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I didn’t realize that policy work and legislative advocacy for communities could bring about real change to so many. – Aria Sa’id, St. James Infirmary

 

 

The Women’s Foundation of California is proud to introduce you to the 2016–2017 class of Women’s Policy Institute–State (WPI) fellows. This visionary group of grassroots and community leaders is embarking on a year-long intensive training program that will enable them to effect change at the center of California’s policymaking: the Capitol in Sacramento.

Aria Sa’id is a member of the WPI’s criminal justice team, “Trans Liberation,” as well as programs director at St. James Infirmary. We asked Aria to share a bit about her story.

How did you come to be so committed to criminal justice and trans liberation work?
I think criminal justice work called me. I’ve long admired the organizing efforts of my colleagues, who also join the criminal justice team, and I think it just makes sense to work toward the eradication of criminalization of trans people.

What drew you to the WPI program? Why did you apply?
I learned of the WPI through my colleague and friend, who is also a member of the criminal justice team. Policy always sounded like a foreign word meaning “attorneys only” to me. I didn’t realize that policy work and legislative advocacy for communities could bring about real change to so many. I applied because I thought it was a necessary experience to inform more of my work at my day job and also transition aspects of my purpose to work toward higher impact change efforts.

If you could tell Governor Jerry Brown one thing about your issue area and the people most impacted by your work, what would it be?
I think if I had coffee with Governor Brown I’d have to chat more about transgender persons living in the state of California. I’d tell him that—even in a time when resources for trans people are growing—we still face a lot systemic barriers in the journey to the lighthouse on top of the hill. We face an amplified rate criminalization for being in poverty, homelessness, health disparities and lack of access to socioeconomic advancement opportunities. American dreams and California dreams abound amongst transgender people, yet transgender black and brown women are facing alarming roadblocks barring us from pursuing those dreams.

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I didn’t realize that policy work and legislative advocacy for communities could bring about real change to so many.  – Aria Sa’id, 2016-2017 WPI fellow

wpi-state-16-17The Women’s Foundation of California is proud to introduce you to the 2016-2017 class of Women’s Policy Institute-State fellows.

This visionary group of grassroots and community leaders is embarking on a year-long intensive training program that will enable them to effect change at the center of California’s policy-making: the Capitol in Sacramento.

This is the 14th class of the state Women’s Policy Institute. Over the course of the last 13 years, past fellows have worked in teams to help pass more than 28 bills into law. These bills outlaw the shackling of pregnant inmates, require overtime labor protections for domestic workers and expedite the processing of food stamp benefits for protected domestic violence survivors, among other policy wins.

The Institute is an inclusive program that reflects the diverse communities its fellows serve. Seventy percent of fellows in the 2016-2017 class are people of color and one of the five teams is focused on protecting the rights of transgender people who are incarcerated.

Learn more about this powerful group of policy advocates.

 

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Norma Alvarez is a member of the WomenGO! giving circle based in Silicon Valley. WomenGO! is one of six giving circles in our network. In this post, Norma describes an experience that transformed the way she thinks about her philanthropy and her contribution to the economic and gender justice movements.

Somos Mayfair
WomenGO!’s grant partner Somos Mayfair recruits neighborhood residents to serve as peer mentors (promotores) and trains them to develop leadership, communication and advocacy skills. Photo: Public Advocates/Jeff Hosier

When I joined WomenGO! I knew that I would be excited about the work of our grant partners and I expected our monthly meetings to be quite rewarding. Fast forward two years and I was right: we are all passionate about women’s issues, we all want to take action and we all want to see positive change in our community.

But I never dreamed that I would become a bridge connecting two grassroots organizations.

When you belong to a giving circle you know that the best part of the work starts when you invite organizations to submit grant proposals and, of course, that work gets even more exciting when you start conducting site visits.

This is totally true for WomenGO! During the site visits we meet face to face with the real needs of girls and women as well as the nonprofits that are addressing those needs on a daily basis. As we learn about their programs, we start admiring the staff and members of these organizations and we begin appreciating everything they do—and often with incredibly limited resources. As we hear the stories of how our hosts are transforming the lives of girls and women in their communities, we rapidly fall in love with their ideas, efforts and hearts. Ultimately, we leave inspired because we’ve seen girls and women transformed into true leaders and because we’ve witnessed the closing of systemic gaps that prevent many from reaching their full potential.

Another exciting time at WomenGO!, is when we bring our grant partners together and give them the opportunity to get to know each other, talk about best practices and funding sources and share personal stories. We know our work as a giving circle has more impact when we make these important connections.

Sister Organizations: Somos Mayfair and Puente de la Costa Sur

This past summer, I encouraged two of our community-based grant partners to get together. I invited and attended the meeting between the executive director of Somos Mayfair in San Jose and the executive director and staff of Puente de la Costa Sur in Pescadero.

In my mind, Somos Mayfair and Puente de la Costa Sur are sister organizations. Surely, the immediate problems of the women in San Jose are different from the ones that women are facing in the farms a few miles from the ocean in Pescadero.

Their geographic location, work environments and context separate Somos Mayfair from Puente de la Costa, but both are trying their best to increase reading skills and secure reading proficiency for the children in their school districts.

How could they not be sister organizations? Both of them offer their communities the space and means to work together. Taking women out of isolation is their shared strategy.

These two incredible organizations had heard of each other—and maybe even attended the same event once or twice—but they had never had a chance to actually meet and spend time together. I saw an opportunity and I jumped on it.

Connecting Two Grassroots Organizations

During our two-hour meeting, I was in awe of the openness and generosity of Somos and Puente.

Connecting these organizations allowed them to compare notes on how to implement Abriendo Puertas, an educational curriculum designed to prepare Latino children to enter school ready to learn and succeed; they talked about their experiences with government funders and their efforts to expand their bases of support; Somos explained how its bottom-up Promotores Model is based in collective action and how it asks the community to pinpoint its most urgent problems and craft its solutions.

Lastly, the meeting allowed Somos and Puente to share their successes: Somos’ advocacy secured full-time community liaisons and translators at all Alum Rock schools. And Puente is breaking a glass ceiling for one young Latina woman: for the first time, Puente is sending a former student from its Summer Youth and Employment Program to attend graduate school!

Driving back from Pescadero, I could not stop thinking of the times I visited a few farms in the area with my mom and dad some years ago. Visiting from Mexico City, my parents tagged along with my kids and me, and enjoyed seeing their grandchildren pick strawberries on the farms and choosing vegetables at the farmers’ markets.

But what I remember most vividly is the time my parents spent talking with the migrant workers on those farms and markets: they were eager to learn about their work conditions and the hardships they faced.

Is it possible that connecting Somos Mayfair and Puente de la Costa will produce positive change for girls and women in Mayfair and Pescadero? Can the meeting between Somos and Puente provide the fuel necessary to explore and expand successful models of change? I believe it’s possible and I believe that it will! And two years ago, nobody could have told me I would become part of that change.

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