October 28, 2021

Press Contact:

Ashley Chambers, Ella Baker Center



Oakland, CA—After 25 years of empowering Black and Brown communities and fighting for a world without prisons and policing, the Ella Baker Center held its 25th anniversary celebration on Wednesday, October 27 with powerhouse movement leaders Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter; Michelle Alexander, acclaimed author of The New Jim Crow; and Xochtil Larios, youth commissioner and Youth Justice Program Associate with CURYJ. The celebration included poetry from 2021 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, Myra Estrada and a musical performance from Joyous Dawn with Kele Nitoto. 

The event was held at Restore Oakland, a community advocacy and training hub in the Fruitvale, and also the permanent home of the Ella Baker Center. A panel conversation between Michelle Alexander, Alicia Garza, Xochtil Larios and Marlene Sanchez, Deputy Director of the Ella Baker Center, reflected on the power of the social justice movement and how we can continue building a collective vision for liberation.

“We are dealing now with the same crises that we have been dealing with for decades in this country, we’re seeing the same racial dynamics and fears. We have reason to hope because of the movements that are being built in real time. Movements that are naming white supremacy and capitalism as threats not just to our communities but to our planet, our shared home,” Alexander said, naming Black Lives Matter, the Movement for Black Lives as well as movements fighting for abolition, immigrant and indigenous rights, and economic justice among others. “These movements are reimagining what justice means and what our democracy and our economy can and should be. And the Ella Baker Center is part of the leadership that’s beginning to show the way here.”

“The ability to change the conditions in people’s lives requires power. The mountains that we’re trying to climb are about, how do we make the rules, change and shape the rules, and shape the agenda,” said Garza. “It’s important for us to understand that movements need infrastructure. They need vehicles like the Ella Baker Center that can be fighting and writing new rules and getting those implemented. We can transform the way the world operates.”

Sharing her own experience as a young organizer, Larios emphasized how important it is to center the voices of young people and those directly impacted by the criminal justice system. “When you let a young person speak up for themselves, we speak truth, we speak from a place of authenticity. The closer to the pain you are, the more strategic you are with the solutions,” Larios said.

The Ella Baker Center started after Aaron Williams, an unarmed African American man, was murdered by San Francisco police officer Marc Andaya. Since then, the Ella Baker Center has worked tirelessly to lift up the voices of people most impacted by police violence and mass incarceration, shift resources away from prisons, policing and punishment, and toward opportunities that build real safety.

“Because of our determination, this organization has grown. We have organized with families to shut youth prisons down. We are building power with thousands of people inside prisons to get us all free,” said Zach Norris, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center and author of Defund Fear. “Our freedom dreams become real through determination and power building.”

“The Ella Baker Center has always been a space that nurtures radical vision,” said Sanchez. “Twenty-five years later, we have a cadre of currently and formerly incarcerated people leading the way. We are reimagining youth justice, meeting people where they are and building the leadership pipeline. I’m so grateful to keep working alongside our community to realize safety and a vision of a world without prisons.”

The event also awarded three organizations as Partners in Power for working alongside the Ella Baker Center to build community and power – the Urban Peace Movement, California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), and Trans Queer Pueblo in Phoenix, Arizona.

Centering on community partnership, the celebration included dinner prepared by Reems, a new tenant of Restore Oakland and staple in the Fruitvale neighborhood.
View photos from the anniversary event. Photos by Brooke Anderson, @movementphotographer.