Galaxy Gives Announces the Fourth Cohort of its Galaxy Leader Fellowship Program

Program Centers its Support on the Strategic Vision and Leadership of Directly Impacted Leaders—Survivors of Harm, Returning Citizens, and Family of Incarcerated Individuals

NEW YORK (March 7, 2023) – Galaxy Gives, the philanthropic entity of the Mike and Sukey Novogratz Family, proudly announces the fourth cohort of its Galaxy Leader Fellowship Program.

Launched in 2019, the fellowship program has provided more than $4 million to some of our nation’s brightest and most innovative organizers and advocates in their efforts to build power in systematically disinvested communities, reduce violence and over-policing, and break America’s reliance on incarceration. More than 90 percent of previous Galaxy Leaders Fellows have been incarcerated, are survivors of harm, or provided primary support for a close family member who was incarcerated. That track record has been extended to the 2023 cohort of Galaxy Leader Fellows. This year, Galaxy Gives has partnered with the Heising-Simons Foundation, Just Impact Fund, and to award thirteen fellowships.

The Fellows have all demonstrated extraordinary leadership, resiliency, and hope as they transform their communities. Between 2019 and 2022, Galaxy Leader Fellows led varied efforts across the country to end mass incarceration and overly punitive laws and policies. The 2023 Fellows will continue that transformative work. This cohort of Fellows include Esquire contributing writer John Lennon, who has won major writing awards for his dispatches from behind the walls of a New York state prison, where he is serving a life sentence. And reflecting Galaxy Gives’ expanding work in Tennessee—where activists are challenging an entrenched carceral culture throughout the state—this year’s cohort includes Dawn Harrington and Gicola Lane, the executive director and statewide organizer, respectively, of Free Hearts in Nashville. Free Hearts leads an innovative “Participatory Defense” program that organizes families and community members who are facing incarceration in order to transform the landscape of power in the courtroom.

The Galaxy Leader Fellowship is designed to support emerging leaders who share and inform Galaxy Gives’ vision. But the fellowship program is specifically designed not to be prescriptive. Rather, it was developed through deep listening to understand the needs of communities, and provides support designed to build the executive and strategic capacity of the next generation of scholars, activists, and organizers. The goal is to support leaders to be sustainable both personally and professionally. “We’re not looking for a particular campaign,” explained Alex Duran, who manages both the program and the Foundation’s criminal justice portfolio. “Instead, we’re looking to provide the ‘boost’ needed to scale up the invaluable work these leaders are already engaged in.”

A cornerstone of the Galaxy Leader Fellowship emphasizes healing and transformation. The program takes a holistic approach by focusing many of the resources provided on the leadership and development needs of the individual fellow. For example, each fellow receives a healing stipend that can be used to support them on their healing journey without being prescriptive about the method. Healing is also weaved into the in-person gatherings from orientation to graduation, which concludes with a healing retreat after the two-year fellowship. 

The Fellows program continues Galaxy Gives’ fundamental commitment to reforming America’s criminal legal system by empowering impacted people to lead the charge for policy changes that replace systems of punishment with systems of healing. “We believe that transformed people transform communities,” said Sukey Novogratz, co-founder of Galaxy Gives. “We remain dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty, recidivism, underemployment, and unstable housing, so we can heal the traumatized, survivors of violence, and harmed communities. This new cohort of Fellows will lead the way.”


Phil Agnew and Asa Shaw,  Miami, Florida and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Co-Directors, Black Men Build

Philip Agnew and Asa Shaw are co-directors of Black Men Build, an organization dedicated to transforming black men and engaging them as political and cultural activists. Agnew is the oldest of four boys born to a preacher and a teacher in West Englewood on the south side of Chicago. He is a nationally recognized educator, strategist, writer, trainer, speaker, and cultural critic who emerged as a national activist when he helped to organize the Student Coalition for Justice, formed in response to the 2006 death of Martin Lee Anderson, who was brutally murdered by guards on his first day at a Florida state juvenile “boot camp.” He was also a national surrogate and senior advisor to the 2020 Sanders presidential campaign. Co-director Asa Shaw is an Afrofuturist and a value-driven revolutionary. Shaw joined Dream Defenders in 2013 and helped to build the Broward County chapter and win campaigns around police accountability. He served as a labor organizer for the Service Employees International Union and became south Florida lead organizer for New Florida Majority, helping to organize the “second chances” campaign that restored voting rights to 1.4 million formerly justice-involved people in Florida.

