There have always been people who claw and conspire against Black freedom. In the 1950s, it was white crowds gathered to spit and scream vitriol at the first Black children integrating schools. Today, it is Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron proclaiming the value of Black women in the same breath in which he denies Breonna Taylor justice.
The beating hearts behind the BREATHE Act know that objectors to liberation have always come with the territory. Still, we refuse to be diminished. Dubbed the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century, this legislation proposes a clear and strategic roadmap for divesting from the violent police state and investing in real community safety in the way of housing, healthcare, education, basic income, and environmental justice.
Despite consistently highlighting the failures of systemic reform and emphasizing the need for abolition, the BREATHE Act team, comprised of mostly Black women, still has to contend with mainstream naysayers like Don Lemon, Charles Barkley, and even Al Sharpton who have characterized the demand to “Defund the Police” as unstrategic, unrealistic, and, in the words of Barkley, “crap.”
The idea of defunding the police is not new or naive, nor did it start with disconnected liberal elites. The conclusion that the police cannot be reformed originated in the hearts, minds, and lived experiences of Black people. The Black women who have organized their communities and amplified this call have meticulously outlined the evidence for why police reform isn’t a viable option. To know the truth of failed reform, we need only turn to the decades of experience among us, the personal stories of systemic harm, and the witnessing we have done with the families who have lost their loved ones. To date, BREATHE is the only evidence-based roadmap to transformative change.
Rooted in the history of freedom fighters, the BREATHE Act honors those known and unknown, who changed the possibilities of their conditions rather than capitulating to their limitations. We know the lineage of those hated and hunted, disparaged and maligned, and whose prophetic strategies and visions we live out today—Black people free from chattel slavery, Black queer people out and alive, and the continued opportunity to get free.
We are not cosplaying melanin for Twitter clout. We are real Black people who have spent our lives building community, organizations, and strategy for social change, and our strategy and our demands will not be illegitimized. Our demand for safety must not be limited to cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men. It must unequivocally include all Black women, Indigenous people, queer people, gender non-conforming people, and all people living on the expanses of the disability spectrum. We take our direction of possibility from Harriet, Sojourner, and Fannie Lou who said: “If I fall, I’ll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I’m not backing off.”
In this photo gallery we invite you to see us, and to join us in championing the BREATHE Act.
“If Black women are free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” — The Combahee River Collective
Gina Clayton-Johnson is the central architect of the BREATHE Act and the founder and executive director of the Essie Justice Group — a loving and powerful group of women with incarcerated loved ones working to end the harm caused by mass incarceration. She does this work in honor of her great grandmother, Essie Bailey, and all Black folks’ liberatory lineage.
Patrisse Cullors is an artist, organizer, and co-founder of the viral hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and executive director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. She is the founder of Los Angeles-based organization Dignity and Power Now and has been on the frontlines of criminal justice reform for over 20 years. She does this work for queer Black girls everywhere.
Monifa Bandele is the Senior Vice President & Chief Partnership and Equity Officer at MomsRising.org, and a co-founder of the Black August Hip Hop Project. She has more than two decades of experience in policy analysis, communications, and civic engagement organizing and currently serves on the leadership team of the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table. She does this work for her daughters.
Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson is the first Black woman Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Research & Education Center. She is a long-time activist around issues of mountaintop removal, mining, and environmental racism in central and southern Appalachia. She does this work for the south.
Jessica Byrd has spent the last decade as a political strategist and capacity builder. She is one of the architects of the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project and the founder of Three Point Strategies, where they elect Black women, train progressive Black candidates and support organizations to utilize the ballot box to build people power. She does this work for working class Black families.
Alicia Garza is the founder and Principal of the Black Futures Lab, the co-founder of Supermajority, and a co-creator of the international Black Lives Matter movement. She is an innovator, strategist, and the author of The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart. She does this work for her mom.
Thenjiwe McHarris is the co-founder of Blackbird, an organization that focuses on long-term movement building for justice. She has over 15 years experience in international policy and advocacy work and has spent her entire career challenging the injustices that imprison people and their communities. She does this work for her ancestors.
Tiffany Flowers is a social, economic, and racial justice movement organizer who comes from a long line of civil and human rights activists. Tiffany currently serves as Campaign Director of The Frontline and was previously the Organizing Director at United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 400, where she played a lead role in unionizing Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign staff and negotiating its historic contract. She does this work for Dorothy & Annie Jean.
Shalomyah Bowers is the founder of Bowers Consulting Firm, a fully-integrated political consulting firm whose mission is to support progressive campaigns tackling the biggest political challenges facing society today. He has nearly a decade’s experience in developing and implementing community outreach programs and campaigns. He does this work in honor of his brother Donald.
Nina Smith has over 15 years experience in political communications, campaigns and brand strategy. She’s a senior communications strategist who has spent years providing low-cost services to progressive movements and causes. She does this work for her people.
Olka Baldeh is an environmental advocate and anti-police brutality activist, currently serving as the Communications Manager for the Essie Justice Group. She is a storyteller, poet, and founder of the Black Moon Podcast. She does this work in honor of women like Jo Ann Robinson.
Wynter Daggs is the Executive Assistant & Special Projects Fellow at the Essie Justice Group. In her work, Wynter organizes Black feminist study groups and helps steward organizational strategy. She does this work for her incarcerated loved ones.
Karl Kumodzi is an organizer, trainer, and the Deputy Director of Organizing at Blackbird, where he works with grassroots organizations across the country and the world to strengthen social movements. He does this work for his mother, Ayele.
Thea Sebastian is a civil rights lawyer who leads policy for Civil Rights Corps. She is a graduate of Harvard College, Oxford University, and Harvard Law School, where she founded the Social Enterprise Law Association and co-founded a Conversation on Race discussion series. She does this work for the South Bronx middle school where she taught.
Felicia Gomez is the Senior Policy Associate at Essie Justice Group. She is a policy professional and educator with more than 8 years of experience specializing in the criminal legal system and immigrant rights. She does this work for her family.
Lily Bou is a criminal legal reform and educational equity advocate. She is a Policy Associate at Civil Rights Corps. She does this work for her neighbors.
Verónica Bayetti Flores is co-founder of the Center for Advancing Innovative Policy (CAIP). She has led national policy and movement building work at the intersections of immigrants’ rights, health care access, young parenthood, police accountability, and LGBTQ liberation. She does this work for the people she loves.
Eesha Pandit is co-founder of Center for Advancing Innovative Policy (CAIP), a co-founder of South Asian Youth in Houston Unite (SAYHU). She is a writer and activist who has led policy, program, and communications work for national and international movements for human rights, reproductive justice, and ending violence against women, girls and LGBTQIA people. She does this work in honor of the freedom fighters.
The BREATHE Act is the only comprehensive piece of federal legislation that adequately meets the demands of those rising against police and state violence. You can find the full bill text at BREATHEAct.org.