criminal justice reform

Increasing Access for Grassroots Organizations with Angelyn Frazer-Giles

Angelyn Frazer-Giles is honest and compelling in how she speaks about the work of NNJ and how they’re staying true to their mission. She talks about how to support grassroots organizations, leanly-staffed organizations, and organizations engaged in direct services work in the criminal justice space.

In this episode, Angelyn shares her advice for nonprofits to remain true to their mission and goals to continue to show up for the communities they’re serving instead of pivoting for short-term returns. And she discusses the role of philanthropy in increasing access for grassroots organizations that have been traditionally excluded from conversations. This conversation encourages us all to reimagine what the sector and society could become if we placed big-bets on grassroots organizations.

Listen to the podcast here:

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About Angelyn Frazer-Giles

Angelyn C. Frazer-Giles is the Executive Director of the National Network for Justice (NNJ). She has over 25 years’ experience in community organizing, policy analysis and advocacy on civil and human rights issues and criminal justice. Previously she was the Director of State Legislative Affairs and Special Projects for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) where she was responsible for the development, articulation, and strategic vision of NACDL’s agenda on the state level.

Angelyn is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York with a degree in Fashion Buying and Merchandising, has a B.A. in Latin American Studies from the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, studied Spanish at the Universidad De Guadalajara in Jalisco, México and received her Paralegal certificate from Delaware State University. Angelyn has traveled to Italy, Portugal, Cuba, Greece, the Caribbean and Honduras the homeland of her parents. She is also a licensed instructor of Zumba®, Zumba Gold®, Zumba Sentao™ and Aqua Zumba®. Currently she is studying to be an end of life doula.

Read the podcast transcription below:

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast and I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity, and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Nicole Campbell: Hi everyone, this week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re talking with Angelyn Frazer-Giles. Angelyn is the Executive Director of the National Network for Justice, a membership-led organization established to support and strengthen the work of state-based organizations, including crime survivors, formerly incarcerated leaders, youth immigration, public health, and re-entry service organizations seeking to reduce jail, prison, and detention population safely and permanently. Angelyn has over 25 years of experience in community organizing policy analysis and advocacy on civil and human rights issues and criminal justice. Previously, she was the Director of State Legislative Affairs and Special Projects for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, where she was responsible for the development, articulation, and strategic vision of its agenda on the state level. We recorded this conversation last year amiss the growing social justice and racial justice movement, and the height of an international health crisis. Angelyn is honest and compelling in how she speaks about the work of an NNJ and how they’re staying true to their mission.

Nicole Campbell: She talks about how to support grassroots organizations, leanly staffed organizations, and organizations engaged in the direct services work in the criminal justice space. She also talks about the power of being responsive to community need and how she’s doing exactly that in her role at NNJ. Angelyn also shares her advice for nonprofits to remain true to their mission and goals, to continue to show up for the communities they’re serving instead of pivoting for short-term returns. And she discusses the role of philanthropy in increasing access for grassroots organizations that have been traditionally excluded from conversations. This conversation encourages us all to re-imagine what the sector and society could become if we place big bets on grassroots organizations. And with that here is Angelyn Frazer-Giles.

Nicole Campbell: Hi Angelyn, I am so happy to have you joining us for our Fast Build Leader Series.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: I’m really excited to, first of all, be asked, and second of all, to join you. Thank you very much.

Nicole Campbell: To get us started, can you tell us about National Network for Justice, your role, and NNJ’s immediate priorities?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: So, the National Network for Justice is a national organization providing a Big Ten approach in assisting state-based organizations who are seeking to decarcerate jails, prisons, and detention facilities. And I was hired in 2018 as their Executive Director. And what we do is we have four main objectives. We provide training and webinars to help strengthen the field of state-based groups. We are trying to expand the peer-to-peer mentoring so that a lot of these groups who are up-and-coming are communicating with groups that have been around for a while and they can help offer them some level of Intel and support. And we’re looking at intersectional approaches in the criminal justice field. So for example, immigration issues, there’s a huge intersectionality with that particular line of defense, so to speak, because immigrants and there’s a criminal justice system and they’re emerging. So we’re always examining intersectional approaches to criminal justice reform. And then the final objective is promoting funder familiarity with some of these groups that are otherwise not afforded the opportunity to have either one-on-ones or communicate with funders who are funding organizations around the country dealing with criminal justice reform.

Nicole Campbell: And so, if I were to think of what your member profile looks like for an organization that wants to join NNJ, what does that organization look like?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: So, we have members that are members of state-based organizations. We have individual members and we have members that belong to national organizations. Our focus is primarily state-based organizations, and they’re not necessarily…there’s no, like, size determination. They don’t have to be, you know…have a certain number of staff or they don’t have to be in any one jurisdiction, or anything like that. We are just focused on organizations in states who are doing this work, who are trying to educate their community, decarcerate these jails, decarcerate prisons and, more and more, dealing with decarceration of detention facilities. So the objective is to make sure that we have a lot of these groups that are doing this work as part of our network, we find that there’s a lot of state-based organizations, particularly smaller ones, that don’t get the recognition of all of the work that they’re doing, right.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: They’re working out of their cars. They’re just hustling out there, just trying to make it happen and do whatever needs to be done in terms of having people really focused on the criminal justice system. So our members abroad. We have, like I said, individuals, city-based organizations, and national organizations. Our bylaws call for anyone who wants to be on a committee, with the exception of our financial committees, can be on a committee. Anyone that belongs to a state-based organization can be nominated to be part of the board, but we don’t have that international organizations on our board. We want it to really, really focus on state-based groups.

Nicole Campbell: Okay. And I really like how you’re focusing on the smaller organizations to make sure that they’re included in the conversation and have the support and resources that they need to participate and support the communities that they’re working with. I want to talk about this current environment and what NNJ is doing right now for the communities that it works with or its membership,

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Right. So we’ve had probably in the past month and a half, maybe two months, we’ve had two calls where we’ve just been focused on members who are actively doing direct action in terms of trying to get people out, right? Because we know that the prisons and the jails are just powder kegs for the COVID virus to spread, and for people to get sick, and unfortunately, people to perish. And so we’ve been working with a lot of our groups. We don’t specifically…NNJ doesn’t do the direct service, but we’re working with a lot of our organizations who are trying to do some of that direct service, whatever it is that they might need. They may need help with getting a sign-on letter out to other members and to other organizations, they need assistance with putting together care packages. And so to the extent that we can assist them with other resources that may be out there to help them get care packages together. We are going to probably be doing some father’s day cards just to get some of those cards out to members in a lot of the facilities around the country. Particularly in Mississippi, we have a member who’s working really diligently trying to put together not only care packages for members of the community who are suffering from COVID, but also trying to help some of the young people who have family members incarcerated that are about to graduate and don’t have the support systems.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And so, we’re trying to get the word out about that and really just provide an opportunity for a lot of our members to talk to each other. Everyone tends to be in silos this particular crisis, because of the fact that we cannot move around the way that organizers tend to move around. It has caused folks to have to organize online, organize via the phone, organize via these types of Zoom calls or Google calls or whatever, to get information out, and newsletters. And so we’ve tried to just be a conduit for the conversations, and I’ve been sending out information about different funding sources that I see that come up that don’t necessarily pertain to NNJ specifically, but may pertain to some of our organizations out there that are doing specific work around either young girls or young boys, or you know, some specific issue area that we don’t necessarily cover. So there’s a lot of different that we’re doing. Every day, I know there’s several calls of people that are just really trying to get the information out and trying to let other people know what their actions are in their jurisdictions, so that maybe they could utilize some of those same types of tactics in their jurisdictions, you know, letters to the governors and caravans in front of jails. So that type of thing. So we’re there to help support to the extent that we can.

Nicole Campbell: I’ve been seeing that a lot as well, this need to communicate with each other a lot more, learn from each other and collaborate. So I think it’s really critical that NNJ is providing the space for people to do that. And speaking of talking with other people, other organizations, I was wondering if you could talk about nonprofits that are fundraising as a significant part of their budgets. I know that NNJ also fundraises as part of its operations and to support its operations. So I would love to know what advice would you give to nonprofits that have to fundraise during this time? What should be top of mind for them, particularly during the crisis and as they look beyond it?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: So, we are fundraising. We’re trying to fundraise in this COVID environment. I think the biggest piece of advice that I could give to anyone out there that is seeking funding is to stay true to your objectives, your mission, and your goals, to the extent feasible and possible in this environment. What I mean by that is, I’ve seen a lot of philanthropic ventures shift their focus to COVID-19 related funding. So if there’s an organization that maybe wasn’t doing specific direct service related to health or related to any type of issue dealing with mental health or specific PPE or anything like that, supporting folks on the frontline, that because a lot of philanthropic ventures have shifted their funding focus to providing funds for COVID relief, I’ve seen organizations try to fit that mold. And I think that, if that is not what you do, I think it’s hard to try to shift yourself and try to manage a way to fit that square peg, round hole, or vice versa.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I think that because of the fact that we are in this crisis and now this funding is coming from a variety of different sources and organizations need the funding, to not stick to your mission and your goals is going to take you off track. And then you’re going to have to try to pivot and come back when we’re not in this crisis or we’re in some other type of crisis. Right? And so my advice would be to just really be clear on what your mission, your goals, and your objectives are. And if there is money out there that’s COVID related that you see a funder is offering, and you can find a way within your mission to apply for that money, except the money, and work with that money to influence what you’re trying to do, then I say go for it. But if it requires you to totally shift what you’re doing, then I think that you really need to reevaluate and determine if that’s really where you want to go. Because I know how it is when you need the funding, because everyone’s always looking for funding, we’re looking for funding. But I’m also see a lot of things that I think are interesting that NNJ might be able to apply for.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: But then I have to all say, “Okay, is this going to lead us to what we’re trying to do?” Which is assist state-based organizations in their work and their efforts. If I don’t see that, but I see maybe a funding source that one of our network members might benefit from because it’s specifically what they’re doing, then I’m passing that on to them. I’m not going to try to apply for something and it’s really not an NNJ, but it might be one of our member organizations. So that would be probably the biggest piece of advice. It was probably a long-winded response, but my biggest piece of advice to entities who are looking for funding, because I know how it is if someone’s giving you a $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 grant, you know, they want you to do some type of COVID relief and it’s not part of your mission, and it’s hard not to take it. But you really have to focus and say, “No, I really don’t want to do that.”

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I think some of the funders will respect organizations for not just jumping on the bandwagon in terms of COVID relief efforts, when that’s not what they were designed to do, even though this is something that is new to all of us. And unfortunately it’s been something we’ve all had to try to maneuver and get used to and try to be valuate our whole life existence around. I think that a lot of funders would be willing to look at someone again, knowing the future, when this crisis, I won’t say passes, but subsides enough where people are like, okay, we can go back to our work, what we were put here to do, what our mandate is.

Nicole Campbell: Right. And so being consistent to organizations’ missions. And so you’ve mentioned that funder comes to an organization, says, “We are offering COVID relief.” And that organization thinks about it and says, “You know, we really can’t take that funding right now or participate in this particular effort because we’re doing this other piece of work that’s requiring all of our attention.” And so I know you about some funders or the majority of funders understanding that. And then maybe that organization revisiting the conversation and saying, “Hey, can we have a conversation?”, later on, once that organization’s work is underway. But I wondered if you could give some advice around how do you pick that conversation back up? So you’ve stayed strategically on target and on focus, and you just determined that, you know, maybe the funding that’s being offered is not strategically aligned with your mission. How do you then pick that conversation back up with a funder? Just say, “Okay, now I’m back. And I’d love to revisit the conversation around funding.”

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I think you set that up when you have the initial conversation about this money being offered and maybe a situation where the funder doesn’t come to you and says, “You know, I have this money and we’d love for you to apply for it.” It may be something that you just see and you could send a note, a letter, to that funder and say, you know, “This is a great opportunity. I will definitely pass along this opportunity to maybe someone who is working specifically on these efforts. We are not right now. We’re really trying to stay focused on our mission at hand, but we’d love to have an opportunity when we are out of this specific crisis to come back to you for funding, either general support funding, or particular project, we’d love to be able to come back to you and have a conversation.”

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I think that funders are willing to do that. If you put yourself out there and say, “This organization is not going to apply for funds that really don’t fit us.” I think funders are like willing to say, “Wow, they’re really trying to stick with what they’re doing.” We’re all trying to manage and maneuver in this. So I think that there’ll be more open to that. And I think seeing a note from someone saying, you know, “This is a really great opportunity. We’ll definitely pass it on to one of my colleagues, but we’d love to be able to talk to you about other funding.” We think that they would be open to that.

Nicole Campbell: So, we’ve been talking a lot about funders and I’d love to hear the advice that you would give to them beyond, you know, give more money; for funders to support nonprofit sustainability, both within and beyond this crisis.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Right. So I think that because of the fact that there are these mid and large size organizations out there, they’re doing great work and they’re getting funding so that it allows them to have infrastructure in place. And it allows them to have their financial elements of their organization to be sound, and that they have people in place to do their programming and to do their marketing. Like they’ve got enough funds where they’re able to do all of these things. I think that it’s a beautiful thing, that there are organizations being funded. But at the same time, there’s a lot of organizations that are starting up that are smaller, that are also doing great work, right, grass roots, organizing work, or direct service work. And it would be great for those organizations to get their piece of the pie. And I think funders who do fund this work, criminal justice work have a great network of other people who may not fund criminal justice.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Right? And so to be able to access some of those philanthropic entities that may not fund criminal justice work, but that funders can actually talk to some of these other organizations about, I think would be helpful for smaller organizations. Because they could say, you know, “Hey, we’re not funding this particular group, but it may be a group that you might look at if you’re trying to get your feet wet in terms of criminal justice reform efforts.” If you’re trying to get your feet wet in terms of social justice or voting justice or whatever the issue is. And I think that they have these networks and they have the ability to move around and talk to different people. And I just think that that is just one way for them to maybe take some of the pressure off them just trying to do it all. But give some of these smaller organizations, give some of the other organizations different ideas of who else to reach out to. Because I think we get stuck in this: okay, we’ve got to go to the funders who normally fund us, right?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Who normally fund criminal justice because that’s what I’m in, criminal justice. And there’s like all these other entities out there, philanthropic entities that could potentially fund you, but we tend to stay focused on, you know, these big names. I think that funders also have a great opportunity to help provide, or find entities that are going to provide some of the capacity building and infrastructure development like you, Nic, for example, just helping organizations do some of this work. It’s one thing to fund an organization that is on solid footing that knows what they are doing, that has all their ducks in order, that has their financial capabilities solid. It’s another thing to work with a group that doesn’t know what the 1099 is, that doesn’t know what they need to do financially to stay sound, right, that there are reporting requirements to the IRS and becoming a 501(C)(3). There’s even reporting requirements if you’re not a 501(C)(3) but you’re under a fiscal agent.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: There’s all of these things that I think a lot of small organizations and 501(c)(3)s that they just don’t understand, what comes with the territory and putting together an organization, right? The board development and ensuring that whatever it is your mission and your goals are, that you have someone to implement all of those things, that you’re working on capacity building. And I think that some funders have the capability to put together some of this support and it’s not necessarily them. They consult it out or contract it out or however they do it, and say, “Okay, we have this team that can work with groups on capacity. We have this team that could work on groups with fundraising.” And I think that if funders did that, people would be set up for success and they would strive, right, in their organizations, as opposed to the way a lot of organizations function now.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Just kind of…they’re looking for funding before some of the infrastructure stuff. And I think if funders wanted to really get involved with that piece of it, that would probably help a lot of these other small organizations. And talking to some organizations, some organizations don’t need to be a 501(C)(3). You need to be a project under a 501(C)(3). And having those honest conversations with people about that. I think a lot of people want to be a 501(C)(3) because they want to be in control and do what they want to do without recognizing all of the logistical issues that come along with being a 501(C)(3). So that would be my advice, because I think small organizations are kind of the lifeblood of this. They’re doing this work and I’m here as someone that they could call if they’re experiencing something that they need some help getting information out or they’re trying to get into this prison and they need a letter done, like I’m here to provide that support. But there are those groups that are out there day in, day out, hitting the pavement, talking to people, protesting, doing whatever. They’re the lifeblood of this movement. And we shouldn’t take that for granted, funders shouldn’t take it for granted. We shouldn’t.

Nicole Campbell: I agree with that. And you are definitely speaking my love language when you start talking about infrastructure and building capacity. And I do think that NNJ really does play a capacity building role, for the reasons that you’ve already described. And I think that when you echo on your points, when you build infrastructure, what you do is we create access for different organizations that otherwise may not have had it. And we give them options. So like you said, you don’t necessarily have to be created, definitely have to become a C3 for example, which it could be a project, you could be an initiative. But you don’t know these things, unless you start to build your capacity and build your infrastructure knowledge. Right? So I think that having that kind of support from funders, from the sector as a whole, would be extremely critical. And so that leads me into my next question for you, which is, we have your advice for funders, we have your advice that you’d give to fundraising nonprofits. With all of that in mind, what do you wish we did less of as a sector and what do you think we should do more of?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: I think, and I’ve thought this for a very long time, that we tend to latch onto influence and celebrity in a way that leaves people out. And I’ll say this, I remember when the Rockefeller drug laws were like one of the worst types of drug laws in the country. And there were so many people working on the Rockefeller drug laws, long before I even became involved in criminal justice efforts. There were so many people involved in Rockefeller drug law reform and trying to change these laws. I mean, tons of people, and I’m not going to mention any names on any level, because I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m leaving them out. I also remember there was a celebrity who was having conversations with the mayor and the governor. And I remember I was in D.C. At the time, and there were all these protests that were happening and they were happening in downtown New York, like by the mayor’s office.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I was thinking, okay, you folks, you gotta go to Albany, you gotta go to the Capitol, you gotta go and see your legislators. Cause that’s what I come from. I come from that type of organizing where I worked with a legislator, I campaigned. And so I know that that is how things are happening. You know, I’ve worked with legislators then and we got letters, we got calls, people came to our office, and there were protests. And that is how they made changes to laws. Right. I remember being in Seattle and the Mariners wanted a new baseball stadium and the legislature was like, “No, no way. We’re not building them a stadium.” What did they do? They had him Kenneth Griffey Jr. come to the state house, like, really? He came to the state house to lobby the legislators to build this new stadium. Right. And it was just this big thing, a celebrity.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I see things on Capitol Hill where, when there’s a celebrity, you’ll see all these congressmen in the committee hearing because it’s a celebrity there. And I’m like, what about the regular people? And so I digress. I’m going back to Rockefeller drug laws; conversations that were going on behind the scenes with the governor and this person and the talks fell apart. And I remember thinking if this had not fallen apart, if this person was able to go in and speak to the governor, and have reform and have change done, what does that say for all of the people that have been working on this for all these years; all the hard work, all the tears, all the money, all of the heartache, and trying to get anyone to listen to their issues and their concerns about how they’re incarcerating Black and Brown people in this state.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: What does that say to their efforts? And I mean, that happened years ago, right? And now we’re seeing similar things happen where people…and I think it’s great, please don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great when people are able to come home. But I think that there are a lot more people that could come home if there wasn’t a celebrity pushing one particular person, like if the celebrity was pushing legislation that would get a lot of people home, that’s one thing. You know, not going behind the scenes and having conversations with legislators and governors, but really working with the activists and the advocates who are trying to change these laws. If they were really, really doing that and not just because someone did a video and then they got some notoriety, I think we could really change things. People could come home. And I think that that is one thing that I would change in our sector, in our world, in our environment.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: That is one thing I wish that we were less concerned, with celebrity. There are celebrities that have had issues with bail reform and then it becomes a big thing. Well, bail reform has been big forever. There’s a lot of people still in jails right now. People are trying to get these folks out because of COVID, they’re in jail for these little offenses and they should be able to come home. You shouldn’t have to pay thousands and thousands of dollars to a bail-bondsman to come home. And if you’re known, if you have notoriety, it seems to be easier for you to have access and get your story told, and I think it shouldn’t be like that. I think everyone should have the same options and justice should prevail across the board.

