Lateefah Simon

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Lateefah Simon


Lateefah Simon (born January 29, 1977 in San Francisco) is the president of the Akonadi Foundation and an advocate for civil rights and racial justice.In 2003, she became the youngest woman to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, for her leadership of the Center for Young Women's Development (CYWD) from age 19.

Under San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, Simon led the creation of San Francisco's Reentry Division, with Back on Track, an advocacy program for young adults charged with low-level felony drug sales.[1] Simon has been the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and the program director of the Rosenberg Foundation.

She was elected to represent the seventh district on the Bay Area Rapid Transit District board of directors in 2016. Her motivations for running included her reliance on BART, as someone legally blind and unable to drive.

Simon studied social entrepreneurship at Stanford University and public policy at Mills College.

Previously she was executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, is part of a "new wave of African-American civil rights and community leaders. Born and raised in San Francisco's Western Addition neighborhood, Simon has advocated tirelessly on behalf of communities of color, youth and women since her teenage years".

She lives in Emeryville, California, with her 13-year-old daughter, Aminah.[1]

Background

At age 15, Simon joined the Center for Young Women's Development (CYWD), first as a volunteer and then as a staff member, working to provide homeless, low-income and incarcerated young women with the tools they needed to transform and rebuild their lives. At 19, Simon was appointed Executive Director of CYWD, becoming one of the youngest leaders of a social service agency in the country.

During her 11-year tenure, CYWD grew into an organization with a $1.2 million budget, serving approximately 3,500 women per year and hiring more than 250 women. CYWD also worked to impact public policy at the state and local levels, expanding its violence prevention work to include rights education for California juvenile offenders and advocating for firearm policy reform in San Francisco. Simon soon became a nationally recognized advocate for juvenile and criminal justice reform, and also focused her organizing efforts around poverty, reproductive and immigrant rights and GLBT issues.[2]

Hired by Kamala Harris

In 2005, Simon went to workfor San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who quickly became her mentor and selected her to run Back on Track.[3]

Kamala Harris tasked Simon to lead the Office's Reentry Services division, a new initiative that created a citywide public/private partnership with numerous agencies and implemented new ways to prevent former offenders from returning to a life of crime. Simon helped launch and oversaw successful programs such as Changing the Odds and Back on Track, which combine close supervision for offenders with educational and employment opportunities. Now a national model for similar programs in local prosecutors' offices, Back on Track has reduced the recidivism rate for the population it serves to less than 10 percent.[4]

Lateefah Simon, Kamala Harris, 2016

A high-school dropout, Lateefah Simon was working full time at Taco Bell as a teenager, had a baby at age 19 and was on probation for shoplifting before things started to turn around.

While on probation, she was referred to a nonprofit called the Center for Young Women’s Development, which provided jobs, training, classes, books and other services to girls and young women on the streets and in the criminal justice system.

Lateefah Simon became so involved and motivated by the plight of San Francisco’s struggling young women that she started going toBoard of Supervisors meetings every Tuesday to ask what the city was doing to help young women on the fringes. Her passion and intelligence caught the attention of city leaders, including then-Supervisor Tom Ammiano and Kamala Harris, who at the time was a young attorney for the city.

The center’s board was so impressed by Simon’s efforts they named her executive director when Simon was just 19 years old. She was suddenly in charge of a staff of 10 and a $750,000 annual budget.

Harris helped guide her through those years, Simon said.

“She just changed my life. She was tough as nails. She said to me, ‘You need to be excellent. … So first off, you need to go to college,’ “ Simon recalled.

Simon enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, taking classes nights and weekends while working full time at the center and raising her daughter. She eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public policy.

Meanwhile, Harris — who by then had become San Francisco’s district attorney — asked Simon to help start a program to help nonviolent, first-time, low-level drug offenders get jobs, enroll in school, attend parenting classes and otherwise improve their lives before they became embroiled in the revolving door of the criminal justice system.

“Our goal was to get people off the street. How do you do that? Turned out it was easy — you just ask them what they need,” Simon said. “Housing? A bank account? A job? Therapy? A gym membership, so you can take better care of yourself? We could help them get those things.”

Simon and her colleagues would go to court hearings and try to intercept young men and women as they met with a judge. In the one-year program, offered as an alternative to jail, offenders would take mandatory parenting classes, regular drug tests, job training workshops and other steps designed to help them “transition to a crime-free life,” Harris wrote in the Huffington Post.

If they completed the program, their felony charges would be dropped.

The program, called Back on Track, was immediately successful. Those who graduated from Back on Track had only a 10 percent recidivism rate, compared with 70 percent for those not enrolled in the program. It was also a bargain for taxpayers: The public pays about $5,000 for each participant, compared with the $50,000 or so it costs to keep a person incarcerated for a year.

