Ella Baker Center Announces New Executive Director, Board Members

Zachary Norris, former Books Not Bars campaign director, will return to the Ella Baker Center as Executive Director; civil rights luminaries Van Jones and Michelle Alexander will join Board.

Today, we’re thrilled to announce that Zachary Norris, founder and former co-director of Justice for Families and a former director of our Books Not Bars campaign, will rejoin the Ella Baker Center team as Executive Director beginning August 1.

Zachary’s new role is part of a broader organizational retooling that will set us up to cut the US incarceration rate by 50% or more in the next 10 years, while continuing to push for the closure of California’s remaining youth prisons and engaging communities statewide to rethink public safety.

Other changes include Jakada Imani’s transition to the role of President and the addition of two new Board members: our co-founder and renowned progressive leader Van Jones and best-selling author and civil rights leader Michelle Alexander.

Contact Communications Manager 
Mia Murrietta: (510)428-3939, ext. 236 or mia@ellabakercenter.org

Shiree Teng, chair of the Ella Baker Center Board of Directors noted: “When Ella Baker Center launched Books Not Bars and told people we were going to close youth prisons, they laughed at us.  But we’ve done it. And now we see the potential of expanding those efforts to drastically reduce mass incarceration.  Zach brings firsthand knowledge of our work, experience with building national alliances, and a willingness to take on audacious goals.  He’s a great fit for our next Executive Director.”

Zachary is an attorney, a graduate of Harvard University and New York University School of Law, a former Soros Justice Fellow, and an alumnus of the Labor Community Strategy Center’s National School for Strategic Organizing in Los Angeles. 

As director of the Ella Baker Center’s Books Not Bars campaign, Zachary was known for his wide smile and unwavering confidence in the power of the Ella Baker Center and families of incarcerated youth to change the abusive Department of Juvenile Justice.

Thanks to that kind of deep commitment, Books Not Bars:

  • Built the first statewide network for families of incarcerated youth
  • Reduced California’s youth prison population by 80%
  • Closed 5 of California’s 8 youth prisons
  • Passed legislation to keep families connected with youth (which is now a model for other states)
  • Defeated Prop 6, one of the state’s most destructive and ineffective ballot measures
  • Changed the conversation from “problem kids” to the “problem with putting kids in prison”

After seven years with Books Not Bars, Zachary went on to found and co-direct Justice for Families, a national alliance of local organizations committed to ending the youth incarceration epidemic. 

Jakada Imani, who has served Ella Baker Center as Executive Director for the last five years, is moving into the role of President, where he will help with development, messaging, and strategic partnerships.

“With an engaged board, a talented team, and strong partnerships we’ve forged over the years with allies and funders, I am confident that Zach’s leadership will position us to make our bold new vision of ending mass incarceration a reality.” 

Zach will begin his new role at Ella Baker Center August 1, while continuing to remain engaged at Justice for Families through the end of the summer. Similarly, Jakada will serve in the President role as long as needed before moving on to his next step, ensuring a smooth transition that sets both organizations up for success. 

"The Board of Directors of Justice for Families is grateful for Zach’s vision, which has strengthened the voices of family members in reforming the juvenile justice system," said chairwoman Gina Womack, Executive Director of Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children.

Justice for Families Interim Executive Director Grace Bauer added: “I am so excited about forging a closer partnership between Ella Baker Center and Justice for Families as we work to drastically cut youth and adult incarceration and bring resources to youth, families, and communities.”

We have deep respect for Justice for Families and the many organizations, allies, and partners who share our commitment to end the crisis of mass incarceration. We’re proud to work alongside them, and we think there’s a unique niche we can fill: to engage everyday folks in collective action that will end mass incarceration and build safe, thriving communities.

Next up is a series of town hall meetings across California to engage communities in the work of closing prisons and opening opportunities for low-income people and people of color.  Visit www.ellabakercenter.org for the latest news on these and other upcoming events and actions.