Nicole Campbell: I liked that idea of, we’re talking about celebrities, right? Or basically just some influencer who’s able to come in and make all of this sweeping change and in parallel, we have tons of activists who’ve been doing work for years, organizations who have been in the trenches and just at the forefront of the issue, and have not made as much progress. Now we need those two forces. And so I’m going to put this on you, Angelyn, to answer that, like, if you had your way, how do you marry that? How do you take advantage of the influencers as you know many businesses, right? But also take all of that expertise and all of the learning and the knowledge that comes with the activist organizations, the leaders who’ve been doing the work.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: I wish I had the answer to how to do that. I think it’s being done a little bit on certain levels, but I also know that there are a lot of tensions in the community with that celebrity/advocacy that’s going on now. And I don’t know what the full answer is to that other than a full powwow, where everyone is just…got a couple of moderators in there just to get it all out. And everyone come together and say, “We are going to be a force to be reckoned with.” And that takes a lot of tenacity. It takes probably a few strong people to come in and just say, “Hey, we need to stop all of the tensions and the bickering and ego, all of that, just lay it all out on line.” What we all should be working towards is the liberation of people, right?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And so if we’re not all working towards that, then we’re only going to get but so far in little increments. And I think having this celebrity and having the advocates come together in a way that could show unity, that this group has been around for a long time, they’ve been doing great work. And I don’t think that that necessarily happens. I don’t think that celebrity comes in and says, you know, they’ve been doing great work and we have to make sure that they are able to sustain themselves and continue this work. And we’re going to work with them to try to get legislators in their jurisdictions on board with criminal justice reform. And we’re not going to take the credit. We’re going to step back and let the advocates, but we’ll be the voice when they need us to be the voice. And I don’t think that’s what happens now.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: I think celebrity comes forward and becomes the voice. And then the groups, the people who are doing the work are kind of like peripheral, on the periphery. And then we are stuck with this situation where we’re just at this tension stand still where we could do so much more if we could all come together. And not to sound cliche, if we could all get along, we could do so much. I don’t know that that’s feasible. I don’t know it’s possible, but it’s something to strive towards. I try to do that in the work that I do, because I’m someone who has not been directly affected by the criminal justice system, though I had a family member incarcerated. I, myself haven’t been. So I have to really step back when I’m talking to people who have had that experience, because they’ve had an experience that I haven’t had.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And so being able to step back when I need to step back, right. Even though people might know a little bit of who I am, and I might have more credibility than this person who’s formerly incarcerated because they don’t know who that person is. I still have to step back and say, look, this is the expert. I’m not the expert. This person is the expert and push them forward. And I step back. And I think that’s the same thing that could happen for celebrity: you step back and push this person forward. Not in a way that trivializes them or puts them on display, but just know this person should be stepped forward.

Nicole Campbell: Right. Again, just using your platform to raise that person visibility. Right. Similar to what you said earlier. And so I know you talked about collaboration or increasing collaboration, increasing communication. What do you think you should do more of as a sector? In addition to those things.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: One thing we should do, as I say, pushing people forward is that we have to prepare people to be put forward. I think what happens now is someone comes home from being in a system that demeans them, demoralizes them, treats them as less than human. They’ve served however many years, whether it be three years or whether it be 40 years, you have people who have been through so much. And doing this work over the years that I’ve been doing this work, I’ve seen so many people come home and that’s what we do, that’s the first thing we do. We put them on a stage and we ask them to tell their story. And we put them in front of the media and we take them all around the country and we have the media talking to them and we put them in a movie and we write a book. It’s like we as a community, because we so desperately want reform, that we do sometimes whatever it takes, whatever we think it’s going to take to get that reform right.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Because the story always resonates with people. I think the story always resonates with people. And when I say people, I mean, lawmakers. Taking someone in to tell their story, it’s going to resonate. Me going in, just talking about it, not so much, but I think we have to prepare people for that. I don’t think we just throw them into the lion’s den and just expect them to just come out okay. Because they didn’t come out of the system of incarceration okay. And I don’t care what we think, what we say, folks who have been inside do not come out okay. Unless they had some work done while they’re inside, which is not necessarily the case. Or they come home to something that they can work towards that, towards a mental health, physical health. I’ve spoken to people that say, it doesn’t matter what happened when you went inside, and you could have been fine, when you come out, you’re not.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: When we come out of this COVID, we are not going to be the same. We may not even be okay. Some of us are not okay now. Right. And we’re masking it and we’re just moving on. We’re moving forward, and we’re on calls, and we’re Zooming, and we’re in these meetings and these settings where we’re not communicating in person, and we’re not doing the things that we normally did. And so I don’t think that we’re going to necessarily be okay. So why would we think that people who’ve been behind bars being demoralized, being told what to do every waking moment? Why do we think that those folks will be okay? And that immediately they can come forth and just be these great speakers and leaders. And some people can, some people can, but there’s a lot that can’t, but with that guidance and that support, they can be, they can be your spokespeople. They can be the ones that go to legislators and talk about the issues or go to, you know, some of the civic organizations, the League of Women Voters, or whatever, to talk about the issues. But I think we tend to want the immediate and we see like, okay, this person’s story has been in the news. This is great. We can put them out there and then we burn them out. We absolutely burn them out. So that’s what I think we should do better.

Nicole Campbell: I like how you put it, preparing people to be put forward and just talking about doing more preparation, more building, more supporting. And it leads me into my questions that I would love to get your thoughts on, because we’ve been talking about infrastructure in pockets throughout this conversation. And I wanted to know if NNJ’s thinking about building infrastructure during this time. And if it is, how is it thinking about building infrastructure during this pandemic? And what does that building look like beyond this pandemic?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Well, it just so happens that we had our fiscal agent since 2017. We received our designation, 501(C)(3) designation from the IRS in December of 2019. And so we are in the process of transitioning to an independent entity. So talk about infrastructure. That is a huge piece of the infrastructure for us, because it is finding an accountant/bookkeeper. It is ensuring that all of t,he financials that the fiscal agent has are transferred over it is finding someone to do our payroll and all the deductions that have to be done. It is looking for medical for the staff persons for NNJ. And that is probably our biggest priority right now, is that infrastructure, of just building from basically the ground up our infrastructure. Ensuring that we have a booklet, a packet of information, for new staff. We want to make sure that we have a employee handbook that lays out all of the issues that we had under our fiscal agent, because we had a handbook under our fiscal agent.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And so now we’re making sure all of those things in place. And so that’s our biggest piece, is just in terms of infrastructure, our biggest priority, significant priority, is putting those things in place for us right now. Because we really know that we need to build capacity. And we can’t until we have some of these things in place to ensure that when we reach out to funders, we can say, “Look, this is our accounting. This is a bookkeeper. This is how much money we’ve raised. This is our structure. This is what we have been doing. And this is what we want to continue to do for our network members.” And so we need certain things in place. We need staff in place to have that capacity to do this work. So I would say that in terms of our infrastructure, that’s where we are now, in a COVID crisis, we’re trying to do that. Trying to open a bank account during COVID was a challenge because you can’t go into the bank. So that was a challenge. And having people…our board members are around the country. And so trying to manage that was a little challenging, but we got that in place. So I feel really good about that too. That’s a huge infrastructure piece, is having a bank account.

Nicole Campbell: Yeah, agreed.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: You get it. If someone says, “Hey, I got some money for you. You have a bank account?” Yes, I do.

Nicole Campbell: I would completely agree and congratulations on building all of those building blocks, because like you said, you need to have that infrastructure in place, and you’re doing it in the midst of a pandemic because you’re thinking about sustainability and longevity of the organization. So huge congratulations again on that.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Thank you. Thank you. You know, I look at COVID funding and I’m still of the mindset that if it’s not fitting for us, if it doesn’t work, we’re just not going to apply for it. Because it doesn’t make sense to apply for a grant and then you’ve got to fit yourself into that grant. Just…I have enough to do with helping the network members that I don’t need to try to recreate something for me to do that’s not necessarily going to affect them and be impactful for them and their work. So I’m good with saying no to it, unless it fits.

