fringe was he really? Some of those same kinds of statements are being made in the public domain by theoretically respectable politicians. On a real level, if racism could be so openly practiced towards the president, the highest office in the land, how long was it going to be before this kind of atrocity happened?

With this messaging as accepted practice, the people in Emanuel AME didn’t stand a chance. Moreover, if we continue to capitulate to force and fear on the part of the police and the criminal justice system, why wouldn’t racist individuals think that they too can murder with impunity? Public policy and practice gives rise to and reinforces private practice.

Nine Black people were killed yesterday in a South Carolina church. How many millions of people in this country, of all ethnicities, were injured by it?

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Manuel_June-2014 2Although President Obama shared his “deep sorrow over the senseless murders that took place last night,” there is nothing senseless about the killings of nine people at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nothing ever happens in a vacuum.

It is easy to look at one person – in this case, 21 year old Dylan Storm Roof – as the sole perpetrator of violence. If you take a step back and attempt to look at it through a historical lens, history will reveal that the U.S. throughout its history has been an incubator of both systemic and interpersonal violence perpetrated against black people for centuries – the very church the massacre occurred in was co-founded in 1816 by Denmark Vesey, a Black freed man who was hanged for organizing enslaved Blacks in Charleston.Endria-Richardson-web-cropped

If Dylann was the perpetrator of the murders of nine people, we must acknowledge that he was not born violent. Rather, he was shaped by the environment he was – and continues to be – submerged in.

He is submerged in a culture that does not fundamentally or unconditionally accept Blackness in America. Like many other individuals, regardless of race, he is part of a culture of white supremacy in America. This is at the root of Dylann’s actions. His actions are symptomatic of an exclusionary culture.

In order to really begin the healing process as a collective body of people fundamentally against racism, we must first acknowledge that white supremacy and racism are alive and present as fundamental aspects of American culture, imbedded in our social fabric through laws and policies that allow black teenage boys and girls to be shot,detained, and assaulted; segregated schools and workplaces; and a dearth of stories told by and about black people in our movies, television shows, and books.

We must challenge the way racism, white supremacy and the devaluing of black lives show up in our work and ourselves. Along with challenging racist and deadly laws and breaking down the dominant narrative told about black and brown formerly incarcerated people as well as third world people, we can ask ourselves these simple questions:

  • How is your solidarity with Black people, in particular Blackness, reflected in your own personal life?
  • Do you have Black friends who are in touch with their Blackness over for lunch or dinner on a consistent basis?  If so, when was the last time?
  • Are you able to name five Black authors who reflect Blackness and have had an influence in your life?
  • Are you able to name five historical Black Colleges in America?

It’s not an end, and it won’t bring justice to America. But it’s a start.

Brittany_headshotAgainst the backdrop of heightened media attention to police killings of unarmed black and brown men, many of us reacted to the tragic news from Charleston by thinking “oh no, not again.” This was my first thought.  Indeed, the most heart-wrenching aspect of this story is not that it is senseless and random, but that it is tied to an ideology of white supremacy that is unexceptional in this country. Dehumanization of people of color is, in fact, the norm. It plays out in more and less obviously violent ways, but we are nonetheless exposed to it every single day.

On days like today, the absurdity of claiming that racism is dead in America becomes inescapable. Most days, however, I see white people, whether explicitly or implicitly, struggling to support this claim. Many of us fail to see, for instance, that when we ignore or justify the inequities and abuses of the prison industrial complex, when we cling to the trope of individual accountability, we tell ourselves a lie that reinforces the dehumanization of people of color.

This is because it is psychologically impossible to uphold our system of incarceration without simultaneously fostering racist beliefs that black and brown people are somehow more deserving of punishment. If we, even unconsciously, see people of color as less innocent, as less human, it becomes easier to cage them and, sometimes, to kill them. In this way, a color-blind approach to looking at the criminal (in)justice system – and other systems of oppression in this country – is literally deadly.

Color-blindness – the tendency to claim that we live in a post-racial America – allows for the continued dehumanization of black and brown folks. It allows us to accept the status quo and to avoid the uncomfortable work it takes to remake ourselves and our country. The sad truth is that white supremacy pervades our society. It exists in the police, in “lone gunmen” in the South, and here in “progressive” California, but we owe it to future generations to stop repeating this story.

So to those of you who are thinking today “oh no, not again,” and especially to my fellow white allies, I encourage you not just to pray for the families of those lost in Charleston, but to ask yourself honestly what role color-blindness within you or those around you plays in the dehumanization of people of color.

Denise-300x225This morning I woke up to the horrific news that nine people were shot and killed by a white gunman in a Charleston, South Carolina church. I felt a jolt go through me that literally took my breath away and brought a sick feeling to my stomach. I sat down and cried at the breakfast table with incoherent grief and rage. The question that came to me then, that still lingers, is how long will this kind of racial terrorism continue to happen? How long will we continue to put up with it?

