Meet Our Team Members Working on Community Safety and Justice and the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color
Through the stories of Tracey, Jessica, Michelle, and Selena, we heard about the transformative role that data plays in our efforts to reshape a nation. This week, we turn our attention to our team for Community Safety and Justice and the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color and their unwavering commitment to activating collective power in shaping and passing policy. We invite you to meet Sara Mokuria and Eric Morrison-Smith, two of our incredible colleagues who believe strongly in the power of communities and the people who create, build, and maintain them. The policies we support are designed to reflect our deeply rooted belief that those closest to the problems are also those closest to the solutions. Like Sara, for us, the "personal is political."
Sara Mokuria, Eric Morrison-Smith
Equity work can be very personal, how does your identity/background inform and influence your work and overall view of the equity movement, if at all?
Sara: The personal is political for me. My personal experiences with police inform how I approach our community safety and justice work, and the impact of oppression and inequality in my life and the lives of my loved ones.
Eric: I am the descendant of enslaved Black people and Mexican immigrants, and these histories proudly flow through my veins and shape why and how I do my work. My family also influences my work. Sylvia Briones, my grandmother, has a deep love for people, which she passed on to me. Anyone who has ever been in the presence of my abuelita knows love. Whether you're family, a friend, or a stranger, she will listen, support, and feed you. As a child, I remember seeing her pour her love into the community by volunteering to support people experiencing homelessness and teaching youth Sunday school classes, both of which she still does today. Through her example, my grandmother taught me everyone is deserving of love and care, which shaped my core values of justice and mutual support.
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved people and hated seeing their light diminished by conditions outside their control. I came into this work because I wanted to work with the community to end the long legacy of racial injustice and economic exploitation caused and sustained through policies, systems, and institutions.
What brought you to PolicyLink in particular?
Sara: I wanted to work at an organization that centered race and talked explicitly about it.
Eric: To make an impact, but also to learn, or as I like to put it — think in motion. When I came to PolicyLink, I was 26 and ready to learn from my brilliant colleagues and grassroots partners already doing work to transform failed policies and systems. It was also important to me to be a part of an organization aligned with my values and wasn't afraid to speak truth to power, especially on race, economic injustice, and the criminal-legal system. Also, I had watched every speech that I could find from our founder, Angela Glover Blackwell, and knew that I had to work for PolicyLink because of her eventually.
What inspires you about your work?
Sara: The endless creative possibilities of how to address harm and the ways we relate to each other in society.
Eric: I love working with radical folks who are advancing policy and systems change campaigns to undo systemic racism and deliver economic and political power to marginalized communities. The people I have the honor of working with aren't just talking about tinkering around the edges of unjust systems and conditions, they are making abolition a reality and doing the necessary work to build self-determined communities capable of producing and sustaining the change they desire and communities they deserve.
Thinking about this past year, what is something that you are proud to share?
Sara: The Building Beyond Policing 2021 Virtual Retreat gathered 75 grassroots organizers, academics, and thought leaders from across the country for two days of strategic conversations. Our goal was to build and strengthen relationships amongst grassroots and advocacy organizations fighting for abolition, grapple with key questions facing abolitionist organizers, and identify points of collaboration, shared strategy and resources, and infrastructure needed for coordinated abolitionist campaigns. We did that and so much more! This gathering planted important seeds for the strong partnerships we need to grow the Building Beyond Policy network.
Eric: I am proud of the work that the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color continues to do. This year we strategized, organized, and mobilized with our partners and got multiple powerful bills signed into law in California, like the CRISES Act, which creates community-based alternatives to law enforcement for emergency responses. To be doing this work, with dedicated partners is something I am proud of every day.
What is bringing you joy and hope right now?
Sara: My son, young people changing the way things operate, and the student protests at Howard.
Eric: In this current moment, I am re-reading Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement, by Barbara Ransby, and it's bringing me a lot of joy and hope. Her radical democratic vision and grassroots organizing is inspiring. She organized in such a way that honored local leaders' autonomy and self-determination and ensured they were fully capable of carrying on the movement, whether she was there or not. I think the equity movement still has plenty to learn from her in this regard.
If you had a playlist of your top 10 brightest moments over Covid, which would be your favorite to share?
Sara: Time spent with family in nature, and responding to the uprising — invest/divest campaigns in Dallas.
Eric: Due to Covid, many of us were isolated and completely cut off from our families and communities, including me. In response, I created a virtual space called Borrowed Knowledge which brought folks together to read, discuss complex issues, support each other, and build community. I only expected 20 or so people to sign-up, but now over 120 people are signed up and have organized over 20 conversations. I'm just happy folks found the community we built helpful during a very lonely time, and continue to.
The future demands that we win on equity. PolicyLink is advancing an agenda to perfect our democracy and economy, resulting in a just and fair society where all can participate, prosper, and reach our full potential.