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Carmen Perez

The Gathering for Justice

United States

Carmen, a distinguished Chicana feminist and civil rights advocate, has carved a path of significant impact through her roles as President & CEO of The Gathering for Justice and a co-founder of both Justice League NYC and Justice League CA. Under her stewardship, these organizations have advanced juvenile and criminal justice reform, tackled racial disparities, and shone a light on police brutality. Known for her dynamic leadership in the "Free Meek Mill" campaign and the "Take a Knee" movement alongside Colin Kaepernick, Carmen has also made her mark internationally, supporting peace processes in El Salvador.
A pivotal organizer and National Co-Chair of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, she contributed to one of the largest global demonstrations for women's rights, which spurred the creation of Women's March Inc. Additionally, she co-founded Poderistas, aiming to empower Latina women, and holds advisory positions with Monogram and Can’t Stop! Won’t Stop!, and a board membership with Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos.
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed; she's been celebrated as one of Fortune's Top 50 World Leaders, featured in TIME's 100 Most Influential People, and honored as Glamour's Woman of the Year. Amidst these accolades, Carmen's grounding force is her role as a mother, balancing her passion for justice with raising two young children. She now seeks the WLW fellowship's support to navigate her transition from leadership, aiming to bolster organizational sustainability and embrace new advocacy paths, driven by her deep-rooted belief in justice, equity, and the transformative power of collective action.

Carmen Perez


What is your story?

What drives your work?

My story and what drives my work are deeply intertwined, rooted in a lifelong commitment to social justice, equality, and community empowerment. Growing up in Oxnard, California, in a family that valued community service, I was exposed to the importance of activism and advocacy from a young age. My journey into activism was profoundly influenced by personal experiences and the injustices I witnessed within my community and beyond.

My Story:

My path was significantly shaped by the loss of my sister, Patricia, when I was 17 years old and the incarceration of my brother. These personal tragedies brought the impacts of systemic injustice and the criminal justice system into sharp focus for me. They fueled my determination to fight for a world where communities are not torn apart by such inequalities. This personal connection to the issues I advocate for has been a guiding light throughout my career, from my early days of community organizing in California to my leadership roles on national and international platforms.

In 2001, I took a pivotal step in my activism journey by joining the Youth Community Restoration Program in Santa Cruz County serving young people on probation. Shortly after that, I met Nane Alejandrez, founder of Barrios Unidos where I worked organizing cultural and spiritual programs inside California’s prison and traveling internationally promoting peace. In 2005, I moved on from Barrios Unidos and joined The Gathering for Justice, founded by Harry Belafonte. Under his mentorship, I gained invaluable insights into the power of nonviolent organizing and the importance of bridging the gap between older and younger generations of activists. My work has been dedicated to ending mass incarceration, eliminating systemic racism, building organizations and social justice movements and ensuring that young people have the platforms and support they need to lead social change.

What Drives My Work:

My work is driven by a deep-seated belief in justice, equity, and the power of collective action. The inequities and violence that disproportionately affect marginalized communities, particularly people of color, are unacceptable to me. I am motivated by the potential to create systemic change through strategic activism, policy reform, and community engagement. The legacy of civil rights leaders who paved the way, like my mentor Harry Belafonte, inspires me to continue the fight for a just and equitable world.

The principles of nonviolent resistance and the power of storytelling are central to my approach. By sharing our stories and experiences, we can humanize the issues at stake and mobilize people to action. My vision is for a society where all individuals, regardless of their background or circumstances, have the opportunity to thrive and contribute to their communities.

In essence, my story is one of resilience, hope, and a deep commitment to justice. What drives my work is the belief that together, through radical solidarity and action, we can overcome the systemic barriers that divide us and build a future grounded in dignity, respect, and equality for all.

Describe your biggest strength as a leader

My journey as an activist and leader has been shaped by a series of pivotal experiences and the mentorship of luminaries like Harry Belafonte. These experiences have honed my strengths, which I believe are crucial in driving social change and fostering a just society.

My biggest strengths as a leader include:

My ability to empathize with individuals from diverse backgrounds and understand their struggles is fundamental. This empathy drives my commitment to social justice and informs my approach to leadership, ensuring that the work we do is grounded in the realities of those we aim to serve.

I have a strong capacity for strategic thinking, enabling me to envision long-term goals and the pathways to achieve them. This vision helps guide The Gathering for Justice and other initiatives I'm involved in, ensuring that we remain focused on impactful outcomes while navigating the complexities of social justice work.

One of my key strengths is the ability to bridge gaps between different communities, generations, and ideologies. By fostering dialogue and understanding, I've been able to unite diverse groups around common causes, amplifying our collective impact.

The path to justice is fraught with challenges. My resilience in the face of setbacks and unwavering persistence has been crucial in continuing the fight for equity, even when progress seems slow. This tenacity inspires those around me to keep pushing forward, no matter the obstacles.

Drawing on my experiences and the lessons learned from my mentors, I strive to lead by example, inspiring others through my commitment and passion. My leadership style is about empowering others, encouraging young activists to take the helm and contribute their voices to the chorus calling for change.
Influenced by Harry Belafonte and the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., my steadfast commitment to nonviolent organizing and activism remains a cornerstone of my leadership. This approach has enabled me to mobilize communities and advocate for systemic change effectively.

