At Dream.Org, we know that those who are closest to the problem are often those closest to the solution. That is why we are proud to host the Empathy Network Advocacy Cohort, a training program created to provide justice-impacted leaders with the skills and tools they need to change the criminal justice system, such as how to be an effective organizer as well as campaign, advocacy, and media skills.
Kenneth Nixon graduated from the program in early 2022 after serving 16 years behind bars in Michigan for a crime he didn’t commit. After a judge overturned his conviction in April 2021, Kenneth left prison as a free man and reunited with his family.
After release, Kenneth immersed himself fully in the realm of Criminal Justice Reform and founded a non-profit dedicated to helping others in similar situations. He quickly realized he couldn’t do it alone and enrolled in the Advocacy cohort where he developed the skills needed to advance his newly formed nonprofit.
Kenneth described his experience as transformative:
“I'm fresh out of a prison cell. I didn't know anything about forming a non-profit, sending out mass emails, or being able to collect data on your supporters. But learning it allowed me to take my organization to the next level. The Organization of Exonerees wouldn't be what it is without the training provided by this cohort.”
The Empathy Network Advocacy Cohort is built on Dream.Org's record of success in developing leaders in the criminal justice reform movement to lead historic victories at the local, state, and federal level—including passing the First Step Act into law, reforming women’s prisons across 13 states, and making progress to cut incarceration nationwide. The program is three months of intense training followed by three months of mentorship by Justice team.
The program is run by some of the best advocacy trainers in the country and is designed to empower cohort members to advance solutions that cut incarceration, reimagine justice, and make our communities safer.
Over three months, leaders in each cohort will learn critical skills such as:
- Building an organizing strategy
- Legislative advocacy
- Creating paths of engagement with local, state and federal stakeholders
- Tactics to escalate campaigns over time
- Digital organizing using social media, virtual events, and other online tools
- Graphic design and content calendar building
- Spokesperson and media training
Meet the 2022 Cohort
Alexandra (Alex) Brown is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Social Work at Central Connecticut State University. A determined social justice advocate, she uses her own lived experience and incarceration to advocate and fight for all people impacted by the criminal legal system. As a Smart Justice Leader with the ACLU of CT, Alex is an advocate at the state level for people impacted by the criminal legal system.
As a formerly incarcerated person and addict who has struggled with feeling less than human and not worthy of the good things in life, Amanda is now on a mission to change the narrative. She created her podcast, The Let Good Things In Show to share her story and stories of others like her. Amanda truly believes that there is a story behind every “bad” decision and she is determined to be a part of the change that is needed to end the stigma.
Brittany Lee graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in Legal Studies and a certificate in Criminal Justice and a focus on the impact of the carceral system. Brittany works as the Operations Manager for EXPO and with FREE, an organization that focuses on policy and advocacy for those impacted by the legal system. Using her gifts in graphic designing, she is the Marketing and Communications Chair for the Urban League Young Professionals for her local Chapter.
At thirty-two years old Christina Blake was tempted to allow her journey as a woman battling insecurities, teen pregnancy stigma, low self-esteem, toxic relationships, and depression to define the rest of her life. It wasn't until she was in her darkest moment that she realized she only had two options: accept where she was or affirm who she was created to be. Christina dared to harness the wisdom of her past wounds and apply them to the hope for her future.
Cynetra is on a mission to build safer communities and improve the quality of life of justice-involved individuals through successful reintegration, reentry services, and reform advocacy.As a formerly incarcerated woman and the Founder of the prestigious Mississippi Center for Re-Entry (MS Reentry), Cynetra founded MS Reentry in April of 2017 because she saw the need to improve the quality of life and the limited resources offered to justice-involved individuals in the State of Mississippi.
Daniel Justiniano is the Director of Operations and Reentry Recruitment of ConConnect. After his own re-entry struggles, Daniel wanted to help make the process easier for others. He joined ConConnect to create a seamless and efficient re-entry experience. As an entrepreneur in The Catskills of New York, he spends his time enjoying his family, hiking, and traveling.