David Ayala, Orlando, Florida

Executive Director, Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People and Families Movement (FICPFM) 

David Ayala was raised by a single Puerto Rican mother in Brooklyn and entered the criminal justice system at the age of 12. His new life began in 2006 when he returned home from federal prison at 33. Today, David holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Central Florida. He served as the first chapter president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, dedicated to ending the disenfranchisement and discrimination of people with criminal convictions. As southeast regional organizer for Latino Justice PRLDEF, he organized the Latino community to help pass Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to 1.4 million Floridians with felony convictions. He is also an advisor to the Institute to End Mass Incarceration at Harvard Law School and a board member of WREN Collective. David was named executive director of FICPFM in September 2022.

Chesa Boudin, San Francisco, California

Chesa Boudin grew up visiting both of his biological parents in prison, where his mother served 22 years and his father served 40 years. Boudin went on to attend Yale College and Yale Law School and to earn two master’s degrees from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Boudin served as a law clerk to the Honorable Margaret McKeown of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals from 2011-2012 and the Honorable Charles Breyer on the federal district court for the Northern District of California from 2013-2014. As a public defender in San Francisco, he tried dozens of cases to jury verdict and handled hundreds of felony matters. In 2019, Boudin was elected district attorney of San Francisco on a decarceral platform centered on protecting crime survivors and addressing the root causes of crime. In office, Boudin worked to expand the office’s Victim Services’ Division, including promoting language access for victims of crime; eliminating cash bail; holding police officers who break the law accountable; starting a worker protection unit; suing the manufacturers of ghost guns; and expanding diversion opportunities to address the underlying causes of crime and prevent recidivism. During his time in office both violent and non-violent crime fell by double digits. Three days after Boudin was sworn in, opponents began efforts to recall him. While running the district attorney’s office, Boudin was subject to a $9 million campaign funded by right-wing billionaires, and in June 2022—though Boudin received more votes in the recall than he had received in the general election—the recall was ultimately approved by 55% of San Francisco voters. Boudin remains steadfast in his commitment to creating a more just and equitable criminal legal system and ensuring equal enforcement of the law.

Rahim Buford, Nashville, Tennessee

Founder and Executive Director, Unheard Voices Outreach

Rahim Buford was paroled in 2015 after 26 years of incarceration and now uses his voice to advocate for decarceration and transformative justice. A native of Nashville, Rahim was arrested at age 18 and lived more than half of his life in seven different prisons across Tennessee. During that time, he completed coursework at Lipscomb University, Ohio University, and Vanderbilt Divinity School. Rahim was a co-founder of SALT (Schools for Alternative Learning and Transformation), an inclusive undergraduate program that provides a safe learning space for non-traditional students at Riverbend Prison. While incarcerated, he also self-published his book, Save Your Own Life. Upon his release, Rahim received a scholarship to American Baptist College and worked part-time as a Children’s Defense Fund organizer in Nashville. In 2017, he founded Unheard Voices Outreach to assist currently and formerly incarcerated navigate reentry. Rahim graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in 2019. He managed the Nashville Community Bail Fund from 2018 to 2021. 

David Gaspar, Indianapolis, Indiana 

National Director, The Bail Project

David Gaspar is national director at The Bail Project, which collects private donations to provide free bail assistance to thousands of low-income people every year, supports bailees with wraparound services, and advocates for the reform of cash bail. Prior to joining The Bail Project, David was a director of Distribution Center Operations, where he developed and oversaw a justice-involved job opportunity program. Over the past 13 years, David has helped develop and facilitate an at-risk youth group, mentored and coached youth in felony diversion programs, and more recently earned his Offender Workforce Development Specialist certification so he can better assist justice-involved individuals successfully transition back into their communities. His passion is to help people find their strength, purpose, conviction, and voice.

