My name is Mariame Kaba. I’m an organizer, educator and curator. My work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, transformative justice and supporting youth leadership development. After over 20 years of living and organizing in Chicago, I moved back to my hometown of New York City in May 2016.
I am the founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with a vision to end youth incarceration. Prior to starting NIA, I worked as a program officer for education and youth development at the Steans Family Foundation where I focused on grantmaking and program evaluation.
I have co-founded multiple organizations and projects over the years including the Chicago Freedom School, the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women, the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander and the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team (YWAT) among others. I have also served on numerous nonprofit boards.
I have extensive experience working on issues of racial justice, gender justice, transformative/restorative justice and multiple forms of violence. I have been active in the anti gender-based violence movement since 1989. My experience includes coordinating emergency shelter services at Sanctuary for Families in New York City, serving as the co-chair of the Women of Color Committee at the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, working as the prevention and education manager at Friends of Battered Women and their Children (now called Between Friends), serving on the founding advisory board of the Women and Girls Collective Action Network (WGCAN), and being a member of Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. I co-founded and currently organize with the Survived and Punished collective and am a founding member of the Just Practice Collaborative.
I served as a member of the editorial board of Violence Against Women: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal from January 2003 to December 2008. I am the co-editor (along with Michelle VanNatta) of a special issue of the journal about teen girls’ experiences of and resistance to violence published in December 2007. I have written and co-authored reports, articles, essays, curricula, zines, and more. I am currently an active board member of the Black Scholar. I run the blog Prison Culture. In 2018, I co-authored the guidebook “Lifting As They Climbed” and published a children’s book titled “Missing Daddy.” My current book, We Do This Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice, was published by Haymarket Press in February 2021 and was a New York Times Bestseller.
I was a member and co-founder of We Charge Genocide, an inter-generational effort which documented police brutality and violence in Chicago and sent youth organizers to Geneva, Switzerland to present their report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. I am an advisory board member of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, a group (along with Project NIA and WCG) that worked to get the Chicago City Council to pass a reparations law providing restitution to the victims of Jon Burge, a police commander who tortured more than 200 criminal suspects, most of them black men, from the 1970s through the early 1990s.
I am a founding advisory board member of the Chicago Community Bond Fund. The CCBF pays bond for people charged with crimes in Cook County, Illinois. Through a revolving fund, CCBF supports individuals whose communities cannot afford to pay the bonds themselves and who have been impacted by structural violence. I am also a member of Critical Resistance’s community advisory board. Critical Resistance’s vision is the creation of genuinely healthy, stable communities that respond to harm without relying on imprisonment and punishment.
I was a researcher in residence on Race, Gender, Sexuality and Criminalization at the Social Justice Institute of the Barnard Center for Research on Women from 2018-2020. During this time, I co-founded and worked with with Andrea J. Ritchie, fellow Researcher-in-Residence, on a new initiative called Interrupting Criminalization: Research in Action.
I am currently working as a researcher at Interrupting Criminalization: Research in Action with Andrea J. Ritchie. Combining participatory research, data analysis, and systemic advocacy, Andrea and I will work in partnership with local campaigns to identify primary pathways, policing practices, charges, and points of intervention to address the growing criminalization and incarceration of women and LGBTQ people of color for public order, survival, drug, child welfare and self-defense related offenses. Research will be disseminated in accessible formats for use by organizers, advocates, policymakers, media makers, and philanthropic partners working to interrupt criminalization at the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. This initiative hosts convenings of researchers, organizers, advocates, policymakers, and philanthropic partners on key topics relating to violence and criminalization, and support partners in developing and implementing campaigns designed to interrupt criminalization of women, girls, trans and GNC people of color.
I have a long history in the fields of education and youth development, having taught high school and college students in New York and Chicago. I’ve taught sociology and Black studies courses at Northeastern Illinois University, Northwestern University, and Columbia University. I have developed and facilitated many workshops and presented at events. I was a founding board member of the Education for Liberation Network.
I studied sociology at McGill University, City College of New York, and Northwestern University. I am currently pursuing a degree in Library and Information Science. I have received several honors and awards for my work over the years. I am occasionally available to consult on various topics.
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