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Movement Builders: Faces of CFJ

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Californians for Justice is proud to have worked with thousands of youth leaders across California over the last two decades. We’ve helped students organize and step into their power, using their voice to fight for their schools and communities. But did you know many of our staff started their social justice work with us as youth?

This month we’re giving a special shoutout to some of the folks with the deepest roots at CFJ. They’ve led the way as student leaders, youth board members and now as critical CFJ staff. For years they’ve dedicated themselves the work of lifting up the next generation of young people, enabling students to follow their dreams of creating a racially just education system that empowers all students regardless of race or zip code.

Read below to find out more about what inspired these staff members to stay with CFJ through the years, how they’ve continued advocating for the communities they grew up with, and what victories are helping pave the way for a brighter future in California.

What’s been a strong movement moment or personal success you’ve had with CFJ?

  1. Building a community of black folx at our chapter sites. — Jamila Rice, Organizer, Long Beach

    Najla Gomez

  2. I was recruited as a high school student back in 2008, and it changed the trajectory of my life. I didn’t know it then but the introduction of organizing and the notion that we can achieve social justice marked my college years and birthed my lifelong commitment to movement work. I participated in the A-G campaign in ESUHSD in San Jose as a student, winning increased college access for youth who our larger educational system doesn’t believe in. Now I’m on the other side translating policy and procedures so our organizing teams can advocate as fiercely as is necessary. — Najla Gomez, Capacity Building Manager, Oakland
  3. We recently had a month long mass tactic that involved collecting postcards from students, teachers, and community members to hear their thoughts on Relationship Centered Schools. This was my first large campaigns-related event and we had an ambitious goal to collect 500 postcards. Being that I am fairly new, and having flashbacks to my time as a youth volunteer, I was a little nervous about not being able to meet our goal. However, our Fresno team rallied together and we were able to meet our goal! In addition, we put on an amazing celebration and I was so proud of our students for using their voice and repping CFJ. It was a true testament to what can happen when we have a dedicated staff. — Maria Ortega, Lead Organizer, Fresno
  4. My most memorable moments with CFJ have all revolved around seeing young people step into their power in a way they had never before tried or imagined. Whether it was their first public testimony at a school board meeting, an interview on TV, facilitating a workshop, participating in a march or protest, or to feeling safe enough to share their story – to be vulnerable and seen – and to be held in community. — J. Ishida, Senior Strategy Director, San Jose

What is your favorite part of work with CFJ?

  1. Seeing student leaders step into their power and own their voice. — JR
  2. My favorite part about CFJ is our pipeline from youth leaders to staff. I love that we are predominately a staff of working class people of color. And that we are working through our issues around anti-Blackness (as a predominately non-Black Latinx staff) and removing barriers to see our youth leaders’ diversity reflected in our paid positions. — NG
  3. Definitely the students! At times the relationship building process can be slow because our students can be shy or it just takes a little longer to build the trust. But once you’ve established a bond with each other, it’s amazing what can happen. I think when our students realize we’ll always be there to support them, they’re more willing to step outside their comfort zone with things like public speaking. To see that development is magical. — MO
  4. I love strategy — good thing it’s in my title. I love the creative remixing of ideas. Making new connections out of information and opportunities. Weaving threads of narrative and tactics together to make a stronger and more compelling whole. — J

Maria Ortega

What does a typical day/week look like for you?

  1. Well in my fantasy as Beyonce would say I wake up, “flawless”. Then my dog takes me on a walk on the beach in the sun. Next, I put on my social justice cape and fly away to save the world. In real life I am more of a home body. Work and Home are my life right now in Long Beach. –JR
  2. On a typical week I’m traveling to Fresno on the Amtrak, drafting curriculum, taking strategy calls across regions, leading our internal learning circles on our campaign work and going for a walk with coworkers in the Fruitvale District in Oakland. –NG
  3. I spend a lot of time thinking through our campaign work. I’m in love with strategizing and appreciate the opportunity to critically think through tactics that will help create a better learning environment for all students. We’re currently working in three high schools across Fresno, each with their unique needs and bright spots, I enjoy the challenges and joys that come with working at all of our sites. Part of my week is also dedicated to developing my team. I’m a firm believer that to do anything, it takes community. With that in mind, I try to provide our other organizers with the support they need for their personal and professional development. –MO
  4. I’m part-time at CFJ, so the days I’m in the office are pretty filled by meetings with folx. Sometimes I think I just listen or talk all day. –J

Jamila Rice

What inspired you to do movement work?

  1. The millions of dollars I would be making (lol). In honesty, it was the communities and people that uplifted me that inspired me to become an organizer. I am nothing without those who’ve sacrificed for me. –JR
  2. Realizing that my own economic comfort comes at the expense of others and that a socialist world is possible inspired me to do movement work. –NG
  3. What initially drew me in as a teenager was the ability to see my life story in the curriculum, the challenges and struggles but also the beauty of my lived experiences were not only acknowledged but uplifted. As I continued to grow, I realized that I wanted to help create the world I always envisioned. –MO
  4. I see movement work as life. As oxygen — it was my lifeline in college, helped me get through a lot of hard personal things. I really resonate with this quote: If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. – Lillia Watson, indigenous Murri activist and artist. –J

What is a fun fact/something people are surprised to know about you?

  1. I talk too much. –JR
  2. My forever claim to fame will be my little 6-year sister winning the National Doodle4Google competition and being featured on the Google homepage for a whole day. –NG
  3. I love DIY! –MO
  4. I’m from a tiny island in Hawaii – Molokai, where there are no stoplights, endless views of ocean, and more rural poverty than you’d ever see on a tourist brochure. –J

    J. Ishida

If you could meet anyone dead or alive, who would it be?

  1. Nat Turner or Ice Berg Slim. –JR
  2. My great-grandmother (when she was young) on my dad’s side. She sounds like a badass mujer who I would love to know more about. –NG
  3. I would love to meet my ancestors, I think it would be great to fill in the gaps in my own knowledge about my family hxstory. –MO
  4. My aunt who passed. –J
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