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Gathering For Justice (GFJ) is a social-justice organization that Harry Belafonte founded in 2005, in response to an incident where police had handcuffed and detained a five-year-old black girl in a Florida school because of her “unruly” behavior. To brainstorm about ways of drawing public attention to what he viewed as racist occurrences like this, Belafonte called upon allies like Connie Rice of the Advancement Project and Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund. Together they initiated a series of gatherings in cities and towns across the United States, where civil-rights activists, nonwhite gang members, and youth from “impacted communities” collaborated to create GFJ.
GFJ’s mission is to “build a national movement to end child incarceration,” “correct and replace the societal and institutional pillars that enliven mass incarceration,” and implement “viable community solutions” rooted in “Kingian nonviolence.” The organization’s major programs include “Gang Intervention”; “Leadership and Nonviolence Training” for activists and advocates; “Cultural Reconciliation” (whereby the grievances of purportedly oppressed groups are given a forum for expression and understanding); “Restorative Justice” (whereby convicted felons who have served out their prison terms regain their right to vote in federal elections); and “Grassroots Mobilization.” Moreover, GFJ strives to institute creative, cultural, and arts programs in juvenile detention centers; implement “gender-responsive services” such as mentoring and training geared for girls in such facilities; build “strategic coalitions” that address “urgent concerns” such as racial unrest and “police militarization”; and work on legislative and policy issues like the “Raise the Age” campaign to end the practice of trying and incarcerating 16-year-olds as adults.
In 2014, GFJ gave rise to the formation of a splinter group called Justice League NYC, whose mission was to address allegations of widespread police brutality against black civilians in New York City.
GFJ’s executive director is Carmen Perez, who graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2001 before taking a job with Barrios Unidos, a Santa Cruz-based organization dedicated to providing “non-violence training” and “re-entry services” for the incarcerated. In 2005, Perez met Harry Belafonte and joined GFJ. She subsequently served as a bilingual officer for the Santa Cruz County Probation Department, where she tried to “reduce racial disparities” and advocated on behalf of “monolingual Spanish-speaking families.” Perez also established the youth leadership group R.E.A.L. (Reforming Education, Advocating for Leadership) and co-founded a Girls Task Force dedicated to “improving gender-specific services to better support all girls in our communities.” In 2008 Perez became GFJ’s national organizer, and two years later she was named executive director. Moreover, she has been a board-of-directors member of the Brooklyn-based Scholar League, an advisory board member of the Baltimore City Youth Resiliency Institute, and a co-founder of Justice League NYC.
In addition to Ms. Perez and Harry Belafonte, other members of GFJ’s board of advisors include:
Nane Alejandrez: This Barrios Unidos founder seeks to address the “root causes of crime” with programs that offer young people an array of “positive alternatives.” Alejandrez also works in collaboration with the Fair Trade Movement for coffee growers in Central America and Africa.
Mike de la Rocha: This social entrepreneur, artist, and inspirational speaker specializes in criminal justice, “social innovation,” and “health and wellness.”
Bart Lubow: A former social worker for the NYC Legal Aid Society, Lubow spent eight years (1984-92) as the director of Alternatives to Incarceration for New York State, and twenty-two years (1992-2014) as a senior associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, whose Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative he designed and managed.