Hear Directly from Our BLM Foundation Board Members! - Black Lives Matter

Hear Directly from Our BLM Foundation Board Members!

Part of envisioning and building a world in which all Black people are self-determined, safe, and free, includes creating relationships dedicated to the same goal.

For BLM Foundation, those relationships began 9 years ago with organizers who had a vision—and that same vision has carried the organization to incredible heights. Today, those organizers, our board members, continue to push the envelope with their expansive collective experience combating anti-Black violence while creating space for Black imagination and innovation.

BLM Foundation is charting new horizons for Black joy and Black liberation. As we do so, we want to ensure you know the incredible board members who have committed their lives to this mission. Meet D’Zhane Parker, Cicley Gay, and Shalomyah Bowers below!

D’Zhane Parker

D'Zhane Parker Photo

Hi beautiful people, D’Zhane Parker here, you can call me Parker!

I am deeply committed to the liberation of Black people across the Diaspora…I LOVE being Black and all of its essence. Being a part of the Black Lives Matter Foundation’s board is an honor; I do not take it lightly, rather as my sacred duty, a calling from the ancestors.

I consider myself a Southern California girl through and through. However, I carry much pride in the history of my lineage. My paternal great-great-great-grandmother migrated to Los Angeles, California from Texas in the early 1930’s, followed by my great-great-grandmother in the early 40’s, who fled Texas after her father was murdered by police officers. My maternal grandmother moved to Southern California from Roxie, Mississippi in the 1960’s because two of her highschool classmates had been lynched. Both of my parents were born and raised in Southern California. Growing up, we would drive from Southern California to Mississippi…what I would pay to be a child again.

Speaking of childhood, my upbringing connects deeply to why I am committed to ending mass incarceration and state-sanctioned violence, the new Jim Crow. Learning about the history of the Black diaspora was the norm in my household—my mother taught me and my siblings about the enslavement of our African Ancestors, and Jim Crow laws. Inevitably, I continued my education on what it means to be Black in America by getting a degree in Pan-African American Studies. My heart shattered in one million pieces when Trayvon Martin was murdered and there was no accountability, a modern day lynching. Since that day, I have made it my personal priority to fight against systemic violence. My heart continues to break for the countless names.

My heart goes out daily to the people who have loved ones on the inside, and who have lost loved ones on the outside due to systemic oppression. I myself know what it is like to have loved ones locked in cages.

We demand to be free of oppression. We must organize using art and activism like many of the freedom fighters before us!

My deep history in grassroots organizing and on-the-ground work is what truly brings me joy. I’ve worked with several nonprofits and local initiatives, community-building in different parts of the country, with system-impacted youth, and women with incarcerated loved ones, and on ballot initiatives that focus on ending the corrupt systems this country was founded on. Connecting and building power within the community is of utmost importance to me.

In a world where we’re constantly fighting oppression, I believe in putting love first. We have to embrace the good and the bad as we fight for change; it is our duty to love one another.

I can’t wait to connect more. We have chains to break as we pick up where our ancestors left off on this road to freedom. It is my honor to serve on behalf of the people. All power to the people!

— D’Zhane

Cicley Gay

BLM Foundation Board Member Cicely Gay with Cicely Tyson.

Hi Team, it’s Cicley ❤️

And yes, I was indeed named after THE Cicely Tyson, with whom I was able to spend a lot of quality time, in her final years. My name is just spelled slightly differently because my parents, in the most parental thing they would have intended for, wanted me to be unique.

But enough about my name, and more about me. I was born in Topeka, Kansas to two educators—in the shadows of Brown v. Board of Education—but I grew up mostly in South Hampton Roads, Virginia. My upbringing seeded the importance of access to education within my core. I began reading at 3 years old and even skipped a grade in elementary school. I’m a true autodidact and love researching, learning and teaching new things.

This followed me into my work as an adult. I was the founding director of STAND (Students Take Action for New Directions), educating students on the impact of federal budget priorities on Black communities. I even led weekly protests as far back as 2002—and yes, I would do it 10 times over again!

It was during my time in AmeriCorps, a volunteer service effort of the Corporation for National and Community Service, where I learned that serving others was my life’s purpose. I received the President’s Volunteer Service Award from the Obama Administration in 2013. And for over 20 years, my work has consisted of supporting nonprofits and philanthropic organizations supporting our Black communities (this is the 4th time I’ve served on a nonprofit board!)—all while raising my 3 amazing sons as a single mother.

They are a BIG part of the reason why I am passionate about this movement—I’m committed to helping unearth the genius in our children while building a brighter future for them and all generations to come.

All of this to say—there’s so much work to do. And we don’t have to look at the work as solely policy or grassroots work, either. It takes all of us. There are many ways to invest in our communities and elevate the brilliance we have to offer. There are no limits to what we can do together, remember that!

I also truly believe in the power of the arts to shape and share narratives about the Black Diaspora. We cannot disentangle Black liberation from Black creativity. And, on a personal note, I absolutely LOVE musical theater! Any Color Purple fans?

I’m putting my passion for the arts, creativity, and fostering the imaginations of our young ones at the forefront of the work I’m doing as a BLM Foundation board member, and I’m committed to undergird it all with gratitude and love.

Our future holds so much when it comes to advancing this part of the foundation, and I’m honored and excited to see what we will accomplish together.

