Marilyn Davies College of Business Hosts Regional Business Forum June 24

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) – the second-largest university in Houston – has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974.

As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates more than 15,000 students; boasts more than 61,000 alumni and offers 45 bachelor’s, nine master’s degree programs and 16 fully online programs within five colleges (Marilyn Davies College of Business; Humanities & Social Sciences; Public Service; Sciences & Technology; and University College).

For the fourth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report ranks UHD among universities across the nation for Best Online Criminal Justice Programs (No. 27 and No. 15 for Veterans) and Best Online Bachelor’s Programs.

UHD has the most affordable tuition among four-year universities in Houston and one of the lowest in Texas. U.S. News ranked the University among Top Performers on Social Mobility and awarded UHD a No. 1 ranking as the most diverse institution of higher education in the southern region of the U.S. The University is noted nationally as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, Minority-Serving Institution and Military Friendly School. For more on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit www.uhd.edu.

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SPLC’s Summer Reading List | Southern Poverty Law Center

Summer is often a time to relax with a good, light novel or four. Why not use this summer as a time to learn more about social justice and the change each person can make? Books on social justice offer us lessons on social experiences, relationships and aspects of history that are below the surface. They offer another perspective and might even inspire us.

Here’s an offering of books that teach.

Michelle Alexander. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. 2010.

In the years following the Civil War, Southern legislators designed “Jim Crow” laws to thwart the newly emancipated Black population, notably curbing voting rights. Under the laws, Black people also, increasingly, found themselves “relegated to convict leasing camps that were, in many ways, worse than slavery.” If Jim Crow was an effective means of controlling the Black population, then modern mass incarceration, Alexander argues, is its successor.

— The Guardian

Jorge Argueta. Somos Como Las Nubes/We Are Like the Clouds. 2016.

Somos Como Las Nubes/We Are Like the Clouds is a moving collection of bilingual free verse poems. This is one of the few books that I have encountered about the heartbreaking experiences of children who leave their homes to embark on their journey to the United States. This collection … begins with poetry depicting the experiences and sights of the children’s home countries. The poetry then shifts to the journey that children take to get to the United States. The author includes poems that describe the fears of traveling on La Bestia (a fast-moving train that many migrants use to travel), discuss being accompanied by “coyotes,” and describe children’s feelings as they cross the deserts.

— Sanjuana C. Rodriguez, Ph.D.

James Baldwin. The Fire Next Time. 1963.

A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document

It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both Black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. Described by The New York Times Book Review as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle … all presented in searing, brilliant prose,” The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of our literature.

— Goodreads

Kate Bornstein. Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us. 1994.

A thoughtful challenge to gender ideology that continually asks difficult questions about identity, orientation and desire. Bornstein cleverly incorporates cultural criticism, dramatic writing and autobiography to make her point that gender (which she distinguishes from sex) is a cultural rather than a natural phenomenon. The chapters range from “fashion tips” on her writing style to dialogue between herself and another about the “nuts and bolts” of the surgical process of a gender change (which she has undergone). Confronting transgenderism and transgendered people is not easy for many individuals, but Bornstein does it in a way that sparks debate without putting her audience on the defensive.

— Kirkus

Sandra Cisneros. The House on Mango Street. 1991.

The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero.

Told in a series of vignettes — sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous — it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become.

— Goodreads

Ta-Nehisi Coates. Between the World and Me. 2015.

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of Black women and men — bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a Black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

— Goodreads

Matthew Desmond. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. 2016.

In Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond provides a revealing ethnography of how housing insecurity fuels a cycle of poverty, trapping generations of Americans in an intractable system stacked against poor renters. Throughout his book, Desmond reveals how governmental programs, landlords and the grueling continuous search to find safe and affordable housing ensnares already vulnerable populations in a perverse cycle, where evicted families increasingly pay a greater share of their income for rent, making it nearly impossible to escape poverty.

— David Prudente, Northeastern University

Robin DiAngelo. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. 2018.

In … White Fragility, DiAngelo attempts to explicate the phenomenon of white people’s paper-thin skin. She argues that our largely segregated society is set up to insulate whites from racial discomfort, so that they fall to pieces at the first application of stress — such as, for instance, when someone suggests that “flesh-toned” may not be an appropriate name for a beige crayon. Unused to unpleasantness (more than unused to it — racial hierarchies tell white people that they are entitled to peace and deference), they lack the “racial stamina” to engage in difficult conversations. This leads them to respond to “racial triggers” … with “emotions such as anger, fear and guilt,” DiAngelo writes, “and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and withdrawal from the stress-inducing situation.”

— The New Yorker

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. 2014.

American Indian activist and scholar Dunbar-Ortiz (The Great Sioux Nation) launches a full-bore attack on what she perceives as the glaring gaps in U.S. history about the continent’s native peoples. Professional historians have increasingly been teaching much of what Dunbar-Ortiz writes about yet, given what she argues is the vast ignorance of the Indigenous experience, there still remains a knowledge deficit that needs to be rectified. She describes the U.S. as “a colonialist settler state, one that, like the colonialist European states, crushed and subjugated the original civilizations in the territories it now rules.

— Publishers Weekly

Michael Eric Dyson. Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America. 2017.

Short, emotional, literary, powerful ― Tears We Cannot Stop is the book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations will want to read.

As the country grapples with racist division at a level not seen since the 1960s, one man’s voice soars above the rest with conviction and compassion. In his 2016 New York Times op-ed piece “Death in Black and White,” Michael Eric Dyson moved a nation. Now he continues to speak out in Tears We Cannot Stop ― a provocative and deeply personal call for change. Dyson argues that if we are to make real racial progress we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how Black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted.

— Goodreads

Andrea Elliott. Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City. 2021.

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City, is sure to linger in the minds of many readers long after the last page has been turned.

The book takes on poverty, homelessness, racism, addiction, hunger, and more as they shape the lives of one remarkable girl and her family. The invisible child of the title is Dasani Coates. We meet Dasani in 2012, when she is 11 years old and living with her parents, Chanel and Supreme, and seven siblings in one of New York City’s shelters for families experiencing homelessness. At the time, Elliott is researching what would become a five-part series featuring Dasani in The New York Times. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist ultimately follows Dasani and her family for a period of eight years, tracking a stunning array of heartrending tragedies and remarkable triumphs.


Cathy Park Hong: Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning. 2020.

Halfway through her debut essay collection, Minor Feelings, author and artist Cathy Park Hong makes clear her mission: “I have some scores to settle … with this country, with how we have been scripted.”

The “we” here are Asian Americans and how we’re seen in this country in a time when the us-versus-them dynamic can feel overpowering. In Minor Feelings, the author asks us to reconsider the effects of racism against Asian Americans and how it persists.

“The lie that Asians have it good is so insidious that even now as I write,” she notes, “I’m shadowed by the thought that I didn’t have it bad compared to others. But racial trauma is not a competitive sport.”


Deepa Iyer. We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future. 2015.

Iyer asks whether hate crimes should be considered domestic terrorism and explores the role of the state in perpetuating racism through detentions, national registration programs, police profiling and constant surveillance. She looks at topics including Islamophobia in the Bible Belt; the “Bermuda Triangle” of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim hysteria; and the energy of new reform movements, including those of “undocumented and unafraid” youth and Black Lives Matter.>

In a book that reframes the discussion of race in America, a brilliant young activist provides ideas from the front lines of post-9/11 America.

— Goodreads

Ibram X. Kendi: How to Be an Antiracist. 2019.

Kendi’s argument is brilliantly simple. An idea, action or policy is either racist – that is, contributing to a history that regards and treats different races as inherently unequal — or it is antiracist, because it is trying to dismantle that history. There is nothing in between. There is no pure state of racism or antiracism: people of all races and backgrounds can fall into either category depending on their ideas, actions or the policies they support.

… Antiracism takes effort. Kendi has made clear in his previous work that he rejects the idea that racism is born out of ignorance. Racism, history shows, is born out of its profitability and utility. It is rooted in patriarchy and capitalism. To stand against it requires acknowledging what he calls “the metastatic cancer” that has seen “racism spread to nearly every part of the body politic.”

— The Guardian

Martin Luther King Jr. Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? 1967.

In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. isolated himself from the demands of the civil rights movement, rented a house in Jamaica with no telephone, and labored over his final manuscript. In this prophetic work, … he lays out his thoughts, plans, and dreams for America’s future, including the need for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing and quality education. With a universal message of hope that continues to resonate, King demanded an end to global suffering, asserting that humankind — for the first time — has the resources and technology to eradicate poverty.

— Goodreads

Maxine Hong Kingston. I Love a Broad Margin to My Life. 2011.

Kingston’s swift, effortlessly flowing verse lines feel instantly natural in this fresh approach to the art of memoir, as she circles from present to past and back, from lunch with a writer friend to the funeral of a Vietnam veteran, from her long marriage (“can’t divorce until we get it right. / Love, that is. Get love right”) to her arrest at a peace march in Washington, where she and her “sisters” protested the Iraq war in the George W. Bush years. Kingston embraces Thoreau’s notion of a “broad margin,” hoping to expand her vista: “I’m standing on top of a hill; / I can see everywhichway— / the long way that I came, and the few / places I have yet to go. Treat / my whole life as if it were a day.”

— Goodreads

John Lewis. Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. 1999.

An eloquent, epic firsthand account of the civil rights movement by a man who lived it — an American hero whose courage, vision and dedication helped change history. [The late John Lewis, t]he son of an Alabama sharecropper, … led an extraordinary life, one that found him at the epicenter of the civil rights movement in the late ’50s and ’60s. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis was present at all the major battlefields of the movement. Arrested more than 40 times and severely beaten on several occasions, he was one of the youngest yet most courageous leaders.

— Goodreads

Audre Lorde. Sister Outsider. 1984.

A collection of 15 essays written between 1976 and 1984 gives clear voice to Audre Lorde’s literary and philosophical personae. These essays explore and illuminate the roots of Lorde’s intellectual development and her deep-seated and longstanding concerns about ways of increasing empowerment among minority women writers and the absolute necessity to explicate the concept of difference — difference according to sex, race, and economic status. The title Sister Outsider finds its source in her poetry collection The Black Unicorn (1978). These poems and the essays in Sister Outsider stress Lorde’s oft-stated theme of continuity, particularly of the geographical and intellectual link between Dahomey, Africa, and her emerging self.

— Goodreads

Heather McGhee. The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. 2021.

It’s a self-defeating form of exclusion, a determination not to share resources even if the ultimate result is that everyone suffers. McGhee writes about health care, voting rights and the environment; she persuasively argues that white Americans have been steeped in the notion of “zero sum” — that any gains by another group must come at white people’s expense. She talks to scholars who have found that white respondents believed that anti-white bias was more prevalent than anti-Black bias, even though by any factual measure this isn’t true. This cramped mentality is another legacy of slavery, McGhee says, which really was zero sum — extractive and exploitative, like the settler colonialism that enabled it. She writes that zero-sum thinking “has always optimally benefited only the few while limiting the potential of the rest of us, and therefore the whole.”

— The New York Times

Joey Mogul, Andrea Ritchie and Kay Whitlock. Queer (In)justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States. 2012.

Queer (In)Justice is a searing examination of queer experiences as “suspects,” defendants, prisoners and survivors of crime. The authors unpack queer criminal archetypes like “gleeful gay killers,” “lethal lesbians,” “disease spreaders” and “deceptive gender benders” to illustrate the punishment of queer expression, regardless of whether a crime was ever committed. Tracing stories from the streets to the bench to behind prison bars, they prove that the policing of sex and gender both bolsters and reinforces racial and gender inequalities.

— Beacon Press

Toni Morrison. The Bluest Eye. 1970.

The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author’s girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of Black, 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves’ garden do not bloom, Pecola’s life does change — in painful, devastating ways.

The Bluest Eye remains one of Toni Morrison’s most powerful, unforgettable novels — and a significant work of American fiction.

— Goodreads

Jason Mott: Hell of a Book: A Novel. 2021.

In Hell of a Book, an African American author sets out on a cross-country book tour to promote his bestselling novel. That storyline drives Jason Mott’s novel and is the scaffolding of something much larger and more urgent: since his novel also tells the story of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour.

