Panelist Profiles

 

A. A. Akom, is a writer, activist, and educator working on anti-racism, the criminalization of youth, and educational reform in the United States. He has spoken on numerous college and high school campuses, including Berkeley and Stanford, as well as at San Quentin and in San Francisco County jails. A Freirian teacher, an organic intellectual, and a radical humanist, he has provided anti-racism training to teachers nationwide and conducted trainings with physicians and medical industry professionals on how to combat racial inequities in health care. Akom is an Assistant Professor of Urban Sociology and Africana Studies at San Francisco State University and a former fellow at ISSC.

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Michelle Alexander is an Associate Professor of Law at Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. She joined the OSU faculty in 2005 and holds a joint appointment with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Currently, she is writing a book entitled The New Jim Crow, which argues that the mass incarceration of people of color in the United States is a form of racialized social control akin to Jim Crow. She has significant experience in the field of civil rights advocacy and litigation, having litigated civil rights cases in private practice as well as engaged in innovative advocacy efforts in the non-profit sector.

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Rebecca Alexander is a Ph.D. candidate in the Social and Cultural Studies program of U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education and a Graduate Fellow at ISSC. Alexander’s dissertation is a multi-layered project that seeks to understand the role of segregation as a pedagogic tool and how young people make meaning out of segregation. Engaging young people as co-researchers, Alexander seeks to better understand the ways young people from different neighborhoods interpret the world of social and geographic inequality evident in these places.

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Judge Gordon Baranco of the Alameda County Superior Court sits on the Alameda County Homeless/Caring Court and serves as Vice-Chair of the California Judicial Council Access Fairness Committee. He also serves on the boards of the Metropolitan-Oakland YMCA, the Urban Strategies Council, the Glide Memorial Methodist Church and the M. Robinson Baker YMCA. After earning his undergraduate and law degrees from U.C.-Davis, he worked for the state Department of Justice, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, the San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation, and the Oakland City Attorney’s Office.

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Gary Blasi joined the UCLA School of Law faculty in 1991 with a distinguished 20-year record of public interest practice, during the last eight of which he coordinated complex litigation and policy advocacy on behalf of homeless individuals and families. He teaches clinical and public interest lawyering courses, including “Problem Solving in the Public Interest,” “Clinical Seminar in Public Policy Advocacy,” and “Fact Investigation in Complex Matters.” He practices, teaches and writes about advocacy on behalf of children in substandard schools, homeless families and individuals, low income tenants, low wage workers, and victims of discrimination.

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Michael Blecker is the Executive Director of Swords to Plowshares, a community based, not-for-profit organization that provides counseling and case management, employment and training, housing and legal assistance to veterans in the San Francisco Bay Area. Swords promotes and protects the rights of veterans through advocacy, public education and partnerships with local, state and national entities. Becker serves on the Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans and is co-founder of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and the California Association of Veterans’ Service Agencies.

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Paul Bodenwas a co-founder and longtime director of The Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco from 1988 to 2005. Homeless at 16, a self-described “streetpunk” for years, Boden is a fierce advocate and ally for homeless and poor people. Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) is a coalition of West Coast social justice-based homelessness organizations. WRAP released a report that documents how more than 25 years of federal funding cuts to affordable housing have created the contemporary crisis of homelessness and near-homelessness.

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Pamela Cohen is a staff attorney at Protection and Advocacy, Inc. in Oakland, California, representing individuals with psychiatric disabilities both in facilities and in the community. She has also served as a court-appointed criminal appellate defense attorney specializing in issues of forensic mental health law. She has been a staff attorney at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, D.C., a project manager at the AARP Foundation, and a member of an International Commission of Jurists mission to study the rights of psychiatric patients in Japan. Cohen is an adjunct professor at New York Law School, teaching internet-based distance-learning courses to domestic and international students in the areas of mental health and disability law.

