November 16, 2021


Ashley Chambers, Ella Baker Center


OAKLAND—After 20 years of building power with families to close youth prisons, reimagining public safety, and leading a team of changemakers, the Ella Baker Center announced today that Executive Director Zach Norris will be stepping away from his position as Executive Director in February, 2022.

“I am so grateful for the community and the work that I have had the opportunity to be a part of at the Ella Baker Center,” said Norris. “Over the last eight years as Executive Director, I have been excited to build on the legacy of Ella Baker to lead an organization that has achieved some amazing victories in Alameda County and statewide, and also builds up inspiring leaders within the Ella Baker Center. She believed in the power of people and I look forward to continuing to build with the people I have worked alongside at the Ella Baker Center even as I step away from leadership.”

Marlene Sanchez, Deputy Director of the Ella Baker Center, said, “We are grateful for Zach’s leadership over the past two decades and the intention to create a team full of leaders that are ready to move this organization forward for the next 25 years and more. The Ella Baker Center has always been a space that centers the leadership of those most impacted, and we will continue to center the voices and nurture the leadership of Black and Brown people, those currently and formerly incarcerated.”

“We are capable of leading our communities to create a safer and just future for everyone,” said Sanchez. “And we are excited to continue that work through our state policy change, through the Healing through Action Program and our local organizing, and through activating the power of our collective voices.”

Over the past 20 years since joining the Ella Baker Center, Norris has led the Books Not Bars campaign to successfully shut down five youth prisons across the state, and helped build California’s first statewide network for families of incarcerated youth. After becoming Executive Director in 2013, Zach has led the organization for the past decade on work spanning from holding Alameda County officials and the sheriff accountable, to passing criminal justice policies at the state level like the RISE Act and California Racial Justice Act.

“Zach’s leadership, values and commitment to this work precede him,” said Diana Frappier, co-founder of the Ella Baker Center and current board member. “For the past 20 years, Zach’s leadership has pushed the Ella Baker Center to be at the forefront of shutting down youth prisons across the state, changing the narrative around public safety and criminal justice reform, and building leadership among people that are directly impacted by the criminal legal system. We’re grateful to have been a part of his leader-full vision at the Ella Baker Center and excited for Zach’s next chapter.”

Connecting his activism and passion for social and criminal justice, Norris released his debut book last year, Defund Fear: Safety Without Policing, Prisons, and Punishment which shifts the conversation around public safety to be rooted in care and community, not fear and punishment. As a thought leader in criminal justice and community empowerment, Norris co-founded Restore Oakland, a community advocacy and training center that empowers Bay Area community members to transform local economic and justice systems. He is also a co-founder of Justice for Families, a national alliance of family-driven organizations working to end our nation’s youth incarceration epidemic.

The board has engaged in a transition process to determine next steps for the Ella Baker Center’s executive leadership by the end of the year and is excited about the possibilities of building upon all that Zach has accomplished.