Throughout, these characters’ stories build and build and as they converge, they astonish. For while this heartbreaking and magical book entertains and is at once about family, love of parents and children, art, and money, there always is the tragic story of a police shooting playing over and over on the news.

— Goodreads

Ijeoma Oluo. Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America. 2020.

What happens to a country that tells generation after generation of white men that they deserve power? What happens when success is defined by status over women and people of color, instead of by actual accomplishments?

Through the last 150 years of American history — from the post-reconstruction South and the mythic stories of cowboys in the West, to the present-day controversy over NFL protests and the backlash against the rise of women in politics — Ijeoma Oluo exposes the devastating consequences of white male supremacy on women, people of color, and white men themselves. Mediocre investigates the real costs of this phenomenon in order to imagine a new white male identity, one free from racism and sexism.

As provocative as it is essential, this book will upend everything you thought you knew about American identity and offers a bold new vision of American greatness.

— Seal Press

Tommy Orange: There There. 2018.

There There, the debut novel by Native American author Tommy Orange: Even if the rest of its story were just so-so — and it’s much more than that — the novel’s prologue would make this book worth reading.’s>

In that 10-page prologue, Orange wittily and witheringly riffs on some 500 years of Native people’s history, a history of genocide and dislocation presented mostly through the image of heads. He begins with a description of the “Indian Head test pattern,” a graphic that closed out America’s television programming every night during the age of black-and-white TV. He then catapults backwards to 1621 and the first Thanksgiving, then bebops through a litany of Indian massacres in American history.


Aarti Shahani. Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares. 2019.

The Shahanis came to Queens — from India, by way of Casablanca — in the 1980s. They were undocumented for a few unsteady years and then, with the arrival of their green cards, they thought they’d made it. This is the story of how they did and didn’t; the unforeseen obstacles that propelled them into years of disillusionment and heartbreak; and the strength of a family determined to stay together.

Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares follows the lives of Aarti, the precocious scholarship kid at one of Manhattan’s most elite prep schools, and her dad, the shopkeeper who mistakenly sells watches and calculators to the notorious Cali drug cartel. Together, the two represent the extremes that coexist in our country, even within a single family, and a truth about immigrants that gets lost in the headlines. It isn’t a matter of good or evil; it’s complicated.

Ultimately, Here We Are is a coming-of-age story, a love letter from an outspoken modern daughter to her soft-spoken Old-World father. She never expected they’d become best friends.

— MacMillan Publishers

Clint Smith. How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America. 2021.

How the Word Is Passed recounts Smith’s visits to historical sites in America and West Africa to interrogate how slavery and its deleterious aftermath are taught. Smith interviews white and Black tour guides on how they educated themselves about the sites where they work. He also interviews members of the public on their reactions to new information presented on the tours. Smith grounds his work in scholarship, citing primary sources such as letters and speeches, a wide range of historians, and the indispensable oral histories of former enslaved people recorded by the Federal Writers’ Project (part of the New Deal). The result is an eminently readable, thought-provoking volume, with a clear message to separate nostalgic fantasy and false narratives from history.

— The Washington Post

Bryan Stevenson. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. 2014.

An unforgettable true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to end mass incarceration in America — from one of the most inspiring lawyers of our time.

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law office in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to defending the poor, the incarcerated, and the wrongly condemned.

Just Mercy tells the story of [Equal Justice Initiative], from the early days with a small staff facing the nation’s highest death sentencing and execution rates, through a successful campaign to challenge the cruel practice of sentencing children to die in prison, to revolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with our history of racial injustice.

— Goodreads

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. 2019.

The story of housing discrimination in America is complicated and rooted in a long history of racist policies stretching back to slavery. Well into the 20th century, the government systematically discriminated against Black homeowners through a process known as “redlining,” which constrained who could get decent mortgages for good homes and where those homes could be built.

In the ’70s, the government abandoned redlining in an attempt to level the playing field for everyone. This was seen as an improvement on overtly racist policies, but, in reality, the new practices reinforced the very problems they hoped to solve.

Taylor argues that the abolition of redlining led to a new type of housing discrimination, something she calls “predatory inclusion.” Under this model, bankers and real estate brokers worked in tandem with the government to support housing policies that fortified racial inequalities and made billions of dollars for the private sector.

— Vox

James Welch. Fools Crow. 1987.

Set in Montana shortly after the Civil War, this novel tells of White Man’s Dog (later known as Fools Crow, so called after he killed the chief of the Crows during a raid), a young Blackfeet Indian on the verge of manhood, and his band, known as the Lone Eaters. The invasion of white society threatens to change their traditional way of life, and they must choose to fight or assimilate.

The story is a powerful portrait of a fading way of life. The story culminates with the historic Marias Massacre of 1870, in which the U.S. Cavalry mistakenly killed a friendly band of Blackfeet, consisting mostly of noncombatants.


Ida B. Wells. The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader. 2014.

The broadest and most comprehensive collection of writings available by an early civil and women’s rights pioneer. Seventy-one years before Rosa Parks’ courageous act of resistance, police dragged a young Black journalist named Ida B. Wells off a train for refusing to give up her seat. The experience shaped Wells’ career, and — when hate crimes touched her life personally — she mounted what was to become her life’s work: an anti-lynching crusade that captured international attention. This volume covers the entire scope of Wells’ remarkable career, collecting her early writings, articles exposing the horrors of lynching, essays from her travels abroad, and her later journalism. The Light of Truth is both an invaluable resource for study and a testament to Wells’ long career as a civil rights activist.

— Chicago Public Library

Isabel Wilkerson. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. 2020.

Wilkerson’s book is about how brutal misperceptions about race have disfigured the American experiment. This is a topic that major historians and novelists have examined from many angles, with care, anger, deep feeling and sometimes simmering wit.

Wilkerson’s book is a work of synthesis. She borrows from all that has come before, and her book stands on many shoulders. Caste lands so firmly because the historian, the sociologist and the reporter are not at war with the essayist and the critic inside her. This book has the reverberating and patriotic slap of the best American prose writing.

— The New York Times


Will the Tops mass shooting suspect face the death penalty?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — New York State does not have the death penalty, but the federal government does. Some of the federal charges the Tops mass shooting suspect may face carry that punishment.

“If they become an indictment, and the indictment is prosecuted successfully, it could be death penalty charges. The death penalty would be established ahead of time before the case ever went to court because it has to be established via the death penalty unit in the Justice Department of DC. It’s not determined at the local level. It’s determined at the national level,” Christopher Belling, an attorney, said.

Belling said it’s a toss up if the federal government will put the death penalty on the table.

“Both the Attorney General and the President have indicated that they’re not big death penalty proponents. But they’ve also indicated that in the right case, they could apply the law that exists. So the question is, is this the right case? And if this isn’t the right case, what is?” Belling said.

Belling said a committee in Washington D.C. determines if the suspect will face the death penalty, but the opinions of others are taken into consideration.

The Attorney General met with victims’ families Wednesday, and he said the death penalty was a topic of conversation.

“If you have the actual survivors, the ten people, their families that are surviving from the people that died in this event, and they express opposition to the death penalty, I think that would be significant. It would carry some weight in making the determination,” Belling said.

The Death Penalty Information Center said 79 defendants have been sentenced to death since the punishment was reinstated federally in 1976. 16 have been executed since then. Not one individual, either on death row or who has been put to death, is from New York State.

But the process between being sentenced to death and when execution actually happens can take decades.

“It’s just a process of appeal upon appeal upon appeal,” Belling said.

The Death Penalty Information Center said one sentenced to death can appeal as a matter of right to the Court of Appeals for the circuit where the case was tried.

After the appeal, the death-row prisoner can also ask the trial court that imposed the death penalty to review the constitutionality of the conviction and sentence.

Death-row inmates can also appeal their conviction to the Supreme Court of the United States, but the Court must agree to hear the case, or it won’t take it.

The President can also grant pardon to a death row prisoner.

Belling said the multiple rounds of appeals are exhausted to make sure an innocent individual is not put to death.

“So that no stone is left un-turned in a death penalty case. It’s obviously important. There have been instances, I’m sure, where the wrong people have been executed. That’s the absolute antithesis of the way the criminal justice system is supposed to work,” Bellings said.


Rep. Hebl: Juneteenth | WisPolitics.com

June 19, referred to as Juneteenth, is the anniversary of the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved people in Texas and the former Confederacy on June 19th 1865. Though it has been celebrated in parts of the country for over 150 years, it was finally made a federal holiday in 2021.

Students are often taught that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed all enslaved people in the rebelling states. However, in practice, chattel slavery continued for more than two years after Lincoln’s Proclamation. It only truly ended on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas when a Union general read a federal order declaring all enslaved people in the state of Texas to be free.

It is especially important to educate ourselves on the history of Black America. Too often it is overlooked when recounting the history of America. Students are usually taught basic outlines of Black History, such as the Emancipation Proclamation, Brown v Board of Education, Jackie Robinson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Rarely do they learn about other important figures and events in Black History such as the Black Wall Street massacre, the end of Reconstruction, Claudette Colvin, and the Tuskegee Experiment. These things are difficult to have conversations about, because they deal with heavy topics. However, they are important when trying to understand how our country has arrived to where we are now. Black history is American history, and Juneteenth is a significant moment in the American timeline.

On Juneteenth we celebrate the day the last of the enslaved people were freed from bondage, starting Black America on a long road to securing equal footing in the United States- a quest that continues to this very day. There is a lot of work that we have left to do to address issues that disproportionately affect black Americans, such as infant mortality rates, child poverty rates, lack of quality education, and unequal treatment in the American criminal justice system. We have to do better for our fellow Americans.


Community seeks solutions during Emancipation Conversations Lecture Series

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — All week the Emancipation Park Conservancy is hosting community conversations leading up to this weekend’s Juneteenth celebration.

On Tuesday night, social justice and communities of color were the topics at hand.

The event at the cultural center brought together a diverse group including activists, academics, a judge, and Houstonians interested in justice and creating a safe community.

PJ Floyd spoke at the event. He’s George Floyd’s brother. He became an activist after Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. PJ talked about the challenges and roadblocks that have come up against police reform since 2020.

Howard Henderson, Ph.D., and Whitney Threadcraft, Ph.D., offered insight into how research and data can help steer the community toward solutions. They talked about using metrics to hold elected leaders accountable and funding for intervention programs that can keep people out of the criminal justice system.

Judge Tonya Jones works within the justice system and explained how she and others in her position can create change from within. Panelists said it’s important to have this conversation leading up to the Juneteenth celebration.

“These newly freed people fresh off the face bondage knew we needed a dedicated space for community and service. Emancipation Park continues that tradition. We are excited to still be a hub for people in the community. It really is just a natural extension of that lineage of support of the community,” Jones said.

Wednesday at 6:30 p.m, the cultural center will host another conversation. The topic is art and community redevelopment. ABC13 is the official media sponsor.

For updates on this story, follow Briana Conner on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.


What Can Philanthropy Do to Reduce Polarization? A Conversation with Steve Teles

Steven Teles is professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and senior fellow at the Niskanen Center, a think tank founded in 2015 to “promote an open society” and push back “against a new breed of populists animated by a vision of a closed and exclusive national community.” Teles is the author of several books, including “The Captured Economy: How The Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth and Increase Inequality” (with Brink Lindsey), “Prison Break: Why Conservatives Turned Against Mass Incarceration” (with David Dagan), and “The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law.”

Teles has been a keen observer of conservative philanthropy and also written incisively about the role of foundations in an increasingly divisive political environment, including his dual articles in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Philanthropy in a Time of Polarization,” written with Heather Hurlburt and Mark Schmitt, as well as “The Elusive Art of Evaluating Advocacy.” I recently connected with Steve to explore the topic of philanthropy and polarization in greater depth. 

Steve, it strikes me that philanthropy has played a powerful role in recent decades in fueling political division in this country — with both left and right donors underwriting ideologically driven think tanks, advocacy groups, opinion media, and more. I’ve played my own small part in this development, arguing since the 1990s that liberal foundations need to invest more deeply in policy and legal work to advance their values and also co-founding a progressive think tank, Demos. But I’m also concerned about our nation’s intensifying polarization. What openings do you see for philanthropy to help defuse this growing division — like helping foster new coalitions to solve national problems?