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Elisa Della-Piana is an attorney and Soros Justice Fellow at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of San Francisco. Her project, the Homeless Rights Project, is sponsored by the Open Society Institute. Through the Homeless Rights Project, Della-Piana and volunteer firm attorneys provide pro bono assistance to homeless people who receive criminal citations—for acts such as sleeping in public—that essentially punish homeless people for their status. Elisa began assisting homeless people with their legal problems while she was in law school at the University of California at Berkeley (Boalt Hall). She helped provide legal services to homeless people at the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness and at the East Bay Community Law Center, and she worked at the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office.

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Mary Louise Frampton, Faculty Director of the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, teaches law and social justice and restorative justice. For thirty years, she was a civil rights lawyer in the San Joaquin Valley, first as Directing
Attorney of the Madera office of California Rural Legal Assistance and then in a firm that she established in Fresno. Her practice focused on constitutional law employment discrimination and economic justice, and she continues to represent
death row inmates in federal habeas cases. Her book After the War on Crime: Race, Democracy, and a New Reconstruction, co-edited by Ian Haney López and Jonathan Simon, is forthcoming from NYU Press in Spring 2008.

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Jennifer Friedenbach is currently the Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco. She has worked for the Coalition for twelve years, as Executive Director, as organizing director, and as substance abuse and mental health work group coordinator and fundraiser. Previous to coming to San Francisco, she was Director of the Hunger and Homeless Action Coalition of San Mateo County. Friedenbach has a long history of community organizing, and has worked on a range of poverty related issues including welfare, housing, homeless prevention, health care, disability, and human and civil rights.

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Dr. James Garrett, Division Dean at the Peralta Colleges, has been involved in struggles for the human rights and self-determination of African peoples and of all humanity for more than 40 years. As a member of both SNCC and CORE, he was an early activist with the civil struggles in the 1960’s. A co-founder of the modern Black Student Union Movement and Black/Ethnic Studies Programs, Garrett, who earned his Ph.D. from Harvard Union Institute and his JD from Golden Gate University School of Law, has worked as an activist, scholar and legal consultant for social, education and political projects in African communities in the US, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe.

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Lisa "Tiny" Gray-Garcia
is the co-founder and Executive Director of POOR Magazine/PoorNewsNetwork. POOR is a grassroots, non-profit, arts organization dedicated to providing extreme access to media, education and arts for youth,
Adults, and elders struggling with poverty, racism, disability and border fascism locally and globally. Tiny is a teacher, multi-media producer, and author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America, published by City Lights. She has created several revolutionary media, arts and education programs for youth, adults and elders, including the first welfare-to-work journalism program in the US for poor mothers transitioning off of welfare, and PoorNewsNetwork, an on-line magazine and monthly radio show on KPFA. Currently, she is the Communications Director for Justice Matters.

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Vivian Hainis a member of the board of LIFETIME (Low-Income Families‘ Empowerment Through Education). She is a low-income mother of three daughters, is currently on CalWorks, and recently earned a degree in multimedia digital imaging. She is developing documentaries on the adverse issues and current legislative policies that affect low-income families like her own.

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Taalia Hasan is the Executive Director of West Contra Costa Youth Services. Her work involves helping disadvantaged youth in Richmond to avoid the traps of street violence, volatile families, and drugs. The Youth Services program offsets psychic damage by pointing youths onto positive paths and toward available, though limited, resources. The program strikes a personal chord for Hasan since she helped raise some of her grandchildren. She was recently honored as an African-American Hero by KQED.

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Joe Hermer is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Toronto. His work grapples with the character and consequences of contemporary modes of regulation in a number of spheres, with a particular interest in the policing of poverty and social welfare. He is the editor of Disorderly People: Law and the Politics of Exclusion in Ontario (with Janet Mosher) and has written on police reform, homelessness and victimization, and the constitution of social assistance as crime through the regulation of “welfare fraud.” His latest work, Policing Compassion: Begging, Law and Power in Public Spaces, is forthcoming from Hart Publishing this spring.

