Leadership Transition at Justice Works!: A Conversation with Kathya Alexander and Lea Zengage

Kathya Alexander, Justice Works! new Executive Director served as Resident Manager and later Vice President of the Board of A Woman's Place in Champaign Illinois, one of the first domestic violence shelters ever opened in the country, if not the first.  She worked directly with women as a counselor at the Eastside Domestic Violence Program in Bellevue. She was Director of Student Life of Parkland College in Illinois, which had over 10,000 students.  She served as Employment Director at The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.  She was most recently Manager of Rainier Valley Cultural Center.

L: Lea Zengage, Founder and Executive Director of Justice Works!  R: Kathya Alexander, Justice Works! new Executive Director


I met with Kathya Alexander and Lea Zengage at Justice Works! (JW!) headquarters and Gift and Thrift shop on Rainier Avenue in Seattle.  Kathya had just accepted the position of Executive Director of this grassroots criminal justice reform organization. Lea, after nearly a decade as Executive Director, is stepping down.  The two women will work together for several months for a smooth transition.  Lea will stay with Justice Works! as an organizer.

It's a milestone for the organization.  Lea has served without pay since JW! was founded in 2001 under the name, Justice Passage.  Kathya, a founding member of JW!, will be paid.  The shift to new leadership - and the paid staff position are signs of the organization's growth.

"When we started," Lea said, "there were people who were very clear with me about all the reasons this couldn't work.  I was told many times that you can't run an organization on 100% volunteers. But, yes you can!"  Kathya, sitting across the cafe style glass table, laughs and repeats the phrase from the Obama campaign: "Yes we can!"  And the two women laugh together.

Justice Works! defies conventional wisdom in other ways.  Grants provided much of the organization's funding in earlier years, but in recent years, no grants have been sought.  Funding comes from sales at the Gift and Thrift shop and the many small donations that Justice Works! receives from its base of supporters.

The shop, a program of JW! Business Sendoff Project (BSP), was set up in collaboration with a previously incarcerated person, providing her the opportunity to learn the steps needed to establish and run a business.  It now provides - in addition to funding for the organization -  a hub for JW! organizing work and a resource center for the community.  A barbershop now in the early planning stages will provide income for the previously incarcerated person who is participating as JW! BSP student - while also providing additional donations to support the work of the organization.  

Kathya takes the helm of an organization that now is rooted more firmly in community, thanks in part to her work on the first JW! board.    Outside-In, a monthly newsletter that was started in 2004, now goes to approximately 700 people incarcerated in all of Washington's prisons.  A letters to the editor campaign headed by Shirley White, the mother of a 3-Striker, has resulted in nearly 600 letters published in newspapers throughout Washington State since late 2004.    Observers working through JW! Court Watch program have been present at dozens of court proceedings of defendants who requested their presence.  Over 400 incarcerated people have worked with outside partners to complete ROOTS correspondence courses in subjects ranging from African American literature to balancing a checkbook and other life skills needed for successful transitioning from prison to the community.  (About a third of the ROOTS classes were created by incarcerated people).  Organizing work through events, doorbelling, phone calls, and email has resulted in thousands of contacts made to legislators and other public officials.  With others, JW! organizers worked to support legislation that successfully restored voting rights to thousands of previously incarcerated people in Washington.  Since passage of that law, JW! organizers have done outreach resulting in approximately 1,000 newly eligible people registering to vote.  Nearly 2,000 individuals, from every legislative district in the state, have joined the organization's 3-Strikes Rapid Response system - which mobilizes during the session to support reform legislation.


Noemie Maxwell (NM)
If there were one message you would want to convey to readers, what would it be?

Lea Zengae (LZ)
That, with Kathya on board, I am very excited and confident in our ability to accomplish our work.  I am proud of what has been accomplished over the years with JW!  And now it's time to take it to the next level.

Kathya, how did you and Lea first meet?