I think it is an open question how much philanthropy has actually contributed to polarization. I regularly teach a class at Johns Hopkins that addresses the causes of political polarization, and philanthropy is pretty far down the list of causes compared to the racial realignment of the parties, the rise of social issues on the political agenda, and the decline of intra-party factional competition. But I do think that philanthropy can play a really vital role in reducing — or at least working around — polarization. There are a lot of issues out there that are incredibly important to the future of the country, but which are not currently part of the central axis of party conflict. 

One great example is the housing crisis in many of our big cities, the root of which is restrictive zoning. That issue just cuts straight through the middle of both parties. The left cares about it because of the effects of spiraling housing costs on inequality and opportunity, and the right sees it as a classic case of the impact of overregulation. But despite the importance of the issue, the “YIMBY” (Yes in My Backyard) movement is just massively underfunded compared to a range of other issues. Philanthropists on the left and right should really be working to deepen the organizational bench on the issue, supporting everything from local political organizing to litigation, legislative work to research. 

There are a lot of other issues that have the same basic structure — enormous importance, low polarization and relatively low agenda status. That’s a natural place for philanthropists on the left and right to work together, and the more that policymakers start to work on those issues, the more they will get used to making cross-ideological coalitions and want to do more. That’s a really promising, slow-motion way to work against polarization. 

I want to come back in a moment to your suggestions for how philanthropy can help build cross-ideological coalitions. But let me just push a bit on the question of philanthropy’s role in fostering polarization. I agree that there are other, more important drivers here. But it’s also true that since the 1960s, philanthropy has underwritten a vast complex of ideologically driven nonprofits that have played a significant role in shaping public debates. So while 60 or 70 years ago, leading civil society organizations were largely membership-based groups, today, civil society is much more dominated by professional nonprofit leaders bankrolled by foundations and major donors. So my question is this: When we talk about how philanthropy can reduce polarization, don’t we also need to talk about ways it might change to stop driving this trend in the first place? 

There’s no question that the growth of what Theda Skocpol has called “associations without members” has grown in the last half-century, and mass membership organizations have shrunk. Before the 1960s, if you were an idealistic person who wanted to drive social change in some way, you really didn’t have much choice to either build a mass membership organization or work within one. But things really did change in the 1960s. Foundations like Ford and Rockefeller began to fund a huge network of organizations in law, civil rights, feminism, consumerism and the environment, a process I examined as the backdrop to my book “The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement.” Suddenly, if you were that idealistic person, you could skip over the step of building a mass movement and put out your shingle and start suing, lobbying and publishing. That model — a professionally staffed organization based in D.C., no members, funded primarily by foundations — came to be the dominant one on the center-left. 

That helped generate some of the characteristic features of contemporary elite polarization. You’ve got what I’ve called “advocacy” rather than representation, in which groups claim to speak for constituencies that they don’t actually have any organic structures of accountability to. I think that has had some important impacts on both the left and right. On the left, it has simultaneously encouraged an embrace of positions on social issues that are not widely supported by the actual people being advocated for, but also a kind of piecemeal, bite-sized economic policy that flows out of the fact that they are not trying to organize mass constituencies. On the right, I think it encouraged an economic policy that was at odds with the actual preferences of conservative voters (but aligned with conservative donors, whose preferences ran strongly libertarian on economics) on things like entitlements and trade. One way to think about the politics of the last few decades is that we’ve had an ideological conflict on both social and economic issues as a consequence of the incentives of the organizations competing for attention; that has left broad swathes of what the public actually cares about relatively unorganized. So in that sense, I think it probably does make sense to say that philanthropy has had an impact on polarization in shaping what we think it is we are supposed to be fighting about. 

Great points. Although to be fair, philanthropy has often worked to amplify social movements that do have strong popular support but lack financial resources. The problem, as you note, is that it can be hard to know which funder-backed groups speak for lots of people and which don’t. IP ran an article recently, for example, noting the seeming disconnect between the more moderate political views of voters of color and the very progressive priorities of many of the groups that purport to speak for those voters. Broadly, it does seem that nonprofit advocacy work draws ideologically motivated people and, thanks to philanthropy, it’s much easier for such people to have status and influence than in the past. 

Alas, though, it’s one thing for us to agree that philanthropy helps to drive polarization, and quite another to figure out what to do about this problem! It’s not so easy to restructure charitable laws to reduce the flow of money to places like the Heritage Foundations or the Center for American Progress. 

It’s unquestionably the case that, as you say, there’s a disconnect between the broad base of advocacy groups and the constituencies they speak for. And that’s not always a bad thing! Another name for being ahead of the constituencies you claim to speak for is leadership. But that usually has to occur within the context in which the leaders and the followers are actually part of some kind of relationship of accountability, and that’s what we mostly do not have on the left side of the spectrum. Michael Fortner of Claremont McKenna College wrote a great piece for the Niskanen Center on precisely this topic, in the context of the debate around defunding the police. It came out at a time when Democrats were thinking they needed to embrace the idea in order to be in solidarity with African Americans. But majorities of African-Americans didn’t actually want to reduce funding for police (although they wanted quite different policing, other services, etc.). But that part of the African American population isn’t well represented in the advocacy community, although they loom very large in the minds of African American elected officials (which is why Rep. Clyburn, for instance, saw almost immediately that the defunding the police idea was bad politics). 

Also, I don’t know that I particularly want to reduce the flow of money to Heritage and CAP. If anything, the think tank space is actually underfunded. In a world in which there’s so much money providing information to policymakers on behalf of organized special interests, especially business interests, it’s good to have other sources of information. And however imperfectly, think tanks do that. Heritage has actually played a pretty wholesome role on criminal justice in recent years, for instance, even as I’m not thrilled with most of the rest of what they do (and I should note that it wasn’t so many years ago, when Stuart Butler ran domestic policy there, that they actually contributed some pretty useful ideas into public discourse). 

So let’s turn the conversation to how philanthropy can play a proactive role in finding ways around today’s deep ideological fault lines and help catalyze breakthroughs on tough issues. Before getting into your housing example, I wanted to first ask about criminal justice reform, which strikes me as a great example of how an unusual left-right coalition has come together in recent years with help from philanthropy. 

I discuss this topic in my book with David Dagan, “Prison Break: How Conservatives Turned Against Mass Incarceration.” It is certainly the case that what was initially a pretty small group of funders played an important role in supporting the growth of a conservative policy infrastructure on criminal justice reform. Now, it’s important to recognize that some of that apparatus existed years before there was much actual right-left policy reform of the kind that we’ve seen in states like Georgia and Texas, the most important example of which was Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship. And that organization, which began by doing just prison ministry rather than policy work, got most of its support from Christian conservatives and not foundations. But many of the big policy breakthroughs happened because you got new conservative organizations on the right like Right on Crime, which was created by the very conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). 

The story we tell in “Prison Break” is that the most important donor in this process was the Pew Charitable Trust’s criminal justice program under Adam Gelb, who is a genuinely impressive political and policy strategist. He was mostly trying to get policy changed through these Justice Reinvestment Initiatives in various states that bring together all parts of state government, across both parties. He saw that the Right on Crime idea that Marc Levin at TPPF had would be a powerful ally in bringing conservatives to the table and helping to legitimate the idea that reducing incarceration has support on the right. So he put Pew funds behind building Right on Crime, and eventually other donors of somewhat more strident views supported them, as well. 

I think right now, however, that for those on the center-right to have a greater and more useful impact on the criminal justice conversation, there need to be more groups with really serious analytical chops and stronger connections to the best academic work being done on the subject. That would allow conservatives to play a role of injecting their own policy ideas into the conversation, instead of mostly playing a role of doing “identity vouching” for ideas that mostly originate on the left. That is what we have been trying to do with our criminal justice program at the Niskanen Center — not questioning the goal of reducing mass incarceration, but arguing that to do that, every other part of the criminal justice system is going to have to become massively more effective — parole, probation and police. We still have a considerable — and sadly, increasing — problem of violent crime, and if we don’t solve that problem in a way that doesn’t increase incarceration, it’ll get solved in a way that does. 

Sounds like interesting work. Good luck finding funding for it. Now, let’s get back to housing. How might funders on the left and right work together in new ways to make a greater dent in this problem?

The first thing I’d say is, compare the philanthropic investment in the issue to any other issue of comparable importance. In criminal justice, education reform and climate change, there are dozens of foundations pouring in hundreds of millions of dollars every year. The program officers meet regularly to chart strategy and identify gaps in advocacy and research, and they invest across 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4) and even direct campaign spending. There are a few foundations that have made really critical investments in the YIMBY infrastructure (like Open Philanthropy and Patrick Collison, among others), and a few foundations that focus on housing more generally who are moving into the space of the overall regulation of the housing market. But it is orders of magnitude smaller than comparable issues. And I know of no major foundation that has made this their No. 1 priority. In some ways, this has actually, perhaps ironically, been a strength of the YIMBY movement. The movement had to do a lot of bootstrapping, depending on the voluntary efforts of citizens. It really is a grassroots movement, in a way that it is hard to be when you are dependent on foundations for support. But at this point, there are just so many needs that the YIMBY movement has if it is going to really have an impact nationwide. 

Even in a highly polarized political environment like we have today, this is an issue that philanthropists who want to work across ideological and partisan lines will find enormous opportunities. You can support think tanks doing research on the issue like the Mercatus Center, Niskanen Center and Brookings. There are public-interest law firms on the issue, as well as places that have huge needs but almost no full-time lawyering. Many of the grassroots YIMBY organizations need paid organizers to get the most out of their base of volunteers. You could get enormous amounts of valuable labor out of students in law and business schools — both conservatives and liberals — if there was an apparatus in place, like legal clinics, to funnel them into activism. And even though there are some important ideological differences between left and right on the issue, there is still a pretty strong base of agreement on the need for more housing of all sorts. But someone has to take the lead on the philanthropic side, and I think this makes the issue perfect for a new donor just starting to figure out how they want to engage with social change, especially one with fairly unorthodox ideological preferences of the kind that are characteristic of the tech sector in particular.

All that makes a lot of sense. And with so many wealthy newcomers arriving in philanthropy looking to make a difference, we can only hope that a few of them will see that there’s a real opening here. Progressive funders should be drawn to YIMBYism to help relieve a housing crunch that hits lower-income families especially hard. Conservative funders should like the idea of pruning back regulation. 

What are some other areas where you see the potential for a similar left-right convergence? It seems like occupational licensing is a great example of overregulation that imposes high costs on those at the lower end of the income spectrum, but I haven’t seen any action on this issue by philanthropy at all. 

Libertarian donors have funded groups like the Institute for Justice to work on occupational licensing. But my sense is it is the kind of thing that really motivates libertarian lawyers and thinkers more than donors, and with donors, the kinds of things that motivate them are more the obstacles to low-level entrepreneurship rather than the things that really distort markets — which is mostly in healthcare, where you have both enormous upward redistribution and huge obstacles to innovation and cost control. But just like in housing, the whole field of regressive regulation is a fantastic opportunity for a donor who really wants to focus and help build up an advocacy network. 

I’ll just give three examples. Look at who is in the 1% and you’ll find quite an enormous number of car dealers. That’s almost entirely a function of state franchising laws, which require that cars be sold through independent dealers. Those franchising laws exist almost solely due to the enormous political influence of car dealers in state legislatures and the fact that there’s almost no advocacy on the other side (although that’s changing a little bit because new car companies, like Tesla, want to sell directly to consumers). An even more egregious example of upward redistribution is title insurance. Anyone who has bought a house probably saw this at settlement and wondered what the hell it was, but it’s quite a lot of money, and in most other advanced countries, there’s nothing like it. It is basically pure rent-seeking, but the title insurers show up in legislatures and the people who pay it do not. Or take the regulation of dentists. In most states, dental hygienists are required to work out of a dentist’s office. If they were able to set up their own practices to clean teeth and were able to refer to dentists when necessary, there’s little question that really basic dental care would be cheaper and more available, and the income of dentists would go down and that of hygienists would go up. But dentists are enormously powerful and show up at state dental board meetings, which look remarkably like meetings of the dental profession. 

