One Day Conference-Criminal Justice Reform: A Jewish Call to Action- Speaker Bios

SPEAKER BIOS

Rabbi Nicole Auerbach joined Central Synagogue full-time in 2016, as the Reform Movement’s first-ever Rabbi for Small Groups.  She now serves as Central’s Director of Congregational Engagement, directing a wide-range of adult programming.  She oversees Central’s “CORE Groups” initiative, which creates and supports lay-led groups of congregants that come together on a regular basis to discuss Jewish ideas, explore shared passions, and build relationships. She also plans trips, retreats, and other special programs geared toward connecting members more deeply with one another, with Central, and with Jewish tradition.  Rabbi Auerbach is the author, with Dr. Ron Wolfson and Rabbi Lydia Medwin, of The Relational Judaism Handbook, which offers a step-by-step guide to building deeper relationships within Jewish communities and institutions.

Piper Anderson is a writer, educator, and cultural organizer who has spent more than 17 years leveraging the tools of art-making and community engagement to create social impact. Her work has taken her to over U.S cities, Mexico, and Rwanda delivering creative responses to racial and gender injustice. In 2015, she founded Create Forward LLC, which delivers creative strategies for social change that activate the collective imagination. In just a short time, Create Forward has amassed an impressed portfolio of national clients and innovative projects with institutions working in the arts, education, and philanthropy.

Chief Chris Burbank is the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships with the Center for Policing Equity. He has been involved with CPE since its inception, utilizing their research capability at the height of the immigration debate, and supporting their efforts throughout the Nation. He is an unwavering advocate of the National Initiative and Justice Database as solutions to waning public trust and confidence in policing. CPE produces analyses identifying and reducing the causes of racial disparities. Chief Burbank was with the Salt Lake City Police Department from 1991 until his retirement in June of 2015. He was appointed to the position of Chief of Police in March 2006, becoming the 45th Chief of the Department. During his nine-year tenure as Chief he distinguished himself as progressive and innovative, influencing not only the City of Salt Lake but also the profession.

Khalil A. Cumberbatch is a nationally recognized formerly incarcerated advocate for criminal justice and immigration policy change. He has worked within the reentry community in NYC since 2010 when he was released after serving almost seven years in the NYS prison system. Since his release, Khalil has worked with various non-profits as a service provider, policy analyst, advisor, board member, collaborator, and consultant. Khalil currently serves as Associate Vice President of Policy at the Fortune Society, a reentry organization whose goal is to build people and not prisons. He is also a lecturer at Columbia University School of Social Work, the nation’s oldest school of social work, with roots extending back to 1898. Khalil has served as Manager of Trainings at JustLeadershipUSA, a national non-profit dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in half by year 2030. He also served as Policy Associate at Legal Action Center, the only non-profit law-and-policy organization in the United States whose sole mission is to fight discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies in these areas.

Jason Flom is the Founder and CEO of Lava Records, Lava Music Publishing, and Lava Media, LLC. Flom previously served as Chairman and CEO at Atlantic Records, Virgin Records, and Capitol Music Group, and he is personally responsible for launching acts such as Katy Perry, Kid Rock, Lorde, and Greta Van Fleet. He is a leading philanthropist and expert on criminal justice issues and an internationally recognized and celebrated public speaker. Flom is the founding board member of the Innocence Project and serves on the boards of numerous criminal justice reform organizations. He is the host of the hit podcast, Wrongful Conviction, now in its seventh season, which features interviews with men and women who have spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit, some even sentenced to death.

Elizabeth Gaynes is President/CEO of the Osborne Association, a NY nonprofit criminal justice organization. During her 35-year tenure, the 85+ year old nonprofit rebounded from a two-person office to one of the country’s largest and most effective organizations seeking to transform the justice system. Osborne serves 12,000 individuals a year in 5 community sites, 30 state prisons and 7 NYC jails, with programs that include family, educational, workforce development and treatment services. In 1986, when her children’s father went to prison, Liz established FamilyWorks, the first comprehensive fatherhood program in a men’s state prison. Liz was recognized as an (Obama) White House Champion of Change for Children of Incarcerated Parents, serves on the NYS Council on Community Reentry and Reintegration, and the NYC Mayor’s Justice Implementation Task Force. She received her BA and JD from Syracuse University, and began her career in the aftermath of the 1971 Attica Rebellion as a criminal defense and prisoners’ rights lawyer.

