Whose rights? Our rights! How philanthropy can boost the progressive legal movement
Irma Herrera is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer and solo performer. Irma’s writings, including her solo play, Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name? explore themes of identity and the many ways in which ethnic and racial group members claim their rightful place in the United States. Her show will be back on stage at the Berkeley Marsh Theater from September 23-October 21, 2022.
Before turning her focus to writing, Irma spent three decades as a public-interest lawyer advocating on behalf of marginalized communities. At MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund she was a Staff Attorney and later the Director of Educational Programs. The proud feminist was privileged to serve for 15 years as the Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates, advancing the interests of women and girls. Prior to moving to the Bay Area, the South Texas native spent two years in rural Washington State representing Spanish-speaking farmworkers. Irma has also worked as a journalist and has written about race, class, gender, and culture. Her articles have appeared in publications that include the NY Times, Washington Post, and Ms. Magazine.
She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Distinction Award. This is given by the American Bar Association’s Commission of Women in the Profession. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Oakland-based Public Interest Law Project (PILP), and the Board of Trustees of the van Löben Sels/RembeRock Foundation.
As the Director of the American Bar Association Litigation Section’s Judicial Intern Opportunity Program, Gail Howard leads and directs all program activities including marketing, fundraising, intern selection, law student training, mentoring, and program design. The Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP) places diverse and economically disadvantaged law students with state and federal judges for summer internships. Since taking over as the program director, JIOP has grown from placing 13 students in two cities to more than 180 students annually in 13 locations. The program has placed more than 3,300 students. Gail is responsible for setting the program goals and directing the JIOP committee as they increase diversity and inclusion in the profession. Gail recently received her Diversity & Inclusion certificate through Cornell University and under her direction, the program was a recipient of the California Bar Association’s Diversity Award for its long-term dedication to diversity and inclusion in the profession.
Christopher Punongbayan is the Executive Director of California ChangeLawyers, a community foundation whose mission is to build a better justice system for all Californians. ChangeLawyers empowers the next generation of legal changemakers through grants and scholarships. Over the last twenty years, Chris has gained deep experience in social justice issues. He profoundly believes in giving voice to the unheard, breaking down barriers, and creating strategic alliances to advance equity. Before joining ChangeLawyers, Chris was the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus and the Director of Equity and Social Justice at Northern California Grantmakers.
A native of Massachusetts and the son of immigrants from the Philippines, Chris graduated cum laude from Brown University with a degree in Asian American Studies and UCLA School of Law. He completed the Critical Race Studies concentration and the Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. He was formerly the Vice-Chair of the California Asian & Pacific Islanders Affairs Commission and the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission. He is also an avid runner and a yoga teacher.
In 2003, Chris received a law student scholarship from ChangeLawyers, which first set him on his social justice path in California and he has never looked back. His accomplishments have since earned him recognition from the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California (2022 Trailblazer), California Asian Pacific American Bar Association (2020 Attorney of the Year), Ford Foundation New Voices Fellowship, the Gerbode Foundation, and the Levi Strauss Foundation, which named him a Pioneer in Justice.
Jennifer Rodriguez is an attorney and Executive Director of the Youth Law Center (YLC), a national public interest law firm that has worked for 4 decades to transform foster care and juvenile justice systems so every child and youth can thrive. YLC’s advocacy aims to ensure children and youth are not only protected from harm and dangerous conditions in systems but also receive the support, opportunities, and nurturing they need for healthy, productive adulthoods. Jennifer’s leadership at YLC has a special focus on advocacy to reduce the use of institutional care and partnering with directly impacted youth and families to build systems that ensure children receive the parenting necessary to heal and thrive. Jennifer is committed to building power for those closest to the problem, having spent her own childhood in both foster care and juvenile justice institutions, and has spent most of her life advocating for systems to be responsive to the needs of youth. Jennifer’s advocacy has resulted in significant local, state, and national policy, practice, and culture change around the fundamental needs of youth and formally including system-involved youth as part of all policy processes. Jennifer received her G.E.D. from San Jose Job Corps, and her J.D. from the University of California, Davis and is the proud mother of two beautiful children who teach her daily about the power of love, high expectations, and opportunities.