Basically, any policy domain like that is ripe for a donor who is willing to put patient money into building up a network of advocates to bring the other side of the issue to policymakers and raise the issue up on the public agenda. And none of those issues have a clear ideological edge to them, but they can bring in the left because of the impact on inequality and the right because they have the potential to open up markets. But to make a difference, a donor really needs to pick an area like this — and honestly, the more technical and seemingly boring the better — and develop a very deep knowledge base and commit to building up high-quality organizations for the long term. 

Those are great examples. I’ll add another: the huge regressive tax deductions for mortgages, pensions and health benefits. These deductions cost the U.S. Treasury a few hundred billion dollars a year and overwhelmingly benefit better-off Americans — since many low-income workers don’t have a 401k or a health plan and rent instead of own. Progressive funders should be gunning to take out these breaks in the name of equity; libertarian funders should want to kill them for their market-distorting effects. As far as I can see, though, very few funders at all are giving attention to this area. That’s another missed opportunity. What’s striking to me is how many funders focus on the same crowded issues — like education — and ignore areas where their money could potentially make a greater mark while also helping disrupt today’s entrenched ideological fault lines. 

Going back to the tax stuff, my favorite example of this are state and local firm-specific tax subsidies. The most notorious example of this was the huge package that Amazon got out of New York City, which eventually created such controversy that it was dropped. Or take the example of the Washington Commanders essentially holding a bidding war with Maryland, D.C. and Virginia for their new stadium (which thankfully has cooled down, largely because of the odiousness of owner Dan Snyder and the mediocrity of the team). These are just the very tip of the iceberg, however. As University of Texas political scientist and Niskanen Center Senior Fellow Nate Jensen has shown, this kind of negotiation by every sizable firm over the tax and subsidy package associated with new investment has just become the norm for how states and localities do business. These subsidies do not actually create more economic development in the aggregate, but they do weaken the tax base for everyone and place more of a burden on firms too small to lobby for a special deal. 

I asked Nate one time who in the Texas State Legislature was opposed to these deals, and he said it was basically the left-most members and those associated with the Texas Public Policy Foundation (the pretty hardcore conservative think tank). The liberals mostly don’t like it because of how it reduces money for government services, but conservatives don’t like it because it represents crony capitalism and flouts any idea of the rule of law. There are some free-market think tanks who are working on this (the Mackinac Center in particular) and some liberal organizations (like Good Jobs First) but given the scale of the problem, there really ought to be some donor who just makes funding a full-spectrum attack on this stuff their life’s work. 

We are seeing some funders invest in ideological bridge-building work. MacKenzie Scott has given heavily in this area and several foundations have joined together in the New Pluralists, a funder affinity group that exists to support “the growing field that is addressing our nation’s crisis of division, distrust, dehumanization and disconnection.” Do you think such efforts are likely to have an impact? 

I certainly don’t want to say that what they’re doing is bad. And it’s important in this area to be really clear that absolutely nobody really knows what will work. But I’m slightly skeptical of efforts to solve the problems of polarization and mistrust too directly. Ultimately, my argument is that what teaches people to see each other’s humanity and treat those different from them as fellow citizens and neighbors rather than enemies is actually doing things together, needing people different from them in order to achieve their ends. So for example, on campus, I think the most effective way to cut through the conflict generated by the somewhat artificial battles between campus progressives and reactionaries is more support for social and political projects where parts of the left and right agree on ends, but for different reasons. Almost every issue I described above has that character, whether it’s housing, criminal justice, licensing, or taxation, and there are plenty more. Working together across ideological lines can make very vivid that people who disagree with them on many things are actually a resource rather than an obstacle — they can do kinds of work that those on the other side just can’t do, because they can communicate with people who would otherwise be out of reach. So my theory is that this vision of effective pluralism is absolutely the right end, but the way to get there is less by building organizations specifically designed for that end and more by working on specific problems where pluralism is the byproduct of cross-cultural work. 

I’ll just reiterate again, however, that nobody knows what will work! That’s why I believe so strongly in the idea of “spread betting” in philanthropy — supporting different ideas with sometimes contradictory theories of action. I have a theory of how to get out of what my friend Lee Drutman has called our polarization “doom loop,” Lee has another idea, the New Pluralists have yet another theory of action. We need to be doing all of them. It may turn out that they have valuable synergies that we can’t currently predict. 

Thanks, Steve. This has been really interesting. 


Michelle Obama urges LA Summit crowd to help ‘expand democracy’ – Orange County Register

Former first lady Michelle Obama closed out the four-day Culture of Democracy Summit at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park by calling upon individuals and organizations alike to help inspire a cultural shift in how Americans participate in democracy — specifically when it comes to voting, on Monday June 13.

Related: LA voting summit’s lively conversations focus on democracy

“I want to implore every American who cares about our democracy not just to get angry — but to get active. We’ve got to change the way we think about our democracy and the way we participate in it,” Obama said. “Not just every two to four years, but routinely. I’m calling on anyone who cares to step up for our democracy.”

Organized by When We All Vote — a nonprofit organization co-founded by Obama and an array of celebrities in 2018 — the summit began with a series of online discussions Friday, then continued on through Monday.

Actress and singer Selena Gomez, the co-Chair of When We We All Vote and who recently earned strong reviews for her role in Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building,” introduced the former first lady and spoke about the success of the initiative thus far — and said its of the utmost importance that the culture around voting shifts.

“The people in elected positions impact all of us and make decisions on the issues we care about, and this November we will decide who will serve,” Gomez said. “But we can’t ignore that a lot of people don’t vote — that’s why we’re here, to change the culture around voting in each every election.”

Obama echoed that sentiment, arguing that recent events — including the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, laws challenging voter access across the country and recent bursts of gun violence — have disenfranchised voters on an unprecedented scale.

“Right now, when we look around at everything that’s happening, when it comes to voting and our democracy,” Obama said, “it is clear we’re seeing a deep discrepancy in what we tell ourselves about this country and what we can see with our own eyes.”

When We All Vote — founded in 2018 — ran a multifaceted campaign that reached more than 100 million Americans in 2020. That initiative led in voter registration, the website said, and as a result 512,000 people started or completed the voter registration process.

But those efforts were not enough to counter recent efforts to limit voting rights, Obama said. Last year alone, she added, 19 states passed bills to restrict voting rights — making it more difficult for 87 million people to cast their ballots.

States with GOP-controlled legislatures have adopted tighter rules following the 2020 presidential election, following former President Donald Trump’s efforts to cast doubt on his election loss.

“We’re all tired of how short-sighted elections can feel, how we keep hearing the stakes have never been higher,” Obama said. “Quite frankly — I’m tired of saying it.”

But, Obama added: “If you recognize that protecting and expanding our democracy is the best and only path out of this mess — we need to stop playing the same old song. We need a remix.”

The former first lady called upon individuals to think about how they, uniquely, can help reframe the societal narrative about voting. And, Obama called on several industries to do their parts as well — asking tech companies to better better monitor misinformation, and asking entertainment and social media stars to use their clout to inspire others to be active participants in the democratic process.


The 2022 Power of Diversity: Black 100

1. Eric Adams

New York City Mayor

Eric Adams
Brooklyn Borough President’s Office

New York City Mayor Eric Adams started his term with a pledge to “get stuff done.” As far as getting Albany on board with some of those priorities, he’s had mixed results. While the state’s leaders signed off on bail reform changes that he backed, he only managed to secure a two-year extension of mayoral control of schools. Throughout June, he’ll be keeping busy trying to get the New York City Council to sign off on his budget proposal, which would boost spending for police and set aside $5 billion for affordable housing.

2. Andrea Stewart-Cousins

State Senate Majority Leader

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins had a busy legislative session. The Westchester lawmaker passed legislation protecting abortion access and combating gun violence, which became a high priority after the deadly Buffalo supermarket shooting. And that’s after an already busy state budget process, which brought her successes such as increased funding for child care and disappointments such as bail reform rollbacks.

3. Carl Heastie

Assembly Speaker

Carl Heastie
New York State Assembly

New York’s redistricting snafu left the state’s political leaders in a tough position, though Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie avoided contending with changes to the Assembly’s new district maps – and any threats to his unsurmountable majority. Meanwhile, the Bronx legislator delivered a major victory to survivors of sexual abuse by passing the the previously stalled Adult Survivors Act and has kept laser focused on other progressive legislative priorities.

4. Letitia James

State Attorney General

Letitia James
Kyle O’Leary

State Attorney General Letitia James excited many New Yorkers with her gubernatorial aspirations last year. But James said she wanted to “finish the job” on various ongoing investigations she has spearheaded, shifting her focus to securing a second term as attorney general. With multiple court rulings in her favor, James’ probe into the business practices of former President Donald Trump and his associates remains one of her top priorities.

5. Hakeem Jeffries

Chair, House Democratic Caucus

Hakeem Jeffries
Office of Congressman Hakeem Jeffries

As New York’s court-appointed special master redrew the state’s electoral maps, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries went on the offensive. The House Democratic Caucus chair said the initial draft maps would “make Jim Crow blush” and decimate Black districts. In an effort to get the maps changed, the top-ranking Democrat spent tens of thousands of dollars in advertising to denounce the proposal. The final maps ultimately ensured that Bedford-Stuyvesant remained in one district as Jeffries insisted, but he still decried the process, calling it a “constitutional travesty.” 

6. Adrienne Adams

New York City Council Speaker

Adrienne Adams
New York City Council

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams has faced down her first budget negotiation process as the legislative body’s leader. The Queens lawmaker outlined several priorities in her State of the City speech in May, including increasing capital funding for housing to $4 billion, ensuring youth employment programs run year-round and expanding curbside organics collection in the five boroughs. Now, she has to square those goals with the mayor’s own budget proposal ahead of the July budget deadline.

7. Crystal Peoples-Stokes

Assembly Majority Leader

A white 18-year-old driven by racism shot 13 shoppers at a Buffalo supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in May, terrifying Western New York residents. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes called the attack in her district “an act of terrorism on the Black community.” She has joined other New York officials in pushing for a stronger response to racism and gun violence, while also urging the federal government to do more to regulate access to guns and other military-grade equipment.

8. Gregory Meeks

Member of Congress

Gregory Meeks
U.S. House

As chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Gregory Meeks has played a key role in Congress monitoring developments in Ukraine. He and other congressional leaders met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv earlier this year and worked with colleagues to pass legislation making it easier for the United States to lend the country military equipment. Meeks also criticized the process for redrawing electoral maps in New York in May, calling it “a disaster” and “anti-democratic.”

9. Jamaal Bailey

Chair, Bronx Democratic Party

Jamaal Bailey
New York State Senate

Throughout state Sen. Jamaal Bailey’s five years in office, he has been committed to criminal justice reform and greater police oversight. That includes sponsoring the Clean Slate Act and legislation that Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law in December that raises the minimum age for arrest and prosecution of juveniles from 7 to 12 years old. Bailey also continues to play a key role shaping political developments in the Bronx as the head of the Bronx Democratic Party.

10. Al Sharpton

Founder and President, National Action Network

Al Sharpton
Michael Frost

After a white teenager killed 10 shoppers and injured three in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, the Rev. Al Sharpton immediately headed to Western New York to console the families of the shooting victims and plead for change. The veteran civil rights leader pledged that his organization, the National Action Network, would cover the funeral expenses for those killed in the racist attack. He also called on President Joe Biden to hold a summit on hate crimes.

11. George Gresham

President, 1199SEIU

George Gresham
Kevin Coughlin/Office of the Governor

George Gresham was pleased with this year’s state budget, praising the “meaningful pay raise” allocated to home care workers in New York and increased funding for safety net hospitals. Supporting health care workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been a top priority for Gresham, who was elected president of the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East in 2007. The leader of New York’s largest union also joined the attorney general in calling for additional protections for nursing home workers.

12. Jumaane Williams

New York City Public Advocate

Jumaane Williams
Office of the Public Advocate

In this year’s gubernatorial election, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is the left-wing foil to Gov. Kathy Hochul. He has been critical of the governor’s decision to change the state’s bail reform laws, saying that she was “feed(ing) the fearmongering” to win the election. The public advocate has also been an avid critic of criminal justice policies on the local level, lambasting New York City Mayor Eric Adams for reinstating the plainclothes anti-gun unit of the NYPD.