Erin L. George is the Criminal Justice Campaigns Director at Citizen Action of New York where she advances statewide legislative and policy campaigns to end mass criminalization and incarceration and transform New York’s justice system. Citizen Action’s campaigns build collective power to advance bold policy solutions that achieve structural change, dismantle root drivers of oppression and advance racial equity and justice. Much of Erin’s current work focuses on jail decarceration, overhaul of pretrial laws and practices (bail, discovery) and district attorney accountability. Prior to joining Citizen Action of NY, Erin coordinated the #CLOSErikers and #FREEnewyork campaigns at JustLeadershipUSA, and worked to advance immigrant rights, health justice and environmental justice at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

Vidal Guzman was arrested when he was 16 years old and tried as an adult. At 19, Vidal was again arrested and sentenced to five years at a prison upstate. In 2007, he was released on probation from Rikers Island, New York city’s jail complex. In 2007, he was released on probation from Rikers Island, New York City’s jail complex.” After returning home at age 24, Vidal secured a job with Drive Change working on New York City’s first farm-to-truck social justice food truck. Vidal and his team won the 2015 Vendy Cup for Best Food Truck in NYC. After experiencing poverty and homelessness, surviving gang life, and being incarcerated for 7 years, Vidal knew that the way to fix the broken system was to invest in local neighborhoods and build communities. Vidal now works as a Community Organizer for JustLeadershipUSA working on local issues such as the #CLOSErikers Campaign. Vidal continues to work on not only influencing and empowering his community to make the right choices, but also getting those in power to create more opportunities and fix the broken system so that change is actually possible. He has been featured in press such as Success Magazine , The Guardian, NY1 news, REVOLT.TV Huffpost and NBCnews.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries represents the diverse Eighth Congressional District of New York, an area encompassing large parts of Brooklyn and a section of Queens. Serving his fourth term in the United States Congress, Rep. Jeffries is a member of the House Judiciary Committee and House Budget Committee. In November 2018, his colleagues elected him Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, making him the fifth highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives.  He previously co-chaired the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee where he helped develop the For The People agenda. In the 115th Congress, Rep. Jeffries partnered with Congressman Doug Collins, a conservative Republican from Georgia to pass the FIRST STEP Act (S. 756, Public Law No. 115-391), a strong, bipartisan criminal justice reform bill. The FIRST STEP Act will transform lives by providing access to the mental health counseling, education, vocational services and substance abuse treatment needed to help incarcerated individuals get back on their feet.

Jim Johnson is a Senior Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice where his primary focus is criminal justice reform.  Jim is also Special Counsel to Governor Phil Murphy working on the Atlantic City turn around.  In that role he works directly with the community and law enforcement to advance critical reform initiatives.  For 12 years, he was a litigation partner in Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.  He held senior positions in the United States Department of the Treasury during the Clinton Administration.  As Assistant Secretary and then Under Secretary of the Treasury, he led the Treasury Enforcement Bureaus – Secret Service, Customs and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms – and led initiatives to promote gun safety, protect houses of worship from arson and bomb attacks and to defeat money laundering.

Dana Kaplan is the Deputy Director of Justice Initiatives and Close Rikers at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), where she leads the office’s efforts to close the jails on Rikers Island. Prior to her current role at MOCJ, Ms. Kaplan coordinated the Mayor’s Action Plan (MAP) for Neighborhood Safety, a $210.5 million multi-agency initiative to reduce violence in public housing targeted at the fifteen NYCHA developments that have some of the highest levels of violent crime in the city, and co-chaired the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline.  Previously, Ms. Kaplan was the Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, a New Orleans based non-profit legal and advocacy organization.  The organization’s accomplishments under her leadership include the development of juvenile detention center standards statewide, the revision of the New Orleans school discipline code and policies for school security officers at the Recovery School District, and bringing the state of Louisiana into compliance with the US Supreme Court decision that life without parole for juveniles for non-homicide offenses was unconstitutional.

