Meet the 2015 Fighting Injustice through Human Rights Education (FIHRE) Fellows. The FIHRE program seeks to develop the human rights leadership capacity of USHRN grassroots membership and other social justice movements in the United States by grounding the educational program in an intersectional analysis and an understanding of economic, social, cultural rights (ECSR) and the interdependence of rights.
Jessica Chiappone, Chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy
Ms. Chiappone is the Chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, a non-partisan coalition of faith, law enforcement, and voting rights leaders attempting to put the Voting Restoration Amendment on the 2016 ballot, Vice- President of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and a mother raising three outstanding young boys. Ms. Chiappone obtained her law degree from Nova Southeastern University in 2011, passed the New York Bar Exam and is planning on taking the Florida Bar Exam in July. Ms. Chiappone served as American Bar Association as Law Student Division Liaison to the Criminal Justice Section’s Juvenile Justice Committee in both 2009 and again in 2010 and was also appointed as a Law Student Division 5th Circuit Lt. Governor for a Pre-Release/ Re-entry Initiative.
Ms. Chiappone is co-founder of the General Education Advocacy Program Nova Southeastern University Children and Families Clinic which helps defend children facing suspension and/or expulsion as well as various other educational issues and representing children aging out of foster care that are being denied future benefits. In March 2014, Ms. Chiappone served as a NAACP delegate to the United Nations in Geneva for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) treaty compliance review of the United States and was part of the USHRN Children’s Rights Working Group for the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) review.
Natalie Collier, Regional Youth Coordinator, Children's Defense Fund
Natalie A. Collier is the best-known limerick writer to emerge from Starkville, Mississippi, in the last 40 years. Just believe it. After graduating from Millsaps College, a small liberal arts college in Jackson, Mississippi, Collier stayed in the state’s capitol to work on a master’s in marriage and family therapy at a conservative seminary. The un-conservative left the program a semester before she graduated and took a big risk: the life of a writer. Collier's affinity for the written word was nurtured by her time at the state’s only alternative newspaper. She earned a long-form narrative writing fellowship at Northwestern University and lived the life of a city girl for three years afterwards, working as the associate editor of a weekly publication. Collier caused a bit of controversy in the city with editorials like, "I Would Rejoice but My Vagina Won't Let Me," written the week Barack Obama received the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. The south beckoned her back and Collier after one more year working as an editor and stylist, she felt impotent to help the people whose stories she sometimes felt exploitive of, so she changed careers. She now works as the regional youth coordinator for the Children's Defense Fund - Southern Regional Office. She is the director for the Unita Blackwell Young Women's Leadership Institute and is currently working to expand the program and her work to help empower, encourage and uplift those most often ignored.
Astrid Domingues, ACLU of Texas
Astrid Domingues joined the ACLU of Texas in May 2012, first as a Border Rights Fellow coordinating the U.S.-Mexico Binational Abuse Documentation Project at the Texas border, later as the Advocacy Coordinator for the Lower Rio Grande Valley office. Astrid has focused her work in the Rio Grande Valley on changing immigration policies that have a negative impact on border residents; she has also focused her efforts on community outreach and education on civil and human rights issues. Prior to joining the ACLU of Texas, Astrid worked for the Mexican Foreign Ministry at the Consulates of Brownsville, Texas and Phoenix, Arizona. During her time at the Mexican Foreign Ministry, Astrid worked on civil rights violations at the border and in immigration detention centers; she worked closely with the Mexican Communities Abroad. Astrid also participated in the negotiations of a local Memorandum of Understanding on the Safe, Orderly, Dignified and Human Repatriation of Mexican Nationals between U.S. and Mexico. Astrid has a degree in International Relations from the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León in Monterrey, Mexico. She is a native of Brownsville, Texas, who grew up and resides in the border region.
Kenosha Ferrell, National Conference of Black Lawyers
Kenosha Ferrell, Esq., LL.M. is the founder of the Ferrell Law Firm, a family law practice geared towards providing principled and aggressive representation to clients throughout central Mississippi. Having been raised in Mississippi, listening to his elders tell stories, Mr. Ferrell was always made to feel that he was special, that his life had meaning and that each and every one of us had an important purpose. With this as his foundation, as he grew older and came to better understand and appreciate the difficult road traveled by his grandparents and parents, Mr. Ferrell knew that he was not merely the beneficiary of something important, but the inheritor of a history of struggle. He is a descendant of the BLUES PEOPLE, those souls that created a vibrant culture against almost impossible odds, while managing to hold on to their humanity. It has been this foundation, more so than any other, that has informed his worldview and led him to the conclusion that his first allegiance is to those that Frantz Fanon called the “wretched of the earth,” those marginalized voices that are seldom, if ever heard. Mr. Ferrell believes the very essence of human rights is found in consciously siding with the powerless and less fortunate! Mr. Ferrell earned his LL.M. degree in International Law from the University of Miami School of Law in May 2011; his Juris Doctor degree from Howard University School of Law in December 1999; and his Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Political Science from the University of Miami in June 1992.