13. Keechant Sewell

Commissioner, New York City Police Department

Keechant Sewell
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Mayor Eric Adams said he wanted an emotionally intelligent and compassionate leader when he interviewed a handful of high-ranking female officers last year. He ultimately chose then-Nassau County Chief of Detectives Keechant Sewell to serve as police commissioner. She immediately had to grapple with several severe crimes, including the shooting deaths of two young police officers. Sewell has also criticized the Manhattan district attorney’s prosecution policies as soft on crime and successfully lobbied for tougher bail reform measures in Albany.

14. Damian Williams

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York

Damian Williams
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York

Under Preet Bharara, the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York successfully prosecuted a string of corrupt state lawmakers. Damian Williams, the first Black occupant of the office, has brought renewed attention to Albany misdeeds, bringing a bombshell indictment against Brian Benjamin, a former state senator who had been appointed lieutenant governor, on campaign finance charges. Benjamin’s subsequent resignation shook up the New York political landscape. 

15. Ingrid Lewis-Martin

Chief Adviser, New York City Mayor’s Office

Ingrid Lewis-Martin
Gary Gershoff-Getty Images for Housing Works

Ingrid Lewis-Martin is one of few people in City Hall who can say with authority she speaks directly for the mayor. Adams’s closet adviser also happens to be his longest-serving aide. She handled hiring decisions and operations for Adams during his tenure as a state senator and was appointed deputy borough president when Adams was in Brooklyn Borough Hall. Now she preapproves budgets, recruits candidates for administration jobs and liaises with city agencies and public officials on Adams’ behalf.

16. David Banks

New York City Schools Chancellor

David Banks
NYC Department of Education

As New York City Mayor Eric Adams made his pitch to state lawmakers that mayoral control of the city’s public schools should be renewed, Schools Chancellor David Banks was right alongside him. Banks joined other Adams administration officials on a trip to Albany in May, aiming to assuage legislators’ concerns and pledging to ensure parents’ voices are heard. Banks also spearheaded an expansion of the city’s Gifted and Talented Program.

17. Sheena Wright

New York City Deputy Mayor for Strategic Initiatives

Sheena Wright
Celeste Sloman

Sheena Wright’s track record helping vulnerable New Yorkers attracted the attention of Eric Adams, who put the United Way executive in charge of his transition committee last year. Wright said she would prioritize diversity when filling out posts in the Adams administration and she scored a top position of her own when Adams tapped her to be a deputy mayor. She has since administered a scholarship account for 97% of kindergartners and helped secure $100 million to make child care more accessible.

18. Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn

Chair, Brooklyn Democratic Party

Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn
Kristen Blush

Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn has been busy leading a Brooklyn Democratic Party at war with itself. And this year’s primary elections, in which many reformer candidates are seeking to unseat incumbent district leaders, will play a key role in determining whether she comes out on top. Yet the Brooklyn Democratic leader continues to maintain strong ties at City Hall, backing Mayor Eric Adams as resolutely as she backed his predecessor, Bill de Blasio.

19. Darcel Clark

Bronx District Attorney

Darcel Clark
Joao D’alessandro

Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark has been vocal in calling for more flexibility in charging teenagers with gun possession and other limits prosecutors in New York City face. The borough’s top prosecutor – who was also the first Black woman to be elected as district attorney in the state – was pleased to see the governor and state Legislature take up many of those issues in this year’s state budget. That includes making it easier to prosecute gun trafficking and making changes to the state’s discovery laws.

20. Ritchie Torres

Member of Congress

Ritchie Torres
Office of Congressman Ritchie Torres

Rep. Ritchie Torres made history as the first openly gay Afro-Latino person elected to Congress two years ago. Since then, Torres has kept busy in New York City and on Capitol Hill. The Bronx lawmaker has pushed congressional leaders to ensure funding is in place for public housing and rental assistance, and together with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced legislation strengthening fire safety after a devastating Bronx fire killed 17 people earlier this year.

21. Yvette Clarke

Member of Congress

Yvette Clarke
U.S. House

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Yvette Clarke remains focused on cybersecurity issues and pressing local challenges in New York. Clarke, along with fellow representatives, sent a letter urging the Internal Revenue Service to halt the agency’s plan to require anyone trying to access records online to use facial recognition software. After a fire in the Bronx killed 17 residents early this year, the Brooklyn lawmaker and Rep. Ritchie Torres also introduced the Safer Heat Act, which would establish safety standards for space heaters.

22. Kyle Bragg

President, 32BJ SEIU

Kyle Bragg

More than 30,000 door attendants and building workers prepared to go on strike earlier this year. But Kyle Bragg of 32BJ SEIU managed to secure a contract deal with the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, averting a strike. Bragg, who has served as the union’s president since 2019, has been leading the push for increased wages for the workers to account for inflation. Having spent 35 years as a member of the 32BJ SEIU, Bragg has also been critical of high health care costs in New York.

23. Jabari Brisport

Chair, State Senate Committee on Children and Families

Jabari Brisport
Tess Mayer

The Democratic Socialists of America has made significant inroads in Albany in recent years, winning half a dozen state legislative seats and pushing for such legislation as higher taxes on the wealthy, single-payer health care and tenant protections. While progressive momentum on some issues, such as criminal justice reform, has fizzled this year, the DSA-backed state Sen. Jabari Brisport became the leading advocate of a push for universal child care – and notched a victory when the governor got behind a record $7 billion in child care funding.

24. Alvin Bragg

Manhattan District Attorney

Alvin Bragg
Kelly Campbell

Since making history as the first African American to serve as Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg has struggled with a rocky transition. The district attorney faced backlash soon after taking office for no longer prosecuting people for minor offenses such as marijuana misdeameanors and prostitution. By March, Bragg drew national scrutiny after two prosecutors in his office resigned over disagreements about whether to bring criminal charges against former President Donald Trump. He maintains that the high-profile investigation is still ongoing, and that his office is “exploring evidence not previously explored.”

25. Errol Louis

Host, “Inside City Hall,” NY1

Errol Louis
Spectrum News NY1

New York politicos seeking insight on the latest developments in New York City and Albany tune into “Inside City Hall” on NY1. Errol Louis has hosted the nightly primetime show for more than a decade, interviewing prominent local, state and national elected officials about pressing political issues in the region. Louis also regularly pens columns in New York magazine, evaluating topics such as the mayor’s progress on tackling crime and redistricting.

26. Latoya Joyner

Chair, Assembly Labor Committee

Latoya Joyner
New York State Assembly

Assembly Member Latoya Joyner has been laser-focused on pushing forward legislation to support workers in New York. The Assembly Labor Committee chair introduced the Warehouse Worker Protection Act alongside state Sen. Jessica Ramos, and it would prevent employers like Amazon from penalizing workers for failing to meet work quotas because they used rest periods and bathroom breaks. Joyner has also been working to get New York to pass a bill that would increase minimum wage to $20.45 by 2025.

27. Vanessa Gibson

Bronx Borough President

Vanessa Gibson
Finalis Valdez

Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson made history this year as the first woman and Black person to hold her position leading the borough. But soon after her tenure began, tragedy struck the Bronx, when an apartment building fire in Fordham Heights killed 17 people. Gibson’s team mobilized to help other government agencies and organizations connect victims to resources and accommodations in the aftermath. The borough president has also outlined economic development, job creation and COVID-19 recovery as some of her priorities in office.

28. Jamaal Bowman

Member of Congress

Jamaal Bowman
U.S. House

The first-term progressive representative who made headlines for defeating a longtime incumbent in 2020 appears to be coasting to reelection this year after emerging unscathed from redistricting. Rep. Jamaal Bowman has drawn some criticism for his decision to break from his fellow Democrats by taking a stance against the Abraham Accords and for voting against the $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill. Bowman managed to avoid what would’ve been a tough challenge from Rep. Mondaire Jones, who had the option of running in his district after new congressional maps were finalized.

29. Bill Thompson

Chair, City University of New York

Bill Thompson

The former New York City comptroller has presided over the city’s public university system during difficult times – and has gotten it through the other side. Bill Thompson, along with CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez, also hauled in $879 million for capital repair costs for its senior colleges and $240 million in operating funds in the state budget this year. There was talk Thompson could serve as Hochul’s lieutenant governor replacement, but he’s finishing out his term instead, ensuring CUNY continues to lift thousands of students out of poverty.

30. Samra Brouk, Cordell Cleare, Leroy Comrie, Robert Jackson, Zellnor Myrie, Kevin S. Parker, Roxanne Persaud & James Sanders Jr.

State Senators

Samra Brouk, Roxanne Persaud, Leroy Comrie, Robert Jackson, James Sanders Jr., and Kevin S. Parker
New York State Senate

Eleven Black lawmakers currently serve in the state Senate, led by state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Several of these senators hold key leadership positions, including state Sen. Leroy Comrie as chair of the Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions Committee, which involves overseeing important entities ranging from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to the New York City Housing Authority. State Sen. Kevin Parker of Brooklyn chairs the Energy and Telecommunications Committee and state Sen. Robert Jackson of Manhattan chairs the Civil Service and Pensions Committee. State Sen. James Sanders Jr., who chairs the Banks Committee, has been a champion of minority- and women-owned businesses, while state Sen. Roxanne Persaud is a key player in the nonprofit sector as chair of the Committee on Social Services. State Sen. Samra Brouk chairs the Mental Health Committee, state Sen. Zellnor Myrie chairs the Elections Committee and state Sen. Cordell Cleare – who won a special election last fall – chairs the Committee on Women’s Issues.

31. Mary Bassett

Commissioner, State Department of Health

Mary Bassett
Mike Wren/New York State Department of Health

Concerns about COVID-19, health care equity and other issues have kept Commissioner Mary Bassett occupied since December 2021. Though the doctor is not on the pandemic’s front lines, she constantly mans the informational front, providing New York state residents with the latest guidance on COVID-19, monkeypox and other health-related matters. Bassett has also been outspoken about New York’s continued commitment to abortion access as many states other states prepare to ban the procedure.

32. Anne Williams-Isom

New York City Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services

Anne Williams-Isom
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Anne Williams-Isom is Mayor Eric Adams’ go-to official when it comes to leading New York City’s initiatives around health and social services for vulnerable New Yorkers. That includes playing a key role in supporting an expansion of the city’s doula program and broader efforts to improve maternal health care in the region. Williams-Isom, who has previously led the nonprofit Harlem Children’s Zone, also continues to monitor the city’s continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

33. Mondaire Jones

Member of Congress

Mondaire Jones
Leah Herman/House Creative Services

Rep. Mondaire Jones has an unusual midterm election coming up. The first-term lawmaker has represented much of Rockland and Westchester counties, but after redistricting upheavals, is now busy running for an open seat encompassing lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. The unusual primary will have him facing off against numerous candidates, including former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera and Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou. Jones has already managed to get the backing of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, among others.

34. Donovan Richards

Queens Borough President

Donovan Richards
Office of the Queen’s Borough President

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards successfully staved off a tough challenge in his reelection bid last year. Since beginning his first full term as borough president, Richards has been occupied bolstering diversity on Queens community boards and trying to get the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on board for a proposal to establish a ferry service connecting travelers to LaGuardia Airport. He also will continue to be a key voice in proposed rezonings across the borough, including a redevelopment project in Astoria.

35. Selvena Brooks-Powers, Amanda Farías, Kamillah Hanks, Crystal Hudson, Rita Joseph, Farah Louis, Darlene Mealy, Mercedes Narcisse, Sandy Nurse, Chi Ossé, Kevin Riley, Pierina Sanchez, Althea Stevens & Nantasha Williams

New York City Council Members

Althea Stevens and Crystal Hudson
Tanasia Smith; Katrina Hajagos

One-third of the 51-member New York City Council identifies as Black or Afro Latino. Apart from Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, Black lawmakers in the legislative body hold some key posts, including Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers as majority whip and transportation committee chair, Council Member Kamillah Hanks as chair of the Public Safety Committee and Council Member Rita Joseph as chair of the Education Committee. Apart from Speaker Adams, who has been in office since 2018 (and Council Members Darlene Mealy and Charles Barron, who returned to the council this year after serving in it previously), the largely youthful group is on track to make its mark in the months and years ahead.

