Prisoners' Rights, Racial and Environmental Justice Activists Join the RFC Community

We just finished awarding over $190,000 in grants for the first half of 2017. In addition to the four new beneficiaries discussed in my previous blog , three more new families have joined the RFC community this spring. These new grantees include:

  • 13 year-old “Tommy,” whose guardian is the president of a community organization that advocated for racial justice and is especially active against environmental racism. Under her leadership, they are organizing against a landfill in their town which receives up to 15,000 tons of toxic waste every day! The landfill borders a historic black cemetery, which is also the site of a former slave plantation. After filing a civil rights complaint against the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and organizing in the community and online against the landfill, the company approached Tommy’s mom and other lead organizers with a settlement “offer” (which included the demand that they remove their names from the complaint, post a retraction on the organization’s Facebook page, and grant the company that operates the landfill the right to review their emails and text messages). Not surprisingly, they declined the offer, only to be named in a $40 million defamation lawsuit filed by the company. Tommy’s mom has been very critical of the mayor’s response to this and other community issues. Unfortunately, the mayor works at the local public school. Both Tommy and his mom believe she has used her position of authority to punish Tommy for his mother’s activism. Our $1500 grant will allow Tommy to buy a computer and printer to support his education, easing the burden on this family (who also are still struggling with an incident of police brutality against Tommy’s older brother) while they fight the looming lawsuit.
  • Four children, ages 14 to 18, whose mother began organizing for prisoners' rights while incarcerated for giving birth to a stillborn baby. She spoke out against the horrific conditions she and other prisoners experienced. As a result of testifying to the Department of Justice and other agencies about misconduct in the prison (including verbal and physical abuse she observed and an incident in which she walked in on an officer and an inmate having sex), she experienced significant physical and verbal harassment and abusive “pat downs” from prison guards resulting in PTSD. She successfully appealed her conviction; since her release she has spoken publicly about the conditions at the prison and continued to advocate for women still inside.  Her children suffered physical and emotional abuse while in foster care during her incarceration; they were placed with an abusive woman who physically threatened one of the children. Despite losing her foster license soon after these children were placed with her, family services left these siblings in the woman’s care for more than a year! Today, the children are dealing with separation anxiety, fear of police and other officials, snide comments from teachers who know their mom was in prison and the impact of the abuse they experienced during their mom’s incarceration. The family is also struggling financially; they lost their business, home and land after the mom’s arrest and her record makes finding even minimum wage jobs challenging. RFC grants totaling $6000 will allow these kids to participate in sports and other extracurricular programs while they try to heal from the trauma they have experienced.
  • The 12-year-old boy who was adopted by his mother’s cousin, along with his two older siblings, when their mother died of cancer when he was just a baby. His adoptive mom, a retired school teacher, is an active member of their community and a committed organizer with a group working for racial justice and against environmental racism. She first contacted the group for help dealing with sewage overflows which spewed waste onto the family’s property. While working with others in her poor, mostly African American community to address the ongoing sewage crisis, she uncovered widespread corruption, possible fraud and missing town money. As a result, she faced threats, harassment and social isolation from town officials and local residents. She currently drives her son to school more than 30 miles from their home so he doesn’t have to attend the local public school with teachers, staff, and students who have harassed and threatened his family. While he is doing well in school, the travel is a financial and emotional burden on the family and it makes participating in extracurricular programs or spending time with his peers difficult for this young boy. A grant of $1500 for a computer will allow this child to explore his interest in robotics without further straining the family’s budget.

I am proud that the RFC stands with these families as they fight against injustice despite truly harrowing circumstances, and I thank every RFC supporter for making our aid possible.

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I am now 75 years old, but still have the after-effects of childhood harassment and fear of retaliation due to the political/social activism of my parents. There was no support system for us as children such as you now provide for these families. I congratulate you - and all who support you - for the work you are doing in allowing these children to grow and survive the fear.

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