Nicole Campbell: I’ve been reading a ton of business books lately and you know, they keep saying, and I’m sure you’ve heard this as well: when you say no, is actually how you move forward. Knowing what you actually can say no to and not do, that’s actually how you start to progress in a really good way and do things consistently and actually be successful because you’re not saying yes to everything, and your resources are diverted, and yes, you have additional funding, but now you’re doing things that take you off your mission, and actually end up impacting negatively the community that you actually are serving. So I hear you, and it’s not like you’re saying, don’t take any COVID funding. You’re just saying you need to strategically look at the funding and say, “Does this align with what I’m proposing to do?” I being part of the organization. And if not, then again, back to your other point, maybe talk about another organization or share that with another organization and say, “Hey, I think this is really appropriate for you. You should apply for this” Right. Or do that connection.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Really, like you said, thinking very critically and very strategically about who you are, what you’re trying to do, who you’re trying to serve, and go from there. And if it doesn’t meet some of those basic parameters then you shouldn’t bother. Initially, we thought about applying for the government funds because they were giving a grant for the payroll protection, but then you also had to apply for the loan. And I’m like, well, we’re not trying to apply for a loan to protect the salary. We’re just trying to ensure that we have that cushion on the salary. So that’s one less thing to worry about. Like, you’re going to need a salary. That’s a given, but to apply for a loan, that’s going to take us away from…okay, the loan is for what purpose? The loan is to protect the salary, but we don’t need a loan protect the salary.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: We can use a grant to help protect the salary. And outside of that, we will look for funding from elsewhere. So it’s really being very deliberate and intentional in that, looking at that pot of money. And you saw that with some of the companies that were getting funding, and then they realize, and I don’t know why they realize this after the fact, that there were all of these small businesses that weren’t getting any money because big folks have all the resources to come in and take the money. You’ve got the bank institution. You got your banker telling you, “Well, yeah, if you do this, if you do this, if you do this, we’ll make sure you get it.” So all of the little businesses don’t get any money. And then they’ve got to wait for you to put the money back in the pot. And then another build has to come through so that you can apply for funds to sustain your staff, you know, to make sure that you can pay your staff at least what they were making, or a little of what they were making, and keep your doors open. It’s insane. So that’s how I look at it.

Nicole Campbell: Angelyn, your responses have been so thoughtful, so insightful, and above all, practical. It makes me try to reimagine the sector. So thank you so much for the conversation. I want to ask you a question to help us continue to build knowledge through books and people we should learn from or about to close us out. What books do you think we should read next? Or what artists do you think you should be paying attention to?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: I actually have two. My family says…I mean, I stay in criminal justice, I like live it and breathe it. And I don’t necessarily, but I do in certain respects. But there’s a book called ‘An American Marriage’ by Tayari Jones. And it was an Oprah Book Club selection. And Oprah is actually, I think, bought the rights to make it into a film. And it’s a great book. It’s a good read. I’m not a fast reader. I read a lot of books, but I’m not a fast reader, but I was able to get through this pretty quickly. And then I actually started reading it again, because there are nuances, you know, you’re reading, and just like, I need to go back to that book. I’m rereading that book. And the other book is ‘Small, Great Things’ by Jodi Picoult. And I like her writing, but this particular book is also going to be made into a movie.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And I believe, I’m going to say, Alfre Woodard is going to play the main character, I think. This is also a good book and it wasn’t based on a true story, but I think she got the idea from a true story about a black nurse that ends up having to take care of a white baby. And the parents are white supremacists and they didn’t want the nurse to touch the baby. And so the book is based on that, but it also talks about the woman who’s telling the story, a white woman and all of the biases that she has, that she doesn’t even realize she has. So I would suggest both of those books.

Nicole Campbell: And so, ‘An American Marriage’, can you talk a little bit about that and why you recommend it?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: That book, I think I saw it maybe in Essence, they have all their books selections, and I’m like, oh, that sounds interesting. And then I heard about Oprah. I think I heard about Oprah though after the fact, after I started reading it. And basically it’s set in Atlanta, and it’s this young couple who get married, and they’re just up and coming. She’s an artist, and I can’t remember specifically what he does. But they are, you know, just your average black couple from the timeframe that is during the Atlanta murders. So it’s like in 1980s, something like that. And basically they go to visit his parents and a woman is in despair and he goes to help the woman in later on, she claims that he rapes her. And this story is about their marriage and his parents’ marriage and her parents’.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: But it really focuses around their marriage and how their marriage was a good marriage. They had their ups and downs. That’s what I liked about it is that it wasn’t perfect. They had arguments, there were jealousies, and all of that, but they were together and they were trying to build something and they were trying to support each other. And then he gets accused of this crime. And so it takes them through his years of being incarcerated and what happens to them in their relationship and how she becomes this different person. And he becomes a different person from the experience. And so that’s ‘An American Marriage’. It just tells this story about them just trying to manage, and her still be a wife to him when he’s incarcerated, and him still trying to be a husband. And what you go through as a couple, I’m trying to do that.

Nicole Campbell: Wow, so both books sound really powerful. And again, it’s ‘An American Marriage’ by Tayari Jones and ‘Small, Great Things’ by Jodi Picoult.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Yes.

Nicole Campbell: Okay, perfect. You have shared, like I said, just tremendous insights and knowledge and things that I think leaders, again, will be able to practice and use in their organizations. And that’s really important to me because going back to something you said during our conversation, which was, there’s two pieces of this, the infrastructure, but there’s also the implementation. And so just being able to get that knowledge, but then to be able to practically implement these things is extremely important. And I think that they can use all of them to build bravery. So I want to thank you so much again for joining us today

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: So much for having me. I totally enjoyed it. It’s interesting to be able to think about these things in that respect, because it’s not something you think about every day, you just do the work. So it’s been my pleasure to speak to you.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources, and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely.

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Rewriting the Narrative for Community Investment with Susan Burton

Susan Burton’s life story is incredibly powerful. She is a leader in the criminal justice reform movement, the founder of A New Way of Life Reentry Project, and an outspoken voice to end mass incarceration. And in this episode, she shares why she founded A New Way of Lifeshines a light on the policies and practices that encourage mass incarceration, and offers advice for leaders and organizations for building infrastructure and investing in their communities. 

Susan’s advice is so incredibly transparent, honest, and powerful. It encourages us to rethink what it means to have vision, how to invest in marginalized communities, and how to build sustainably. We encourage you to listen and absorb all of the information Susan shares about how we can each write and appreciate a new narrative. 

Listen to the podcast here:

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About Susan Burton

Susan Burton is a leader in the criminal justice reform movement, founder of A New Way of Life, and outspoken voice to end mass incarceration. Following the tragic accidental death of her five-year-old son, Susan’s world collapsed. Her loss snapped the final tether of resilience burdened by a past of pain and trauma. She descended into an emotional abyss of darkness and despair, but living in South Los Angeles, Susan didn’t have access to the resources she needed to heal. Without support, she turned to drugs and alcohol, which led to nearly 20 years revolving in and out of prison.

