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A New Way of Life

A New Way of Life

“This is How Hard We’ll Go Out for You, If You Go Out for Yourself”
Or
There are No Throwaway People

Susan Burton founded the women’s reentry nonprofit A New Way of Life in Los Angeles twenty years ago after personal experiences led her to recognize the existence of “two Californias.” In many predominantly white, wealthy communities like Santa Monica, social support for women battling trauma, abuse, or substance use was, in her words, “resourced vibrantly.” In others, like her home of South L.A., people needing help were treated as disposable or fed to the prison-industrial complex.

Burton dreamed of what it would be like to bridge the two Californias. Her mission was a deceptively simple one: to offer resources, opportunities, love, and concern for women who were exiting the prison system. In short, she would send the message: There are no throwaway people.

A New Way of Life serves an oft-forgotten population, even within the prison reentry community. Though activists have recently brought more attention to the catastrophe of mass incarceration, much of the focus has remained on formerly incarcerated men. The experiences of incarcerated women continue to be largely overlooked, an imbalance A New Way of Life aims to rectify.

First and foremost, formerly incarcerated women need a safe space to land after leaving prison. Burton began by opening her own home but knew she needed more space. She methodically expanded her capacity, purchasing a home here and another there whenever she could raise the funding. In these homes, women found care and support –they found community. Today, A New Way of Life operates ten homes throughout the city, helping countless women build their lives anew after incarceration by offering safe, supportive places where they know they are valued.

Of course, stable housing is an incomplete solution to the web of historical, structural, and interpersonal discrimination faced by formerly incarcerated women. A New Way of Life has therefore adopted a holistic approach to reentry, including assisting with legal documentation, educational and employment opportunities, child care or child support arrangements, family reunification, substance abuse or mental health support, and any other bureaucratic or material need an individual might have. The organization’s model is flexible, responsive, and “grounded in dignity,” according to Burton, and staff seek to “wrap [their] services around people” and seize “every opportunity to value each individual,” adds Bernard Wilson, director of workforce development and education.

This philosophy of wrap-around support acknowledges the difficulty of re-entry. Some women have spent years, sometimes decades, incarcerated. They face challenges using modern technology, navigating employment qualifications, and accessing reliable transportation and stable housing. They may not have driver’s licenses or bank accounts. They are thrust into contact with government systems and agencies that actively impede their progress.

By saying, in Burton’s words, “This is how hard we’ll go out for you if you go out for yourself,” A New Way of Life inspires residents to be responsible to themselves while putting them in a position where that effort can be rewarded. It is no wonder, then, that the common refrain among A New Way of Life residents and past residents involves autonomy, self-sufficiency, and independence. A New Way of Life’s model empowers women to make their own choices, set their own timelines, and trust their own judgment.

A New Way of Life has also become a prominent public advocate for criminal justice reform, putting the voices of formerly incarcerated women at the center of the narrative. Through programs like Testif-i and Women Organizing for Justice and Opportunity, the organization empowers women to educate their communities, tell their stories, and own their collective power. They teach women how to engage with the legal system and advocate with elected officials. A New Way of Life believes that their stories, their voices, can shift the narrative around mass incarceration. 

Still, A New Way of Life knows there is more yet to do. They are currently seeking to share their vision nationwide by investing in training and capacity-building for other organizations. With this in mind, the organization has partnered with eighteen other organizations to form the SAFE Housing Network, built on A New Way of Life’s model, which offers ongoing mentorship and assistance with communications, grants, and budgeting to organizations across the country. With these resources, A New Way of Life hopes that other states, too, can bridge the gap for formerly incarcerated women.

Learn more:

https://anewwayoflife.org/

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Black & Pink National

Black & Pink National

Prioritizing the needs and desires of people over the logics of systems of oppression

In 2002, Jason Lydon, Black & Pink National’s founder, was arrested and incarcerated. He was sentenced to six months in federal detention, including six weeks in solitary confinement. The letters Lydon received from his faith community allowed him to endure what can be classified as torture, according to the United Nations. The hundreds of letters, poems, and books he received offered him the comfort, guidance, and strength to endure his sentence.

