Let Us Breathe Forum

May 9, 2015
11:30 AM Registration and Lunch
12 PM to 6 PM Program
Lerner Hall at Columbia University
2920 Broadway, New York    (Map)

From Oakland to Ferguson to New York City, activists have taken to the streets and to City Hall to demand a national dialogue around anti-Black racism and to put an end to discriminatory policing.

On May 9, North Star Fund will host the Let Us Breathe Forum at Lerner Hall of Columbia University to highlight the analysis, vision, and strategies from activists, organizers, and funders who have been at the forefront of this organizing.

This forum serves as a call to community members, donors, grantmakers, activists, organizers, and all New Yorkers to support the movement against anti-Black racism and to prioritize Black leadership. Workshops will be interactive and solution-focused, and participants will leave with concrete ideas for addressing critical issues.

Goals of the Let Us Breathe Forum:

  • Highlight the vision, analysis, and leadership from local Black organizers and Black-led organizations.
  • Explore concrete solutions and themes to build a stronger, more impactful, and strategic grassroots movement
  • Create spaces for Black communities and allies to strategize about the resources needed to address anti-Black racism and the multiple intersecting issues and structural oppressions impacting Black communities.
  • Build support for deeper investment in Black-led organizing, developing Black leaders and sustaining organizations.

The Forum is being held in conjunction with our Let Us Breathe Fund.

If you have questions about the Forum or would like to volunteer, please contact Helen Stillman (

Columbia University's Roone Auditorium is a non-smoking and wheelchair accessible venue. We are working to make the Let Us Breathe Forum as accessible as possible. Questions about additional accessibility resources are included in the registration form.

Help us create a scent-free environment at the Forum. There are members of our community attending the forum living with chronic illness and chemical sensitivities that are triggered by fragrances and scents. To increase accessibility, we are asking participants to work towards not wearing products with fragrances or scents on your clothes, hair, or skin from colognes, perfumes, scented laundry detergent, hair and body products. You can prepare in advance by not using products with fragrance, or by using fragrance free, non-toxic products.  For more information on supporting community with chronic illness and chemical sensitivities please read:

The Let Us Breathe Forum will highlight the analysis, vision, and strategies of over 25 movement leaders, grassroots organizers, and funders.

Stay tuned for additional information about our speakers as the Forum gets closer.



Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange has been at the forefront of racial justice issues for over a decade. As the leader of the nation's largest online civil rights organization, his work strives to strengthen Black America's political voice. Rashad has been selected as one of the "Root 100," a list of emerging and influential African Americans under 45. ColorOfChange has been at the forefront of addressing issues of police violence within black communities, fighting for justice for Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham, Trayvon Martin and countless more.

ARVA RICE, New York Urban League

Arva Rice is President and CEO of the New York Urban League (NYUL), an organization whose mission is to enable African Americans and other underserved communities to secure a first class education, economic self-reliance, and equal respect of their civil rights through programs, services and advocacy. Prior to joining NYUL, she served as the executive director of Project Enterprise, providing under-resourced communities with sources of capital, recognizing that economic opportunity is inextricably linked to social justice.

ANDREA RITCHIE, Soros Justice Felow, Streetwise and Safe

Andrea Ritchie is a Soros Justice Fellow and Senior Policy Counsel at Streetwise and Safe. Her research, writing, organizing, and advocacy work focuses on the profiling and policing of women, girls, and LGBT people of color. She coordinated and coauthored the INCITE! Organizers' Toolkit on Law Enforcement Violence Against Women and Transgender People of Color, and served on the INCITE! national collective from 2003-2008. She is the co-author of  Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States.


Lumumba Akinwole-Bandele is a community organizer and educator from Central Brooklyn and the Senior Community Organizer in the Legal Defense Fund Criminal Justice Practice. Lumumba helped establish a campaign to counter police abuse and misconduct as an organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.  He also co-founded the world-renowned Black August Hip Hop Project which raises awareness and support for political prisoners in the United States.

OPAL TOMETI, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, #BlackLivesMatter

Opal Tometi is a Black feminist writer, communications strategist, and cultural organizer. She is a co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter, the historic political project and leader-full network was launched in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin in order to explicitly combat implicit bias and anti-black racism and to protect and affirm the beauty and dignity of all Black lives. Ms. Tometi is the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), a national organization that educates and advocates to further immigrant rights and racial justice together with African-American, Afro-Latino, African and Caribbean immigrant communities.

KEVIN RYAN, New York Foundation

Kevin Ryan is the program director at New York Foundation where he manages a portfolio of active grants for start up organizations that focus on community organizing and advocacy and also oversees the Foundation’s Capacity Building Program that includes workshops, small grants, and individual technical assistance requests. Prior to his work at the New York Foundation, Kevin was the Executive Director of Community Training and Resource Center, a housing preservation organization.

MONIFA AKINWOLE-BANDELE,, Communities United for Police Reform, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

Monifa Bandele is a senior campaign director for, on the steering committee for Communities United for Police Reform, and an activist with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. For 15 years, MXGM has recruited, trained, and developed CopWatch patrols; helped launch two successful legal cases against police misconduct (Daniels v NYC and Floyd v NYC); conducted Know Your Right workshops for thousands of community members; and worked to pass landmark police reform legislation in New York City (Community Safety Act 2013).

J MASE III, awQward Talent

J Mase III is a black/trans/queer poet. A blogger for the Huffington Post he is author of “If I Should Die Under the Knife, Tell My Kidney I was the Fiercest Poet Around” as well as "And Then I Got Fire: One Transqueer's Reflections on Grief, Unemployment and Inapproporiate Jokes About Death." As an educator, J Mase has worked with community members on the needs of LGBTQIA youth and adults in k-12 schools, universities, faith communities and restricted care facilities. He is founder of awQward, the first ever trans & queer people of color specific talent agency. To find out more about J Mase III, go to

CARA PAGE, Audre Lorde Project

Cara Page is the Executive Director of the Audre Lorde Project. She is also co-founder and former Coordinator of the Kindred Collective; a southeastern network of healers, health practitioners and organizers seeking ways to respond to and intervene on state violence & generational trauma. She is the former National Director of the Committee on Women, Population & the Environment; and a proud member of Southerners on New Ground, Project South, and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence.

ERIC WARD, Ford Foundation

Eric K. Ward is a Program Officer at Ford Foundation focusing on issues of racial justice, civil rights and equality in the United States. Eric has a long and distinguished career as a social justice advocate, working over the past 20 years with local, state and national organizations to implement strategies for change around racial justice and immigrant rights. Before joining the foundation in 2014, he was a programme executive for U.S. Reconciliation and Human Rights at The Atlantic Philanthropies, where he helped guide U.S. grant making in the areas of immigration, national security and rights, and civic participation and engagement.

MARK WINSTON GRIFFITH, Brooklyn Movement Center

Mark Winston Griffith is the executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center. Prior to taking on this role, Mark was on the Faculty of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and was most recently the field organizer for the MOVE NY campaign. A Central Brooklyn native, Mark Winston Griffith is the former Executive Director and Senior Fellow for Economic Justice at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, and the former co-director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project.

PIPER ANDERSON, Create Forward

Piper Anderson is writer, educator, and Chief Creative Strategist at Create Forward, a consultancy specializing in cultivating creative strategies for social change sourced from our collective radical imagination. Much of her work has focused on the mass criminalization of people of color and since 2002 she has facilitated community cultural projects in detention facilities and community organizations in over 26 cities. She teaches courses at NYU, The New School, and CUNY’s graduate program in Applied Theatre. To learn more about her work visit her online at

TONI BLACKMAN, hip-hop artist and educator

Toni Blackman is an international champion of hip-hop culture. An award-winning artist, her steadfast work and commitment to hip-hop led the U.S. Department of State to name her the first ever hip-hop artist to work as an American Cultural Specialist. She has served in Senegal, Ghana, Botswana, and Swaziland where her residencies include performance, workshops, and lectures on hip hop music and culture. She is a  former Echoing Green Fellow has also been a fellow with the Open Society Institute.