Amanda Garces started working in immigrants rights organizing in New Jersey, where she lived for more than a decade after immigrating from Colombia, and where she worked organizing day laborers to fight anti-immigrant initiatives and wage theft. Prior to becoming a mother and consultant, Amanda worked as the campaign director for lace’s Prison Divestment Campaign and spent six years with the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA). At IDEPSCA, Amanda was an organizer before becoming the Administrative Controller. She also co-founded the Mobile Voices Project, or VozMob, a digital storytelling platform by and for immigrant and low-wage workers to create and disseminate stories about their lives and communities directly from cell phones. Mobil Voices was recipient of the 2011 World Summit Award in the category M-Inclusion and Empowerment. (The World Summit Award is the global flagship initiative on e- and m-content of the United Nations and its Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN GAID), held in Collaboration with UNESCO and UNIDO.
Monica James, Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois
Monica James is a deeply committed community organizer against police misconduct, mass incarceration, and state violence particularly as they impact transgender people of color in the United States. Ms. James is a collective member at the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois, an organization committed to advocating for gender self-determination for all, free of government limitation, through transformative justice models with a long-term goal of prison abolition. A formerly incarcerated woman herself, Ms. James was invited to be a delegate at the 2014 review of the U.S. on its compliance Convention Against Torture in Geneva Switzerland where she spoke to the police violence, prison and jail conditions, and lack of access to gender-affirming healthcare for transgender people in the U.S.. Ms. James has been invited to speak at DePaul University and Roosevelt University in Chicago, and has lead transgender inclusivity trainings for law enforcement in Central Illinois. In 2014, she was the Keynote Speaker for the LGBT Homeless Youth Summit. In 2015, Ms. James was recognized as one of the “Trans 100” and was honored by the We Charge Genocide Collective as a “2015 Woman to Celebrate.” In addition to her activist work, Ms. James is a medical case manager at Howard Brown Health Center, one of the nation’s largest health care and research organizations serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
Jennifer Ly, Fellow, Center for Economic Democracy
Jennifer Ly is a queer Cantonese-Vietnamese first generation American from Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a fellow at the Center for Economic Democracy in Boston, which works to advance a sustainable and democratic economy. She is a founding member of the Boston chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum and a steering committee member of the Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance of New England. As a first generation college student from a working family that came to the U.S. as refugees, Jennifer is a master in urban planning student at MIT. Jennifer is dedicated to racial and gender justice and to working at the intersections between economic empowerment and environmental justice.
Adofo Minka, Founding Member, Cooperation Jackson
Adofo Minka is a founding member of Cooperation Jackson, an emerging network of worker-owned cooperative enterprises that focus on organizing working class people around building a solidarity economy in Jackson, MS. As a part of his work with Cooperation Jackson he is a lead organizer with an emerging human rights project that the organization has undertaken with a host of other local organizations, the Jackson Human Rights Institute (JHRI). The focus of the JHRI is developing a Human Rights Charter for the city of Jackson and getting the city to establish a Human Rights Commission through a people centered human rights process that will include mass education, policy development and advocacy. This process will help to ensure that the city protects, respects, and fulfills the basic human rights and dignity of all of its residents. Adofo is also a activist member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in Jackson, MS. Adofo is a native of St. Louis, MO where he graduated high school and later graduated from Saint Louis University's School of Law. Before enrolling in law school, Adofo graduated from Alabama State University in Montgomery, AL. As a student leader in the Black Law Students Association at Saint Louis University, he was integral in helping to organize panel discussions and lectures around reparations for people of African descent, mass incarceration, religion and inmate rehabilitation. While in law school, Adofo worked as an intern in the Missouri State Public Defenders office, The Law Office of Stan Willis, and The Peoples' Law Office in Chicago, IL. Upon graduating from law school, Adofo moved to Jackson, MS where he clerked in the law office of Atty. Chokwe Lumumba and worked on Lumumba's successful campaign for mayor of Jackson, MS. In 2014, Adofo was admitted to the Mississippi Bar and opened his own law practice that focuses on providing representation for defendants in criminal cases and protecting the human and civil rights of Mississippians. Adofo is a husband, father, and organizer who enjoys reading, running, and enjoying time with his family.