Mallory Hanora and Sashi James, Roxbury, Massachusetts

Executive Director and Director of Reimagining Communities, Families for Justice as Healing

Mallory Hanora is the executive director of Families for Justice as Healing an abolitionist organization based in the commonwealth of Massachusetts and a member of The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, which advocates to end the Incarceration of women and girls. Mallory mobilizes a massive volunteer base called Building Up People Not Prisons and facilitates Participatory Defense supporting families impacted by incarceration as they navigate through the court system. Sashi James is the director of reimagining communities for Families for Justice as Healing and The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. She is a daughter of formerly incarcerated parents and because of her experience she understands the trauma endured when a parent  is separated from their child because of incarceration. This experience has inspired her to focus on creating what different looks like within communities as people begin to imagine and implement a world without Jails, Prisons and police, by organizing  directly impacted people to build the infrastructure of Reimagining Communities. Together Mallory Hanora and Sashi James  co- lead a campaign to close the oldest women's prison in the United States and stop a new $50 million women's prison from being built while organizing the Free. Her campaign in the other New Englands states.

Dawn Harrington and Gicola Lane, Nashville, Tennessee

Executive Director and Statewide Organizer, Free Hearts

Dawn Harrington and Gicola Lane are, respectively, executive director and statewide organizer of Free Hearts, which works to solidify and reunite families impacted by incarceration. Dawn Harrington has a bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University and an MBA from Bethel University. During her incarceration, Dawn was disturbed by the impact incarceration has on families, especially moms and kids, and was inspired to make a difference upon her release. Today, Harrington is director of special projects of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, a Just Leadership USA fellow, advisory board member for Nashville Defenders and Unheard Voices Outreach, and executive director of Free Hearts. Gicola Lane (she/her) is a black, Southern community organizer and political strategist from the east side of Nashville. After her uncle was killed by a police officer 20 years ago, she became active in community organizing and in 2018 led the effort to amend the Nashville city charter after the murder of Jocques Clemmons by a police officer. Gicola has co-led Participatory Defense in Nashville, which organizes families and community members who are facing incarceration in order to transform the landscape of power in the courtroom. She was also manager of the Nashville Community Bail Fund. In addition to being the statewide organizer for Free Hearts, she was a 2020 Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project Fellow and is currently a trainer for the National Participatory Defense Movement as well as a Restore Your Vote Advocate for Campaign Legal Center. She is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University.

John J. Lennon, Fallsburg, New York

Contributing Writer, Esquire

John J. Lennon is an acclaimed prison journalist, contributing writer at Esquire, and lead writer for the Prison Letters Project, a project of the Law and Racial Justice Center at Yale Law School and Freedom Reads, which works to connect incarcerated persons to literature. As a journalist writing from behind the wall, Lennon has published major features about gun control, prison reform and rehabilitation, mental illness behind bars, day-to-day life in prison, and the pandemic experience while incarcerated. His 2018 Esquire article, “This Place is Crazy,” was a finalist for the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing and anthologized in Best American Magazine Writing 2019. Later, his essay “The Apology Letter” was one of the three features in the Washington Post Magazine’s special prison issue, which went on to win the 2020 National Magazine Award for a single-topic issue. Lennon entered the prison system with a ninth-grade education. A creative writing workshop in Attica sparked his prolific career in journalism, and his first essay was published in The Atlantic in 2013. Since then, his writing has appeared in the New York Times and the Times magazine, New York Review of Books, Men’s Health, Sports Illustrated, New York, and VICE. His first book, The Tragedy of True Crime, will be published in 2024.