SEAN THOMAS-BREITFELD, Building Movement Project

Sean Thomas-Breitfeld co-directs the Building Movement Project, developing research and tools to bolster nonprofit organizations’ potential to support progressive movements. Prior to joining the BMP staff, Sean spent a decade working at the Center for Community Change, where he developed training programs for grassroots leaders and organized on a range of issue campaigns, particularly immigration reform. Sean began his career as a Policy Analyst in the National Council of La Raza, where he developed research and lobbied on issues related to employment and income security.

CANDIS TOLLIVER, New York Civil Liberties Union

As assistant advocacy director for organizing, Candis Tolliver oversees the NYCLU’s organizing efforts in New York City and manages the NYCLU’s statewide organizing portfolio. Tolliver leads the NYCLU’s police reform organizing efforts and is heavily involved in all public education and advocacy activities related to building support in New York City for a more just and humane policing paradigm. She also leads the NYCLU’s work with the Communities United for Police Reform campaign where she co-chairs both the policy working group and the executive committee.


Alyssa Aguilera is the Political Director at VOCAL-NY, a grassroots community organizing group that builds power among low-income people impacted by HIV/AIDS, the drug war, and mass incarceration. At VOCAL, Alyssa leads campaigns to reform discriminatory policing practices, create alternatives to the drug war, and address the collateral consequences of mass incarceration. She is also the Executive Director of VOCAL-NY Action Fund, the affiliated 501(c)4 electoral and lobbying arm of VOCAL-NY that helps elect progressive candidates to office.

MONIQUE "MO" GEORGE, Community Voices Heard

Mo joined Community Voices Heard as the Public Housing Campaign Director in Feb 2009 then, taking a break from organizing in 2012, became the Director of Individual Giving and Events. In May 2014, Mo answered the call to return to organizing and became the NYC Chapter Director of Organizing - working to advancing CVH’s NYC Chapter and well as expanding our public housing campaign work. Prior to joining CVH, Mo worked at SEIU Local 1199, NYPIRG, and on statewide campains with Pride Agenda.


A Youth Leader and Board Representative at Make The Road NY, Keeshan Harley and has been active in citywide campaigns with young people around both education and policing reform. Keeshan also has partnered with the Public Science Project at CUNY for a Participatory Action Research project called Researchers for Fair Policing to address the impact of abusive policing practices on youth of color and is also a member of Communities United for Police Reform. Keeshan recently gave testimony to President Obama's 21st Century Policing Taskforce and sits on the Mayoral Leadership Team around School Discipline. 

AMAHA KASSA, African Communities Together

Amaha Kassa is African Community Together’s founder and Executive Director. Amaha is an Ethiopian immigrant with 20 years of professional experience as a labor and community organizer, nonprofit director, and social entrepreneur. For nine years, Amaha directed a successful workers’ rights nonprofit in Oakland, California, growing it from a startup to one of the leading organizations in its field. In 2012, Amaha received a Black Male Achievement Fellowship from Echoing Green and Open Society Foundations to support the launch of ACT.

MARLON PETERSON, The Precedential Group

Marlon Peterson is the founder The Precedential Group, a social justice consulting firm. He is the former Director of Community Relations at The Fortune Society,and previously served as the Associate Director of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, founding coordinator of Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets, and co-Founder of How Our Lives Link Altogether (H.O.L.L.A!). Marlon also serves as board chair of Families For Freedom and board member of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and is a member of the New York City Task Force to Combat Gun Violence. He is a member of the writing collective Brothers Writing to Live and his writings have appeared in Ebony, Gawker, The Crime Report, Black Press USA, and The Brooklyn Reader.