Denise M. Caffo is the President and CEO of Society-First, a Christian 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity organization that focuses on identifying and implementing social and criminal justice reform that puts society first in all its considerations. Society-First has has aggressively pushed the abolishment of Life Without Parole sentencing and to bring a restorative criminal justice system to Florida that will heal and restore, rather than breakdown and destroy.
Drekkia Writes is a poet, artist, creator and CEO of Seven of Arts, an educational consulting firm. She is the founder of the womens empowerment organization hey, sis! and a published author of the books 17 Mirrors and The Art of Securing the Bag. She formerly served as the Arts in Education Program Manager for the state of Arkansas and currently serves as the youngest elected official on the Little Rock School District School Board and serves as a commissioner on the Arts + Culture Commission.
Erika has years of experience working with people who have been involved in the criminal justice system, those who are unhoused, suffer from substance use disorder, and those who live with mental health conditions. She is a proud mother and grandmother currently working on Bail Reform. Erika earned her Bachelor of Social work degree at The University of Louisville, Kent School of Social Work. Erika is also an Organizing trainer/facilitator for Smart Justice Advocates of Kentucky, a group of directly impacted individuals working to increase voting and access to returning citizens in the state of Kentucky. Not only has Erika been personally impacted by the criminal legal system, but she has also experienced the generational impact of incarceration in her family and community. Erika is committed to changing policies that continue to devastate black families and communities across the state.
Eugene Youngblood was arrested in 1991 at 18 years of age and released in March of 2021 at the age of 48 after serving 29 and a half years. He was set to spend the rest of his life in prison but in June 2019, the clemency and pardons board voted unanimously to recommend release after finding that his personal transformation and the work he did with other prisoners was extraordinary.
Jacinta Hunt is a survivor, scholar and advocate for women’s justice and children of the incarcerated. She was featured in the award-winning documentary film, JACINTA directed by Jessica Earnshaw. Jacinta has been directly impacted by adverse community and childhood experiences that led her to the juvenile and criminal justice system. Because of this, she is committed to improving outcomes for our justice systems and people like her who find themselves entangled in it. Jacinta is currently a student and Rising Scholar at the University of Maine Augusta and collaborates with the Justice Policy Program to inform participatory research and policy development.
Pastor James comes to the Empathy Network with ten plus years experience as a Pretrial Investigator, assisting with bond recommendations and supervision of arrested, from the initial contact to the completed disposition. After leaving the courts Pastor James found himself called into the Ministry, first in Richmond Virginia/Henrico County at Agape International Ministry, and then at "C.A.U.S.E." International Ministry. Pastor James is the Founder of Operational Manager of "Straight Talk" a weekly podcast to address those things that are not addressed on Sunday mornings.
Jessica is an IT professional and passionate advocate for criminal justice reform. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Sociology, a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice, and a Paralegal diploma. After working for many years within the system as a capital mitigation specialist in a public defense office, Jessica spent 8.5 years incarcerated in the Arizona Department of Corrections. She now volunteers with various local organizations such as ACLU Smart Justice and sits on the board of Arizonans for Transparency and Accountability in Corrections.
Judith Negron is a criminal justice reform advocate with a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling, and over 20 years experience as an educator, mentor, and counselor to a diverse population in the mental health sector. As a formerly incarcerated individual, she has dedicated her freedom to advocacy. As Founder and CEO of The Freedom Glow, LLC, Judith's mission is to empower others and guide them upon their reentry process; and her passion is to give a voice to those left behind, particularly to the children of the incarcerated, who are often the silent victims of these circumstances.
Karla's passion for ending mass incarceration and advocating for second chances for youthful offenders stems from her lived experience of having a son go to prison at 18, who is currently on his 13th year of incarceration, and a husband who was released one year ago after serving 29 years in prison. She is an active volunteer in community organizations and worked at the Tacoma Urban league where she mentored at risk young girls. She was also instrumental in the planning, preparation, and implementation of “30 days of peace” where community passageways organization sent at risk youth to Los Angeles to be mentored by former gang members now working as community activists. Currently she is volunteering with a community organization where she is facilitating a healing circle for families affected by incarceration.
