FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ashley Chambers, Ella Baker Center
OAKLAND—The Open Society Foundations announced today that Ella Baker Center Executive Director Zach Norris is one of the recipients of the Soros Equality Fellowship. Through the fellowship, the Open Society “aims to provide a network of leaders, representing the diversity of experiences, with the resources to address racial inequality and the space they need to imagine a more equitable future.”
“I am so excited to be selected as a 2021 Soros Equality Fellow,” said Norris. “The fellowship will allow me to bring attention to the issues of family separation and the ways that we can support the resilience of families across US history. I believe the resilience of Black, Indigenous people, and communities of color in the face of a hostile country provides lessons for how we might survive an increasingly inhospitable planet and how we might heal all of our relationships.”
Norris will be stepping away from his position as the Ella Baker Center’s Executive Director in February, 2022.
“Zach’s leadership, purpose and commitment to this work precede him,” said Marlene Sanchez, Deputy Director of the Ella Baker Center. “For the past 20 years, Zach has led the Ella Baker Center to be at the forefront of shutting down youth prisons across the state, changing the narrative around public safety and criminal justice reform, and building leadership among people that are directly impacted by the criminal justice system. We are excited for this new opportunity that he has to continue his work advancing racial justice as a 2021 Soros Equality Fellow.”
“Zach’s leadership, values and commitment to this work precede him,” said Diana Frappier, co-founder of the Ella Baker Center and current board member. “For the past 20 years, Zach has led the Ella Baker Center to be at the forefront of shutting down youth prisons across the state, changing the narrative around public safety and criminal justice reform, and building leadership among people that are directly impacted by the criminal legal system. We’re grateful to have been a part of his leader-full vision at the Ella Baker Center and excited for Zach’s next chapter.”
Over the past 20 years since joining the Ella Baker Center, Norris has led the Books Not Bars campaign to successfully shut down five youth prisons across the state, and helped build California’s first statewide network for families of incarcerated youth. After becoming Executive Director in 2013, Zach has led the organization for the past decade on work spanning from holding Alameda County officials and the sheriff accountable, to passing criminal justice policies at the state level like the RISE Act and California Racial Justice Act. Connecting his activism and passion for social and criminal justice, Norris released his debut book last year, Defund Fear: Safety Without Policing, Prisons, and Punishment which shifts the conversation around public safety to be rooted in care and community, not fear and punishment.
As a thought leader in criminal justice and community empowerment, Norris co-founded Restore Oakland, a community advocacy and training center that empowers Bay Area community members to transform local economic and justice systems. He is also a co-founder of Justice for Families, a national alliance of family-driven organizations working to end our nation’s youth incarceration epidemic.
“I am so grateful for the community and the work that I have had the opportunity to be a part of at the Ella Baker Center, and I am excited to build on that with the Soros Equality Fellowship to dream new ways we can create a safe and just future for ourselves and our families,” said Norris.
The board has engaged in a transition process to determine next steps for the Ella Baker Center’s executive leadership and is excited about the possibilities of building upon all that Zach has accomplished.
A full list of 2021 Soros Equality Fellows can be found here.
More information on the Soros fellowship can be found here.