By Crystal Shaw Tamika Butler, Esq. has joined the Liberty Hill Foundation in her newly created role as Director of Social Change Strategies. In her first month at the foundation, she had a whirlwind of events – from the Upton Sinclair Dinner to the My Brother’s Keeper White House Listening Session – to introduce her to Liberty Hill grantees, donors and supporters.
During last month’s My Brother’s Keeper event, Tamika was on hand for the day that included a local prison tour, an inspiring trip to a local high school and a number of listening sessions with community members and leaders. At the end of the day the White House staff told Tamika that California had “set the bar” and commented repeatedly on the fact that we are doing amazing work for young men of color in the state.
A White House report was submitted to the president after the visit and in it, President Obama called on the American people to get engaged through mentorship opportunities nationwide, something Tamika is quick to point out that Liberty Hill is already doing through the Brothers, Sons, Selves coalition. The president’s call-to-action is to get involved in My Brother’s Keeper by signing up as a long-term mentor to young people at WH.gov/mybrotherskeeper. Get more information on the White House report here.
With events like this and more in the pipeline, Liberty Hill is pleased to have an expert to move programs like Brothers, Sons, Selves and Uplifting Change forward. It is also pertinent to have someone who has a vested interest and proficiency with motivated ideas about what’s next for the LGBTQ community. Tamika Butler is that person. She recently sat down for a Q&A about how she came to Liberty Hill and what remarkable and forward-thinking plans she has to make Liberty Hill’s programs benefit the communities that they serve in their greatest capacity.
Give some details on your background, and how you became acquainted with Liberty Hill. I’m from Nebraska, moved out to California just to go to law school. Went to law school in the Bay. Went to Stanford. Loved the Bay Area, stayed, practiced law for three years, employment law for plaintiffs, so for employees. So free legal services for communities of color. Hated it. Decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer.
How did you go from practicing law to working in social justice and community activism? I decided I had to find another job, but I didn’t really do much to find another job because I had a pretty good job. I heard about Young Invincibles, which was this nonprofit that was started by law students at Georgetown to help get young people signed up for healthcare. They wanted somebody to open up their California office. They were based in D.C. and I was like ‘well they’re lawyers - kind of - so I wouldn’t completely be abandoning my law degree.’ I moved to L.A. and I started our California office.
That was a really good experience. It taught me a lot of managerial skills. It taught me a lot about policy – the policy side of law – and a lot about working with young people. I realized I wanted to work more with young people. And I actually loved my job and I was just trying to create that space to work more with young people in that job. And separately, happening on its own when I was going to move to L.A., my girlfriend and I were long distance. She’s like oh, ‘There’s tons of nonprofits here,’ and I was like ‘There’s no nonprofits in L.A. – it’s all about the Bay.’ And she’s like ‘You should talk to this woman who works at my law firm, her wife works at this foundation and they know a lot about nonprofits.'
I first met Shane [Goldsmith] that way and then we just kind of stayed in touch and talked at different firm events. Then, I actually had some meetings with her about funding Young Invincibles and that’s probably how I learned most about Liberty Hill, when I was at a nonprofit seeking funding from them. I just thought they were a cool foundation. Everyone loves Liberty Hill, says they’re like one of the best foundations, so when this opportunity came up, I couldn’t pass it up.
What is your new position and what will you be doing for Liberty Hill? I’m the Director of Social Change Strategies – that’s a very long title. It’s a perfect fit of everything that is interesting to me as this activist queer Black woman. I’m working on our Brother’s, Sons, Selves campaign and overseeing that on a director level and really seeing how we’re impacting boys and men of color throughout the state, but really specifically here in L.A .County. I’m also going to be doing some work with our LGBTQ grant-giving and trying to figure out what’s next post-marriage [equality]. And how can we still make an impact in this community as an organization that funds organizing. There’s not as much organizing in the tradition since, in that queer space. So figuring out how what we do matches the needs of the community.