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Juan Herrera is a Ph.D. student in Comparative Ethnic Studies, U.C. Berkeley, and a Graduate Fellow at ISSC. Originally from Guatemala, Herrera immigrated to Los Angeles at the age of six. He holds a B.A. from UCLA in Chicano/a Studies and Latin American Studies. His research looks at how anti-Indian racism within Latino communities contours immigrant migration, settlement and incorporation patterns. He has been working with Oakland’s day labor community for the past two years, collaborating on projects around health, immigration law, and other social services.

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Laura Lane is the director of the housing practice at East Bay Community Law Center. EBCLC’s housing practice represents low-income tenants in eviction lawsuits, public housing authority and rent board hearings, and other civil litigation. Lane graduated from Boalt in 1996 and joined the staff at EBCLC in 1997. She has been a lecturer at Boalt Hall and at Golden Gate University Law School.

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Gary Linker founded New Beginnings Counseling Center in Santa Barbara in 2000 and is its Executive Director. He began the Center’s Homeless Outreach Program in 2001, and it now serves over 75 people weekly. Previously, he was the co-founder of Pacifica Graduate Institute. He has been a licensed clinician since 1977 and holds a doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

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Carlos Mares was an Oakland day laborer who founded an Oakland association of day laborers called Lucha Unida del Jornalero, United Struggle of Day Laborers. Under Carlos’ leadership, the Oakland day laborers have organized themselves to advance immigrant and worker rights. Lucha Unida became the first day labor organization, nation-wide, to be formally affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Mares helped to form The Oakland Worker Center, a community center that houses five nonprofit organizations, including Lucha Unida del Jornalero and Centro Legal de la Raza. In 2007, Mares and Lucha Unida were honored with the Progressive Leadership Award by the Equal Justice Society.

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Alex McElree is the founder of Operation Dignity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless veterans get off the streets and into treatment and housing. A Vietnam veteran, and formerly homeless himself, McElree is seeing an increase in the Iraq war veterans living on Oakland’s streets.

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Leroy Moore is a disabled African American writer, poet, community activist and feminist. Moore was born with cerebral palsy. He has worked with Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco and sat on boards of the Mayor’s Commission on Disability in New York and in San Francisco, the Idriss Stelley Foundation, and POOR Magazine. He has produced a Hip-Hop mixtape featuring disabled hip-hop artists around the world, Krip-Hop Mixtape Vol. 1 & 2. He writes for Poor Magazine, the San Francisco Bayview newspaper of San Francisco, and has been published on Gibbs online magazine www.gibbsmagazine.com, Amsterdam News, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He broadcasts on KPFA Free Speech Radio in San Francisco and Berkeley.

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Monique W. Morris is the Director of Research and Senior Research Fellow at the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at the U.C. Berkeley School of Law. Morris has almost 20 years of professional and volunteer experience as an advocate in the areas of education, civil rights, juvenile justice, and social justice. In addition to conducting research on social justice issues, she works closely with the Corrections Standards Authority and Contra Costa County on their efforts to reduce the overrepresentation of youth of color in the justice system. Morris is the former Director of the Discrimination Research Center, a nonprofit organization that combined research and public education to discuss the prevalence of discrimination in access to employment and public services. For several years, Morris led research and strategic planning projects at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency to address racial and gender disparity in the criminal justice system. She is also the author of the novel Two Beautiful for Words (Amistad Press) and a number of articles and book chapters on social justice and discrimination issues. Her blog can be found at http://moniquewmorris.com/.

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Osha Neumann earned his M.A. in History at Yale in 1962 and his JD at New College in 1987. He joined EBCLC as a Consulting Attorney in 2003. He has a private practice in Berkeley. Since 1987, Neumann has been representing political protestors, victims of police misconduct, and homeless people in cases regarding their civil rights. He is the chairperson of Community Defense Inc., a non-profit that promotes legal education for poor and marginalized communities. He is also an accomplished muralist, responsible for many murals still to be seen in Berkeley.