Kimora has been a Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC since 2004. She has been an elected member of the City University of New York’s (CUNY) University Faculty Senate (UFS) since 2011. She was honored to chair the Student Affairs Committee (SAC) during 2017-2018. She was re-elected to a second term on the Executive Committee (EC) of the CUNY University Faculty Senate this past May, 2019. During the spring of 2019, Professor Kimora initiated the Correctional Educational Academy (CEA) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice to promote research in the field of correctional education and to emphasize the need for more students to pursue a career as a correctional educator in prisons, jails, treatment programs and alternative-to-incarceration programs in the United States. She teaches Corrections courses in the Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration Department (LPS) as well as the Graduate School at John Jay College. She developed the curriculum for COR 397: Corrections and the Media.  She also developed COR 395: Educating behind bars and Policy Implications, the FIRST college correctional education course in the United States. She also teaches two leadership courses that she designed in the Honors Program.

Evie Litwok is the Founder and Executive Director of Witness to Mass Incarceration (WMI). A non-profit organization devoted to raising public awareness of conditions within the nation’s prisons and ending mass incarceration, WMI uses documentation, leadership development, grassroots organizing and advocacy to make impact.  Litwok left prison homeless, jobless, and penniless in 2014.  Despite the lack of resources, she began speaking out about her experiences there and formed WMI in 2015. Besides catalyzing a national conversation about mass incarceration, WMI works to eliminate sexual violence in prisons and guarantee emergency evacuation of incarcerated people during times of disaster. She also created the Suitcase Project, which gives newly released people essential items such as a mobile phone, laptop computer and gift cards to ease reentry.

Daniel Loeb founded Third Point LLC, a leading institutional asset management firm headquartered in New York, in 1995. As Chief Executive Officer, he leads portfolio management and research activities. Daniel’s primary philanthropic interests include criminal justice reform, educational and economic opportunity, human rights, and Jewish and Israel causes. Daniel graduated from Columbia University with an A.B. in economics in 1983, endowed the Daniel S. Loeb Scholarship for undergraduate study, and received the school’s John Jay Award for distinguished professional achievement.

Ruth Messinger had a remarkable 18-year presidency at American Jewish World Service. In July 2016, Ruth took on a new role as AJWS’s first Global Ambassador, continuing her crucial work of engaging global leaders, activists, rabbis and interfaith leaders to speak out on behalf of oppressed and persecuted communities worldwide. Ruth joined AJWS in 1998, following a 20-year career in public service in New York City. As a leading activist for human rights around the globe, she lectures widely and holds leadership roles in the faith-based advocacy arena. She chairs the social justice committee of the State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group and is a member of the World Bank’s Moral Imperative working group on extreme poverty. Ruth has been honored by many national Jewish organizations and has been named for the past decade among the “world’s most influential Jews” and religious leaders by The Forward, The Jerusalem Post and The Huffington Post.

Rabbi Lev Meirowitz Nelson is the Director of Rabbinic Training for T’ruah. Lev was ordained in 2013 from Hebrew College, where he was a Wexner Graduate Fellow. In 2017, Lev was honored by the Covenant Foundation with a Pomegranate Prize, which recognizes early-career Jewish educators. Before attending rabbinical school, Lev taught fifth grade at the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan for three years and worked for many summers at URJ Eisner Camp. He holds an AB in Geology from Brown University and spent a post-baccalaureate semester at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, where conservation and sustainable development are approached in the context of Arab-Israeli peace efforts. Lev, his wife Eliana, and their sons Barzilai Khalil (aka Buzz) and Tav Hadar live in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Kensington.