36. Lester Young Jr.

Chancellor, State Board of Regents

Lester Young Jr.
State Board of Regents

Lester Young Jr. has worked to positively impact the lives of students throughout the state on the state Board of Regents since 2021, relying on his experience as a teacher, principal and official with the state Education Department. A public servant for five decades, Young has been focused on attaining educational progress and addressing educational inequities across about 700 school districts. The veteran educator is the son of the late jazz great Lester Young.

37. Byron Brown

Buffalo Mayor

After dramatically losing the 2021 Democratic mayoral primary to candidate India Walton, Byron Brown saved face by securing victory in the general election with write-in votes. Now six months into his fifth term leading New York state’s second largest city, he faced a tremendous challenge guiding Buffalo residents after a white teenager allegedly shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in a predominantly Black east-side neighborhood. “We won’t let hateful ideology stop the progress that we are seeing and experiencing in the city of Buffalo,” Brown said on CBS News in May.

38. Adrienne A. Harris

Superintendent, State Department of Financial Services

Heading the state Department of Financial Services, Adrienne A. Harris plays an important role in overseeing and regulating New York’s financial services industry. To that end, she established a climate division for her agency, which issued guidance pushing insurers to take into account the financial risks presented by climate change. The Department of Financial Services has also been expanding its team focused on regulating and guiding cryptocurrency companies under her leadership.

39. Breon Peace & Trini Ross

U.S. Attorneys, Eastern District of New York; Western District of New York

Breon Peace & Trini Ross
United States Attorney’s Office/Eastern District of New York; U.S. Department of Justice; Eli Alford/Department of Justice

When he rolled out his U.S. attorney nominations last summer, President Joe Biden named Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton attorney Breon Peace to head the Eastern District of New York and Trini Ross, then an investigative director with the National Science Foundation’s Office of Inspector General, to lead the Western District of New York. Along with Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, their ascension marked “the 1st time that these 3 vital roles will be filled by 3 African American legal leaders at once!,” as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted in a tweet.

40. Wayne Spence

President, New York State Public Employees Federation

Wayne Spence

Wayne Spence has consistently proven he’s got the right stuff to lead the state’s second-largest public workers union, and the union’s members concurred by reelecting him to a third term as president last year. Through his time as a state parole officer and beyond, he’s been active with the New York State Public Employees Federation. Spence has gained member loyalty through concrete results, having negotiated three contracts with pay raises and no givebacks. Recently, Spence and union executives have been conducting a tour to meet with members in their workplaces.

41. Karines Reyes

Assembly Member

Karines Reyes
New York State Assembly

As abortion bans are on track to take hold in numerous states across the country, Assembly Member Karines Reyes has been one of the key lawmakers bolstering access to abortion in the state. The Bronx legislator has sponsored a bill that would create a special fund New Yorkers could donate to that would help people from other states get abortions and reproductive health care in New York. She has also rallied fellow lawmakers to adopt a measure for single-payer health care statewide.

42. Kristin Richardson Jordan & Charles Barron

New York City Council Members

Although New York City Council Member Kristin Richardson Jordan narrowly won her primary battle with incumbent Bill Perkins last year, she has quickly become one of the most high-profile members of the legislative body. She has been outspoken in her calls to abolish the NYPD, and just notched a major land use victory when a housing developer scrapped the One45 proposal that she argued was unsuitable for her Harlem district. Jordan and New York City Council Member Charles Barron, a veteran politician from Brooklyn and ideological ally on many issues, form an informal, two-member Black socialist caucus.

43. David R. Jones

President and CEO, Community Service Society of New York

David R. Jones

The leader of the Community Service Society of New York for over 35 years, David R. Jones has long been one of the foremost defenders of low-income New Yorkers. In his column in the New York Amsterdam News, Jones has called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign legislation to tackle medical debt, demanded that New York City Mayor Eric Adams have the New York City Police Department destroy illegally gathered DNA samples and advocated for more effective alternatives to expanding gifted and talented enrollment in the city.

Editor’s note: David R. Jones is a member of City & State’s advisory board.

44. Rudolph Wynter

President, National Grid New York

Rudolph Wynter
James Diaz Photography

Amid the push to wean New York off fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy sources, National Grid has another suggestion for fueling households. Rudolph Wynter stressed that the state’s gas infrastructure should have a role in the state’s energy portfolio and proposed using “fossil-free gas” sourced from methane from landfills and green hydrogen. The utility drew up the plans as an alternative to a state bill that would ban gas hook ups to new buildings starting in two years.

45. Philip Banks

New York City Deputy Mayor of Public Safety

New York City Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Philip Banks found some success pushing state lawmakers to adjust bail and discovery reforms to crack down on crime. Mayor Eric Adams will also be banking on the deputy mayor’s support as he tries to make good on his plans to crack down on gun violence, which continues to plague New York City. His appointment this year came under scrutiny due the fact that he was an unindicted co-conspirator in a police corruption probe.

46. Hawk & Chivona Newsome

Co-Founders, Black Lives Matter Greater New York

Hawk & Chivona Newsome
Burn Babylon

The brother-and-sister duo of Hawk and Chivona Newsome aren’t afraid to make powerful enemies in their efforts to stand up for Black New Yorkers. The Newsomes in recent months have called for NYPD officers to be disciplined for their brutal actions during protests following the killing of George Floyd and for renewed urgency in combating police violence – but Hawk’s warnings of “riots, fire and bloodshed” in response to a reinstated NYPD anti-gun unit prompted New York City Mayor Eric Adams to tell him to back down.

47. Christopher Alexander & Tremaine Wright

Executive Director; Chair, State Office of Cannabis Management; State Cannabis Control Board

Tremaine Wright
NYS Office of Cannabis Management

The state’s new marijuana law has been a long time coming, but New York’s cannabis officials Christopher Alexander and Tremaine Wright want to ensure its rollout won’t take years to implement. Alexander, a Queens native who was the lead author of the legalization bill, has taken on the role of cannabis czar and held workshops to help entrepreneurs gain a foothold. Wright, a former Brooklyn Assembly member in charge of regulating the industry, has estimated that legal weed would hit retail shops by this fall.

48. LaRay Brown

President and CEO, One Brooklyn Health System

LaRay Brown
Justin Persaud

Appointed as CEO in 2017, LaRay Brown took a pivotal role in the successful clinical and administrative consolidation of three health systems into the One Brooklyn Health System, serving the heavily populated central and northeast sections of the borough. She now oversees three hospitals, 12 ambulatory care centers, two nursing homes, an urgent care center and other sites serving Brooklynites. Brown joined other health care executives in March to call on state lawmakers to ensure safety-net hospitals are sufficiently funded.

49. Patrick B. Jenkins

President, Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates

Patrick B. Jenkins
Shibori Diy

The well-connected Albany insider might be the best way to get on Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s radar in the state Capitol. Patrick B. Jenkins once worked for Rep. Gregory Meeks and as a special assistant to Heastie. These days Jenkins fundraises for Democratic candidates and is a top government affairs professional in Albany, lobbying legislative leaders on behalf of clients like DraftKings and del Lago Resort & Casino.

50. Keith Wright

Director of Strategic Planning, Davidoff Hutcher & Citron

Keith Wright
Davidoff Hutcher & Citron

Keith Wright presently has an abundance of party wealth with the election wins of New York City Mayor Eric Adams and other city Democrats. The Manhattan Democratic Party boss and former Harlem Assembly member called New York’s draft congressional district maps “horrible,” saying they could hurt the voting rights of Black New Yorkers. And the final maps have two incumbent political veterans – Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney – facing off against each other in the borough, a faceoff Wright called unfortunate.

51. Philip Ozuah

President and CEO, Montefiore Medicine

Philip Ozuah
Serge Neville

Since 2019, Dr. Philip Ozuah has overseen the operation of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System, which covers the Bronx, Westchester County and other parts of the Hudson Valley through hospitals and outpatient ambulatory centers. Ozuah’s efforts to help underserved communities access health care got a major boost recently. In April, congressional representatives steered more than $3.3 million in federal funds toward Montefiore’s school-based health program serving Bronx students in pre-K through high school.

52. Darren Walker

President, Ford Foundation

Darren Walker
Justin French/Ford Foundation

When social justice and arts philanthropy makes headlines, Darren Walker and the Ford Foundation are often behind the news. Most recently, the $16 billion foundation has committed $10 million over five years toward organizations helping the transgender community and, alongside the Mellon Foundation, awarded funding to visual artists of Latin American or Caribbean descent. In May, Walker heralded the foundation’s release of a report calling on civic leaders to rethink social, economic and political systems to address global issues exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

53. Jennifer Jones Austin

CEO and Executive Director, FPWA

Jennifer Jones Austin
Rob White

The Brooklyn-based nonprofit leader’s tireless dedication to combating poverty earned her appointments to the New York City Board of Correction and the National Action Network’s board. But one of Jennifer Jones Austin’s most high-profile accomplishments may well be her work as chair of New York City’s Racial Justice Commission, which released a report identifying six patterns of systemic racism. The findings prompted New York City Mayor Eric Adams to promote three ballot initiatives that would establish a racial equity office and measure the true cost of living in the city.

54. William Floyd

Senior Director, U.S. State and Local Government Affairs, Google

William Floyd
Joshua Zuckerman

William Floyd’s duties for Google are wide-ranging, managing the tech giant’s state and local engagements with community leaders and elected officials nationwide. And he stays busy with other civic responsibilities in New York City, serving on Mayor Eric Adams’ new COVID-19 Recovery Roundtable and Health Equity Task force and as a board member for Tech:NYC, a nonprofit advocating on behalf of technology companies in the region.

55. Hope Knight

President, CEO and Commissioner, Empire State Development

Hope Knight
Empire State Development

When the governor needed someone to lead the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic, she turned to a business leader and city planning commissioner with a record of revitalizing southeast Queens. Hope Knight joined the Hochul administration in November and immediately set about administering more than $81 million in grants to 97 shovel-ready projects across the state. By March, nearly 30,000 small businesses had received $500 million in pandemic relief funds from Empire State Development. The agency also funded a $118 million mixed-use project in Brownsville in May.

56. Tyquana Henderson-Rivers

President, Connective Strategies

Tyquana Henderson-Rivers
Cedric Wooten

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s opponents for the June 28th primary elections are lined up and ready for challenge, but the governor is banking on politically savvy Tyquana Henderson-Rivers to help her secure victory. A veteran of political contests, Henderson-Rivers is also busy helping several other candidates in their respective primary races. In the past, she has played a key role delivering electoral victories to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.

57. Alicka Ampry-Samuel

Region 2 Regional Administrator, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Former Brooklyn City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel is familiar with the challenges surrounding public housing. Ampry-Samuel grew up in a New York City Housing Authority building in Brownsville, previously worked at NYCHA and helmed the City Council’s public housing committee. That made her a natural fit to serve as the regional administrator for New York and New Jersey at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a position she was appointed to by President Joe Biden in January.

58. Latrice Walker

Assembly Member

Latrice Walker
Dawit N.M.

Assembly Member Latrice Walker had been very public with her concerns about Mayor Eric Adam’s call for criminal bail reform rollbacks. She invited the mayor to have a public debate on the issue, which he declined. Ahead of the state budget, she took on a 19-day hunger strike in March to protest proposed rollbacks to the bail reform law. But the governor and state legislature ultimately agreed to make changes to the law, which Walker said would hurt the state’s efforts to end the criminalization of poverty and “do nothing to advance public safety.”

59. Malik Evans

Rochester Mayor

Malik Evans
Northglow Photography

The Rochester-born mayor’s 2021 victory is a breath of fresh air for some voters still reeling from the scandals that swirled around former Mayor Lovely Warren. Meanwhile, Evans is looking for a new police chief to cope with an uptick of gun violence in the city. In response to the proliferation of shootings, Evans also committed $5 million in April toward a new “Rochester Peace Collective” initiative, an effort that will channel funds to successful violence prevention programs.

60. Rachel Noerdlinger

Equity Partner, Actum

Rachel Noerdlinger
Actum Public Affairs

After handling the Rev. Al Sharpton’s press inquiries for more than two decades and coordinating media for funerals of George Floyd and others killed by police brutality, Rachel Noerdlinger left Mercury in January to join a new bipartisan strategic communications firm chaired by two former U.S. senators and former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Noerdlinger has since lured former Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to join the lobbying firm and continues to field media requests for Sharpton’s National Action Network.