After he was released Lydon supported his comrades who were still inside through the very practice that had sustained him—letter writing. In their letters, his old friends shared their deeply personal struggles with sexuality, faith, and the day-to-day realities of incarceration. To manage the stacks of letters he received weekly, Lydon turned to his faith community for support. Lydon’s pen-pal program is a cornerstone of Black & Pink National’s advocacy work and has since moved to a web-based platform to connect more pen-pals than ever.

In the nearly twenty years since its founding, Black & Pink National has matured into a major advocacy organization operating in cities across the country. The organization is unapologetic about its commitment to the LGBTQIA2S+ community, as well as to people living with HIV/AIDS who have been impacted by the prison system. As Black & Pink National’s current executive director, Dominique Morgan has continued to translate Lydon’s anarchist vision into change-making action.

Under Morgan’s leadership, Black & Pink National operates from a working definition of abolition that rests on the core principles of love and the pursuit of liberation for each and every person. In order to build a future in which police and prisons are not necessary—a future that still seems out of reach to many—Black & Pink National offers a slate of programs and support services to help LGBTQIA2S+ people and people living with HIV/AIDS get closer to liberation in the here and now.

The National LGBT/HIV Criminal Justice Working Group builds on the slow progress that has been made toward equality for LGBTQIA2S+ people and those who live with HIV/AIDS by pushing for bold action to reform legal and criminal justice systems. This national advocacy coalition was coordinated by two formerly incarcerated members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community and has grown to include nearly fifty organizations.

In February of 2020, Black & Pink National opened the first Lydon House in Omaha, Nebraska. Named for the organization’s founder, Lydon House provides housing for LGBTQIA2S+ individuals and those who live with HIV/AIDS as they exit prison and re-enter community. All residents live cost-free, and Lydon House offers wraparound services tailored to each resident’s specific needs and circumstances.

Black & Pink National also recognizes the urgent needs of system-impacted LGBTQIA2S+ youth and youth impacted by HIV/AIDS. The organization’s Opportunity Campus will serve as a space of community-building, healing, and learning for system-impacted trans and queer young people. Together, Lydon House and its Opportunity Campus foster and amplify the spirit and legacy of Black and queer excellence in Omaha.

In addition to creating safe spaces across the country for LGBTQIA2S+ people and those living with HIV/AIDS, Black & Pink National intervenes at critical junctures to provide support. The organization applies sustained pressure to systems that fail vulnerable people again and again, because they were built to intentionally overlook them. The R.E.A.P. program (Restore. Embolden. Amplify. Power.) targets the challenges met by formerly incarcerated LGBTQIA2S+ people when they reenter community after exiting prison. TRANSitions builds a pathway to safe, affirming, sustainable housing for system-impacted trans people. Finally, the Marsha P. Johnson Youth Leadership Institute invites LGBTQIA2S+ youth to apply for an immersive youth advocacy and leadership program where they can train to become advocates in the field. 

Black & Pink National makes meaning of the declaration: None of us is free until we are all free. By showing up authentically as advocates for LGBTQIA2S+ people and people living with HIV/AIDS, Black & Pink National has made its name as one of the largest, most recognized, and most impactful advocacy organizations for those groups. Upholding the firm belief that our fates are bound, Black & Pink National’s pursuit of abolition has the power to liberate us all.

Learn more:

https://www.blackandpink.org/

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Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative

Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative

Shared vision, shared power, shared wealth

The Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative could be considered a connector or an amplifier, but the more appropriate term would be multiplier. For decades, Bronxites have created community-owned workplaces, land, and housing. In small but important ways, economic democracy is part of the Bronx’s past and its present. BCDI believes that, brought to another level of  scale, these models of economic democracy are key to the Bronx’s future, and have the power to disrupt the history of wealth extraction from poor communities, people of color, and women.