Yashnica Mothersil, National Conference of Black Lawyers
Yashnica Mothersil is an active participant of the National Conference of Black Lawyers. She utilizes her position to strategize methods of outreach to law students and help decrease the gap between founding members of NCBL with younger law advocates of color. Yashnica also works as a legal assistant, helping to provide evidence to defense attorneys and defendants. Prior to working as a legal assistant, Yashnica was an organizational member of UNICEF and helped plan, fundraise, and execute events that increased awareness of global child welfare issues. Yashnica also helped develop community youth lessons for a low-income housing neighborhood through the Piedmont Housing Alliance in Charlottesville, Virginia. The program sought to build self-esteem through free expression, open discussion, and academic achievement.
Solote Soqo, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water
Salote Soqo was born and raised in Fiji in the South Pacific. She migrated to the United States in 2010 with her spouse and is currently the San Francisco Bay Area water and climate justice program coordinator for The Environmental Justice Coalition for Water (EJCW). Salote works out of Santa Rosa, California, and is fluent in English and Fijian. She has her Master’s degree in Environmental Management with an emphasis in Climate Change adaptation. Salote leads EJCW’s effort to build community-based resiliency to the water-related impacts of climate change, an effort which builds off of her international experience in assessing the environmental impacts of proposed developments in Fiji and her research around the impacts of climate change on communities in the South Pacific. Salote leads EJCW’s work with several broader groups, including the Resilient Communities Initiative, Oakland Climate Actions Coalition, California Environmental Justice Coalition, and more. Since joining EJCW, she has come to understand environmental justice as a human rights issue. She has seen how the effects of environmental degradation, typically caused by corporate interests, and disproportionately affecting some members of our community is something that everyone should be worried about. She is dedicated to working on the structural inequities that create these barriers in our governance and societal systems and to pursue the fundamental recognition of basic human rights.
Kabzuag Vaj, Founder and Co-Executive, Freedom Inc.
Kabzuag Vaj was born in Laos and came to this country as a refugee child with her mother and siblings. She is founder and co-executive director of Freedom Inc. She has dedicated the majority of her life to ending gender-based violence. Her advocacy started when she was 16 years old, assisting and housing at-risk teens, and challenging abusive gender norms within her community. She is a strong believer that those who are most deeply impacted must be at the forefront of the movement. Those who are most impacted must have opportunities and resources to advocate for themselves and tell their own stories. In recognition of her work, she was awarded the White House Champion of Change award in 2012, Alston Bannerman Sabbatical award for long-time community organizers, and more recently the Hmong National Development Impact Award-change makers advancing the Hmong community. Jabzuag’s ability to build family, solidarity, and shared analysis across race, culture, and generations has become an example of how Asian and Black communities collectively can build power, share resources, and mobilize to bring about deep social, political, cultural, and economic change. She is currently one of the Co-Executives at Freedom Inc. Freedom, Inc’s mission is to end violence within and against low-income communities of color by building the power of Black, Hmong, and Khmer, women, queer folks and youth.
Gina Womack, Director and Co-Founder, Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children
Gina Womack is the director and co-founder of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), a statewide membership-based organization dedicated to creating a better life for all of Louisiana’s youth, especially those who are involved, or at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. Ms. Womack first came to the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JIPL) as the Office Administrator. In 2001, she co-founded FFLIC along with other members, became an organizer and began to conduct extensive community outreach efforts, recruiting participants and facilitating meetings. She was lead organizer of FFLIC’s mock Jazz Funeral with parents along with various other direct action events that gave FFLIC a voice within the Louisiana Legislature and has allowed parents to recognize their power. Since its inception, FFLIC has worked with allies to Pass the Juvenile Justice Reform ACT of 2003 which forced Louisiana to close the notorious Tallulah Youth Prison and move to a system based on treatment that keeps families at the center of their children’s treatment. FFLIC is working on a statewide campaign to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in Louisiana and have educated many lawmakers on the ills of school pushouts and have advocated for the passage of ACT 136 that mandates teachers receive certain classroom management and trainings that will help keep children in class learning. Ms. Womack has worked on children issues for at least 14 years in Louisiana and her efforts have been featured in both national and local print media, radio, and reports. She has appeared on many panels speaking on issues around Juvenile Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, and the need for real Family and Community Involvement. Ms. Womack is a board member of the Louisiana Public Defender Board, the Petra Foundation, NFL YET, Metairie Park County Day School, and is Chair of the national family group Justice for Families. She is also a 2006 Petra Fellow, 2009 Juvenile Justice Project Advocate of the Year and 2009 Ms. Foundation Women of Vision award. Ms. Womack was named an Alston Bannerman National Fellow in 2011 and have been named Louisiana Life Magazine “Louisianan of the Year” for Civic Activism in 2012. FFLIC also received the 2009 NJJN & CFYJ Organization of Distinction Award.