These strengths, coupled with a deep-rooted belief in justice and equality, fuel my work and leadership. They have guided me through two decades of advocacy. Nowadays, it’s my two young children that fuel my work, wanting to create a better world for them.

Describe your biggest challenge as a leader

As a leader deeply committed to excellence and supporting those in need, I often find myself taking on more responsibilities than might be practical. This drive for perfection and a reluctance to compromise on the quality of our work frequently leads me to a state of overextension, where I'm tirelessly filling gaps and offering support wherever it's necessary.

My expansive heart ensures I never turn away anyone in need. This intrinsic compassion drives me to dedicate significant time to connecting individuals with resources, offering guidance, and providing support directly. However, this unwavering commitment often prompts the question, 'Why do you care so much? This doesn’t affect you.' Such inquiries highlight the core of my motivation and the depth of my commitment, emphasizing empathy and genuine concern for the well-being of others, irrespective of their direct impact on my life.

Adding to these challenges is my transition to motherhood amidst a 30-year career in social justice. Balancing the demands of being a new mother with the emotional weight of confronting injustice requires establishing boundaries—something I had not needed to consider before starting a family. The personal sacrifices inherent in this work, coupled with striving for balance and maintaining personal resilience, represent a continuous journey. A journey that continues to put me in a spot light that sometimes compromises my safety and that of my family. Over the years, having been cancelled so publicly I feel I lost a sense of myself and my confidence. It's something though that I am working through and on.

This journey, while fraught with challenges, also fortifies my resolve. It underscores the importance of compassion, dedication, and the need for self-care in the relentless pursuit of justice and equity.

About the
and the Project.



Vision & Mission

The Gathering for Justice mission is to shift U.S. culture towards justice. The Gathering develops leaders, employs cultural organizing, connects the collective power of our movements, and convenes communities across generations to fortify the movement for racial justice and realize Dr. King's dream of a beloved community.

Year Founded


No. of Employees


Years in the Organization

19 years

Annual Budget (USD)


Geographical Area Served

The Gathering for Justice serves a broad national geographic area within the United States, focusing on California and New York states. We serve communities directly impacted by systemic issues such as poverty, all forms of violence, incarceration, and more.

Organizational /

Project Description

Since joining The Gathering for Justice in 2005, my experience has been deeply enriching, witnessing our collective strides against child incarceration and racial injustices. The loss of Mr. Belafonte in 2023 has profoundly affected me, leading to my decision to step down as President and CEO. This pivotal moment underscores the importance of focusing on the sustainability of our mission and the smooth transition to future leadership. My plan for the fellowship project on succession planning and organizational sustainability is multi-faceted, aiming to secure the organization's future.
The project encompasses several key objectives: identifying and mentoring future leaders within the organization through personalized mentorship programs, leadership training, and exposure to strategic decision-making; developing a resilience plan that ensures financial stability, programmatic continuity, and robust strategic partnerships to adapt to changes in society; capturing and transferring institutional knowledge to document best practices and essential learnings for future leadership; enhancing board engagement in succession planning; involving the community, stakeholders, and partners in discussing future leadership qualities; setting clear metrics for successful succession and continuity planning; honoring Harry Belafonte’s legacy and the contributions of our elders to inspire future generations; creating a detailed exit strategy for my departure that guarantees the organization's stability; outlining my continued advocacy in social justice to ensure personal and professional development; commemorating our accomplishments while crafting a forward-looking vision that meets the changing needs of social justice; and strengthening ties within our community and with grassroots organizations to promote an inclusive advocacy space.
This fellowship represents a deep dedication to preparing The Gathering for Justice for future challenges and leadership, ensuring that our mission not only survives but thrives, making a lasting impact on creating a more just and equitable society.

Why is this project important and timely?

What is the target population of your project? 

The succession planning and organizational sustainability project primarily targets the internal population of The Gathering for Justice, including its staff, board members, and closely affiliated community leaders and stakeholders. While the direct target population is internal, the ultimate beneficiaries include the wider communities served by the organization—individuals and families impacted by the justice system, particularly those affected by child incarceration and racial inequities.

Who It Will Serve:

Emerging Leaders: Young and emerging leaders within the organization identified for potential executive roles.

Board of Directors: Board members who will be engaged in the succession planning process and in mentoring future leaders.

Organization Staff: All levels of staff who will benefit from enhanced institutional knowledge and leadership development programs.

Community Leaders and Stakeholders: Community leaders, activists, and partner organizations who are integral to the organization's work and may play a role in advising or supporting the leadership transition.

Number of People Served and How:

Emerging Leaders: Approximately 5-10 emerging leaders will be directly mentored and trained for leadership roles. They will receive hands-on experience, leadership training, and personalized mentorship.

Board of Directors: The entire board, typically consisting of 10 members, will be actively involved in the planning process, offering guidance and support for the transition.

Organization Staff: Depending on the size of The Gathering for Justice, staff members (ranging 6-12 or more individuals) will benefit from a more structured and informed leadership transition, as well as from professional development opportunities.

