Akonadi Foundation’s mission is to support the development of powerful social change movements to eliminate structural racism and create a racially just society. Using an ecosystem grantmaking lens, Akonadi supports and nurtures grassroots organizing, culture shift, and policy changes that build Oakland’s racial justice movement. We are lifting up the work of our grant partners through a monthly spotlight series; for our June installment, we feature Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI).
The mission of BAJI is to educate and engage African-American and black immigrant communities to organize and advocate for racial, social, and economic justice. Local BAJI Organizing Committees in New York, Georgia, California, and Arizona build coalitions and initiate campaigns among communities to push for racial justice. At the local and regional levels, BAJI provides training and technical assistance to help members of partner organizations develop leadership skills, works with religious communities to harness their prophetic voice, and initiates vibrant dialogues with African Americans and black immigrants to discover more about race, our diverse identities, racism, migration, and globalization. BAJI’s flagship project is the Black Immigration Network (BIN), a national alliance that brings together black-led organizations and programs to advance just immigration policies and promote the cultural shifts our communities need. The BIN kinship provides a safe, communal space for diverse black communities to connect, engage, and advocate for equality and justice for all.
Personally, why are you a part of BAJI? What draws you to the work on a personal level?
My name is Devonte Jackson and I am a black American born in Oakland and raised in San Leandro, CA. I am drawn to BAJI’s work because I believe that my liberation is aligned with black immigrants in the U.S. who are struggling for dignity and freedom. I believe that my purpose on this earth is to advance black liberation and I am committed to working with those most vulnerable in black communities in order to build a world where we are able to live as our full selves. Through this work, I have been able to cultivate dynamic relationships that have sustained me and that continue to draw me to this work. I am endlessly inspired by the stories and commitment of people who, despite all odds, work tirelessly to build the world we dream of. This work is especially important for this current political moment with the rising tide of anti-immigrant policies, including the current crisis of family separation at the U.S. border.
In a recently released statement BAJI’s Executive Director Opal Tometi noted that “It is tempting to label this policy [of family separation] ‘un-American,’ but the truth is that family separation is a devastating tradition in this country. From the nearly 250 years of slavery in the U.S. to the harsh conditions in Japanese internment camps of the 1940s, U.S. policy has torn families apart, causing deep intergenerational trauma and betraying any sense of humanity.” Our communities are under attack right now and it is more important than ever to build deep solidarity to advance liberation for all people.
How does this BAJI affirm and celebrate the collective memory, shared histories, social identities, and/or cultures of Oakland’s communities of color?
BAJI-Oakland’s Organizing Committee is a special intergenerational group of Bay Area black residents who have played an important role in supporting black immigrants against mass criminalization, cultivating relationships and dialogue among the African Diaspora, and organizing international support for the popular movement in Haiti. Our members range from elders who participated in the civil rights and South African anti-apartheid movements to young activists involved in the Black Lives Matter and student movements of today. Our membership affirms Oakland’s radical tradition of black organizing for justice and freedom.
What is the vision that guides your work? What will the world – and specifically Oakland – look like if you are successful?
BAJI envisions a world where all people are liberated from the domination of the ruling elite. We envision recognition of the full rights and dignity of all people no matter race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, immigration status, or ability. It’s a world where we honor the earth and move toward regenerative energy, where borders don’t exist and people are free to move, where the workplace is democratized and workers have power. This world is decolonized and people indigenous to this land achieve self-determination and sovereignty. If our vision is accomplished, black people across the diaspora will no longer be targets of the state, seen as criminals, and constantly dehumanized. Instead, liberated from the oppression of white supremacy, we would be living full self-determined lives. Black immigrants and U.S. born black people would have thriving and safe communities through a unity that celebrates all that we are in our full diversity and unique contributions.
What will you be focused on for the rest of the year?
After a successful delegation to Haiti in March 2018, BAJI-Oakland plans to continue to build solidarity with people there and expose the root causes of the mass migration of Haitians from the island. Specifically, we are working to support the popular movement in Haiti by raising $35,000 to purchase a radio tower for Radio Timoun, which is a grassroots alternative radio and television station that was built as a result of solidarity organizing of the Haiti Action Committee and KPFA in Berkeley. After a 2004 coup ousted (for the second time) Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, the coup government destroyed radio towers of progressive networks. Our hope is to extend our support of recovery from this loss so that every person who has a radio or a television has access to progressive news. Additionally, BAJI-Oakland will continue our rapid response support through the Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership, which responds to local ICE raids and provides legal representation for immigrants who have been detained and/or face deportation.
BAJI will continue hosting regular Know Your Rights sessions in local communities throughout Oakland and Alameda County so that our community will be prepared if confronted by the police, ICE, or other agents of the state. We will also continue to support Black immigrants seeking immigration bond and participating in the National Bail-Out Coalition, which aims to end all forms of money bail in both the criminal justice and immigration systems. Finally, in the next year, we will consider ways that we can further support detained Black immigrants, including scheduling visitations, letter-writing, and participatory defense.