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Pioneers in Justice

Pioneers in Justice: Building networks and movements for social change.

The San Francisco Bay Area has not only been Levi Strauss & Co.'s hometown for the past 150 years. It's also a renowned cradle of innovation, both for technology and social movements.

The Levi Strauss Foundation's Pioneers in Justice initiative supports a group of next-generation leaders of "bedrock" San Francisco civil rights organizations as they retool their organizations to transform social justice movements by partnering with "unlikely allies" outside their sectors, and testing new technologies and social media tools to reach stakeholders.

With Pioneers in Justice, the Levi Strauss Foundation extends its legacy of identifying and supporting social leaders all over the world who embody the pioneering spirit of Levi Strauss, forging on his legacy of risk-taking and commitment to social justice.

Marching No Dream No Deal
What Makes a Pioneer

The Levi Strauss Foundation supports these next-generation social justice leaders because they embody the unique characteristics of Levi Strauss & Co.'s pioneering spirit. These leaders share some common attributes:

  • They work at the front lines of social justice issues of our day;
  • They take value-based stands, challenging conventions and pushing the limits of what's possible;
  • They explore new ways of leading, collaborating and communicating;
  • They advance the social justice sector, both locally and nationally.
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Meet The Pioneers

We launched the Pioneers in Justice initiative in 2010 to redefine the relationship between the funder and grantee by helping next-generation leaders from five of the Bay Area's leading social justice non-profits scale their impact by investing in capacity building and supporting new ways of working.

We invite you to read this collection of first-person reflections from the this first class – Voices: Pioneers in Justice. We hope that you are inspired by their candid stories on leadership, change management and resiliency during these turbulent political times.

The Pioneers 2020 class was convened in 2015 to support a new class of social justice leaders as they innovate through the power of networks and technology and mobilize their voices across sectors.

Meet the classes.

2020 Class
2010 Class
Kris Hayashi

Kris Hayashi has been active in social, racial and economic justice organizing for over 20 years. Kris served as the Executive Director of the Audre Lorde Project, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color organizing center based in New York City for ten years. Previously he served as a trainer and organizer at Western States Center in Portland, Oregon. He also served as Executive Director of Youth United for Community Action.

Kris became Executive Director at Transgender Law Center, one of the largest organizations in the country advancing the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people, in February 2015. Prior to that, he had served over a year in the role of Deputy Director at the organization.

Pastor Michael McBride

Pastor Michael McBride (known as “Pastor Mike”) is a native of San Francisco and has been active in ministry for over 20 years. A graduate of Duke University’s Divinity School, with a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Ethics and Public Policy, Pastor McBride founded The Way Christian Center in West Berkeley, where he presently serves as the Lead Pastor.

In March 2012, he became the Director for the Lifelines to Healing/LIVE FREE Campaign with the PICO National Network, a campaign led thousands of faith leaders and faith congregations throughout the United States committed to addressing gun violence and mass criminalization of people of color.

In 2013, Pastor McBride was selected as the #9 Top Clergy Leader to Watch in the US by the Center for American Progress. In 2016, he was appointed as an Advisor on President Obama’s Faith Based Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He is a nationally recognized trainer, activist and speaker who provides commentary with MSNBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera, NPR, NY Times, Huffington Post and many other programming and publications for issues related to faith and racial justice.

Vanessa Moses

Vanessa Moses is the Executive Director of Causa Justa :: Justa Cause. She was previously Co-Director of Programs at CJJC for 12 years. Vanessa has a long track record of building the power & leadership of working-class communities. She trained as an organizer at the National School for Strategic Organizing with the Labor/Community Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles.

Vanessa has served as co-chair of San Francisco Rising, and in 2016 Vanessa’s leadership led to the formation of Bay Rising, a regional alliance of community-led organizations working to address the crisis of inequality throughout the Bay Area and statewide. Vanessa was also one of the co-creators of Bay Resistance, a multi-sector rapid response network of over 50 organizations.

Zachary Norris
Zachary Norris is the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and a former director of our Books Not Bars campaign. Prior to rejoining the organization, Zachary co-founded and co-directed Justice for Families, a national alliance of family-driven organizations working to end our nation’s youth incarceration epidemic.

During the seven years he led the campaign, Books Not Bars built California’s first statewide network for families of incarcerated youth, led the effort to close five youth prisons in the state, passed legislation to enable families to stay in contact with their loved ones, and defeated Prop 6-a destructive and ineffective criminal justice ballot measure.

In addition to being a Harvard graduate and NYU-educated attorney, Zachary is also a graduate of the Labor Community Strategy Center’s National School for Strategic Organizing in Los Angeles, California and was a 2011 Soros Justice Fellow.