Kathya Alexander (KA)
That was back in 2001.  I worked as the Employment Director of the Seattle Urban League.  The organization was still Justice Passage at the time.  Lea came in looking for jobs for people coming out of prison.  The next thing I remember is that we were talking about what the organization was up to.  They needed space to do a Welcome Back Party. (these are parties given for people just coming out of prison)  The Urban League had a conference room downstairs and so that's where the party was held.  The next memory I had was when Justice Passage was renamed to Justice Works!

It was another transition time for the organization.  The original mission and vision of the organization had never been written down.  We got together to put it down in writing to protect it.  I remember standing in front of a blackboard, writing it down.  

I came into the community with a set of goals that I got from The Black Prisoner's Caucus  - but because there wasn't a written record, some members of the board took it in a different direction according to their understanding of what the organization should do. That's when Justice Passage needed to be shut down and JW! started with everything more clearly defined.

I became a member of the board about that time.  Then in 2006 I had a really serious illness and dropped out.  I've stayed in touch ever since through email.  Working for this organization is something I have done and would continue to do for free.  Getting paid just makes it possible to put in more time.  What I'm trying to say is that this work is my passion and that feels wonderful to be involved in something I'm so passionate about.  

When we first started the organization, we thought we could do everything.  We took on the role of a service organization in some ways in addition to the primary role of grassroots organizing.  We've learned that we can't be a service organization.  But we can support people who are part of the JW! community and who support furthering the mission of the organization.  In the long run, our success depends upon the success of the people coming out of prison, and so it is essential to provide ways to support their transitioning efforts.

So this is supporting individuals as part of the work for political empowerment?

What JW! had done already with political organizing is a working - and workable model.  What's also really unique about JW! is that we are not getting funding to support that organizing work from the systems that have disempowered people - but we are getting it from work and enterprises that empower them.  We are growing in a way that doesn't require the organization to have an over-seer.

And the funding methods tie into and directly support the work that we do.

Kathya, are you the kind of person... well, that other people just naturally tend to want to do the things that you ask them to do?  

(laughs) I always say that my greatest strength is that I can get people to do things for free.  Since I've been in Seattle, I've met so many people who can do so many things.  I'm very good at seeing what people excel at and inspiring them to use that strength . . .  for something I need! (big laugh).

So these are things you need -- but really what's happening is that you're seeing talent in the community that can meet needs in the community and you're helping those get matched up and put to work.  What are some of the things you are thinking of that are needed now - things that you see talent out there to fulfill?

I don't want to jump ahead of the work that I'm going to be doing step by step as I make this transition.  But I can say that one of the first things I see is the need for more fundraising - creative ways to have "the people" bring monery into the organization in ways that serve the work.

I am so excited and so thrilled to be part of this oganization.  

Lea, what are some of the ways you envision being part of JW! on an ongoing basis after the transition has been completed?

My first priority is to support Kathya.  For one thing, I'll be calling people to ask them to consider giving more time to the organization to support what she's doing.  There are also pieces of the ongoing work of the organization that I can "own".  I can probably continue to publish Outside-In.  I can continue to work on the ROOTS program.  I'll be working on organizing to support 3-Strikes reform.

I also plan to do a lot of writing.  I have a unique set of experiences as a woman born into one part of the culture - and then, through JW!, being honored to be taught about other life experiences.  I think this enables me to be a bridge in the way that I understand certain issues and problems.  There are not many people fortunate enough to know both of these worlds so intimately.

She's going to be a best-selling author and use a large portion of the proceeds to fund this organization!

Really, Lea should take a well-needed rest.  But I'm glad that she's not going to.  I don't know if I would have taken the job if she were not going to be actively engaged in the transition.  I know that I need her.  At the same time, I know how hard and dogged and dedicated she has been in this work.  I'm looking forward to helping her take a break when the time comes.

