Women of Distinction 2018 Spotlight: Carmen Perez
Get to Know the 2018 NCCWSL Women of Distinction
Name: Carmen Perez
Occupation: Executive Director, The Gathering for Justice; co-founder, Justice League NYC and founder of Justice League CA; National Co-Chair of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington
Education: Bachelor of Arts, University of California, Santa Cruz
For the past 20 years Carmen Perez has been a champion of modern day activism, advocating for many of today’s important civil rights issues, including mass incarceration, gender equity, violence prevention, racial healing, and community policing. Her current role as the executive director of the Gathering for Justice has taken Perez around the world promoting peace through civil and human rights, building alternatives to incarceration and violence, and providing guidance for lawmakers on state and federal policy affecting marginalized populations.
The Gathering for Justice was founded in 2005 after legendary singer and activist Harry Belafonte viewed a news report of a five-year-old black girl being handcuffed by three white police officers for “being unruly” in her classroom. This troubling incident led Belafonte to reach out to such civil rights figures as Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) in order to create a movement to end child incarceration. In an interview with Refinery 29, Perez says, “We began to train communities across the country, introducing them to the methodology of [Martin Luther] King: nonviolence as a foundation for civic engagement, organizing, and political action. The Gathering really was about working with nontraditional leaders, like formerly incarcerated individuals, people who were currently incarcerated, and former and current gang members to [create solutions].” That same methodology helped to inspire AAUW’s Coretta Scott King Fund, which awarded funding to women scholars studying peace studies, black history and culture, and nonviolent change programs.
Perez is also the cofounder of Justice League NYC and the founder of Justice League CA, two state-based task forces focused on advancing juvenile and criminal justice reform agendas. She has organized numerous national gatherings, including Growing Up Locked Down conferences on juvenile justice, and the March2Justice, a 250-mile march through five states from New York City to Washington, D.C., which drew congressional attention to key legislative reforms that would confront the national crisis of police violence.
Shortly after President Obama founded his Task Force on 21st-Century Policing, Perez was invited to testify as an expert in juvenile and criminal justice. She was a featured speaker for and coconvener of Justice or Else!, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March and has appeared on numerous media outlets. Most recently she served as a national cochair of the Women’s March on Washington, which drew hundreds of thousands of people to gather in resistance of hatred and bigotry, affirming women of all identities and their rights as human beings.
Perez’s activist spirit stems from her childhood. She grew up outside of Los Angeles in predominantly first-generation Mexican-Chicano, black, and Samoan communities, and saw gang activity and violence within the community. When it came time to pursue higher education, Perez chose to study psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz because she “knew in [her] heart [she] wanted to help people.” Perez is also passionate about engaging Latinx communities in activist movements. In an interview with Forbes Magazine she says, “It’s very important for Latinx people to not only advocate for ourselves but also for other marginalized communities. We are overrepresented in negative spaces such as poverty, violence, et cetera, but underrepresented in movement spaces or positions of power. … We need to be bold and courageous and present in spaces where our voices matter.”
Perez’s words perfectly illustrate the importance of making your voice heard. Learn new ways to amplify your voice and others’ and get inspired at NCCWSL.
Meet Carmen Perez in person at the 2018 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders!