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Power, Systems, and Narratives: Learnings from Community Centered Investments

Thursday, March 23, 2023 -
10:00am to 11:30am PDT
Zoom Meeting
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Advancing racial equity and economic justice for low-income communities increasingly requires long-term investments. As rising housing prices and displacement pressures are continuing to push low-income people of color in the Bay Area out of central cities, philanthropy must prioritize community-centered leadership to shift systems and build power.  

East Contra Costa County’s population has grown as people moved to the region in search of a safe and affordable place to call home, shifting from a majority white population in 1990 to a majority people of color population in 2020. The region, which includes the cities of Antioch, Brentwood, Oakley, Pittsburg, and unincorporated communities of Baypoint, Bethel Island, Byron, Discovery Bay, and Knightsen, has seen deepening racial and economic inequities following the wave of foreclosures in the Great Recession of 2008, an increase in corporate landlords, and the impact of the ongoing pandemic.

Since 2015, the East Contra Costa STRONG Collaborative Fund (STRONG Fund) has collaborated to build power, shift systems and change narratives. The close-knit community of networks, civic and political leaders of color, organizers, coalitions, and advocates have partnered with the STRONG fund to strengthen the capacity of regional nonprofits. Together the Fund supports leadership development, building community voice and power, and works to counter the challenges facing their under-invested communities.

Join community, philanthropic, and public sector changemakers in a discussion about the racial and economic justice opportunities in East Contra Costa County and how we can apply the Fund's learning across the sector.


Solomon Belette, Alliance Manger of the East Contra Costa Community
As the Alliance Manager of the East Contra Costa Community, Solomon Belette is responsible for developing a coordinated strategy to foster stronger collaboration, build a shared platform for advocacy, and work towards strengthening the non-profit ecosystem’s sustainability with capacity development and increased philanthropic investments. He also serves as the President of the Antioch Community Foundation and is a board member of the Village Community Resource Center, and Man2Man Urban Youth Advocate. Belette has extensive experiences in nonprofit management and has held key senior leadership positions with various organizations including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supporting U.S. domestic refugee resettlement programs throughout the United States. He lead Catholic Charities of the East Bay as its Chief Executive Officer for more than a decade growing the organization’s budget from less than $3 million to over $7 million while building a strong endowment. As Executive Director of the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at John F. Kennedy University, Mr. Belette established a robust training program for nonprofit executives including a highly recognized Fundraising Academy that has become a national model. Keys to his leadership success have been his strategic vision and commitment to social justice in addition to the extensive network he has developed with many professionals in the social sector.  In recognition of his strong background and leadership experiences, he was invited to join the planning group for the establishment of an Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice in Contra Costa County. More recently, he has also been invited to serve as a Regional Advisor for the Northern California Grantmakers (NCG) Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative.

Arielle Deseré, Poet

Arielle Deseré is a poet and spoken word artist born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds a bachelor's degree from the HBCU, Norfolk State University and a Master of Art in TV and Film from San Diego State University. She is a wife, mother, and community activist, all of which greatly influence her writing. Arielle has been writing and reciting poetry since the age of 12. In middle school, she began performing in front of crowds, being called upon to perform for events at both school and church. In adulthood, she has been commissioned to write on specific topics and perform at various events: such as the 2021 ACLU NorCal Conference, Women in Artificial Intelligence Ethics Tech & Tools Conference, Contra Costa Board of Supervisors Meetings, and the Black Minds Matter 2 Training for the American Psychiatric Association. Arielle says that poetry is her gift and that sharing that gift is her purpose. Her writings focus on the lived Black experience, often allowing her passion for social justice to ring out and evoke emotion. According to Arielle, the role of art in social action is to report and reflect. She believes she is doing that by moving people to open their minds, react, and take action. Instagram: @legendari16, Tiktok: @arielledesere
Brandon Johns, Senior Program Officer, San Francisco Foundation
Brandon Johns is a Senior Program Officer of the Koshland Fellowship Program at the San Francisco Foundation and Steering Committee member of the STRONG Funder Collaborative.  He comes to philanthropy with 15 years of experience working in the community,and uses his understanding of organizations to guide his efforts to support the grantee partners of the foundation. Prior to this role, Brandon founded and led a nonprofit community organization serving youth in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. During his 12 year tenure as its executive director, the nonprofit organization grew it to  serve over 700 young people per year at 11 sites. Brandon founded the nonprofit while working as a professional staffer at the House Judiciary Committee under Chairman, John Conyers Jr. The highlights of Brandon’s work at the Judiciary Committee include supporting Crime Subcommittee Chair, Congressman Bobby Scott, on policy implications of the school to prison pipeline, and a series of hearings held by the Full committee on NFL brain injuries and concussions. As a policy analyst at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Washington Bureau, the federal lobbying arm of the National NAACP Office, Brandon analyzed legislation that disproportionately affected people of color, and collaborated with Congressional offices and partner civil rights organizations to create strategies to support or defend against these laws. Policy victories he is most proud of include helping reduce the federal crack vs. cocaine disparity from 100:1 to 18:1 and identifying the sweep of harmful voter suppression laws that sprung up in 2014. Brandon continues to support the youth service organization he founded and is an active volunteer for local youth organizations in the Bay area. Brandon now resides in the East Bay with his lovely wife and children.
Susun Kim, Executive Director, Family Justice Center
Susun, a 1991 graduate of New York University School of Law, is an experienced family law attorney with 15 years of legal aid experience. She enjoys creating new projects and participating in collaborative initiatives, i.e., collective impact work. She has helped put together county-wide housing service collaboratives, developed the court-based housing law clinics, and convened a reentry initiative to assist the formerly incarcerated. She has been actively involved in the United Way’s SparkPoint initiative focused on self-sufficiency. She serves on the steering committee for the Contra Costa County’s Alliance to End Abuse Initiative and the Community Advisory Board of the Contra Costa County Community Corrections Partnership. Susun has extensive training and facilitation experience and previously served as faculty for national training institutes hosted by the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence.
Rhea Elina Laughlin, Program Officer, First 5 Contra Costa