Onward,

— Cicley

Shalomyah Bowers

BLM Foundation Board Member Shalomyah Bowers at a 2013 protest.
Black Lives Matter protest in 2013 in my hometown.

Hi Family—Shalomyah here! ☀️

I’m so excited for us to build a relationship over these next few months. A little about me—I’m the youngest of *eight* siblings (shoutout to all the youngest siblings out there, we’re the best!), and I am from California.

Growing up, I was always amazed at how much work my parents put into making sure my siblings and I had food on the table, a roof over our heads, and adequate living. However, to this day, I do remember our struggles. I remember having been evicted from our home multiple times. I remember seeing my parents stress about how the electricity bill and rent were going to get paid, and simply how we were going to fill up the gas tank.

My family, very similarly to other Black families, had to use the emergency room as our healthcare plan because we could not afford insurance. I know our struggles and perseverance are not unique. Most Black families experience economic oppression. I know our work toward getting free also means the radical transformation of our economy. It means not just surviving in this world, but creating the conditions to thrive.

My parents also taught me about what it means to seek justice. My mom advocates day in and day out for low income folks trying their best to navigate the court system. Through her, I’ve seen how our injustice system constantly and systemically fails Black people. This system fails to listen to Black people’s needs, continues to exacerbate harm, and ignores our pleas for agency. She taught me how to be a tenacious leader for people who are often left behind.

My dad, on the other hand, was the best spiritual teacher for me and so many other people. He was the foundational piece for helping me always do the right thing. Although he passed away this year, I find myself constantly following in his footsteps. In Compton, where he grew up, he used his faith to work outside the legal system to interrupt violence and criminalization and support those who had been harmed. He helped turn gang members into peace leaders. Elected officials had him on speed dial because he was an expert in defusing and de-escalating harmful situations; they’d call him so there was no need to call the police.

I share this about my parents because, through them, I have learned first-hand that creating a more equitable, just, and peaceful collective existence, rooted in care, is possible.

I got my start as an on-the-ground organizer as a teenager when I was working on the Obama 2012 campaign. That was my political awakening. Obama’s vision of change inspired me and I wanted to immerse myself in the work as early as possible. Fresh out of high school, I moved to the most important battleground state in the country—Ohio—and learned about the importance of community and how to be an organizer. Soon after, I became the youngest regional field director in the country. The Obama campaign helped me to understand that politics is personal—that’s why policy is personal. This personal understanding of politics was widened through my proximity to the carceral state—my brother Donald, who has experienced houselessness, was forced into cycles of incarceration, drug dependency, and chronic battles with mental health.

Right after working on the Obama campaign, I had to reckon with the reality that simply walking home could result in Black death. Trayvon Martin’s murder became the seed and drumbeat for my push toward abolition. Watching the media try and spin Trayvon’s killer as the victim and that sweet 17-year-old boy into an aggressor was sickening. The only thing I could think to do was protest. Although I did not know it at the time, I joined one of the first #BlackLivesMatter protests in LA. I also organized the first #BlackLivesMatter protest in my hometown.

These acts of agitation—blocking traffic as we marched from the LA Federal CourtHouse to Leimert Park, and in response to the closing of our local mall—to upset the mainstream of political power and social and economic privilege, was somehow healing.

Coming to the idea of abolition was a process, not a moment. I used to be part of the collective that believed we could reform our way to justice. But I kept seeing how white supremacy and institutionalized racism was crushing Black people. Because, for far too long, the United States has focused on incarceration. On prisons. On punishment. On dehumanization. This is what led me to a lot of transformational justice work. I organized to help pass Prop 64, which was the long-overdue work to end the war on drugs. Prop 64 legalized marijuana in California, but, most importantly, anyone who had been convicted of a crime tied to cannabis would be released from jail or prison, and anyone with a conviction on their record—whether it was recent or happened decades ago—would be eligible to have it expunged.

I was also part of the campaign that canceled a $3.2 billion dollar contract with McCarthy construction company for the building of a new jail in Los Angeles. We held corporate powers accountable to the harm they were doing upon Angelinos and came after the largest carceral system in the entire world. This was just the beginning of my becoming entrenched in the fight for liberation.

Fast forward to my most recent work with a coalition of Black movement practitioners and progressive organizations on the creation of the modern-day Civil Rights Act known as the BREATHE Act, which would divest money from federal systems of policing and incarceration and invest in non-punitive, non-carceral systems of community safety. While my relationship to Black Lives Matter has been years in the making, I was formally appointed to the BLM Foundation board under the vision of our founders to cement its legacy in our history books as an organization powering the Movement and working to end state-sanctioned and vigilante violence.

People have asked me why on earth I would step up at this moment to lead this organization: it’s because in this moment of deep challenge, I see great potential. We have the potential to create a world where we address harm without relying on the violent systems that fuel it. We have the potential to fund brilliant Black activists and organizers on the frontlines by continuing to build the largest abolitionist philanthropic foundation that has ever existed. We have the potential to build an organization capable of ending white supremacy once and for all.

“I have heard their groans and sighs, and seen their tears, and I would give every drop of blood in my veins to free them.” — Harriet Tubman

I’m so proud to be in this fight alongside you, fam!

— Shalomyah

Have a question for one or more of the board members? Submit and connect with the board.