Our Current Leadership Circle
Charlene is the Director of Partnerships at Common Justice, an innovative victim service and alternative-to-incarceration program based on restorative justice principles. She has worked with survivors of crime and trauma for more than twenty years as an attorney, advocate, and educator. She led one of the first statewide domestic violence coalitions as lobbyist/organizer for Jane Doe, Inc., and held the position of executive director at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. After graduating from law school, she taught and provided clinical supervision at Northeastern University’s Domestic Violence Law Clinic. Serving as legal director of Emerge, Inc., she led abuser education groups and designed and implemented a model program placing abuse counselors in Probate/Family Court.
Ellen works as Senior Consultant for Women & Justice Issues Consulting, a consulting firm in Oakland, CA that focuses on issues affecting women and girls impacted by the Criminal Justice System. She founded Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), an organization focusing on the impact of the criminal justice system on incarcerated parents, formerly incarcerated people their children and families. She is a Senior Soros Justice Fellow (1997), a MacArthur Fellow (1998) and, as one of 1000PeaceWomen, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (2005/2008). She is co-founder of National Network for Women in Prison, Critical Resistance, and the Criminal Justice Initiative Funding Circle. Ellen has written and spoken extensively on incarcerated parents and their children, pregnant prisoners and the relationship between race and mass incarceration. Recently, as executive director of Insight Prison Project, she emphasized the critical importance of bringing full racial diversity to the work of restorative justice. She is a family member of formerly incarcerated people and people in recovery, a mother of two amazing young people, a former Blues Club owner, and a recent convert to yoga.
Mekayla Ichneumon Beaver
Mekayla is the founder of Gloworm, a network of top creative professionals who are committed to finding innovative ways to bring about Radical Change. Mekayla is a design researcher and human factors specialist focused on tackling social and environmental problems.
Mekayla has worked with fortune 500s, start-ups, local communities, non-profits, universities, and government to create positive change in the world by building capacity, teaching innovation, guiding teams to innovative and effective solutions, and engaging stakeholders through participatory design. Before starting her own consultancy, Mekayla worked for many years as a lead design strategist at IDEO, a world renowned hub of design thinking and innovation.
Ross is a software engineer based in San Francisco who has been working in venture-backed web software companies since 2010. After college at Brown where he was heavily influenced politically by Professor Joy James, Ross began volunteering with meditation groups in Max and Medium security prisons in RI and MA and planning how to become more involved in abolitionist movement. At that time he accidentally discovered Resource Generation in Billy Wimsatt's book, No More Prisons, and realized that his true calling as an activist was to fight modern Jim Crow and economic/racial injustice by organizing folks (like him) with class privilege. Over the last 10 years Ross has been a constituent, member, and organizer for RG in different capacities, including co-leading the Bay Area Chapter from 2008-2010, and more recently running political education workshops on tax justice and divestment. Currently he is working on movement and base building with other progressive "techies" in the Bay Area to fight the crony capitalism of venture capital, support the struggles of blue collar tech workers, and help young tech folks discover new identities within themselves as funders, activists, and leaders in social justice. CJI is Ross' first time joining a giving circle and working with a cross-class group to make funding decisions. He's deeply honored to be part of the circle and participate in this radical model of social justice philanthropy.
Jesse Estrin is a lead facilitator for Insight-Out's GRIP program in San Quentin, a mindfulness and violence prevention program dedicated to healing trauma and cultivating emotional intelligence. He is also currently working as a therapist in a community mental health clinic in San Francisco, accruing hours towards his MFT license. In addition Jesse serves on the board of a family foundation that is dedicated to funding grassroots organizations fighting criminal and juvenile justice issues in Los Angeles County. On a larger scale he is passionate about reclaiming meaning and interiority in a post-modern culture and fostering conversations between emerging leaders in social justice, depth psychology, religion, and spirituality. Jesse has a Masters in Philosophy and Religion from the California Institute of Integral Studies and as well as a Masters in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute.
George Galvis is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, has for more than two decades promoted restorative justice and healing to address the violence plaguing Bay Area communities. Galvis draws upon his experience and indigenous roots to help young people, particularly those involved in the criminal justice system, become future community leaders.
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Galvis moved frequently with his mother and sister to escape domestic violence. As a young man, Galvis felt racially targeted, and as a form of rebellion, he was drawn into street life and consequently was incarcerated at the age of 17 and charged with multiple felonies for his involvement in a drive-by shooting. These experiences led him to his commitment to elevate the voice and power of those impacted by violence and poverty. Click here for full bio.