Aparna Shah

Aparna Shah has worked for social change and expanded democracy with immigrant and refugee low-income communities for over 22 years. Under her leadership, Mobilize the Immigrant Vote has organized statewide campaigns directly reaching 275,000+ immigrant and refugee voters of color, built the long-term infrastructure and capacity of grassroots immigrant and refugee organizations across the state to run electoral and issue campaigns and established a sister organization, the MIV Action Fund.

Prior to joining MIV in 2009, Aparna worked to advance the self-determination and reproductive justice of women, people of color, and queer communities and spent several years working to transform a public middle school into a vibrant youth and community center in San Francisco’s Mission District. Aparna sits on the Board of 18 Million Rising, and holds a Master of Health Sciences degree from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Terry Valen

Terry Valen is the Executive Director of the Filipino Community Center (FCC), an organization founded in 2004 to address the displacement of airport security screeners by a law, passed in the wake of the 9/11 tragedies, requiring that all screeners be U.S. citizens. This resulted in massive firings of screeners nationally and in the Bay Area. FCC is a progressive voice for the broader Asian and Pacific Islander community, advocating for immigrant and worker rights, language diversity and racial justice.

Terry was influenced at a young age by his upbringing in New Orleans, when he was among a handful of Asians living in his neighborhood. Terry witnessed the many barriers that his classmates faced to attain higher education and earn a livable income – and he has fought for inclusion, equality and justice ever since. Terry was appointed by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee in 2013 to San Francisco’s Wage Theft Task Force. He was awarded the San Francisco Foundation Koshland Civic Unity Award in 2011 and he serves as the National President of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns.

Miya Yoshitani

Miya Yoshitani has an extensive background in community organizing, campaign strategy, leadership development and training, organizational development, and fundraising, and a long history of working in the environmental justice movement. In her twenties, she was the executive director of the largest student environmental network in the US, the Student Environmental Action Coalition, SEAC, and worked broadly in international environment and development networks organizing for environmental and economic justice. Miya first joined the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) staff in the mid-90’s as a youth organizer, and has served as lead organizer, development director and spearheaded APEN’s strategic planning. She became Executive Director in 2014.

APEN has been fighting – and winning – environmental justice struggles for the past 18 years and remains one of the most unique organizations in the country explicitly developing the leadership and power of low-income Asian American immigrant and refugee communities.

Arcelia Hurtado
Immigration Policy Advisor, National Center for Lesbian Rights

Arcelia was raised in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas by Mexican immigrant parents. She received her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of California at Berkeley in 1993 and 1997, respectively. Her legal career has been devoted to providing legal representation to those who would not otherwise have access to it.

Immediately prior to joining NCLR, she served as the Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates, a national women’s rights advocacy organization. She has also worked with numerous community-based organizations to secure the rights of working class and indigent people in the fields of employment, housing, criminal defense, and immigration. As a trial lawyer, she has litigated over a dozen jury trials representing juveniles and adults accused of misdemeanors and felonies. As an appellate lawyer, she has represented people on death row. She has argued cases before numerous courts including the California Supreme Court. In 2012, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu appointed her to the Board of Appeals, a quasi-judicial 5-person body that hears appeals relating to a wide range of City determinations.

Arcelia has also devoted a substantial portion of her time to community service serving on the boards of various professional and non-profit organizations such as Women Defenders, San Francisco La Raza Lawyers Association, Our Family Coalition, and Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, among others. Arcelia is the founder of the Women Defenders Fellowship which supports law students pursuing careers in indigent criminal defense. She has also taught Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure at several Bay Area law schools. In 2011, the San Francisco Chronicle named her a “Bay Area Changemaker.”

Arcelia is a frequent speaker at the national level on civil rights issues and women’s rights in particular. She writes for the Huffington Post and has published several articles on race/ethnicity, education, and feminist theory. She lives in San Francisco with her spouse and their two sons.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, founded in 1977, is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy and public education.

Vincent Pan
Executive Director, Chinese for Affirmative Action

Vincent Pan is a progressive leader on issues of racial justice and social change.

The requirements of leadership, in Vincent’s view, demand not only running effective organizations and campaigns, but also working across boundaries to make the whole of social justice efforts greater than the sum of its component parts. Whether reforming immigration laws or fixing the criminal justice system, promoting language access or increasing civic participation, Vincent believes campaigns must be aggressive and visible, while also connecting people with shared values such as compassion, inclusion and equity. To create a world that works for everyone, Vincent advocates a holistic approach that simultaneously changes laws as well as hearts and minds.

Prior to joining Chinese for Affirmative Action in 2006, Vincent was a consultant to the William J. Clinton Foundation, where he helped start treatment programs for children living with HIV/AIDS in China. Before that he co-founded and directed Heads Up, a nonprofit organization that runs after-school and summer programs for low-income children in Washington, D.C. Vincent’s work with Heads Up was profiled by The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and other publications. He is a former winner of the Do Something Brick Award for community leadership and has been a fellow with the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford University, the Echoing Green Foundation and the Stride Rite Foundation.