< I-1098 & Federal Income Tax Deduction? | You've got the "We Got Nothing Party" and the "We've Got No Spine Party" >
Display: Sort:
Wowo you look stunning.. Phen375 i cant imagine to see you like that..

by holata on Thu May 05, 2016 at 04:18:49 AM PST

* 1 none 0 *

Xem anime hài hước nhất miễn phí với tốc độ cao không bao giờ lo sợ tình trạng lag hoặc dùng khi đang xem phim, cập nhật những bộ top anime học đường hay và luôn luôn trong tình trạng sớm nhất tại trang web anime online

by animehdo on Sat Sep 24, 2016 at 02:54:18 AM PST

* 4 none 0 *

Xem anime hài hước nhất miễn phí với tốc độ cao không bao giờ lo sợ tình trạng lag hoặc dùng khi đang xem phim, cập nhật những bộ top anime học đường hay và luôn luôn trong tình trạng sớm nhất tại trang web anime online

by animehdo on Sat Sep 24, 2016 at 02:56:56 AM PST

* 5 none 0 *

Display: Sort:






Make a new account


Recommended Diaries

Washblog RSS Feeds

Political Contacts

Local Media

Coastal/Grays Harbor
Aberdeen Daily World
Chinook Observer
Montesano Vidette
Pacific County Press
Willapa Harbor Herald
KXRO 1320 AM

Olympic Peninsula
Peninsula Daily News
Bremerton Sun
Bremerton Chronicle
Gig Harbor Gateway
Port Orchard Independent
Port Townsend Leader
North Kitsap Herald
Squim Gazette
Central Kitsap Reporter
Business Examiner
KONP 1450 AM

Sound and Islands
Anacortes American
Bainbridge Review
Voice Of Bainbridge
San Juan Journal
The Islands' Sounder
Whidbey NewsTimes
South Whidbey Record
Stanwood/Camano News
Vashon Beachcomber
Voice Of Vashon
KLKI 1340 AM

North Puget Sound
Bellingham Herald
The Northern Light
Everett Herald
Skagit Valley Herald
Lynden Tribune
The Enterprise
Snohomish County Tribune
Snohomish County Business Journal
The Monroe Monitor
The Edmonds Beacon
KELA 1470 AM
KRKO 1380 AM

Central Puget Sound
King County Journal
Issaquah Press
Mukilteo Beacon
Voice of the Valley
Federal Way Mirror
Bothell/Kenmore Reporter
Kirkland courier
Mercer Island Reporter
Woodinville Weekly

Greater Seattle
Seattle PI
Seattle Times
UW Daily
The Stranger
Seattle Weekly
Capitol Hill Times
Madison Park Times
Seattle Journal of Commerce
NW Asian Weekly
West Seattle Herald
North Seattle Herald-Outlook
South Seattle Star
Magnolia News
Beacon Hill News
KOMO AM 1000
KEXP 90.3 FM
KUOW 94.9 FM
KVI 570 AM

South Puget Sound
The Columbian
Longview Daily News
Nisqually Valley News
Lewis County News
The Reflector
Eatonville Dispatch
Tacoma News Tribune
Tacoma Weekly
Puyallup Herald
Enumclaw Courier-Herald
The Olympian
KAOS 89.3 FM
KOWA FM 106.5
UPN 11

Ellensburg Daily Record
Levenworth Echo
Cle Elum Tribune
Snoqualmie Valley Record
Methow Valley News
Lake Chelan Mirror
Omak chronicle
The Newport Miner

The Spokesman-Review
KREM 2 TV Spokane
KXLY News 4 Spokane
KHQ 6 Spokane
KSPS Spokane
Othello Outlook
Cheney Free Press
Camas PostRecord
The South County sun
White Salmon Enterprise
Palouse Boomerang
Columbia Basin Herald
Grand Coulee Star
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
Yakima Herald-Republic
KIMA 29 Yakima
KAPP TV 35 Yakima
KYVE Yakima
Wenatchee World
Tri-City Herald
TVEW TV 42 Tri-cities
KTNW Richland
KEPR 19 Pasco
Daily Sun News
Prosser Record-Bulletin
KTCR 1340 AM
KWSU Pullman
Moscow-Pullman Daily News