At a Coming to the Table conference on racial healing, I learned about “social trauma” from two Black women who taught a genealogy class specifically for descendants of enslaved people and descendants of families who “owned” “slaves.” Social trauma is the understanding that, because we are all connected in a web of consciousness, when atrocities and oppression are practiced towards any group it actually hurts us all. Not in the same way, not remotely…but even those of us who are not directly impacted, if we have an open heart and a conscience, and if we do recognize the humanity of all people, can feel tremendous pain.

White supremacy and all its atrocities have been passed down through the generations, and shows no signs of weakening its death grip on this country. It is practiced on a daily basis by police, by prison guards, by courts and legislatures. It is a poison, a great blistering disease of our body politic. Today I am asking myself, as a white person who has inherited this horrifying state of affairs, including white privilege – am I doing the most I can to fight the system of white supremacy, by challenging other white folks and speaking out about it? What else can I do, starting today?

All of Us or None Statement in Solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter

new logo23All Of Us Or None stands in solidarity with our Black relatives and the Black Lives Matter movement nationwide who are organizing themselves to stop state-sanctioned murders at the hands of law enforcement. History reminds us that not much has changed regarding the lives of Black people in the U.S. from slavery to the present. Per capita, more Black men are currently in cages or under some form of judicial supervision than were enslaved in 1850.

The roots of policing date back to slavery, where it was used for two primary purposes: slave-catching and protection of private property. Policing and prisons have never existed to solve social problems — indeed, quite the opposite. They exist as part of an interlocking web of laws and policies to enact a system of racialized social control that overwhelmingly target Black communities, taking Black lives with impunity and denying Black access to mainstream economy and society.

Slavery morphed into Jim Crow, and into what today we call the “criminal justice system,” with the main players being law enforcement: police officers, district attorneys and judges. The rampant use of deadly violence by police officers has rendered them judges, juries and executioners. Many police departments — in collaboration with district attorneys — influence which crimes are prosecuted, and which police murders are even counted.

There have been many recommendations on how to improve police accountability, including expanding training, installing body cameras on police, requiring police officers to carry professional liability insurance, and other superficial remedies. The problem with these proposed reforms is twofold: they simply don’t work and moreover, don’t address the underlying cause of police killings. The murders of Rodney King, Oscar Grant, and Eric Garner were all caught on tape. And what happened? Absolutely nothing to stop police killings of ordinary people of color, particularly young Black men. People from the communities of Ferguson, New York, and across the nation have taken to the streets because there has been no meaningful way to address and put an end to the murders committed by police and vigilantes.

However, due to our status as people directly impacted by the Prison Industrial Complex, formerly-incarcerated people and our families are in a very vulnerable position. Some of us have two strikes and/or have a history of directly challenging the police presence in our communities, so cannot be as present in protests, demonstrations, and other actions. Yet, there are other ways we can support the Black Lives Matter movement.

We must recognize that the only way to put an end to police brutality and killings is to organize our own communities and stop it ourselves. A movement to transform a status quo which tolerates state-sanctioned murders into a society woven together by transparent, accountable, and safe communities requires visionary leaders and organizations. We must be grounded in our respective communities, and imagine the world as it could be 30, 40, or 50 years down the road.

The world has seen over 523 years of European colonization, years that have been marked by genocide against the First Nations, and we stand with our many brothers and sisters who are still here, still resisting the theft of their lands and their cultures. Our efforts to dismantle the police state and to eradicate the destructive aspects of colonization are part of a protracted struggle, which will not be won overnight, nor in a year or two. We are building this movement for the long haul — and though they may imprison and murder us, they cannot cage and kill the power of our resistance. We know that Black power matters and is the key to achieving the collective liberation of peoples everywhere.

To heed this call, people of critical conscience and integrity, particularly self-described liberals and progressives, need to break their ties with liberalism, and reject the entities financing, supporting, and legitimizing the injustice of police brutality, mass incarceration, solitary captivity, and genocide. As Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently stated, we must “[a]lways anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal.” This means that we must withdraw our support from corporations like Walmart, Koch Industries, Caterpillar, Monsanto, and other multinationals who have been protected by law enforcement. But this also means that those of us who are critically impacted by policing in our communities must learn to become self-sustainable and not capitulate to liberalism for survival. And we must also learn to follow the tactical leadership of young people, women of color, and queer and trans people of color in communities throughout the nation who are in the forefront of the recent organizing efforts combating police terror.

You can join us in this struggle for liberation, led by our Black relatives and the Black Lives Matter movement, wherever you are and whatever your circumstances. Connect with to find and join your local movement leaders and fight back.

Beaten one, who shall avenge you? You, on whom the blows are falling,

Hear your wounded brothers calling. Weakness gives us strength to lend you.

Comrade, come, we shall avenge you. Everything or nothing. All of us or none.

-Bertolt Brecht