What IS next in the LGBTQ community post marriage equality? I think there are a lot of economic issues that are probably at the top of the list, especially for queer communities of color. Marriage was an important victory, I think it was important as we seek equality as a community. But for a lot of the populations that we fund, it wasn’t necessarily their first priority. And so I think there are things to work on like workers' rights and employment rights, like access to health care and access to services . I think especially in certain communities of color where the HIV rate continues to rise, and where there are some stigmas around LGBT status, there’s still some work to be done there. There’s a lot of work around schools, bullying and organizing youth to kind of be the leaders of that change. There’s a lot of interesting work we can do – especially in our economic justice wheelhouse. There’s a lot of capacity building to do in that space and we have expertise in that as an organization. I think , as does every organization who does work in this queer space, that capacity building is going to be an important part of it.
What Liberty Hill programs are you working on? Brothers, Sons, Selves and Uplifting Change. We have a great program in Brothers, Sons, Selves. We’re state leader. We’re a national leader in a lot of ways. We’re really great at engaging the youth and putting their voice first. And we’re interested in growing that, perhaps doing a leadership institute for the young people and then for some of the staff. We want to propel our model and encourage other groups and other foundations to really help young people come to the forefront and make sure we’re amplifying their voices. There’s some exciting stuff going on there. Having [Liberty Hill staffer] Karen Driscoll already in place as program associate for Brothers, Sons, Selves, is huge for me. She already knows a lot of what’s going on.
With Uplifting Change, we have this great structure with our salons and with our yearly lunch, but how can we really take that to the next level? How can we really engage the professional African Americans in L.A. to be more philanthropic? And how can we be a resource and how can we just help this very specific community where we know people want to help but don’t necessarily know where to go. How can we connect some of those dots?
What was it like attending the My Brother’s Keeper White House Listening Event? "MBK in CA" was a great way to start at Liberty Hill. I think I was saying to people it’s great to start at a new job and have a big event where people take you around and wear name tags they’re like ‘Here’s what you’re going to be doing and here’s who I am.’ The listening sessions were an important part of the president’s initiative. In his 90 days his representatives went across the country and they were hearing what’s working in different cities like Detroit, like Baltimore and like L.A. They want to know what’s working. . . . On our particular visit we had two tracks. We had the school climate track and the criminal justice track, and there were bus tours to county jail and to a local high school. We showed the White House the work we’re doing in those spaces for young men of color. And then there were listening sessions with system leaders, community members, business leaders where we really heard from folks about questions they had and about programs they had that were working.
What did you observe during the My Brother’s Keeper event? I really think, like we are in many things, California is a leader and I gleaned that we’re doing some pretty cool stuff. So many of the young men who were speaking, and leading, and opening the day, and moderating the listening sessions were from organizations and our Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition and they spoke repeatedly about the impact of Brothers, Sons, Selves.
The thing that warmed my heart the most, I guess, would be to see the gay young man and the Southeast Asian young man or the Black guy or the Latino kid -- and to hear them talk about how they grew up in this neighborhood where they hung out and talked to, and did important community work with people who look just like them. Part of the benefit of Brothers, Sons, Selves is that they get to meet people who are different than them but also get to realize that those folks were working on some of the same issues as them and they would be so much stronger together. And to see the confidence of these young men and the friendships that these young men have formed as they moved toward one common goal and to repeatedly hear them say “That was because of Brothers, Sons, Selves.”
I think you know when you start a new job and you’re like ‘Is this the right fit for me?’ that’s the kind of day where you’re like ‘Oh this is amazing work!’
And finally, what do you want people to know about you and your role at Liberty Hill? I’m very fun! I’ve heard a lot about Liberty Hill being one big community and one big family and I think I want people to know I’m excited to be a part of that, and I hope people reach out and introduce themselves, get to know me. I would love to get to know them on a personal level.
Check out Liberty Hill’s My Brother’s Keeper in California Listening Sessions photo album and make sure to keep up with Tamika Butler by following her on Twitter. You can learn more about Tamika's background by checking out Liberty Hill's Staff Page.