Community Leaders and Stakeholders: While the exact number may vary, engaging a broad spectrum of community leaders and stakeholders (potentially hundreds) ensures the organization remains grounded in community needs and perspectives.

Ways of Service:

Leadership Development: Through training, mentorship, and strategic engagement, preparing future leaders for their roles.

Knowledge Transfer: Documenting and sharing institutional knowledge to ensure continuity and efficacy in leadership.

Strategic Engagement: Involving the board and community stakeholders in the succession planning process to align organizational direction with community needs and expectations.

Personal and Professional Growth: Providing opportunities for personal growth for outgoing leadership and professional development for incoming leaders.

This project aims to ensure The Gathering for Justice not only remains a leading force in social justice work but does so with a leadership team prepared to face future challenges while honoring the legacy of its founders and elders.

How will you know that you have achieved that impact? What data will you use to assess your impact?

To assess the impact of our efforts in succession planning and organizational sustainability at The Gathering for Justice, we will employ a comprehensive evaluation strategy that incorporates both qualitative and quantitative data. This approach will ensure we can measure our progress against our goals and understand the depth of our impact on the community. Here’s how we will know we have achieved our desired impact:

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):

Leadership Development Metrics: This includes tracking the number of emerging leaders who have completed our mentorship and training programs, their subsequent roles within the organization or community, and feedback on their preparedness and effectiveness in these roles.

Organizational Resilience Indicators: Assessments of our financial health over time, such as fundraising outcomes, budget stability, and resource allocation efficiency. Additionally, evaluating our ability to maintain or expand our programs and services during and after the leadership transition.

Community Engagement Levels: Measuring changes in community involvement through participation rates in our programs, events, and feedback mechanisms. Increased engagement rates and positive feedback will indicate a stronger connection with the community.

Preservation of Legacy: Qualitative assessments of how well the organization's activities continue to align with the values and principles established by our founder, Harry Belafonte. This may include feedback from stakeholders, comparison of programmatic directions over time, and alignment with strategic goals.

Advocacy and Programmatic Impact: Tracking specific outcomes related to our core mission, such as legislative changes we have influenced, reductions in child incarceration rates, and improvements in racial equity within the justice system in the communities we serve.

Empowerment of Individuals and Families: Gathering stories and testimonials from those directly impacted by our work, alongside data on service access, participation rates, and outcomes of our advocacy efforts on behalf of individuals and families.

Sector Influence: Evaluating our role as a model within the social justice sector by tracking the adoption of similar succession planning and sustainability practices by other organizations, invitations to share our insights at sector events, and publications citing our approach.

Data Collection Methods:

Surveys and Feedback Forms: To gather input from our leadership, staff, volunteers, community members, and stakeholders on various aspects of our project's impact.

Program and Financial Reports: Analyzing internal reports and financial statements to assess organizational health and programmatic effectiveness.

Case Studies and Interviews: Conducting in-depth interviews and developing case studies with key beneficiaries, leadership, and community partners to capture nuanced insights into our impact.

How do you anticipate this unique leadership education impacting you personally? What new skills are you hoping too develop & grow through this experience?

Embarking on this distinctive leadership education journey represents a transformative opportunity for both my personal enrichment and professional advancement. I anticipate it will deeply influence my leadership approach, providing the crucial support I need at this pivotal moment in my career. This experience promises to reignite my passion for activism and offer a clearer sense of purpose, anchoring my dedication anew to both my personal development and my forward trajectory. Often, I find myself in the role of a convenor or coordinator for leadership programs, but this time, I am eager to embrace the role of a participant. I am excited about the prospect of learning anew, connecting with like-minded peers, and sharing my own skills and talents. This shift from leader to learner allows for a unique exchange of insights and experiences, enriching both my own journey and those of my fellow participants.

Where would you like to see yourself professionally in the next 3 years?

In the next three years, I envision a significant evolution in my professional journey. I anticipate transitioning from my role as President and CEO of The Gathering for Justice to a position as a board member or holding an emeritus status within the organization. This shift will allow me to continue contributing my expertise and passion to the cause while also passing the leadership baton to the next generation of changemakers.

Simultaneously, I aim to complete my first book, encapsulating the lessons, stories, and insights from my years of feminist leadership. This project is deeply important to me, as it offers a platform to share my journey and chart a path forward for the future of feminism.

Looking ahead, I'm excited about exploring new endeavors. Whether it's stepping into consulting to support other organizations and leaders in social justice work or launching the American Latine Data Collective, I'm open to the paths that will leverage my experiences for broader impact. The American Latine Data Collective, in particular, represents an opportunity to address critical gaps in data and advocacy concerning Latine communities, a project that aligns with my commitment to equity and representation.

Moreover, I'm giving myself the space and time to thoughtfully consider my next moves, heal from the trauma of the movement and mourn the loss of my father and Mr. Belafonte. This period of reflection is not just about professional decisions but also about aligning my future endeavors with my core values and the causes I hold dear.

In essence, the coming years are about growth, transition, and embracing new challenges and opportunities.

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