Albino Garcia, Jr. is a Kellogg Fellow and Ceremonial Chief of Apache and Chichimeca heritage recognized internationally for his groundbreaking intervention work with gang involved youth. His accomplishments include establishing the award winning New School in Watsonville, California, which provided a successful educational context for gang-affiliated youth. Albino is the founder and director of La Plazita Institute, a nonprofit that provides cultural healing services to youth, elders, and families in the Albuquerque area. As a community activist for violence prevention, cultural diversity, and positive youth development, he describes himself as a “BTDT”—been there, done that. He explains, “I came up hard. Somehow, I found my way on this road that I’m on now and I’m helping people and giving back to the Earth. Albino describes his passion as “more like a spiritual mission: to make life more manageable for people.”
Diana (Dinni) Gordon
Diana R. Gordon writes about politics and criminal justice for academic and general audiences. Her books include, among others, The Justice Juggernaut: Fighting Crime, Controlling Citizens and Transformation and Trouble: Crime, Justice and Participation in Democratic South Africa. She is professor emerita of political science and criminal justice of The City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Since her retirement, she has been writing scholarly and popular articles about recent Hispanic immigrants and their contributions to American life. Village of Immigrants is her first book about immigration. She lives in Greenport, New York.
Ben Griesinger is an educator, facilitator, bridge builder, and deep listener who loves to talk. He is a basketball junkie with a deep commitment to social and racial justice. Ben’s focus on criminal justice work came in large part from seeing the disparities in how police and courts treated his Black and Latino students in comparison to his White friends who could afford lawyers. As a young adult Ben worked for Friends of Island Academy, where he helped start a school for formerly incarcerated youth and organized to stop New York City from building new youth jails. Ben has been a donor to CJI for over a decade, on the Steering committee since 2012, and is proud of CJI’s work and growth. Ben has also worked as a math teacher from middle school to adult age groups, and as math literacy worker for the Young People’s Project. Ben is committed to young people realizing their power through organizing, voting, and civic engagement and now does operations work for Gamechanger Network’s Vote Mob and Student Power Networks.
"I was raised in the deep south, and as a white person, was deeply disturbed by the entrenched racism there. I first thought I wanted to be a missionary to the Belgian Congo—the only “social activist” model I was familiar with as a young girl. As my horizons expanded, thanks to my experiences in Chicago, I eventually became a community psychologist, first in California and later in rural Vermont. My most challenging and rewarding work has been with incarcerated women, recording their personal stories and sharing them among citizens who had no idea who was in prison or why, and facilitating connections among these women and social activists at all levels of power. I am currently working with Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, a coalition of currently and formerly incarcerated men and women, grass-roots human rights activists, legislators, community organizations and agencies working together to develop alternatives to incarceration. CJI is the best coalition of all—the breadth of our backgrounds and experiences, the depth of our commitment, and the intensity of our enthusiasm.”
CeCe is an activist, speaker and icon in the LGBTQ community. Rising to international recognition after surviving a white supremacist and transphobic attack, CeCe has graced stages across the country where she uses storytelling to articulate the personal and political implications of being both black & trans. CeCe has worked with Trans Youth Support Network in Minneapolis and is now working as youth organizer around gender and sexuality with The Link in Minnesota. She fosters important conversations around mass incarceration, sexuality and all violence and is the star of the recently released feature length documentary about her life & story, Free CeCe!
Mel is a Vermont-based educator, activist and CJI donor. As Founder and Director of Just Schools Project, Mel trains and supports people in schools to use restorative practices to both build school community and respond to harmful behavior without relying on punishment or exclusion. She also teaches a course called "Community and Restorative Justice" at the Community College of Vermont. Mel learned a lot of what she knows about US prison conditions through working with the Human Rights Defense Center/Prison Legal News and the learning continues through her relationships in CJI. Mel sees the struggles in the education system and prison system as interconnected and wants to see a world where everyone belongs.
taliba is a comrade, mother, daughter, sister, foot soldier and a dreamer for a new South. Raised by a single father and hailing from the 713, she spent the early days of the 80s and 90s in Houston, under the social effects of the War on Drugs and hip-hop politics.
Currently, taliba is the National Coordinator of Malcolm X Grassroots Movements, a national human rights organization demanding self-determination for Afrikan descendants in the United States. She has worked to create movement at Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide, National Domestic Workers Alliance and SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW at the intersections of race, class, gender & sexuality and the criminalization of Black & Brown and other oppressed, marginalized communities.
taliba is also the founder of The Wildseed Collective Institute, through which she does her part to advance the struggles for racial and economic justice through grassroots organizing strategies. taliba's work focuses on meeting the needs of today’s youth and developing the leadership of Black women in the south.
Louis is a resident of Washington DC and, outside of his day job working as a mortgage policy analyst at Freddie Mac, is committed to social justice issues and organizing locally in DC. He is on the board of Empower DC and is active in Jews United for Justice and Resource Generation. He got connected to CJI through Resource Generation and had previously worked on criminal justice issues as an activist during college.
Amelie grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, spent six formative years in the 1970s in Berkeley, CA, and has lived in Boston since 1978. Since leaving the south she’s made it a point to support the work of progressive organizers and organizations across the region, including Highlander Research and Education Center, Project South, and the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice.
As a person with more than she needs, Amelie has been philanthropically focused and made strategic alliances with networks of donors to increase the impact of her giving. She worked with Resource Generation, the Women Donors Network, and Threshold Foundation to raise $3 million to be distributed by the Twenty-First Century Foundation to grassroots organizations and organizers in the post-Katrina and -Rita Gulf South. She routinely hosts groups for fundraisers at her house and has for years housed visiting artists, interns, and board members for local, national, and international organizations needing space in Boston. Currently she supports Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), with whom she hosts monthly SURJ brunches to bring new folks into the organization.
Phillip "UcciKhan" Sample
Phillip (author, artist, activist and formerly incarcerated person) was born to a single young mother December 10, 1975 in impoverished Detroit Michigan. He was raised between the slums of Detroit, Michigan and the gang ridden Southside of Chicago, Illinois. As a result of dysfunctional and unstable housing, ill-education and violence, Phillip became his environment. He joined a gang at 11 years of age and became the leader of his own gang by the time he was 14. Phillip caught his first felony as a juvenile and continued to expand his criminal record until he was convicted of 3 counts of assault with intent to commit murder at 18 years of age and sentenced to 12-20 years in the MDOC. While in prison he began to undergo self-evaluation and inevitably would begin the process of self-transformation. He became heavily involved with prison politics and experienced the horrors of incarceration to the fullest extent. Released after serving 15 years, Phillip has returned to society with intent to amend his past actions and contribute to the re-building of the community he helped to destroy. He is currently the owner of The Passion of The Life LLC.; Founder/Executive Director of RAHAM Inc. and Co-Owner of HMI Ent. The first installment of his autobiography, The Passion of The Life; Pt.1 The Life is now available @Amazon.com. Phil joined the CJI Circle in 2015.
Sam is the Director of the Student Experience Lab at the Business Innovation Factory and author of Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education (2011). Sam speaks internationally about innovative solutions to challenges facing schools, community organizations and prisons. He is a passionate and experienced leader in education transformation.
Sam has taught in a variety of settings from first grade to community college. He has built and directed programs for young people affected by incarceration. As a consultant, Sam worked with leading education organizations, including the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Big Picture Learning, Jobs for the Future and others on a diverse set of projects, ranging from redesigning a statewide juvenile justice system to working with the Rockefeller family to repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Sam was the Director of Partnerships, Annual Reviews and Student Leadership for the Association for High School Innovation, a national network of school developers and replicators funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Lindsay is a founding member of the Criminal Justice Initiative. Her journey in her words: "I took a course on Strategic Philanthropy, and there a very interesting conversation began between donors and activists on expectations and assumptions and the like. Out of that conversation, I began a conversation about children and education and out of that another conversation began on kids who were suspended or in detention and what became of them. Out of that conversation, I along with a merry band of activists and donors started an organization focused youth and alternatives to incarceration. At that time, Critical Resistance West emerged, which I helped with financial support. A year later, I went to Critical Resistance East in NY, and, wow, what a wonderful gathering. There, I met some folks wanting to begin a funding group composed or activist and donors -- or donor activists around criminal justice issues -- and I joined CJI!! The assumptions, expectations and difficult conversations have happened and have been such insightful learning opportunities. I love this group and the rest is history. CJI rocks."
Penny Fujiko Willgerodt
Penny has pursued a life-long commitment to human rights, racial justice, cultural liberation and ecological health. Currently she serves as executive director of The Prospect Hill Foundation, a family foundation established in 1959 by William S. Beinecke and the late Elizabeth G. Beinecke. She is proud of her work as a co-founder of the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health and a co-founder of the New York Juvenile Justice Initiative, a funders network of donors and grantmakers interested in securing systemic reforms for youth in New York City and State. She was president of trustees of Weeksville Heritage Center for nine years and in 2013, joined the board of Clean and Healthy New York. She is half Japanese and half white (German/English/Irish ancestry), and grew up in Japan. She raised her daughter Orié Loaiza Cepeda-Willgerodt in the heart of Brooklyn, with the help of Orie’s father, the Afro-Puerto Rican composer and artist William Cepeda.
Nick is a founding member of the Criminal Justice Initiative. Read more about Nick. >>
Cathy is a founding member of the Criminal Justice Initiative. Read more about Cathy. >>
In Memoriam: Jean Hardisty (1949 - 2015)
A political scientist and social activist, Jean Hardisty respected the power of political conservatism as adamantly as she opposed it. Read more about Jean. >>