Drawing on her personal experiences, she founded A New Way of Life Reentry Project (ANWOL) in 1998, dedicating her life to helping other women break the cycle of incarceration. ANWOL provides resources such as housing, case management, employment, legal services, leadership development and community organizing on behalf of, and with, people who struggle to rebuild their lives after incarceration.

Susan has earned numerous awards and honors for her work. In 2010, she was named a CNN Top Ten Hero and received the prestigious Citizen Activist Award from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She is a recipient of both the Encore Purpose Prize (2012) and the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award (2014).

In 2015, on the 50th Anniversary of Selma and the Voting Rights Act, Susan Burton was named by the Los Angeles Times as one of 18 New Civil Rights Leaders in the nation. Released in 2017, her memoir, Becoming Ms. Burton, received a 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in the category of Biography/Autobiography. Becoming Ms. Burton is also the recipient of the inaugural Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice. She holds an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from California State University, Northridge.

Read the podcast transcription below:

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast and I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity, and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Nicole Campbell: Hi everyone, we’re in the final week of Women’s History Month. And we’re talking with Susan Burton; a leader in the criminal justice reform movement, founder of A New Way of Life Reentry Project, and an outspoken voice to end mass incarceration. Susan’s life story is incredibly powerful. And in this episode, she shares why she founded a new way of life, shines a light on the policies and practices that encourage mass incarceration, and offers advice for leaders and organizations for building infrastructure and investing in their communities. Following the tragic accidental death of her five-year-old son, Susan’s world collapsed. Her laws snapped the final tether of resilience burdened by a past of pain and trauma. And she didn’t have access to the resources she needed to heal. Without support, she turned to drugs and alcohol, which led to nearly 20 years revolving in and out of prison.

Nicole Campbell: Drawing on her personal experiences, she founded A New Way of Life Reentry Project in 1998, dedicating her life to helping other women break the cycle of incarceration. A New Way of Life provides resources such as housing, case management, employment, legal services, leadership development, and community organizing on behalf of and with people who struggle to rebuild their lives after incarceration. Susan has earned numerous awards and honors for her work, including being named a CNN Top 10 hero, receiving the prestigious Citizen Activist Award from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the Encore Purpose Prize, and the James Irvin Foundation Leadership Award. Susan has been named by the Los Angeles Times as one of the 18 new civil rights leaders in the nation. This episode was recorded weeks ago, and I’m still feeling the effects of this incredibly moving conversation. It has helped me rethink what it means to have vision, how to invest in marginalized communities and how to build sustainably. Susan’s advice is so incredibly transparent, honest, and powerful. I encourage you to listen and absorb all of the information Susan shares about how we can each write and appreciate a new narrative. And with that, here is Susan Burton.

Nicole Campbell: Hi Susan, I am so very excited to have you join us today and for our conversation. To get us started, can you tell us about A New Way of Life Reentry Project, your role there, and A New Way of Life immediate priority?

Susan Burton: So, A New Way of Life is a growing organization located…it’s based in South Los Angeles. It is an emerging, what I would call, an emerging model for this nation to create, what I would call, sustainable passages and openings for people who are coming back from incarceration, but it’s also a way to divert people from incarceration to positive lifestyles and influences within the community. So when I think of what a new way of life stands for, it stands for the ability for communities to go from being oppressed, to surviving, to thriving in a way that we, as I can say, black people, have always struggled to, and for, you know, thriving in this country. And some might make it out to a place that they feel like they’re thriving, but so many more are left behind to deal with oppression, suppression, and just surviving the racism of this nation.

Nicole Campbell: I think that is all so needed. And I know we were talking right before we started recording about your work and I wanted to dig into the model, the immersion model, that you talked about, and the work that you’re doing. Can you talk about, first, your role there and your connection to A New Way of Life?

Susan Burton: Yeah, so I am Founder and President of A New Way of Life Reentry Project. And I founded A New Way of Life based on my own experience of being re-incarcerated and re-incarcerated and re-incarcerated. Of being a person that this nation or its justice system did not want to make a positive investment in. They would invest in chaining, caging, incarcerating, and exploiting my labor as a prisoner, but they wouldn’t invest in the possibilities of me getting the opportunity to correct my behavior. And my behavior was in response to a LAPD detective killing my five-year-old son. After his accidental death – the policemen ran him over – and after his death, I began to drink and I drank alcoholically. I drank to drown the grief and that escalated to drug use. It was during the war on drugs and people were being demonized.

Susan Burton: Wow. You know, people would be demonized by this nation’s leaders. Wow. The same leaders were saturating our communities with crack cocaine, and I became a victim and the prey to the systems…to our nation decimating us black folks, brown folks, in our communities with this substance. You know, and I think of that period as chemical warfare on black poor communities, brown poor communities. And I think of the attack on us as a continual way of oppressing us, a continual way of criminalizing and demonizing us. What it also did, Nicole, was it drove women into prisons in huge numbers and it left our communities so crippled. And that’s why I feel like my work at A New Way of Life is so important to rebuilding and stabilizing our communities, the mothers of our communities, the women, the workers, the caretakers, the caregivers in our community.

Susan Burton: So, the work of A New Way of Life to house women, bring them back to our community, give them the ability to heal from all that’s been done to them, including the torture of incarceration, allow them the ability to build leadership skills, to get their kids back, to become, you know, forces within our community. That’s why the work of A New Way of Life is so important. And you know, I see it, I see it and I dream it, and I have a vision for it. You know, and I invest all that I have that women who people see or don’t see, you know, women who are invisible in this nation, women that have the ability to come and make changes in their community; I see them. They’re not invisible to me. They’re very, very important. And so that’s why, you know, I’ve dedicated my life to supporting the rebuilding of our communities through the services at A New Way of Life – the advocacy at A New Way of Life and the leadership development at a New Way of Life.

Nicole Campbell: I just think that is so incredibly powerful, Susan, and, you know, thank you so much for sharing your story. And the way that you described A New Way of Life, it sounds as though it is just such a necessity for society generally, but particularly for those who have been made invisible within society. To say, you know, as you mentioned earlier, to come from being oppressed and demonized, to step into thriving and being able to say, “I am a positive investment.” Right? Like, “You can invest in me.” And that’s exactly what A New Way of Life does. And so I would love to hear more about…and you started to talk through this with when you mentioned your services – advocacy and leadership – through A New Way of Life. Can you talk a little bit more about the kinds of services that A New Way of Life provides; the advocacy that you’re doing and the leadership skills that you are helping others to build? And why you think that that combination – the services, advocacy, and leadership is so important?

Susan Burton: So, the services that we provide consists of supporting women to have housing when they are released from incarceration, a place to heal, and it’s not just housing, it’s also a place to belong. So creating a community where people feel like…that the women that come here feel like they belong and it’s a place to root themselves. And in that house, we provide family reunification services, of course food, clothing, housing, social work services, therapy. And we also do some services around education and job support to get back to work; support for jobs. And we also engage in advocacy through, you know, testified…we allow people the space to understand that their voice and their life experience is important. And we create platforms for them to speak, just like I’m speaking to you today, to inform and tell people what their experiences are, but also what the possibilities are for their lives and how they’d like to work toward those possibilities.