Rhea Elina Laughlin has over 30 years of community organizing and advocacy experience, building political voice and power alongside low-income families and communities of color for racial, immigrant, economic, and health equity. Her career spans organizing campaigns with low-wage workers, indigenous Guatemalan farmers, immigrants, university and high school students, adults experiencing homelessness, women of color, tenants, and low-income families. Rhea currently leads the Community Engagement and Advocacy Program with First 5 Contra Costa, organizing over 200 low-income parents of color to inform public policy and local decision-making concerning housing security, community safety, equitable land use, immigrant and racial justice, fair representation, and children’s health. Rhea participates in numerous coalitions and task forces in Contra Costa to bridge strategic partnerships and community-led advocacy for public policies and investments focused on health prevention, early childhood development, and economic, gender, and racial equity. Rhea has a master’s degree in public health from San Francisco State University and is passionate about increasing community power and advocacy for transformational social change.

Malcolm Marshall, Artist, The Pulse
Malcolm Marshall is a multimedia journalist, musician, and DJ based in Richmond, Calif. Since 2011, he has published and is the executive editor of the youth-led, bilingual (English/ Spanish) community news outlet Richmond Pulse, and producer of the Street Soldiers radio program on 106KMEL. Before leading Richmond Pulse, Marshall spent more than 10 years as a reporter and multimedia producer at New America Media. In 2015, Marshall was recognized by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists with the group’s Silver Heart award that honors a “journalist whose career reflects an extraordinary dedication to giving voice to the voiceless.
Allison Magee, Executive Director, Zellerbach Family Foundation
For over 20 years Allison Magee has worked to transform public systems to reflect the strengths and meet the needs of the community. Allison is Executive Director of the Zellerbach Family Foundation, one of San Francisco’s oldest and most respected family foundations. ZFF promotes belonging, connection, and a shared sense of safety among people and communities across the Bay Area and California, with a focus on Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco Counties.
Allison previously worked for the City and County of San Francisco, where she served as a leader in strengthening services for system involved youth and their families. Her work as Deputy Director of the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department includes the development of a national model for juvenile justice system reform. Allison also established a collaborative model for the city’s funding of community-based services that resulted in over $14 million in dedicated funding for violence prevention programs for San Francisco youth. Allison was awarded SPUR’s Good Governance Award for her work at JPD.
Allison also worked for Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Office of Budget and Policy, and the US Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General where she won the Inspector General’s Excellence Award. Allison holds a master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration and a master’s degree in Social Work, both from Columbia University. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from San Francisco State University. Allison sits on the board of San Francisco’s GLIDE and previously with Northern California Grantmakers where she served as Board Chair. Allison lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons.
Alicia Naranjo, Promtora, VCRC's Mental Wellness Program
Alicia Naranjo has been living in far East Contra Costa County for 20 years and has four children who have grown up in the area. She has been a Parent Leader at VCRC for three years and just celebrated her one-year anniversary as a Promtora in VCRC's Mental Wellness Program, MPFC. Alicia has also been a community volunteer at VCRC for the past three years. She likes being engaged in her children's academic growth and partnering with local schools so that her community can grow and benefit from a high-quality education.
Rocheall Pierre, Co-Chair, East County Regional Group (ECRG)
Rocheall Pierre is Co-Chair of the East County Regional Group (ECRG), a parent advocacy group committed to creating healthy, safe, and equitable communities. Born and raised in San Francisco, Rocheall currently lives in Antioch, CA. with her 10-year-old son. Rocheall possesses a master’s degree in social work from San Francisco State University and works as a mental health life coach for youth and families. Rocheall is a passionate community activist and a leader for racial, economic, and health justice in East Contra Costa.
Eduardo Torres, Northern California Regional Coordinator, Tenants Together
Eduardo Torres is a lifelong resident of West Pittsburg / Bay Point, a housing advocate, and a community organizer. He is currently the Northern California Regional Coordinator with Tenants Together, California's statewide organization dedicated to defending renter’s rights. Eduardo is also a director for Ambrose Recreation and Park District and a member of the Bay Point Community Advisory Panel. His educational background is in Communications. Chicane Studies and Recording Arts.
Tamisha Walker, Executive Director, Safe Return Project

Tamisha Walker is a founding member and Executive Director of the Safe Return Project, a campaign to secure the freedom and liberation of formerly incarcerated individuals. She has been a Richmond-based community organizer and well-respected advocate on issues related to mass incarceration and racial disparity in the criminal justice system since her release from incarceration in 2009. Tamisha organizes and coordinates the Safe Return Project and its campaigns at the local, state, and federal levels. As a formerly incarcerated woman, she shares a powerful personal story about the journey to healing and successful reentry into society. Tamisha has years of community organizing experience in a city impacted by trauma and economic inequality, including her own personal experience with trauma and poverty growing up in Richmond, California. Her educational credentials include professional training in research and advocacy for the formerly incarcerated and their families, violence prevention strategies, and conflict mediation to reduce urban gun violence.

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