61. Kassandra Frederique

Executive Director, Drug Policy Alliance

Kassandra Frederique
Drug Policy Alliance

The state’s legalization of recreational marijuana last year was the culmination of a multiyear campaign run by drug policy activists like Kassandra Frederique. Now that the state is setting guidelines for the legal sale of pot, Frederique is closely monitoring the regulations to ensure people with marijuana-related convictions get access to cannabis licenses. Frederique also advocated for government officials to treat addiction as a health crisis and backed the city’s efforts establishing supervised injection sites.

62. Sochie Nnaemeka

New York State Director, Working Families Party

Sochie Nnaemeka
Working Families Party

After years of surviving Andrew Cuomo’s onslaughts, the Working Families Party struck back and helped drive him from power last summer. Now, Sochie Nnaemeka has a shot at putting WFP-endorsed progressives Jumaane Williams and Ana María Archila into statewide office. Nnaemeka already defused a threat from state Democrats to put a new third -party on the ballot when she promised to support whichever Democrat won the primary. In the meantime, she successfully backed Monique Chandler-Waterman in a Brooklyn Assembly special election in May, defeating New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ choice.

63. Camille Joseph-Goldman & Rodney Capel

Group Vice President; Vice President Government Affairs, Charter Communications

Camille Joseph-Goldman & Rodney Capel
Charter Communications; Rodney Capel

The telecommunications executives continue to play important roles on the state’s political scene as their company launches a joint streaming service venture with Comcast. Camille Joseph-Goldman, a former deputy city comptroller, manages government affairs for Charter across the Northeast and is a board member of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Rodney Capel, a Schumer alum, helped launch Charter-funded technology centers known as Spectrum Learning Labs in nonprofits in Queens and Staten Island.

64. Michaelle Solages

Chair, New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus

At the start of the year, Assembly Member Michaelle Solages laid out the priorities for the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. That includes pushing for universal pre-K and child care, a move toward renewable energy and other policies that promote “equality and prosperity” for communities of color. Toward the end of session, Solages was also busy getting two bills changing wrongful death law and making burials more environmentally friendly.

65. Shontell Smith

Chief of Staff, State Senate Democrats

Shontell Smith
State Senate Photography

The chief of staff to state Senate Democrats has helped her conference pilot a far more progressive agenda than Albany has seen in decades since the party gained a supermajority two years ago. Shontell Smith has provided strategic and legal advice throughout the pandemic and on issues ranging from congestion pricing, marijuana legalization and rent regulations. This year has been more challenging, as Smith opposed New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ efforts to tweak bail reform legislation.

66. Nancy Hagans

President, New York State Nurses Association

Nancy Hagans
Jehan LLC

After waging front-line battles during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, Hagans was called to duty once again, selected last year by more than 42,000 members of her union to serve as president. A critical care specialist, she comes to the top leadership position with decades of labor experience. With the proposed New York state budget featuring increased aid for health care professionals, Hagans said in April that the union will support Gov. Kathy Hochul in the June primary.

67. Kiara St. James

Co-Founder and Executive Director, New York Transgender Advocacy Group

Kiara St. James
Kiara St. James

After founding the New York Transgender Advocacy Group in 2014, the Brooklyn-based trans activist was instrumental in passing laws that prohibited discrimination based on gender identity and banned conversion therapy. Kiara St. James followed those victories by lobbying to decriminalize sex work and successfuly pushed lawmakers to overturn the state’s “walking while trans” law last year, drawing the attention of then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appointed her to the Commission on Gender Equity.

68. Juanita Scarlett & Violet Moss

Partners, Bolton-St. Johns

Juanita Scarlett & Violet Moss
Roger Archer; Sippakorn Ponpayong

Clients working with Bolton-St. Johns have influential allies on their side when either Juanita Scarlett or Violet Moss is representing them in the halls of power. Scarlett, a former executive vice president at the Empire State Development Corp., helps clients in the health care, energy and education sectors develop their policy and communications goals. Moss, a former state legislative counsel and leader in the children’s health field, represents labor groups, higher education institutions, hospitals and nonprofits.

Editor’s note: Juanita Scarlett is a member of City & State’s advisory board.

69. L. Joy Williams

President, Brooklyn NAACP

L. Joy Williams
Maro Hagopian

The political strategist is known for her frank insights and analysis of campaign races as well as organizing talents. L. Joy Williams has helped reinvigorate the Brooklyn branch of the NAACP and mobilized rallies that led to the repeal of a law that shielded police misconduct records. She also helps Black women run for office through the Higher Heights for America political action committee, which has sought to increase representation in the midterms, and hosts a weekly podcast, “Sunday Civics,” which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.

70. Melanie Hartzog

President and CEO, New York Foundling

Melanie Hartzog
Ryan Lash

When then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio needed someone to handle the city’s pandemic response efforts, he promoted his trusted budget director to a deputy mayor role. As de Blasio’s tenure wound down, Melanie Hartzog accepted a position leading a historic nonprofit at the forefront of helping youth with developmental disabilities and tackling juvenile justice issues. It’s a natural fit for Hartzog, who has a lot of experience in child welfare.

71. Matthew Fraser

New York City Chief Technology Officer

Matthew Fraser
City of New York

Local governments are often lacking in technological prowess. Matthew Fraser is working to make sure that isn’t the case in New York City, keeping the city government’s technological and IT infrastructure in good shape. When Mayor Eric Adams appointed him as the city’s chief technology officer, it also came with the responsibility to lead a new consolidated office handling technology initiatives across city agencies. Fraser has also kept a close eye on bolstering the city’s cybersecurity protections.

72. Dennis M. Walcott

President and CEO, Queens Public Library

Dennis M. Walcott
Craig Warga

Public service and education have been mainstays in Dennis M. Walcott’s career. That made him a natural fit to take the helm at the Queens Public Library in 2016. Since then, Walcott has guided the library system through the COVID-19 pandemic and recently welcomed the reopening of its popular Flushing library branch in April. In March, New York City Mayor Eric Adams selected Walcott, who has previously served as the city’s schools chancellor, to head the commission responsible for redrawing 51 New York City Council districts.

73. Kirsten John Foy

President and CEO, The Arc of Justice

Kirsten John Foy
Arc of Justice

Working inside and outside of the political system for years, Foy has amassed an impressive resume and gained extensive social justice expertise. The Pentecostal minister founded the Arc of Justice, serving as president and CEO of the 10-chapter advocacy organization. Previously, Kirsten John Foy was Northeast regional director for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and an aide to then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. This past year, Foy has called for reforms to the lawsuit lending industry, drawing on his personal experience with the “predatory practices of lawsuit lenders.”

74. Janella T. Hinds

Secretary-Treasurer, New York City Central Labor Council

Janella T. Hinds
The United Federation of Teachers, Communication Department

For years, Janella T. Hinds has fought hard for both educators and students. She is serving her second term as secretary-treasurer of the New York City Central Labor Council, overseeing the finances of 300 unions and their 1.3 million members. She has worked as teacher, dean and student adviser in New York City high schools. Hinds also stays active in labor as the United Federation of Teachers’ vice president for academic high schools, a role she has held since 2012.

75. Hazel Dukes

President, NAACP New York State Conference

Hazel Dukes
Amber Singletary

The veteran civil rights leader is still making waves in state politics after celebrating her 90th birthday in March. Hazel Dukes endorsed Gov. Kathy Hochul for reelection in October, a few months after pulling support from Andrew Cuomo, and vouched for Hochul’s lieutenant governor pick Brian Benjamin, even after he was arrested for campaign finance impropriaties. Dukes is currently planning the NAACP’s annual convention in Atlantic City in July.

76. Arva Rice

President and CEO, New York Urban League

Arva Rice
Jacqueline Jackson

The head of the Harlem-based nonprofit has occupied reviewing police misconduct allegations as the interim chair of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, a role she has held since February. The police oversight agency substantiated about a quarter of the misconduct accusations it received related to the 2020 racial justice protests, with investigators facing “unprecedented challenges,” according to Rice. She has also backed the extension of mayoral control and supported the launch of the Black Education Research Collective at Teachers College, Columbia University.

77. Calvin O. Butts III

Pastor, Abyssinian Baptist Church

Calvin O. Butts III
Jason Riffe

The Harlem pastor is no longer the president of SUNY Old Westbury, having retired from the position after two decades of service, but he still provides counsel to New Yorkers on and off his pulpit. The Rev. Calvin O. Butts III’s candidates of choice haven’t always won their elections, but his church remains a reliable stop on the campaign trail and he’s one of the city’s most heartfelt eulogizers. Butts spoke at Fordham University’s commencement ceremony in May and received an honorary doctorate in divinity.

78. A.R. Bernard

Pastor, Christian Cultural Center

A.R. Bernard

The Brooklyn pastor, who leads one of New York City’s largest houses of worship, has been a decadeslong draw for Democratic politicians looking for support and an audience of more than 30,000 congregants. The Rev. A.R. Bernard recently endorsed Gov. Kathy Hochul and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. More importantly, Bernard has been instrumental in fighting poverty and hunger in his backyard by running a food pantry that provides meals to 100,000 people annually.

79. Terrence Melvin

Secretary-Treasurer, New York State AFL-CIO

Terrence Melvin
Crystal Melvin

The Rev. Terrence Melvin has an extensive background in labor organizing. More than 40 years ago, he began his career as a member of the Civil Service Employees Association. He has worked his way up over the years, until eventually becoming secretary-treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO in 2007, a role he has held ever since. Outside of his work with the union, Melvin also holds a leadership position within the Buffalo chapter of the NAACP and serves as president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

80. Richard Buery

CEO, Robin Hood

Richard Buery
Robin Hood

As a New York City deputy mayor, Richard Buery helped then-Mayor Bill de Blasio roll out a free universal prekindergarten program that became the administration’s signature accomplishment. The East New York, Brooklyn, native wanted to continue fighting poverty and joined the Robin Hood Foundation in September. Buery helped haul in $126 million at its highly anticipated annual benefit. Now he is working with the Adams administration on a $100 million initiative to expand and streamline access to child care in the five boroughs.

81. Charlie King

Partner, Mercury

Charlie King

Charlie King gained his political know-how and savvy over the course of 25 years, working with prominent elected officials such as former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. His experience ranges from serving as executive director of the state Democratic Party to being acting national director for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Since joining Mercury in 2015, King has delivered local, state and federal expertise to the lobbying firm and its clients. 

82. Joy D. Calloway

Interim CEO, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York

Jovia Radix
Emma Burcusel

Joy D. Calloway heads the region’s leading reproductive health organization a pivotal time in the abortion rights movement’s history. In May, thousands of demonstrators marched across the city after a leaked draft opinion indicated the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade. Calloway said she “woke up in a time warp” and denounced the “politically motivated” ruling. Calloway has expanded Planned Parenthood’s executive team and organized the “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally, calling for continued abortion access.

83. Mara Gay & Jeff Mays

Editorial Board Member; Metro Reporter, The New York Times

Mara Gay & Jeff Mays
Kevin Hagen; Earl Wilson/New York Times

Mara Gay’s moving columns are too numerous to name, but some of her standout work includes documenting her own battle with COVID-19, vaccine misinformation and what the country could learn from New York City’s pandemic response. Meanwhile, Jeff Mays has diligently covered two mayoral administrations for the paper of record. More recently, he has written revealing articles about New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ goals, the mayor’s relationship with Gov. Kathy Hochul and how the governor’s team missed Brian Benjamin’s red flags.

84. Lupe Todd-Medina

President, Effective Media Strategies

Lupe Todd-Medina
Celeste Sloman

The veteran political operative who has advised politicians such as Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker was an essential part of Ray McGuire’s brain trust last year. McGuire was a long shot to win the New York City mayoral primary and Lupe Todd-Medina has since come aboard a steadier ship, joining Gov. Kathy Hochul’s reelection campaign as a senior adviser. Todd-Medina also helps other clients such as the New York County Defender Services map their communications strategies.

Editor’s note: Lupe Todd-Medina is a member of City & State’s advisory board.