Susan Burton: So, we go to the board of supervisors meeting, we go to Sacramento, they become a part of All of Us or None. And All of Us or None is the voices of formerly incarcerated people advocating and speaking on behalf of themselves. We also have a leadership development called women organizing for justice and opportunity, and they can participate in WOJO, which meets monthly. And we run that every year. WOJO came out of Soros Justice Fellowship. Over 10 years ago, I got a fellowship when Susan Tucker was running the fellowship program and we’ve built on and built on into that leadership development program. And we do it every year. And we create the space for people to understand what role do they have in the movement and letting them know that no role is too small, no role is too big. All of us are working together to build a movement for change and we’re bringing other people, especially women, along with us.

Susan Burton: And then we have legal services at A New Way of Life. We have six attorneys on staff. Two of them work with women who are struggling to get their children back because a part of mass incarceration is, again, a continuation of ripping our babies apart, ripping us apart from our children, taking our babies, literally selling them off, you know, creating needs where they call Child Protective Services and Department of Children and Family Services. It’s a continuation from slavery when they sold our children. That’s how we see it. Because I got incarcerated, doesn’t mean I’m a bad mom. And if you wanted to keep me with my children, it would have been much cheaper to roll out services for me and my children than to separate us and incarcerate me while placing them in the foster care system that fast tracks them into the criminal justice system. So we have four attorneys that do post-conviction relief and two attorney that do family reunification. And then we also added to there some policy work. So we want to stop the fast track adoption system that that incentivizes these places, like Department and Children and Family Services or Child Protective Services that incentivizes them to adopt our children.

Susan Burton: These agencies get paid for the $6,000 in bonus for every child that they adopt out. And that was a part of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1996 or ’94, but we’re working on dismantling that as a practice in this nation, as an incentive in this nation. And, you know, I hope the new administration looks at the harms that they’ve done, that their legislation has done, and their practices has done. And you know, puts forward what I call penance for the bad public policy that they pushed and implemented. And this is not to try to whoop them and beat them, but they have an opportunity now. I think they’ve said that maybe their approach and their thinking about how they created legislation was harmful, and so they can repair the harms now. I hope they do it aggressively. We’ll see.

Nicole Campbell: Mhm. And so it sounds like A New Way of Life is doing a ton of different direct services work, but also focusing on policy change. And I have a question actually around having children being pulled away from the moms who end up being incarcerated. Is that something that’s temporary or is it something that’s permanent? So do you just lose your rights as soon as you’re incarcerated? Is that usually what happens? I’d love to hear more about that piece. And then also about the leadership support that A New Way of Life provides.


Susan Burton: So, you have 18 months to get your children back, or they can be adopted out and that is permanent. You lose all parental rights to your children. And the thing of it is, is that there’s no recourse for mothers to…after the adoption happens it’s final. So I have women come home from prison, Nicole, and they go to try to find their children and they find out that their children are gone. And you know, I mean, I saw women who had came over prison and did everything that the judge said to do in order to get reunification services. I mean, in order to get a reunited with their child.

Susan Burton: And at the end of the day, the judge will say, “Reunification denied. Child is put in placement.” And I’m like, “What is this?” And that mother has no recourse to object to that judge’s decision. And I mean, I watched a movie, I think it was ’12 Years a Slave’, and there was a scene in there where the woman was begging the master not to sell their child. And it feels like, fast forward today, women are pleading with the judge to give them their child back, to reinstate their parental rights. And he says, “no”, and they have no recourse. So I see it as a, like Michelle Alexander writes, “the new Jim Crow,” the transference of those practices and policies embedded in our judicial system and our legal systems and threaded with the practices of slavery.

Nicole Campbell: Yeah. It just renders me speechless, but it also in the same breath, I know that there’s so much that we have to say about it because it just feels wrong and it is wrong. And just even from having this conversation, this is a really, you know, heavy topic. And so you’re doing this day in and day out, and so is your team. How are you all able to stay positive? Keep hope, keep fighting on behalf of these women when you’ve seen, you know as you mentioned, like different stories where just, you know, you can do everything right and you still are not reunited with your child. Like, how were you able to keep pushing forward and how do you encourage your team to keep doing that so that they can continue to work with the women in these situations?

Susan Burton: I mean, we don’t just have the struggles. We have wins through the struggles that are very, very encouraging and, you know, wins are important; small and large. We made progress. Nicole, I started A New Way of Life from my savings from a minimum wage job over 20 years ago. So there’s been so much progress from then ’till now, but not keep fighting is to say that I’m going to surrender to what it is. And surrender would be like, you know, like death. Like an emotional death. And I guess probably depression would set in and, you know, what have you, so you keep fighting. And I’m fighting for my life, my community’s life, my grandchildren’s life, for the future that I want to see. So that just keeps you fighting. And again, we have wins…one place I walk into, one of our homes, and these little brothers that are five and three, they run to me every time and say, “Hey, Ms. Burton. Hi, Ms. Burden.” And, you know, they’re the light and the life. And those little boys have a chance, the mother’s going to school to become a healthcare worker, and she’s going to have a chance to learn, to earn a salary that will sustain her and her two boys. So it’s, you know, inter-generational change that I see it. So, I mean, that’s enough to keep me going.

Nicole Campbell: Yeah, definitely, just looking at future generations and creating that space so that they can have inter-generational prosperity, right. That they could actually be thriving for generations. Like what does that look like? So I appreciate that and appreciate the work that you’re doing. And you mentioned leadership, and I’d love to hear about what you’re doing in that space and working with people to make sure that they have the leadership skills and how they’re then employing those skills and showing up in different spaces.


Susan Burton: Yeah. So locally, we have women organizing for justice and opportunity, but nationally, we have the SAFE Project And SAFE stands for Sisterhood Alliance for Freedom and Equality. And Nicole, over the last 10 years, more than 20 years, I’ve gained a real expertise and skillset on developing, you know, reentry homes and creating leadership development, and organizing strategies that go within those homes. And so what I’ve done is I’ve created a training program for people to replicate our model. And, you know, I have a vision of a safe housing network throughout this nation that other people in their respective communities are welcoming people back into their community, and implementing leadership, and building a place for people to heal. And to walk, and stand, and work with us to change every day.

Susan Burton: And, you know, I might be way off dreaming, but, you know, I have a dream and I have steps toward that dream and a plan. And one of them is to have places for people to go all across this nation; to return from their communities, to safety, to a place of leadership, a place to belong, a place like a springboard to recreate their lives. If we don’t do it…we can’t look at, you know, this is not the work of a government. It’s the work of community, you know. I mean, I hope to build into that support from our government, but these are our community members, our people, our children, our nieces, our nephews, and they belong with us and to us. And so that’s a part of, I feel like, our responsibility during the war on drugs we’ve got. I mean our folks got brainwashed into pushing our people away.