EMAN RIMAWI, freelance writer and educator

Eman Rimawi is a Black, Native American and Palestinian woman. She is a spoken-word artist, educator, and youth organizer for dozens of non-profit organizations in New York City including The Audre Lorde Project, Fury, Casa Atabex Ache, The Jed Foundation. In 2013 and 2014, due to issues with her health, she lost both her legs, but staying true to her passion for community connectedness and proven strength, she started AMPed Up – a Clothing line for and by amputees and is also training for the NYC Marathon this November. She’s been spreading the word about her journey through her facebook:

JEAN RICE, Picture the Homeless

Jean Rice recently secured housing after being homeless for nearly 30 years. He picks up cans for recycling and engages in constitutionally-protected freedom of activities such as panhandling. Jean is an avid student of history and was incarcerated in Attica from 1963 to 1965. Jean has been an active leader of the Civil Rights Committee since 2001. Through his work with the Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary, and as a leader of Picture the Homeless, Jean has been instrumental in building a coalition of faith communities to support homeless resistance to poverty and racism.

IMANI UZURI, vocalist, composer, cultural worker

Imani Uzuri is an eclectic interdisciplinary artist who travels internationally creating concerts, experimental theater, performance art, theater compositions and sound installations in venues/festivals. Uzuri's latest album, The Gypsy Diaries, draws on her North Carolina roots as well as influences ranging from Sufi devotionals to Romany laments. Uzuri has written essays on sexuality and spirituality for The Feminist Wireand Uzuri is the founder and curator for Sinners and Saints Festival (celebrating Black American vernacular culture) and the founder and artistic director of the newly formed Revolutionary Choir. She is currently a Masters candidate in African American Studies at Columbia University.

Registration and Lunch

11:30 – 12pm

Opening Plenary
The State of Black Movements

12:00 – 1:30 pm

Keynote and Moderator
Rashad Robinson, ColorofChange

Andrea Ritchie, Soros Justice Fellow, Streetwise and Safe, INCITE!
Arva Rice, New York Urban League
Lumumba Akinwole-Bandele, NAACP LDF, Malcom X Grassroots Movement
Opal Tometi, Black Alliance for Justice Immigration, #BlackLivesMatter

Visioning Breakouts

1:45 – 3:45pm

Beyond Broken Windows Policing
Moderator: Candis Tolliver, New York Civil Liberties Union

William Bell
Keeshan Harley, Make the Road New York
Yul-san Liem, Justice Committee
Jean Rice, Picture the Homeless
Djibril Toure, Communities United for Police Reform

Economic Justice and Asset-building
Moderator: Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, Building Movement Project

Alyssa Aguilera, VOCAL-NY
Asha Bandele, Drug Policy Alliance
Mo George, Community Voices Heard
Amaha Kassa, African Communities Together
Maxim Thorne, Yale University

Creating Community Safety
Moderator: Piper Anderson, Create Forward

Marlon Peterson, The Precedential Group, New York City Task Force to Combat Gun Violence
Simone Sobers, Audre Lorde Project
Farah Tanis, Black Women’s Blueprint
Lala Zannel, Anti-Violence Project

Art, Culture, and Healing Justice
Moderator: Toni Blackman, hip-hop artist and community educator

Sasha Alexander, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Black Trans Media
Cara Page, Audre Lorde Project
Peace Poets Artist Collective
Eman Rimawi, writer, organizer, poet
Imani Uzuri, vocalist, performer, cultural worker

Closing Plenary
Building, Resourcing, and Sustaining a Black-Led Movement

4:00 – 5:45pm

Kevin Ryan, New York Foundation

Cara Page, Audre Lorde Project
Eric Ward, Ford Foundation
J Mase III, awQward Talent
Mark Winston Griffith, Brooklyn Movement Center
Monifa Akinwole-Bandele,, Communities United for Police Reform, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

After Party

6:00pm – 7:30pm

Let Us Breathe Fund Information Session

6:00pm – 6:45pm

Opening Plenary

Closing Plenary

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