In short, the Bronx already has much more of what it needs to be a place of broad-based well-being than is typically credited to it. BCDI demonstrates that economic democracy can be achieved in the Bronx through the coordination of critical economic actors with the shared goal of shifting ownership and governance of key community assets. With an infrastructure in place, low-income people of color can gain access to more than the cultural capital of this great borough, and begin building secure, transferable, and accumulative wealth across the entire community. The Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative pursues the goal of economic democracy through ecosystem-driven and borough-wide strategic intervention, planning, and coordination.

BCDI is well on its way to building a comprehensive Community Enterprise Network including community organizations, local businesses, government officials, organized labor, and anchor institutions. This network connects capital to labor, small businesses to contractors, and ideas to training and expertise. Drawing on years of research and investigation of successful regional community economies, and drawing on local and global peoples’ movements for ownership of land and housing, BCDI conceptualized six core initiatives that will bridge the gaps in the Bronx’s economic landscape and maximize the borough’s wealth-building power for all its residents. Four of these are already operating to advance economic democracy in the Bronx. 

The concept of shared ownership is invisible or misunderstood for many Americans, but BCDI has proven to stakeholders that the Community Enterprise Network model for building economic and civic power has delivered real results in the places where it has been implemented as a long-term strategy, in fact, works. BCDI’s Economic Democracy Learning Center provides an environment for Bronxites to critically engage disruptive economic models and revise the frameworks they use to access economic power by providing educational resources and training around their framework for economic democracy.

The frameworks they’ve developed to promote economic development, shared wealth, and collective governance in their community tap into the wellspring of human capital that already exists in the Bronx and reduces dependence on strategies that are scarcity driven. While the Economic Democracy Learning Center equips community, labor, anchor institutions, and elected leaders with a grounding in the principles and practices of economic democracy, the Planning and Policy Lab helps translate  aspirations and ideas into action. The Development without Displacement Toolkit is an example of how BCDI coordinates local stakeholders to co-create strategies to advance equitable economic development. Because the Bronx is similar to many urban communities across the U.S., the toolkit also provides practical support for community leaders across the country fighting their own battles in the national displacement crisis.

The several billion dollars spent by Bronx-based institutions and nonprofits on goods and services each year are also a leakage of local wealth directed away from the borough. Either purchasers are unaware of local businesses or don’t know how to find them. On the other hand, many small, local vendors don’t yet have the systems or processes in place to do business with large institutions. The BronXchange serves as a marketplace where small, Bronx-based businesses can reach larger clients and where buyers and contractors can come to spend their money locally. 

BCDI established the Bronx Innovation Factory to nurture future leaders in the digital fabrication and advanced manufacturing economy, where so much wealth creation is possible but for which investments almost always flow to places and people that don’t look like the Bronx. At its core, the Bronx Innovation Factory is a technology and advanced manufacturing program that trains Bronxites in extremely valuable technical skills like 3-D printing and electronics. Soon, BCDI envisions a center for advanced manufacturing shepherded by women and people of color. Such an institution will have the capacity to foster innovative and entrepreneurial endeavors among low income and marginalized Bronxites that build on the city’s history as a long-standing manufacturing hub and the relentless ingenuity of its residents.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, BCDI and their co-conspirators understood that the Bronx should not and could not couldn’t go back to normal– ”normal” was not working for the Bronx before. So they worked with community partners to invite Bronxites to participate in designing their own future–to propose solutions and collectively craft a vision for an equitable and sustainable Bronx grounded in racial justice and economic democracy. The Bronx-wide Plan will be a powerful tool to support diverse Bronx stakeholders to cohere around a shared vision and agenda for transforming the local economy in the Bronx, building community power, and creating a society grounded in self-determination, wellness, and dignity.

Learn more:

https://bcdi.nyc/