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The Open Society Foundations Announce Justice Rising Awards

NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations are proud to announce their Justice Rising Awards, a new investment in leaders working towards racial justice and equality in the Black community in the United States. The 16 awardees from across the country are being recognized for their long-term contributions to advancing change in their communities, tireless commitment to civil rights, and capacity to inspire, innovate, and mobilize people despite considerable odds.

“Movements change our sense of what is possible and find ways to transform tragedies—like this pandemic and the murder of George Floyd—into a force strong enough to bend the arc of history,” said Tom Perriello, executive director of Open Society-U.S. “We are proud to support 16 of the leaders whose courage, creativity, and tenacity in recent years have helped force our country to value Black lives and advance closer to our aspirations of racial equality. These visionaries will be the first to defer credit to the larger movements, but we believe they deserve recognition for their contributions to democracy, equality, and justice that have improved the lives and hopes of us all.”

“We remain at a critical moment in the fight for racial justice in the United States, and these 16 award recipients represent important parts of the ongoing struggle to combat inequality and injustice,” said Adam Culbreath, acting division director at Open Society-U.S, who helped manage the selection of the awardees along with Tara Huffman, previously the director of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Program at Open Society Institute–Baltimore. “The Justice Rising Awards are meant to acknowledge them and the work and communities that they are a part of, and hopefully ensure their ongoing capacity to stay engaged, grow, and fight—and inspire others to do the same.”

The awardees were selected by a group of Open Society-U.S staff who have long worked to advance racial justice in the United States. In making their decisions, the group sought to reflect the diversity of issues, approaches, geographies, life experiences, and movement philosophies represented by Black movement leaders across the United States and its territories.

The Open Society Justice Rising Awards are part of a wider investment in racial justice announced by the Foundations in the summer of 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the worldwide racial reckoning that followed. Those investments, totaling $220 million, were made in support of emerging organizations and leaders in Black communities across the country.

The Open Society Justice Rising Awards was presented virtually on February 9, 2022. Special guests Sounds of Blackness, poet Aja Monet, and voting rights champion Stacey Abrams joined the celebration in tribute to the 16 awardees. Best-selling author, political strategist, and Open Society-U.S. board member Heather McGhee hosted the event. 

The Awardees

Recipients of the awards range from emerging leaders to more established forces for civil rights. The 16 Black leaders selected as the Open Society Justice Rising Awardees are: 

M Adams is a co-executive director of Freedom, Inc., which engages low- to no-income communities of color in Dane County, Wisconsin, through coupling direct services with leadership development and community organizing. As a queer Black person, Adams has developed and advocated for a strong intersectional approach in numerous important venues and has written widely.

Gloriann Sacha Antonetty-Lebrón is an Afro-Puerto Rican writer, communication strategist, and professor. She is the founder of Revista étnica, the first multimedia platform and magazine in Puerto Rico to represent the Caribbean archipelago’s vast and diverse Afro-Latinx population. In addition to her published collection of poems, Hebras, she has written short stories and academic articles and papers.

Colette Pichon Battle is the founder and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy and is a leading voice on the intersections of climate change impacts, race, equitable disaster planning and recovery, and human rights. Pichon Battle co-chairs the national Water Equity and Climate Resilience Caucus and is the lead architect of the national Just Transition Lawyering Network, the national Red, Black and Green New Deal at the Movement for Black Lives and Gulf South for a Green New Deal, an initiative of over 300 organizations across the five Gulf South states and Puerto Rico.

LaTosha Brown is co-founder of Black Voters Matter. In addition to spearheading numerous initiatives and campaigns to empower marginalized communities in the South, Brown is leading several international efforts to provide training, support, and funding for women-led institutions based in Belize, Guyana, Senegal, and Tanzania. Through her singing and songwriting, she is shifting the narrative of African Americans via media, campaigns, and nonprofit projects.

Tarana J. Burke has worked as an activist and advocate at the intersection of sexual violence and racial justice for more than 25 years. Fueled by commitments to interrupt sexual violence and other systemic inequalities disproportionately impacting marginalized people, particularly Black women and girls, Burke has created and led various campaigns focused on increasing access to resources and support for impacted communities, including the Me Too movement, which to date has galvanized millions of survivors and allies around the world.

