Updated Aug 27, 2020
If there was ever a year to make a difference, 2020 was it. Here, we celebrate 17 people who—in the face of challenges and crises of all kinds—took risks, broke new ground, and found ingenious answers to some of today’s most urgent issues.
PRESIDENT, AKONADI FOUNDATION, OAKLAND
When Lateefah Simon won a MacArthur Fellowship at age 26, she gave much of the $500,000 grant to the organization where she worked, the Young Women’s Freedom Center. Her first community organizing job had been at the center, and by age 19, as a single mom who had grown up in low-income housing, she had become the center’s executive director.
Seventeen years after that generous donation, she is still giving her all to the community—as the president of a philanthropic foundation known as Akonadi, as the president of the BART Board of Directors, and as one of Governor Gavin Newsom’s two lead advisors on police reform in California.
The Akonadi Foundation launched a $12.5 million initiative in early July to invest in community groups that work to end the criminalization of Black youth and young people of color in Oakland.
“Our job as funders is to support movement leaders who have the courage and vision to radically imagine what safety looks like for our young people,” Simon says. “This movement is vibrant and ready. We must invest for the long haul in the leaders and organizations that are making Oakland a racially just city where Black youth and youth of color can live healthy, free, and full lives.”
Simon remains optimistic about the path forward. “The beautiful moment of ‘ally-ship’ is here, and that moment has come from people reading and opening up their hearts and committing to very difficult conversations,” Simon says. “If the murder of George Floyd woke people up, his death through tyranny will hopefully have a shifting effect over all folks in this country.” —M.J.