85. Elinor Tatum

Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, New York Amsterdam News

Elinor Tatum
Bill Moore

Elinor Tatum has steered the course of New York City’s oldest and largest Black-owned newspaper since 1997, guiding the publication’s transition to the computer age and transforming its coverage over the years. More recently, Tatum spearheaded the creation of a new investigative unit at the New York Amsterdam News called The Blacklight. She is also a prominent voice on the many issues affecting Black people in America and is often sought out to speak about media, race and politics in New York.

86. Larry Scott Blackmon

CEO, The Blackmon Organization

Larry Scott Blackmon
Andrew Morales

Larry Scott Blackmon has cultivated influential local political connections over the years, working with prominent elected officials such as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields and two former New York City Council speakers. The experience informs both his work at The Blackmon Organization – his government affairs and public relations firm – as well as his work as vice president of public affairs at FreshDirect.

Editor’s note: Larry Scott Blackmon is a member of City & State’s advisory board.

87. Michael Garner

Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Metropolitan Transportation Authority

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority made major headways in paying out contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses in fiscal year 2021, beating all other state agencies and authorities. Those payments totaled $916 million, and the MTA surpassed the state’s goals for working with minority- and women-owned business enterprises. That success can be attributed to Michael Garner, who oversees a number of programs and initiatives engaging diverse businesses interested in working with the MTA.

88. Christopher J. Williams

Chair and CEO, The Williams Capital Group

The former Lehman Brothers investment banker once managed the firm’s structured derivatives group before launching his own investment firm in 1994. A quarter-century later, Christopher J. Williams merged his company with Siebert Williams Shank to create the largest minority- and women-owned investment bank in the United States. Under Williams’ leadership, the investment bank formed a strategic partnership with the investment management firm Apollo in April, allowing Siebert Williams Shank to increase its underwriting capacity and expand its position in the capital markets sphere.

89. Jacques Andre DeGraff

Chair, Minority Business Enterprise Leadership Summit

Beyond his leadership at Canaan Baptist Church of Christ, the Rev. Jacques Andre DeGraff makes his voice heard on notable civic issues in New York. He helms the MBE Leadership Summit, a coalition that advocates on behalf of minority-owned business enterprises, and he has played a pivotal role advancing opportunities for businesses owned by people of color. DeGraff also serves on the National Black Clergy Health Leadership Council, which oversees initiatives fighting health inequality through Black churches.

90. John Wright

Founder, The Wright Group

John Wright
Luke Tress

John Wright, the head of the Manhattan-based government relations firm, has been a go-to lobbyist for human services providers, arts organizations and other nonprofits seeking funding from city agencies or trying to navigate the trickier aspects of New York regulations. The Children’s Defense Fund, Universal Hip Hop Museum and The Trevor Project number among the clients who have sought the advice of Wright and his team.

91. Brian Matthews

Senior Consultant, Brown & Weinraub

Brian Matthews
Timothy H. Raab & Northern Photo

An experienced veteran when it comes to government operations, Brian Matthews brings three decades of government experience with him to Brown & Weinraub. That includes serving as chief financial officer of the state Office of General Services, where he handled a wide range of duties such as contract management, financials and business diversity efforts. Matthews’ background allows him to successfully operate behind the scenes to get results for his clients.

92. Paul Thomas

Partner, The Parkside Group

Paul Thomas
Parkside Group

For the past decade, Paul Thomas has used his varied skill set in government and politics to meet the various needs of his firm’s clientele. The political veteran manages The Parkside Group’s budgetary advocacy practice and represents a diverse set of companies, trade associations and charities. Before joining the firm, he held positions working with top New York state officials. That includes serving as an assistant director of intergovernmental and community affairs for the state attorney general and as chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

93. India Sneed-Williams

Associate, Greenberg Traurig

India Sneed-Williams
Greenberg Traurig

India Sneed-Williams transitioned from New York City and New York state posts to lobbying three years ago. Since joining Greenberg Traurig, she has become immersed in a wide range of electoral issues, working on the ballot challenges during the state’s primary elections and counseling campaigns for New York City elections. Sneed-Williams, who is married to New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, also recently shed light on the need for better Black maternal health care after opening up about her experience with cervical cancer and pregnancy.

94. Jovia Radix

Senior Vice President, Kasirer

Jovia Radix
Frank Guitierrez

Jovia Radix is ready to go to bat for her clients, equally adept at deciphering legislation from the New York City Council and at drumming up the opposition necessary to defeat matters before the legislative body. Her work at the powerhouse lobbying firm is informed by her past political, governmental and legal experience. Outside of her responsibilities at Kasirer, the Brooklyn-born attorney also helps manage a tutoring program run by the Barbados Ex-Police Association.

95. Meredith Marshall

Co-Founder and Managing Partner, BRP Companies

Meredith Marshall
Allan Shoemake

Meredith Marshall and his Manhattan-based real estate firm have a lot to celebrate, boasting an impressive roster of projects completed or in the pipeline in New York City, Westchester County and Long Island. As managing partner, Marshall handles the firm’s investment strategy and strategic partnerships, including its relationship with New York City agencies. He warned in May that state lawmakers’ decision to let a lucrative property tax break expire would mean New York City would lose out on construction jobs.

96. Charles Phillips

Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Recognize

Charles Phillips
Shahar Azran

Two years ago, the former Oracle executive launched a private equity firm dedicated to helping technology services companies innovate and access capital. Since then, Charles Phillips has helped raise $1.3 billion for the firm’s first fund, and invested in a cloud services provider in January. Phillips also sits on the boards of ViacomCBS and American Express and was recently a board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

97. David Clunie

Executive Director, Black Economic Alliance

David Clunie
JP Morgan Chase

The Obama administration and JPMorgan Chase & Co. alum heads a national association of business leaders with a mission to advance economic mobility within the Black community. David Clunie has set about advocating structural solutions within the economy such as extending the child tax credit and creating opportunities for Black entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. He also has called for hiring more diverse executives in the private sector.

98. Tara Martin

Founder and CEO, TLM Strategic Advisors

Tara Martin
Erin Silver Photography

Tara Martin is the force behind TLM Strategic Advisors, a social impact strategic development firm that she launched in 2021. The veteran communications professional has previously held key roles inside and outside of government, including positions as state political director and senior communications manager at the New York State Nurses Association, a politically influential labor union, and stints with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the Westchester County Board of Legislators and Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Editor’s note: Tara Martin is a member of City & State’s advisory board.

99. Jomo Akono

Executive Board Member, North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters

Jomo Akono
Kesi Akono

Jomo Akono has been a critical force revitalizing Buffalo through programs and advocacy. The Erie County-based labor leader backed the Buffalo Bills’ bid for a publicly financed billion-dollar stadium, touting the potential for local job creation for construction, transportation and other services. Akono has also organized an annual Juneteenth parade, which will be in-person this year after going virtual during the pandemic, and Kwanzaa celebrations in the heart of the city.

100. Antonio Delgado

Lieutenant Governor

Antonio Delgado
Antonio Delgado for Congress

It was a match made in heaven, or at least in the state Capitol. Despite having a $5.5 million war chest, before redistricting the upstate member of Congress faced a tough reelection challenge from Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. But the governor needed a new lieutenant governor when her first choice resigned after being arrested on fraud charges. After arm-twisting from legislators to dump Brian Benjamin from the ballot, Gov. Kathy Hochul picked Antonio Delgado to be her second in command.


Human Imprisonment, Animal Captivity, Social Justice, and Law

Source: Cambridge University Press, with permission.

The goods that animals value stand in stark relief against the lives that we force on them.”

Lori Gruen and Justin Marceau are two of the world’s leaders in the ethics of captivity (Lori) and prison reform (Justin). I’ve previously written about their seminal work, and now they’ve joined forces to produce a highly original and important open-access edited book: Carceral Logics: Human Incarceration and Animal Captivity.1,2

In this transdisciplinary volume of 19 essays, we learn about the intersection between what happens to caged humans and nonhumans, why caging doesn’t work for either group of individuals, and why animal law is a “hot field.” Carceral Logics sets the standard for what is needed now and in the future for reforming and ending captivity both for caged humans and nonhumans. I’m pleased Lori and Justin could answer a few questions about their landmark book.3,4

Marc Bekoff: Why did you edit Carceral Logics and how does your book relate to your backgrounds and general areas of interest?

Lori Gruen and Justin Marceau: We’ve been working on a range of legal and philosophical issues that arise in the context of animal protection, emerging punitive legal strategies, and mass incarceration for many years.

We wanted to bring together a variety of people who work on these issues, including you Marc, to deepen the discussion about the role that the law can play specifically in addressing animal cruelty and animal neglect. There is a growing trend within the animal movement to respond to harms committed against animals, usually dogs and other companions, by working to “lock up” people who engage in animal cruelty. While we share the emotional reactions many animal advocates have when animals are subjected to violent treatment by humans, we don’t think sending people to prison is necessarily the wisest response. In fact, in many cases, we doubt that the criminal system will help more than it hurts when it comes to animal protection efforts. We need solutions that are as expansive as our empathy for animals if we want to help animals.

The book focuses on the connection between our complicated, contradictory views about crime and punishment and our complicated, contradictory views about non-human animals. The majority of Americans tend to overlook, abuse, and cage non-human animals. We cage them for our entertainment because they are deemed a nuisance or because we plan to eat them or otherwise use their bodies.

Animal suffering is often invisible under the law and animal dignity is usually ignored within ethics. Scholars and activists have sought to improve the status of animals in law and society in a variety of ways.

But one of the central tactics for promoting justice for animals in animal “law” is the use of the criminal law as a cudgel to make an example out of certain forms of animal cruelty and abuse. Through prosecution and policing, these advocates imagine that violence against animals can achieve an appropriate level of social condemnation. We aren’t convinced this is true, but would like more attention directed to these issues.

MB: Who is your intended audience?

LG and JM: We hope that animal lawyers, law students, advanced undergraduates and graduate students in animal studies courses, as well as activists, will be interested in the volume. We made it open access so that anyone with a computer can read the book.

MB: What are some of your major messages?

LG and JM: We aim to provide readers with a variety of views about the criminal legal system. Some of the authors in this book have only worked on animal protection issues and have very little involvement in the law or in criminal law. Other chapters are by experts on topics of law, such as immigration or domestic violence or drug crimes, who have never previously engaged with the field of animal studies. This array of backgrounds and perspectives will, we hope, provide a larger context for examining carceral logics in animal law.

Animal advocates and animal lawyers can learn a lot from the history of other social justice movements that have tried to use carceral strategies to solve social problems or elevate the status of the “victims” of certain crimes.

There are often unintended consequences and limitations of carceral strategies. Social justice activists, including animal activists, and cause lawyers, including those who work to elevate the status of animals, have often worked within the logic of the law and legal system to try to gain more expansive and inclusive results. But there is always a danger that tinkering within the system creates a sort of release valve that diffuses pressure to fundamentally re-imagine the system. In the realm of animal confinement and human imprisonment, there is a risk that litigation efforts aimed at celebrating the potential of the legal system will tend to legitimize and confirm the very hierarchies and problematic systems that lead to violent oppression against animals.

MB: How does your book differ from others concerned with some of the same general topics?

LG and JM: This is the most comprehensive examination of these topics and it is unique insofar as it gives voice to the varying perspectives and debates. We sought out thoughtful commentators on all sides of these issues and are proud of the range of perspectives presented. We hope that the range of perspectives will provoke more conversations and debates among activists and funders, because at the end of the day this is really not just an abstract, academic topic. This is about how the law can or should be deployed to help animals.

MB: Are you hopeful that as people learn more about the downsides of incarceration, they will change their minds about our current penal system?

LG and JM: Above all else, we hope to stimulate debate and further research. We point out contradictions in longstanding animal law dogma, and we challenge under-studied assumptions. We don’t think we have all the answers, but we think that the promise of serving animals in law through a set of flawed or under-researched premises is unlikely.

For example, we take on the antiquated idea that a presumed “link” between human and animal violence justifies more prosecutions or longer sentences for animal law. And we challenge the assumption that animal maltreatment has decreased in the wake of the supposedly successful war on animal crime. Likewise, we push back on general assumptions about the way that labelling animals as victims of crime, or advocating for them in court will reduce animal crime.