Kwami is a Master of Public Service (Social Change option) candidate at the UA--Clinton School of Public Service and a Master of Public Administration & Graduate Certificate of Conflict Mediation candidate at the UA--Little Rock. In addition to being recently named a member of the 2nd cohort of the Renew America Together's Civility Leadership Institute, Kwami serves as the Legislative/Political Action Committee Chair of the Jacksonville NAACP, co-director of the Washitaw Foothills Youth Media Arts & Literacy Collective, the co-convenor of the Arkansas Peace & Justice Memorial Movement, the founder of the Do-It-Yourself L.A.W. (Legal Advocacy Workgroups) and the CEO of the Investing in Black Futures.
Lisa White is a Di’ne woman from Dine’tah, the homelands of the Navajo Nation of the First Nations’ of People. She volunteered with Smart Justice & Prison to pipeline campaign (Demand to learn) thru ACLU-Az, Puente Human Rights movement, and organized “FREE THEM ALL-United for Freedom caravan” campaign during a global pandemic. She is studying the Paralegal career field and is focused on strengthening families, building stronger communities, and ensuring access to opportunity. Lisa is also the Co-Founder of Juvenile Justice Failing the Next Generation in Arizona, a 501(c) non-profit organization.
As a justice-involved individual, Moseka Nhya Edjidjimo would like to be known for more than her mistakes. She is a college-educated French bilingual born in Montreal Canada of Afro Caribbean descent. Having served as a teachers aide during her incarceration & advocating for herself in petitioning the Georgia Dept. of Corrections parole board to ameliorate key judicial errors in sentencing, she carried her educational & legal passion into graduating in paralegal studies from Kennesaw State University in 2021. Moseka’s goal is to hold space with compassion and empathy for others that are justice-involved & to spark public discourse on the difficulties in re-establishing oneself after prison.
Orrin Jackson, a native of Charlotte, is an Accountability Partner with City Startup Labs and Atrium Health, a Community Liaison with both the Exodus Project and Project Bolt, and a Dream.org Federal Advisory Council member. Orrin was forced to spend 31 years of his life in prison. Recently released from prison on June 8th, 2021, Orrin has continued the mentorship initiatives he became a part of in prison. Orrin now counsels and mentors young men caught up in the juvenile justice system and is also in partnership with organizations such as Project Bolt and Concrete Roses in an effort to continue to reach out to young men and women so that they may avoid repeating a continuous cycle of destructive, demeaning and ill-advised behavior.
Ricardo Portley is the Project Manager for R&L Plumbing. While working in the blue collar industry Ricardo has also extensively given back to his community through his involvement with Rubicon Program’s P.A.B. (Participant Advisory Board) Committee where his opinion is heard among others to restructure programs and services offered by Rubicon to the community members they serve. Ricardo Portley is also Community Health Advocate for Contra Costa County through the non-profit Healthy Contra Costa.
Steven Johnson was released from prison on January 20, 2021, but found the reentry resources he was offered in preparation for his release to have been lacking, which led him to advocacy. Since then he has almost finished earning an associate's degree in computer science.
Talitha Turner is the Executive Director of Second Chance Quest (SCQ), a nonprofit dedicated to lowering the national recidivism rate by educating the public and supporting prisoners and the children of prisoners before, during, and after incarceration. She joined Second Chance Quest with plans to add programs and support for the children of prisoners while continuing SCQ’s incredible work within prisons. Ms. Turner spent over ten years as an enlisted soldier with the United States Army, serving in several leadership roles and working closely with top-level officers.
Dream.Org is fighting for a society in which there is freedom and dignity for all. But, we can’t do it alone. We invite you to become a partner with us in training and ushering in the new social justice leaders of tomorrow. With your support we can continue the work of bringing people together across racial, social, and partisan lines to create a future with freedom and dignity for all.