There are plenty of organizations with the resources and the desire to make radical change. What the world needs are better roadmaps for these organizations to actualize their goals.
This is why I founded re:frame.
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When I worked as a grassroots activist, I learned how to organize communities to demand a seat at the table. But a seat is just that, one seat. Every other seat represents a power structure that tends to change in increments too slow to keep up with the pace of oppression.
Organizations can generate enough institutional power to make radical change, but I hesitated to work for a company because all my friends who had taken that route seemed demoralized. When I talked to them, they expressed despair at how deeply white supremacy was woven into the fabric of even the most well-meaning organizations.
A decade before Re:Frame, I built a non-profit organization called Prison Renaissance to experiment with the question, how can we think differently to push the boundaries of how we work for change so that we’re building a new kind of world? How do we instill the values at the root of the justice outcomes we want in the processes we rely on to produce our results?
Justice Initiatives Project Lead at Chicago Beyond
"Emile is an expert on inviting debate in a respectful manner. Emile will not bite his tongue when he disagrees, but he will also share his opinion in a way that is measured, constructive, and provides a path forward."
Selby Wynn Schwartz
Advanced Lecturer, Program in Writing & Rhetoric, Stanford University
"Emile is unquestionably a visionary leader in issues of racial justice and social change. He has the capacity to inspire transformative ways of thinking – including for those who are initially resistant to radical change."
Lewis Raven Wallace
Abolition Journalism Fellow,
"I would strongly recommend working with Emile as an expert on media by, for, and about incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people and as an expert on restorative and transformative approaches to justice."
Prison Renaissance was my attempt to make structural changes in criminal justice, but I undermined my goal with an individualistic strategy. I wanted to create a model that allowed more space for organizations to be radical. Our goal was to seed the public imagination with a new institution to support prison abolition: prison programs that don’t involve prison administrators.
We saw the need for prison programs that contribute to making prisons obsolete, and prison programs will never do that as long as prison administrators are their gatekeepers. We succeeded. We changed what was imaginable for organizations working with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. At the same time that I started to scale my organization, I also started working on my memoir about how we can dismantle systems like patriarchy and white supremacy more effectively.
The more I wrote, the clearer problems and solutions became and the more I realized that what the world needed from me was not another non-profit competing for the limited funding available for transformative work. There are plenty of organizations with the resources and the desire to make radical change.
Prison Renaissance was individualistic because even if we became the model organization for culturally transformative work, that could be decades invested in just one organization. Re:Frame grew from my realization that I needed to shift strategies to support as many leaders and organizations as I can with my 21 years of experience transforming conditions.