Activists Leading the Way to Change
While we continue to support the push to make this recent national reckoning on racial justice more than just a moment in the crucial fight for Black Lives, our partners are also continuing the fight to ensure this movement makes lasting change in our society and in the lives of Black people in our country.
This summer we brought together Liberty Hill supporters and community partners to hear directly from some of the frontline organizers and activists who have been leading this work for years—Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life, David Turner, Program Manager of Brothers Sons Selves, and Jose "Zae" Ortiz, a youth leader in the Brothers Sons Selves Coalition.
Participants shared personal stories about getting involved with their work and discussed the movement to defund punitive systems and invest in community-based care.
Susan Burton's path to community organizing began with the tragic death of her five-year-old son, who was struck and killed accidentally by a police cruiser. The grief sent her into a cycle of substance abuse and then incarceration before she found the treatment center which would serve as the inspiration for A New Way of Life. Burton saved up, bought a house, and converted it into a home for women returning from incarceration. The project has now grown into a non-profit with more than ten houses across the country that has helped more than 1,000 women with reentry services.
David Turner was inspired by his own experiences growing up as the only person in his immediate family who had not been incarcerated. His childhood was marked by the familiar challenges Black and Brown youth face in communities across the city—underfunded education, punitive law enforcement methods, and family and friends being funneled into the criminal justice system via the school-to-prison pipeline instead of receiving the support they need to build a better future. He now works to change and transform the systems that are harmful to his community as the Program Manager at Brothers, Sons, Selves.
Jose "Zae" Ortiz is a rising high school senior with his sights on the future. Son of an immigrant father from Mexico and a Black mother, his only experiences with law enforcement have been negative, including a stint in juvenile hall when Compton School police arrested him needlessly at a football game. He now serves as a youth leader with the Brother, Sons, Selves Coalition and seeks to change the systems that continue to inflict harm on youth of color.
The session began with a poll that quickly gauged that attendees were most interested in hearing about "efforts to defund police and reimagine community safety."
All of our speakers described defunding the police as just one side of the coin. They also focused on the reinvestment in new methods needed to make lasting change.
Burton described "a new vision for what community safety would look like," including investments in mental health, violence prevention, and trauma recovery services. When describing the recent $25 million defunding of the LAUSD School Police, Ortiz said, "that's more money that can come into our community and help with our problems."
Turner described how the United States has relied too much on the criminal justice system and policing to manage social problems. Instead, those funds can be reinvested back into community programs led by community members. Turner used the example of the BLOOM program run by our partners at Social Justice Learning Institute and Brotherhood Crusade. BLOOM supports Black youth and has a 90% reduction in recidivism and a 95% graduation rate. It's not just about defunding the police; it is "reimagining what public safety looks like, and having that reimagination be rooted in what the community needs."
Artivist Aloe Blacc also joined in the conversation as a surprise guest to share info about his work on the national level with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The act will enhance police accountability and end qualified immunity, which currently makes it virtually impossible for a victim or their family to seek remedy from an officer in a civil suit. We are looking forward to following his efforts and continuing to partner with him in the future as this work progresses.
As Ortiz stated, "this is just the start." Prop 15 (Schools and Communities First) and 17 (restoring voting rights to parolees) are coming up this election year and they need your volunteer hours and votes. Burton also appealed to the attendees, "we put it all on the line, and we're asking you to step up with us, and put more on the line during this critical time in our nation."
The upcoming election will be a generation-defining moment for our country. Liberty Hill stands ready to support effective voter outreach and engagement efforts to ensure the voices of those closest to the pain will be closest to the power at the ballot box this Fall.
Check out our Liberty Vote! Initiative to learn more about our efforts.
To donate to Liberty Hill's Rapid Response Fund, click here.