Justine Olderman is the Executive Director of The Bronx Defenders.  She is a skilled trial lawyer with over 18 years experience representing clients in criminal matters, including complex felony and homicide cases.  Justine is also a sought after lecturer and trainer on trial skills, bail advocacy, legal writing, and the attorney-client relationship. She has taught courses at Fordham and Seton Hall Law School, has been a guest lecturer at NYU School of Law, trained at the Judicial Institute and presented at public defender offices across the country.  She joined BxD in 2000 as a staff attorney. She later became a training team supervisor for new lawyers, a team leader for experienced practitioners, and the Managing Attorney of the Criminal Defense Practice (CDP), a position she held for 7 years. As Managing Attorney of CDP, Justine oversaw the expansion of the criminal practice from 40 lawyers handling 12,500 cases a year to a practice of more than 100 lawyers handling 30,000 cases a year. In 2016, Justine became the Managing Director of the organization, overseeing all of the practice areas as well as the day-to-day operations of the organization. Justine currently sits on the Advisory Board of the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services and the board of the Chief Defenders Association of New York.

Johnny Perez is the Director of the U.S. Prisons Program for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, an interfaith membership organization comprised of 325 religious organizations working to end U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Through his leadership, Mr. Perez coordinates NRCAT’s existing campaign efforts to end the torture of solitary confinement, adding value and strategic insight to building the capacity of faith leaders and directly impacted communities to engage in education and advocacy across the United States. In addition, Johnny works to change unjust policies and practices in the criminal justice system as a member of the NYC Bar Association’s Correction and Reentry Committee and a member of the NY Advisory Committee to The US Civil Rights Commission. He also sits on the Board of Directors at the Juvenile Law Center, a non-profit public interest law firm advocating for the rights, dignity, equity and opportunity for youth in the child welfare and justice systems.

Joe Popcun currently serves as Deputy Commissioner for Policy and Planning at the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.  In this role, he oversees the agency’s strategic and policy initiatives, as well as administration and finance areas.  Specifically, this position is charged with engaging the Division’s 436 employees across twelve offices in the planning, development, and implementation of priority projects and administering an annual budget of $281 million to fulfill the agency’s mission of improving the quality of the criminal justice system. Until May 2019, Joe served as Assistant Secretary for Public Safety and Policy Advisor for Public Safety in the New York State Governor’s Office.  In this role, he provided policy and operations assistance to the Governor and senior staff for the State’s law enforcement, criminal justice, and homeland security agencies with a combined annual budget of over $6 billion and total workforce of 29,000.

Insha Rahman is the director of strategy & new initiatives. As a member of Vera’s leadership team, she helps to incubate new work in the areas of prosecutorial reform, bail, and decarceration, with a focus on developing advocacy-related strategies and accountability. Having practiced as a public defender before coming to Vera, she is a nationally-recognized expert on bail and has developed bail legislation and policies, including recently passed reforms in New York State, and provided technical assistance and training to advocates, judges, defense attorneys, and prosecutors on bail reform, pretrial justice, and reducing jail incarceration. From 2016-2017, Insha served as staff to the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice & Incarceration Reform, a blue-ribbon commission chaired by former Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman of the New York State Court of Appeals that developed a blueprint to close Rikers Island. She has been quoted as an expert on bail in The Nation, City and State, New York Times, NPR, and PBS, among other outlets. Prior to Vera, Insha was a public defender at The Bronx Defenders. She earned her J.D. from the City University of New York School of Law and her B.A. in Africana Studies from Vassar College. She currently serves on the boards of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, and the New York State Appellate Division’s Indigent Defense Organization Oversight Committee.

