Zachary Norris Joins the Black Studies Collaboratory as Inaugural Activist-in-Residence

The Black Studies Collaboratory (BSC) at UC Berkeley is pleased to announce that Zachary Norris will take part in the Abolition Democracy Fellows Program as the first Activist-in-Residence. In Fall 2021, Norris will join a group of scholars, students, artists and activists in a collective workshop dedicated to the world building power of Black studies. As activism, in its many permutations, is at the core of the struggle for Black liberation and thus foundational to the Collaboratory, we are honored to learn from and support Norris’s stalwart community work. 

With an unwavering, energetic spirit, Norris champions and imagines emancipated futures made possible through community care. As the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Norris enacts his theories in ways that reduce harm and shift away from (and ultimately replace) police and criminalization. Norris, alongside his dedicated colleagues at the Center, has directly impacted the everyday lives of Alameda County residents through initiatives such as stopping the construction of a juvenile superjail; advocating for the rights, proper treatment, and futures of incarcerated youth; mobilizing readership, retraining, and voting campaigns; and offering a myriad of ways for folks to take part in necessary community service. As the cofounder of Restore Oakland, Norris conceives of a path towards a more just future through a collaboration between the Ella Baker Center and the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, where a new center and restaurant becomes a sight for service industry training, collectivity, justice, and economic hope.

Zachary Norris. Photo by Eurydice Thomas.

“We are all so inspired by Zach’s work as Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center, an organization that for more than 25 years has served as a national and international model of people-led movement to build stronger communities,” says Leigh Raiford, BSC Inaugural Director. “Zach’s commitment to reimagining safety as outlined in his book Defund Fear and to creating space for transformation as evidenced in the Restore Oakland project speaks to the spirit of the Black Studies Collaboratory project. And as a son of the East Bay rooted in the Black Bay Area and its legacies of Black radicalism and freedom dreaming, we know he will contribute so much.”

Much of Norris’s labor stems from a deep commitment to the promise of restorative justice as framed by a need for truth and reinvestment. He expounds on these ideas in his recent book, Defund Fear: Safety Without Policing, Prisons, and Punishment. In part made legible by his background in law, Norris historicizes the cyclic harms produced through a fear based society and the subsequent policies and actions that perpetuate inequality and fear. He then outlines the promise of collectivity as a means to actively grow together and unlearn and relearn how we relate and support one another. It is through communal care that we can constitute what it means to live, thrive, and be safe. Such powerful imaginings will be incredibly influential for the Collaboratory. 

Restore Oakland: a Model for Community Investment and Safety

Norris is equally enthusiastic about his residency, writing: “I am honored to be selected as part of the Abolition Democracy Fellows Program. The multidisciplinary and community-centered approach of the program is exactly what's needed now. I am excited to be in conversation and collaboration with such a stellar group of people as we not only tear down the prison and other walls that divide us but also build the democratic structures that will actually deliver racial and economic justice.” 

Norris received his Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University followed by a JD from New York University Law School. He also studied at the Labor Community Strategy Center’s National School for Strategic Organizing in Los Angeles, California. In 2011 Norris was a Soros Justice Fellow and in 2015 he received the American Constitution Society’s David Carliner Public Interest Award. In Fall 2020, he lectured for the UC Berkeley Big Ideas focusing on his work with the Ella Baker Center and the 2020 election.

Born and raised in Oakland, Norris once again lives in the city with his wife and two daughters. His nurturing spirit extends throughout the Bay area and we are thrilled that the Collaboratory will become another site where his passions for a more just world can be workshopped and made reality.

The Abolition Democracy Fellows Program was created as part of the Black Studies Collaboratory, a three year project made possible through a generous grant awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 
More on the Mellon Just Futures Initiative...
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