Susan Burton: And demonizing them and finding them unworthy of investment. You know, we got straight brainwashed as a nation. You know, that tough on crime, that crack mama’s stuff, crack babies stuff, that super predator stuff. All of that, you know. And I say that there’s penance for the nation, you know, penance for our leaders, our folks at the top. There’s also penance for us to be a part of the rebuilding and re-humanizing, and we rebuilding of our communities, people…a lot of our community. What I want to say is that we kind of threw away our…I guess…In the class packing system, there was a upper class black folks that threw the lower class black folks away. Did not demand investment and matter of fact, they demanded demonizing, criminalizing and incarcerating a whole generation of people. We need to pay penance to and invest in rebuilding those people, and those children’s people, and recreating, you know, our nations communities.

Nicole Campbell: And when you talk about brainwashing, that concept, it resonates with me. And I think it’s just such an appropriate way to describe what has happened within our communities and I think just generally within society. And what I’m hearing and what I’ve seen about A New Way of Life is that it’s a deliberate model to attack that brainwashing, right? That brainwashing that has caused divestment in, in certain people, in certain communities and have said like, “You are lesser than and so we’re going to ignore, we’re going to invisibilize you.” And instead, A New Way of Life is stepping in and saying, “Actually, we are deliberately going to fight against that narrative and against that messaging.” And talking through again, the different ways in which you all work. And I know you mentioned that you all are working in an emerging model, and I would love to hear about that model in particular, why is it emerging?

Nicole Campbell: And then, just hear more about your infrastructure and the way you think about infrastructure. Because you’re doing a lot of really important, critical work, and you’ve been doing it sustainably for a very long time. You mentioned, you know, starting A New Way of Life based on your savings from a minimum wage job. And now A New Way of Life is a multi-million dollar nonprofit organization, right. It’s been around for decades. So I would love to hear more about your emerging model, how you all are set up to do this work. How do you think about governance? How are you thinking about the structure of your organization to support all of the good work you’re doing?

Susan Burton: So, when I think about combating the narrative that has been set forth is that I don’t nearly have the level of ability to communicate like they communicate and just directly attack that narrative. But what I do have is the ability to not let that narrative resonate with me as true. And what I can do is invest where I can invest to create a different narrative. And the outcomes of itself will negate that narrative when there is an investment made. So maybe that’s the way that I’ve been able to combat that narrative. And then just personally, you know, standing up and showing something different; what can be when there’s an investment made. You know, what I want to say is that, you know, I don’t believe there are throwaway people. And this nation, the way it works, throws away so many.

Susan Burton: And the cost is so high, not only in dollars, but in other ways that…we could just do better as a nation. So we have the nonprofit, you know, infrastructure of a board of directors. And then we have, you know, the officers on the board. We do strategic planning. What I can say is that strategic planning, every time we do one, we exceed it tremendously. Along with the strategic planning, we develop work plans and, you know, everybody exceeds the work plan. I guess when you have such dry ground, you know, when you water it, everything comes up blooming. Even though the ground is dry, the ground is fertile – if someone would just water it. And then we have departments, we have the advocacy department, we have the housing department.

Susan Burton: We have our fiscal management department, we’re about to build a human resources department. We have, you know, different departments across the organization. Organizing the leadership department goes within the art organizing advocacy department, the legal department, and the reunification services are within the legal department. We have our development department and we have a few development people on staff, and we have our communications department, and then our administration. And you know, five years ago, did I think this was what it would be? I did not, but I did know that I deserved a chance and other women deserve a chance. I got a chance out in a white community next to the beach that didn’t throw their people away, that did invest in their people when, you know, there was a mistake made. And I took that model, and I brought it back to South Carolina and then, you know, day by day, the beat goes on.

Susan Burton: And then we have the safe housing leadership program, well I don’t call it a leadership program, I call it a replication program. And now we are in 14 States and we have replicated the model in 14 States. And what I did is I developed a training program with the support from UCLA and my communications department. We’ve trained three different cohorts, over a hundred people, with the model and out of those people, I’ve selected – I think it’s 18 people – 18 people to replicate the program. And you know, I’ve supported them, I’ve raised dollars to help them get started. And we have training modules; every month we get on call and every month we’re together sharing and taking different trainings. And what have you to support them.

Susan Burton: You know, it’s kinda like, A New Way of Life was the support I wish I’d have had when I got released those six times for prison, and it was never there. I created it. And the training program that we have for our replicators is the training that I wish somebody would have gave me when you know, when I started out. You know, I had to learn like any way that I could, how to start, grow, and sustain an organization. And I think that if we’re gonna change this, we just had to get proactive and change it.

Nicole Campbell: And I, you know, I think as you describe how A New Way of Life is set up internally, and how that structure then supports your work, the theme that just keeps coming to mind for me is deliberateness, right? You’re just deliberately building, deliberately saying, “This is the change we want to see, and this is what we’re going after.” And you’re creating an infrastructure to support it. So I hope everyone that’s listening can see that the programmatic vision is always supported with that really strong infrastructure as well, because you can’t scale the way that you have without being able to say, “We have the infrastructure to know that each and every time we show up in a different state, we can ensure it’s going to be consistent. The way we’re working is consistent, and we’re going to engage the way that we have done in previous states.”

Nicole Campbell: So, I just think, again, it just shows, and it’s a testament to how deliberate A New Way of Life is being in both its building, as well as the work. And, you know, your responses, Susan, this entire conversation has been so transparent, and so honest and powerful. And I want to ask you a question that I ask all of our guests to help us continue to build knowledge through books and people we should learn from or about to close this out. What book do you think we should read next? Or what artist do you think we should be paying attention to?

Susan Burton: So, I hope all of the listeners today have read ‘Becoming Ms. Burton’. ‘Becoming Ms. Burton’ is my memoir from prison to recovery, to leading the fight for incarcerated women. But I just won’t promote me. What has been such an eye opener for this nation is Michelle Alexander’s book, ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration’…what is it? ‘Mass incarceration In a Time of’…oh, well ‘The New Jim Crow’ and Monique Morris, so I just, can’t say one, there’s so many great books out there. But Monique Morris has a book called ‘Pushout’, and it’s the story of how this happened so early in black girls’ lives, young black girls’ lives, that their potential begins to be smothered and distorted just because of who they are and what color they are.

Susan Burton: I think that book really describes what happens early on and how we need to intervene. And each one of us – that’s the other thing, is that every day, every one of us can be a part of the change that we want to see. If we would act courageously on our instinct to make a better world, to give somebody an opportunity to invest somewhere and not be scared, not be frightened of the disappointment or the work that has to go into it. It’s like, we can’t afford not to.

Nicole Campbell: Mhm. We are the ones that we’ve been waiting for.

Susan Burton: Exactly.

Nicole Campbell: Yeah, I completely agree, and thank you so much for sharing these books. We will put them in the show notes so that people can start to read them and put them on their bookshelves as well. So thank you for that. And, you know, again, Susan, you have shared such knowledge, your own personal story, and just incredible insights that I think that leaders will be able to use going forward. Because we talked about…we did a lot of storytelling for people whose stories have not been heard as much as they should have. And I appreciate that you brought all of that to bear during this conversation. And I think that leaders will be able to hear that and take your messages away, and inform how they then build their own organizations and encourage them to build bravely. So again, thank you so much for your time and for joining us today!

Susan Burton: You are so welcome, Nicole.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources, and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely.

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