The program has since been adopted in cities across the U.S., and was hailed as a model by outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Harris credited the program’s success to Simon’s energy and imagination.[5]

Harris endorses Simon

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Lateefah Simon November 2, 2015

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has been an invaluable mentor to me and will make an incredible U.S. Senator. Her endorsement means the world.

"Lateefah Simon has devoted her life’s work to helping the poor, the disadvantaged, and those trapped in the cycle of our criminal justice system. While working with me during my tenure as district attorney of San Francisco, she led my office’s work to create 'Back on Track,’ nationally recognized program that helped divert low-level offenders away from lives of crime and toward productive futures. She is a tremendous asset to the state of California and a champion for justice, equality and dignity.” – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris

Kamala Harris stumps for Lateefah Simon

Kamala Harris hugs Lateefah Simon

From John Wildermuth SFGate November 5, 2016;

If you are unaware that California is about to elect a new U.S. senator Tuesday, you aren’t going to find out about it from state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Harris, the front-runner in the race to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer, made a stop in San Francisco Friday to give a brief street-corner speech where she barely mentioned herself or her campaign. And she certainly didn’t talk about Orange County Rep. Loretta Sanchez, her challenger in the Democrats-only showdown.
Instead, Harris spoke only about the importance of the election.
Candidates up and down the ballot “are making decisions that affect our lives, like whether we can afford to get from home to work,” Harris said in front of the Embarcadero BART Station on Market Street, giving a nod to Lateefah Simon, a candidate for the BART Board of Directors.

Lawyers Committee

In 2009, she was appointed executive director of the Lawyers' Committee, which champions the legal rights of people of color, poor people, immigrants and refugees, with a special commitment to African Americans. Through litigation, policy advocacy and direct service programs, for more than 40 years the Lawyers' Committee has worked with thousands of pro-bono attorneys to advance the civil and human rights of underserved communities.[6]

Awards/service

A MacArthur "Genius" Fellow, Simon has received numerous awards, including the Jefferson Award for extraordinary public service in 2007. She was named "California Woman of the Year" by the California State Assembly in 2005, and also has been recognized by the Ford Foundation, the National Organization for Women, the Women’s Foundation of California and Girls, Inc. She has spoken at the United Nations, before the United States Senate and at countless trainings and conferences around the country. Simon has served on the Board of Directors of the Women's Foundation of California, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the ACLU of Northern California.[7]

Youth Empowerment Center

In the early 2000s Lateefah Simon served on the Board of Directors[8]of the Oakland based Youth Empowerment Center.

Officers were Harmony Goldberg, President, Van Jones, Secretary Adam Gold, Treasurer Cindy Wiesner, Director, Lateefah Simon, Director

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For the 2003 financial year Youth Empowerment Center officers were Harmony Goldberg, Chair/Program Director, Cindy Wiesner, Secretary, Adam Gold, Treasurer Jason McBriarty, Director, Lateefah Simon, Director, Rona Fernandez, Executive Director.

Joining Rosenberg

The Rosenberg Foundation announced October 27, 2011 the appointment of nationally recognized civil rights leader Lateefah Simon as Director of the Foundation’s California’s Future initiative, a strategic effort to change the odds for women and children in the state.

“Lateefah Simon has advocated on behalf of disadvantaged communities since her teenage years,” said Timothy P. Silard, president of the Rosenberg Foundation. “California faces critical choices on a number of urgent issues, from criminal justice reform to immigrant rights. Advocates and policy makers must seize this moment to ensure that all of our state’s communities and residents, including women and children, have access to the fair and equitable opportunities they need to thrive. We are delighted to have a civil rights activist of Lateefah Simon’s caliber and experience on board to move this initiative forward.”

In this new position, Simon will help manage and build the Foundation’s portfolio of grants aimed at supporting innovative strategies that can spur policy advocacy, communications, and constituency-building. As part of California’s Future, together with the Women’s Foundation of California, the Foundation has launched a campaign to reduce the incarceration rates of women in California’s prisons and jails. The Foundation also is partnering with Futures without Violence to prevent children’s exposure to violence and trauma, and create a network of services for child victims. To advance California’s Future, Simon will lead the Foundation’s efforts to identify and support emerging leaders and build new coalitions in California, with a particular focus on underserved regions of the state. She will join the Rosenberg Foundation on November 1.

“I’m honored to join Rosenberg and have the opportunity to advocate on a statewide level for the end of policies and practices that marginalize disadvantaged communities, over-incarcerate women, and neglect the needs of children exposed to violence,” said Simon. “I am particularly looking forward to collaborating with Rosenberg’s allies and grantee partners to transform California’s criminal justice system’s impact on women and children.”

A longtime advocate for juvenile and criminal justice reform, Simon most recently served as the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to joining the Lawyers’ Committee, Simon led the creation of the reentry services division at the San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris' Office, implementing new programs to prevent former offenders from returning to a life of crime. At age 19, Simon was appointed executive director of the Center for Young Women’s Development in San Francisco, an organization that helps low-income, formerly incarcerated young women transform and rebuild their lives. She has received numerous awards for her work, including the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and the Jefferson Award for extraordinary public service. She was named “California Woman of the Year” by the California State Assembly, and also has been recognized by the Ford Foundation and the National Organization for Women. She has spoken at the United Nations, before the United States Senate, and at numerous trainings around the country.

“Lateefah Simon is a California leader of incredible stature and a well-deserved reputation for her comprehensive understanding of the issues faced by the many minority communities that together comprise the California majority, and the connections between those issues,” said Thomas Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Steering Committee Co-Chair for the California Civil Rights Coalition. “She will bring strength, wisdom, and tremendous spirit to the Rosenberg Foundation as it expands its unmatched efforts as California’s most venerable, longtime supporter of minority causes. Civil rights and immigrant rights will be helped immensely by Lateefah’s work at Rosenberg.”[9]

Stand for Solutions

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As part of her Stand for Solutions series, Jane Kim will be joined by former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Lateefah Simon, California State University Trustee and candidate for District 7 BART Board Director, and David Talbot, best selling author and founder/former editor-in-chief of Salon, to hear how we can improve housing, transportation and urban planning to make our cities work for every family. Join us!

Tues. August 30, 6:30-8:30pm, Mission High School Auditoriumn3750 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114 .[10]

Building Black Polictical Power

Beyond Impact II: The Importance of 501(c)(4) Funding in Dismantling Mass Incarceration, July 12, 2017.[11]

Building Black Polictical Power

Democracy in Color podcast

The Democracy in Color podcast, hosted by Aimee Allison, features today’s best and brightest political political leaders, strategists and thinkers of the New American Majority. We’ve featured Senator Cory Booker; Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal; San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, Stockton, California Mayor Michael Tubbs; BART Director Lateefah Simon; writer Eric Liu; #Goodmuslimbadmuslim co-host Tanzila Ahmed; New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb, and writers Rebecca Solnit and Jeff Chang, among many others. Ellen McGirt, editor of Fortune magazine’s raceAhead, calls it: "The smartest podcast on race I've found in ages. Listen and grow.".[12]

“What do you have to lose?"

Hundreds of U.S. Representative Barbara Lee’s constituents gathered in East Oakland Aug. 2017, for a town hall meeting she hosted with the theme, “What do you have to lose? The Impacts of Trump on African Americans.”

Panelists included Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League; state Assemblymember Tony Thurmond and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Director Lateefah Simon. Angela Glover Blackwell of PolicyLink moderated the discussion.

“You remember that during the campaign, Donald Trump said to the black community, ‘What do you have to lose?’ Well, we have to look at what we are losing,” Lee said.

She cited the Congressional Black Caucus’ response – “In no way are you going to take us back. We’re going to fight, resist, and move forward.”

Picking up on that theme, Morial – a former mayor of New Orleans – highlighted risk areas the Trump administration’s policies pose for African Americans, all people of color, and “all people who love justice in 21st century America.” Citing the Urban League’s annual report, The State of Black America, Morial called attention to profound inequities in health, housing, education and social justice.

Voter suppression is the number one risk posed by the Trump administration, said Morial, followed by efforts to strip health care away from millions of people, and the assault on the federal budget.

“The battle we are in today is not a political battle; it is a moral battle,” he said. “We must ‘stay woke,’ we must act.”

The “War on Drugs” has had profoundly destructive consequences over the last four decades, BART Director Simon said. “One trillion has gone to over 20 million arrests and convictions since 1977, within the drug paradigm.”

Simon warned of the great danger posed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ declaration that he will double down on the war against drugs. Millions of dollars are being spent on “caging people and nothing on healing them,” she told the audience,” adding, “We do have power; we have to continue to be the moral conscience of that power.”

“Our state is spending $5 billion per year to incarcerate people in private prisons, run by people who are profiting from the suffering of our families and our loved ones,” California Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond told the crowd. “We need to get to a place of prevention and re-entry. Let’s educate, not incarcerate.” Thurmond introduced Assembly Bill 43 earlier this year. AB 43 would tax private prisons and spend the resulting revenue on programs shown to prevent incarceration, including universal preschool and after-school programs.

While African Americans experience the disproportionately high rates of incarceration, Thurmond said, AB 43 will benefit everyone. “Trump is out to hurt not only African Americans, he’s out to hurt everybody. We have to stay connected and fight for everyone.”

Other area elected officials participating included Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.[13]

References