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Ella Baker Center

Ella Baker Center celebrates milestone in bringing restorative justice

on October 28, 2021

With guest speakers and live music, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights celebrated its 25th anniversary Wednesday night, highlighting its work to close prisons and bring opportunities to Black and brown communities in Oakland.

“I believe that you can’t have strong communities if you don’t have strong community-centered institutions. And this is that place,” Executive Director Zach Norris said.

Named after the famed Civil Rights and NAACP leader, the Ella Baker Center is dedicated to shifting government resources from mass incarceration to community services and restorative justice. It opened a center for restorative justice and restorative economics, worked to close five youth prisons in California and lobbied for policies that abolish abusive prison practices. At the neighborhood level, the center has pushed state and local leaders to invest in communities. And during the pandemic, it provided families with diapers, masks and other support.

“The Baker Ella Center is here 25 years later because of you,” Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, told the audience of about 100 staff, volunteers and supporters. “Because of your commitment, because of your dedication, but also because it’s a strategic leader in this broader movement to change what’s happening with the criminal legal system. And it’s going to be here for another 25 years if we have anything to say about it.”

Garza participated in a panel discussion that included Marlene Sanchez, the center’s deputy director, Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” and Xochtil Larios, from Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice in Oakland.

Alexander said she draws hope from the countless social and political movements that are happening in real time.

“These movements are reenacting what justice means and what our democracy and our economy can and should be,” she said. “And the Ella Baker Center is absolutely part of the leadership that’s beginning to show the way here.”

The center was a trail blazer in taking a stand against mass incarceration at a time when few others were, said Van Jones, a co-founder of the center and a CNN political contributor and host of The Van Jones Show. “Now, the stuff we’re talking about is as mainstream as mainstream can get,” Jones told the crowd by video.

Later in the evening, Diana Frappier, the center’s co-founder, thanked the audience, staff, board members and volunteers for their work to change the criminal justice system and keep the center going.  

“I’m grateful for all who believe in justice and who are inspired to take action, even when things feel overwhelming or things feel hopeless, but you still take action,” she said. “We need that.”

Ella Baker Center
Joyous Dawn and Kele Nitoto kick off the celebration with live music. (Andrew Lopez)

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