Making Big Moves For What’s Next
Greetings from the RJAC Leadership Team! We’re thrilled to share our plans for our future and hope you will join with us in celebration of our evolution.
On January 1, 2020, after 7 years of incubation, both of our projects, Women on the Rise and the Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative (SNaP Co) will launch as their own powerful, independent organizations!
Women on the Rise and SNaP Co are ready to make the transition from projects of RJAC to being their own organizations. In practice, with support from RJAC Director Xochitl Bervera, the projects have, for the past year, been led by Ms. Marilynn Winn (WoR) and Toni-Michelle Williams (SNaP Co). Now is the moment for these brilliant and bold women to take full leadership of their own organizations, each with dedicated membership bases and big visions and plans for the future. RJAC invites you to join in the swell of support for their emergence as autonomous organizations.
RJAC is extremely proud to have incubated and supported these projects over the last 7 years as they developed the leadership and vision of formerly incarcerated women and Black trans and queer people to wage change-making campaigns and build extraordinary communities of support, empowerment, and resistance in Atlanta.
Together, in a time of repression and increased violence against our communities, we won 6 powerful campaigns and numerous smaller policy gains that forced the state’s divestment of resources from our punitive and biased criminal legal system and investment into supports and services that our communities need to thrive.
We sought to not just change laws, but to build leaders and to expose the fundamental racism, white supremacy, capitalism and patriarchy that undergird our current criminal justice and immigration systems and how these intersect and must be undone. We worked to transform how those in power relate to our communities, demanding respect and collaboration from lawmakers particularly with Black trans and gender non-conforming people and formerly incarcerated women. We have also created beautiful movement space, experimenting with integrating holistic healing and embodied leadership development into our organizing practices and inside the broad and unique cross-community collaborations we have built.
RJAC has always considered our work a “grand experiment” where we got to test new methods of campaigning, new configurations of membership bases and coalitions, and new ways to develop our capacities, individually and collectively, as leaders. Some succeeded, others failed. We have learned a great many lessons along the way and we believe our legacy lies most powerfully in proving that when our communities come together and share a vision, we can rise up and make deep and lasting change. In the words of our forever comrade and organizer, Juan Evans: When we unite and fight, we win!
Women on the Rise and SNaP Co will build on that legacy and begin new experiments that further engage and empower their respective communities. Independence does not mean the end of powerful collaboration. Rather, by each organization investing the time, resources, and attention into honing the style of organizing that works best for their community, the potential opens for an even deeper and more authentic partnership in the future. Sometimes we must re-find ourselves in order to meaningfully partner with each other.
To hear more from Toni-Michelle Williams about her leadership journey, gratitude for RJAC, and the work ahead, click here.
To hear more from Ms. Marilynn Winn and learn about the inception of WOTR and gratitude for RJAC, and plans for the future, click here.
As for RJAC, we are doing a victory dance and planning to take 2020 to document and write about the experiment. RJAC as a formation and organization has done what we came to do. In addition to incubating SNaP Co and Women on the Rise, we incubated and spun-off the Atlanta/Fulton County Pre-Arrest Diversion Initiative (birthed through a multi-year SNaP Co campaign) which is now a thriving organization, diverting hundreds of people out of jail and into quality services. We also invested deeply in the growth and development of our sibling organizations, Black and trans-led LaGender Inc., and Trans(forming) and we are proud to have supported their stabilization and expansion. These two dynamic organizations and their leaders, Ms. Dee Dee Chamblee and BT, were co-founders and visionaries of SNaP Co and many of our campaigns. All together, we created a vibrant, unique social justice hub in East Point known to our hundreds of respective members as The Blue House/La Casa Azul. It has been the biggest blessing to be part of such a diverse community of people – trans, queer, gender non-conforming, straight, cis, Black, Latinx, immigrant, domestic born, youth, elders, middle-aged, homeless, sex workers, graduate students, formerly incarcerated people, lawyers – united in struggle and allyship with one another, fighting side by side, living the words “no one is free when others are oppressed.”
There is a Kenyan proverb that says: If you wish to go fast, go alone, if you wish to go far, go together. This past 7 years served as a lesson and reminder that we are only as successful as our collective strength and unity. We have survived and thrived because we chose against odds to unite across communities, learn to be true allies to each other, and practice what we preach.
We invite you to support the work of SNaP Co and Women on the Rise. Now is the perfect time to become a sustaining donor of these emerging organizations who are getting ready to light the world on fire.
Sincerely and with mountains of gratitude,
Xochitl Bervera, Toni-Michelle Williams, & Marilynn Winn RJAC Leadership Team Members
We wish we could list (and thank) all of the people who helped found, develop, and grow our campaigns and projects, but we would be here all day! But we do want to take a moment to lift up and thank our awesome 9-person Transition Team, each of whom have generously offered 6 months of their time to support and guide us through this “spin-off" process. Thanks to: Jerome Scott, Karissa Lewis, Roberta “Toni” Myers, Kung Li, Lisa Adler, Wes Ware, Che Johnson-Long, Cris Avery, and Marissa Dodson and to our tenacious and brilliant Transition Consultant, Benétta Standly, who has ensured the process is thorough and smooth.
We want to lift up our current Blue House family, the staff and leadership of our various entities: BT, Quinton Reynolds, Ms Dee Dee Chamblee, Pearl Lashae, Kleopatra McGlothin, Lynn Morrison, Tera Bell, Bridgette Simpson, Ivie Osaghae, Ashleigh Shackelford, Moki Macías and the whole PAD team. There have been many others over the years and we honor each and every one.
We also want to thank our embodied leadership and somatic coaches and trainers, who have helped us hold our hearts and each other’s humanity through the complications and contradictions inevitable in non-profit based organizing and big changes. Gratitude to Atlanta’s very own Imani Evans and to our amazing generative somatics’ trainers, Spenta Kandawalla, Chris Lymbertos, Alta Starr and Sumitra Rajkumar.
We are enormously grateful to you, dear reader, for your contribution to this grand experiment and we invite you to stay tuned for updates and how you can celebrate the evolutions with us!