Alex Muhammad and Brandon Sturdivant, Chicago, Illinois and Oakland, California

Co-Founders, Mass Liberation Project

After graduating from the University of Illinois, Alex Muhammad (she/her) began her career in organizing at SOUL in Chicago in partnership with The People’s Lobby. During her time at SOUL, she led a team that registered 10,000 new black voters in southside Chicago. As lead organizer at The People’s Lobby, she led campaigns to turn out voters in state’s attorney and governor’s races. Brandon Sturdivant (he/him) helped build the capacity of East Bay organizations through co-founding the Justice Reinvestment Coalition, which secured half of state realignment funds in support of reducing probation terms and policies that expand opportunities for employment and access for community services for formerly incarcerated people. As co-founders of Mass Liberation Project, an abolitionist organization that works to train, coach, and develop black organizers who are directly impacted by incarceration, Alex and Brandon helped to seed the creation of four new femme-led abolitionist organizations: Mass Lib Arizona, Michigan Liberation, Mass Lib Nevada, and Life After Release (DMV). In addition, working on the principle that transforming systems requires transforming ourselves, Mass Liberation Project has instituted “Return & Reclaim,” taking black formerly incarcerated organizers to Ghana to reclaim their ancestral heritage as an act of generational resistance. 

Maria Mari-Narváez, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Founder and Executive Director, Kilómetro Cero

Maria Mari Narváez, a journalist, writer, and human rights activist, is the founder and executive director of Kilómetro Cero, which develops projects that promote citizen power in the areas of state violence, repression of dissent, and a human rights-based public safety. Mari-Narváez grew up in a household of activists and amidst political turmoil, witnessing state violence against anti-colonial dissidents, including against her own family. Since 2016, she has held a certification as Oversight Practitioner from the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. She was a fellow at the Annenberg Innovation Lab of the University of Southern California and a Soros Justice Fellow at the Open Society Foundations. Mari-Narváez has a master’s degree in investigative journalism and Latin American studies from Florida International University, and has also completed doctoral courses in history and gender studies. She is also a writer and columnist in various media in Puerto Rico and has co-authored four books on criminal justice, politics, and activism.

Nicole Pittman and Seth Stewart, Oakland, California and Los Angeles, California

Executive Director and Deputy Director, Just Beginnings Collaborative

Nicole Pittman is the executive director of Just Beginnings Collaborative (JBC), which works to uncover the root causes of child sexual abuse, resource effective prevention strategies, and advocates against juvenile sex offender registries. Before joining JBC in 2020, Nicole served as vice president and director of the Center on Youth Registration Reform at Impact Justice. Before that, she worked as a juvenile justice policy analyst attorney at the Defender Association of Philadelphia. She was also an attorney at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and a New Orleans public defender. She received a law degree from Tulane Law School and a bachelor’s degree from Duke University. Her 2013 Human Rights Watch report, “Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US,” draws on over 500 interviews documenting the social and emotional toll of subjecting

children to this practice. Seth Stewart joined Just Beginnings Collaborative in 2020 while completing their master’s in counseling psychology. Their prior education in philosophy, politics, and

the arts informs their stance to always try to recognize a person as they are and in context. Stewart’s prior work and scholarship relates to emotions and language, identity development, and labor as a distinctly human and world-making activity. 

Richie Reseda, Los Angeles, California

Founder and CEO, Question Culture LLC

Richie Reseda is a cultural organizer, social entrepreneur, creative director, and music, film, and content producer who was freed from prison in 2018. He co-created and co-hosts the Spotify podcast Abolition X. Reseda produced songs on Defund The Sheriff (The Album) to uplift transformative ballot initiatives in Los Angeles during the 2020 election. During his seven years in prison, Reseda started the independent, abolitionist media collective Question Culture, and released his first EP, Forgotten But Not Gone. He also launched Success Stories, the feminist program for incarcerated men chronicled in the CNN documentary “The Feminist on Cell Block Y,” and Initiate Justice, which organizes people directly impacted by incarceration to change criminal justice laws. One of the laws he worked on, Prop 57, freed him from prison two years early. 

Sonya Shah and Richard Cruz, Oakland, California

Executive Directors, The Ahimsa Collective

Sonya Shah and Richard Cruz are executive directors of The Ahimsa Collective, which provides a restorative justice approach to cases of sexual, intimate partner, and interpersonal violence, centering agency, liberation, dignity, and transformation. The Collective facilitates processes that lead to dialogue between people and also works one-on-one with both survivors and those who have caused harm who are looking to heal and explore accountability. Shah is also an associate professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, a Buddhist, and a first-generation immigrant from India. Cruz has been with the Collective since 2018. He is native American through his mother and is certified as a substance abuse treatment counselor and communications technician.