Chinese for Affirmative Action was founded in 1969 to protect the civil and political rights of Chinese Americans and to advance multiracial democracy in the United States. CAA is a progressive voice in and on behalf of the broader Asian and Pacific American community, advocating for systemic change that protects immigrant rights, promotes language diversity and remedies racial injustice.

Chris Punongbayan
Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Asian Law Caucus

Chris Punongbayan doesn’t want to be your mentor. He wants to be your comrade.

It’s a leadership style Chris learned shortly after college from the executive director of the Audre Lorde Project, Joo-Hyun Kang, who invited Chris to sit on her board. When Chris expressed his gratitude using the ‘m’ word, Joo-Hyun replied, “I’m not your mentor. We are comrades.”

Those simple words made Chris feel that despite his youth, his contributions were highly and equally valued. Now, more than a decade later, he believes that it is his responsibility to bring new voices into the social justice movement, learn from them, and build ownership with them.

Chris has been involved in grassroots activism in the Asian American, immigrant worker and LGBT communities on both coasts of the country, and his vision of social justice is grounded in the realities of those communities.

After graduating from Brown University and UCLA Law School, Chris worked as a Ford Foundation New Voices Fellow with Filipino Advocates for Justice in Oakland, before joining the Positive Resource Center in San Francisco as a staff attorney, representing clients living with disabilities. From 2006-08 Chris also served as Vice-Chair of the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus, based in San Francisco, is the nation’s oldest organization advocating for the civil and legal rights of Asians and Pacific Islanders. Its mission is to promote, advance and represent the legal and civil rights of these communities, with a focus on addressing the needs of low-income, immigrant and underserved individuals. In addition to supporting clients with legal expertise, the Caucus seeks to bring together elements of policy advocacy and community organizing so that through one person’s individual struggle it is able to achieve broader results for the community.

Abdi Soltani
Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California

Abdi Soltani represents a new generation of public interest leaders in California. Having worked his entire career in Northern California, he understands its diverse communities, geographic idiosyncrasies, political dynamics, ideological fault lines and key players.

A card-carrying member of the ACLU for many years, Abdi became executive director of the Northern California affiliate in 2009. Previously, he served as executive director at Californians for Justice, the Campaign for College Opportunity and PARSA Community Foundation.

Abdi’s passion for freedom of speech and constitutional protections is intensely personal as well as political. As a child in Iran, his early experiences were shaped by government abuse of power before and after the Iranian Revolution.

Abdi has extensive experience leading social justice campaigns related to statewide policy and ballot initiatives. As a leader in the “No on 54” campaign in 2003, he helped defeat a proposition that would weaken racial equality by barring state and local government agencies from collecting vital data on Californians’ race, ethnicity, color or national origin.

Abdi was awarded the John Gardner Public Service Fellowship in 1995 and the Gerbode Foundation Fellowship in 2002. He serves on the board of Public Advocates, a legal advocacy organization and is a graduate of Stanford University.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California is the country’s largest ACLU affiliate. In 2009, it celebrated its 75th anniversary as a leader in defending and advancing the civil rights and civil liberties of all Californians.

Kimberly Thomas Rapp
Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

Kimberly Thomas Rapp is working to build an organization and a movement that never sits on its laurels. The key to success, she believes, is agility and constant self-improvement.

In collaboration with Lawyers’ Committee staff, board members and constituent communities, Kimberly has worked to continue to broaden the scope and relevance of her organization’s triple-barreled work as direct service providers, impact litigators and advocates in the areas of racial, economic and immigrant justice.

Kimberly considers herself uniquely positioned to ‘hold the tension’ between LCCR’s non-profit staff, constituents and corporate pro bono attorneys because of her experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors.

She served as Lead Deputy Counsel for the County of Santa Clara, and as legal counsel to the Santa Clara County Office of Education and various school districts. Before her public service, Kimberly was the Director of Law and Public Policy for the Equal Justice Society. Before and after law school, she worked in the private sector, conducting investigations and trainings on workplace discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual harassment, and issues of hours and wages.

Throughout her career, Kimberly has been motivated by her grandparents, who grew up picking cotton in Texas and encouraged her to take advantage of every opportunity that came her way, from undergraduate studies at Berkeley, to Stanford Law School, to work in the private, public and non-profit sectors. “To this day, it almost brings me to tears to think of my grandmother signing her name,” says Kimberly. “It was a concentrated, laborious effort. The barriers that existed for her, they still exist to varying degrees today.”

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, founded in 1968, works to advance, protect and promote the legal rights of communities of color, and low-income persons, immigrants, and refugees. Assisted by hundreds of pro bono attorneys, Lawyers’ Committee provides free legal assistance and representation to individuals on civil legal matters through direct services, impact litigation and policy advocacy.