Dara Cooper is the co-founder and current strategic advisor for the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, which represents hundreds of Black urban and rural farmers, organizers, and land stewards based nationwide. They work towards an intergenerational, urban/rural movement to map, assess, train, and deepen the organizing, institution building, and advocacy work protecting Black land and food sovereignty.

Fania E. Davis is a leading voice on the intersections of racial and restorative justice. She is a longtime social justice activist, civil rights trial attorney, author, and public speaker with a PhD in Indigenous knowledge. Co-founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth and the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice, Davis has received numerous honors, including the Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Restorative Justice and the Ebony POWER 100 award. The Los Angeles Times named her a New Civil Rights Leader of the 21st Century. Among her publications is The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice: Black Lives, Justice, and U.S. Social Transformation

Dustin Gibson is the director of Access, Disability, and Language Justice at PeoplesHub, an online training organization. His work addresses the nexus between race, class, and disability with an emphasis on ending institutionalization and incarceration and building power through peer support. 

Amber Goodwin is founding director of the Community Justice Action Fund and the Community Justice Reform Coalition. Community Justice builds power with and for communities of color to end gun violence through policy change. Previously, Goodwin testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee at the first ever Congressional hearing on urban gun violence and helped lead efforts to pass federal, state, and local laws in support of community violence intervention programs. Goodwin has spent 20 years working on progressive issues, including policy campaigns fighting for health insurance reform and voting rights, and she was an organizer for the Service Employees International Union’s Justice for Janitors campaign.

Prentiss Haney is a veteran community organizer and strategist and currently co-executive director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, which builds grassroots voter engagement and leadership programs for Black communities in Ohio. In 2017, he co-founded the Midwest Culture Lab, supporting young artists of color as cultural strategists to increase youth civic participation during elections.

Desmond Meade is executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, an organization committed to ending the disenfranchisement of and discrimination against people with convictions. In 2018, Meade led the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to a historic victory with the passage of Amendment 4, which allowed an estimated 1.4 million Floridians to register to vote. Formerly homeless, Meade is now the chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, a MacArthur Fellow, and a graduate of Florida International University College of Law.

Maurice Mitchell is a nationally recognized social movement strategist, a visionary leader in the Movement for Black Lives, the national director of the Working Families Party, and the executive director of Working Families Power. He is a graduate of Howard University.

Monica Raye Simpson is executive director of SisterSong: The national Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Simpson is a queer Black North Carolina native, and has organized extensively against human rights abuse, the prison industry, racism, and systemic violence against Southern Black women and LBGTQ people. A singer and spoken word artist who infuses art into her activism, Simpson created Artists United for Reproductive Justice as a project of SisterSong, a platform for artists to collaborate on replicable artwork that furthers the reproductive justice movement.

Deborah Peterson Small is a nationally recognized leader in the drug policy reform movement and has been a major catalyst in engaging communities of color to address the negative impacts of the war on drugs in their communities. She founded Break the Chains: Communities of Color and the War on Drugs, whose mission is to help build a movement in communities of color in support of drug policy reform. The goal is to replace failed drug policies with alternatives based on science, compassion, public health, and human rights.

Makani Themba is chief strategist at Higher Ground Change Strategies, based in Jackson, Mississippi. She has spent more than 20 years supporting organizations in developing high impact change initiatives. Themba’s life, work, and practice have been centered around advancing Black liberation. 

Markasa Tucker-Harris is executive director of the African American Roundtable in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. African American Roundtable is an assembly of partners led by and serving the Black population of Milwaukee. The organization launched the LiberateMKE campaign in 2019, demanding that community investments include affordable quality housing/cooperative initiatives, public health, and violence prevention/alternatives. Through this campaign, African American Roundtable mobilized and organized residents through training, advocacy, and educational opportunities.

The Open Society Foundations have been working to advance racial justice in the United States for more than two decades. Founder and Chair George Soros began his philanthropic work in the United States in the 1990s by challenging drug laws that unfairly target African Americans. Open Society launched its Racial Justice Initiative in 2003 and has steadily grown support for those addressing systemic inequality experienced by historically marginalized communities of color.

In subsequent years, the Foundations helped launch the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, investing nearly $20 million over several years, and gave $50 million to help the ACLU’s campaign to reduce mass incarceration. Last year, the Foundations announced investments totaling $220 million in emerging organizations and leaders building power in Black communities across the country.

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