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Calvin E. Peterson, an ordained A.M.E. minister, has been a disability rights champion for over four decades. Born with cerebral palsy, he was the first disabled African-American to graduate from college outside of Georgia. He was the founder of the Advanced Association for the Physically Handicapped and Disabled in Action, Inc. and served on the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Handicapped Task Force for the city of Atlanta. He is a lecturer at the interdenominational Theological Center in the Atlanta University Center.

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Steven C. Pitts is a labor specialist with the U.C. Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. Pitts’ work focuses on union leadership development programs and job quality and labor activism in the Black community. He was the principal investigator for two recent monographs: Organize…to Improve the Quality of Jobs in the Black Community: A Report on Jobs and Activism in the African American Community (2004) and Black Workers in the Bay Area: Employment Trends and Job Quality:1970 and 2000 (2006). In addition, Pitts contributed a chapter (“Organizing Around Work in the Black Community: The Struggle against Bad Jobs Held by African Americans”) to the book, Race and Labor Matters in America (2006).

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Susan Rasky was the congressional correspondent for The New York Times. Winner of a George Polk Award for National Reporting, she began her career in Washington, D.C., covering economic policy for the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. and later reported for Reuters from Capitol Hill and the White House. Rasky was a columnist and contributing editor for the California Journal as well as a frequent political commentator for the Los Angeles Times, The Sacramento Bee and NPR. On the faculty of the U.C. Berkeley Journalism School, she supervises the California News Service, which gives students experience covering government and politics for news organizations throughout the country.

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Willie Ratcliff began publishing the Bay View—now the Bay Area’s largest Black newspaper—in 1992 and distributes 20,000 papers weekly. Born 75 years ago into a small, self-governing Black nation known as East Liberty in Deep East Texas, founded by his ancestors who had won their freedom and bought their land before the Civil War, Ratcliff grew up knowing that Black people can form beloved communities, living in dignity, enjoying peace, and even prosperity, determining their own destiny. As a contractor, he broke down barriers that locked his people out of the construction industry and served for seven years on the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights. Today, he creates opportunities for Black businesses and workers to engage in public works construction projects.

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Martin Reynolds is Managing Editor of the Oakland Tribune and Assistant Managing Editor of News at the Bay Area News Group-East Bay (which includes the Tribune, Contra Costa Times, West County Times, Tri-Valley Herald, Hayward
Daily Review, Fremont Argus, San Mateo County Times and the former Hills publications). A Berkeley native, Reynolds has gone from a Freedom Forum Chips Quinn Scholar to managing editor in 12 years at The Oakland Tribune. His special projects include the creation of two student news bureaus at U.C. Berkeley and San Francisco State University. He believes in the concept of solution-oriented reporting and in viewing the coverage of crime through the prism of crime as a public health crisis.

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Mark Rosenbaum is Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union-Southern California. Rosenbaum has taught at UCLA Law School, the University of Southern California Law Center, Loyola Law School, and the University of Michigan Law School. He has argued on three occasions before the United State Supreme Court and has frequently appeared before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the California Supreme Court and the Court of Military Appeals. His areas of expertise include race, gender, poverty and homelessness, education, voting rights, workers’ rights, immigrants’ rights, the First Amendment and criminal trials.

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Jeffrey Selbin is Clinical Professor of Law at U.C. Berkeley School of Law and Faculty Director of the East Bay Community Law Center, the Law School’s community-based poverty law clinic. He founded EBCLC’s HIV/AIDS Law Project in 1990 as a Skadden Fellow and served as EBCLC’s Executive Director from 2002 through 2006. Selbin is active in local and national clinical legal education and anti-poverty efforts. He is chair-elect of the Poverty Law Section of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) and co-chairs the Lawyering in the Public Interest (Bellow Scholar) Committee of the AALS Section on Clinical Legal Education. In 2003, Selbin was recognized with Mary Louise Frampton as a Bellow Scholar by the AALS Clinical Section for his anti-poverty and access to justice efforts. In 2004, he was named a Wasserstein Fellow—honoring outstanding public interest lawyers—by the Harvard Law School.

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Tirien Steinbach became the third executive director of EBCLC in March 2007. She joined EBCLC in 2001 as a contract attorney in the Income Support Practice. At EBCLC, she developed the Suitcase Clinic Legal Services that evolved into the Clean Slate Practice, helping clients with non-violent criminal records to overcome legal barriers to employment, housing and civic participation. Steinbach is currently a Lecturer at UC Berkeley School of Law and co-teaches "Community Law Practice at EBCLC," the companion seminar for Boalt students enrolled in EBCLC’s clinical program. In law school, she was active in the public interest and student of color communities, where she served as co-president of the Berkeley Law Foundation Student Steering Committee and Vice President of Recruitment for Law Students of African Descent. After graduation from Boalt in 1999, she received numerous fellowships and awards, including an Equal Justice Works fellowship sponsored by the California Appellate Project, a Berkeley Law Foundation grant for her work at EBCLC, and the inaugural Thelton E. Henderson Social Justice Prize in 2006.

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Olis Simmons has nearly twenty years of policy, program administration, and research experience across the youth leadership development, healthcare, child welfare, treatment, and workforce development fields. Most recently, Simmons spearheaded an intensive process to design and develop Youth UpRising (YU), a youth leadership development center in East Oakland serving primarily youth of color from low-income communities through comprehensive, integrated services. During YU’s planning and implementation stage, Simmons brought together an unprecedented coalition of public partners, young people, and community members while overseeing the renovation of a 25,000 square-foot facility into a state-of-the-art youth center that includes a school-linked health clinic, recording booths, digital music and film editing suites, and physical and performing arts studios.

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Nicol U is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Ethnic Studies, U.C. Berkeley, and a Youth Violence Prevention Graduate Fellow at ISSC. U was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and raised in Oakland, California. Her research interests are in Cambodian diaspora, cultural, and gender studies. U pursued her undergraduate work at Yale University, majoring in history. Her research seeks to analyze the root causes of why many young women in the Bay Area are going into sex work by investigating the cultural and social factors that contribute to their popularity as sex workers, as well as by examining the existing structural problems that have led them to sex work.

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Mari Villaluna is the Coordinator of POOR Magazine/PoorNewsNetwork’s Indigenous People’s Media Project. Villaluna is interested in advocating and organizing for indigenous rights, workplace justice, violence against women, and youth
issues. She works on POOR Magazine’s Indigenous People’s Media Project and has served on the San Francisco Youth Commission for three years. During that time, Villaluna wrote different pieces of legislation, lobbied, and advocated on issues affecting youth. Villaluna is an Indigenous Mestiza (Iroquois/Tagalog) and enjoys performing spoken word pieces to continue the oral story-telling tradition that has been passed down from her elders and ancestors.

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Lucie White is the Louis A. Horvitz Professor of Law at Harvard University. She works in the areas of domestic and international poverty, economic and social rights, and social welfare systems, with a focus on health finance in the context of the right to health. Although her long term focus has been domestic poverty, over the last nine years she has worked intensively in sub-Saharan Africa, where she has been a Fulbright Foundation Senior Africa Specialist. She is currently working with a group of African activist lawyers and human rights scholars on a book of case studies of African innovations in grassroots activism around economic and social rights.

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A note about the welfareQUEENS: The term “welfare queen” was originally coined by Ronald Reagan as a derogatory reference to poor mothers who were receiving support from Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). The team of poets, writers, story-tellers and artists who are or have been on welfare, struggled as working poor, immigrant, disabled or houseless parents, grandparents, sons or daughters, all take part in collectively writing, co-directing, and acting in this play. The ensemble re-contextualizes the term in the framework of a post- welfare reform, increasingly criminalizing society that makes it illegal to be poor, does not support or legitimize the “work” involved in raising children, and accuses poor mothers of the crime of being poor rather than recognizing the heroism of their survival.

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