Topeka K. Sam is the Founder and Executive Director of The Ladies of Hope Ministries (LOHM) and co-founder of HOPE HOUSE NYC. She serves on the board of directors for Grassroots Leadership and is now the first formerly incarcerated person on the board of The Marshall Project. Since her release from Federal Prison in 2015, Topeka has become a Beyond the Bars 2015 Fellow and a 2016 Justice-In-Education Scholar both from Columbia University, a 2017 Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow working on Parole and Probation Accountability Project, a 2018 Unlocked Futures Inaugural Cohort Member, 2018 Opportunity Agenda Communications Institute Fellow, Director of #Dignity Campaign for #cut50, Senior Advisor of New Yorkers United for Justice, Host of “The Topeka K. Sam Show” on SiriusXM UrbanView Channel 126 Sundays 9am est., and has recently signed a development deal as Executive Producer for a scripted and unscripted series inspired by her fight to change the many problems that plague female incarceration with 44 Blue Productions.

Rev. John Vaughn has served as the Executive Vice President at Auburn Theological Seminary for over nine years. Auburn is a national leadership development and research institute that equips leaders of faith and moral courage for multifaith movements for justice. Before joining the staff of Auburn Seminary, Rev. Vaughn served as the Program Director for the Twenty-First Century Foundation based in Harlem, New York, a national foundation that advanced strategic giving for Black community change. He also previously served as the Executive Director of the Peace Development Fund. The Peace Development Fund provides funding, training and assistance for grassroots peace and justice community organizing throughout the United States and select countries internationally.

Michael Waldman is President of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on improving the systems of democracy and justice. Waldman is a constitutional lawyer and writer, and is an expert on the presidency and American democracy. The Brennan Center is a leading national voice on voting rights, money in politics, criminal justice reform and constitutional law. Waldman has led the Center since 2005. He is the author of The Fight to Vote (Simon & Schuster, 2016), a history of the struggle to win voting rights for all citizens. The Washington Post wrote, “Waldman’s important and engaging account demonstrates that over the long term, the power of the democratic ideal prevails — as long as the people so demand.”  The Wall Street Journal called it “an engaging, concise history of American voting practices,” and the Miami Herald described it as “an important history in an election year.” The Fight to Vote was a Washington Post notable nonfiction book for 2016 and a History Book Club Main Selection.

Andre Ward is a workforce development professional who presently serves as the Associate Vice President of Employment and Education Services for The Fortune Society. As Associate Vice President, Mr. Ward has managerial oversight of every aspect of Fortune’s robust employment and educational programs, including implementing a strategic vision that creates synergy and a continuum of services between the two units. Key among his responsibilities are using best practices and evidence-based interventions that improve Fortune’s existing programming. Specific goals include increasing the rate of job placement for Fortune clients, as well as decreasing time to placement, enhancing rates of retention, increasing starting and current salaries, and increasing skills and certification attainment. He will also structure Fortune’s education services to improve literacy and math gains. As a member of Fortune’s Executive team, Mr. Ward also helps steer overall agency operation.

Crystal Walthall the Executive Director of Faith in New York, where she works with community leaders and clergy throughout New York City to develop faith-rooted social justice campaigns and movements that are centered in the needs and leadership of directly impacted communities. As an educator, strategist, and organizer, she has worked on campaigns around immigration, mass incarceration, education, and economic justice for over 10 years. Crystal utilizes her experiences as a proud New York City native as a catalyst for her passion for the empowerment and uplift of Black and Latinx communities, with a specific emphasis on for youth and young adults.

Cheryl  Wills is a veteran anchor for Spectrum News NY1  currently celebrating her 25th anniversary with the national news team. She is the primetime anchor for NY1’s Live at Ten and the host of the public affairs show In Focus with Cheryl Wills. In 2018, Cheryl became the first African-American reporter in NY1’s history to win an Emmy Award. Wills is the author of three books about her great-great-great grandfather Sandy Wills who fought in The Civil War: Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale, an illustrated children’s book The Emancipation of Grandpa Sandy Wills and a YA book Emancipated: My Family’s Fight for Freedom. Cheryl has been invited to do readings of her Emancipation Series to tens of thousands of students across the country. Wills is a graduate of The Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, with a major in Broadcast Journalism. She received an honorary doctorate from New York College of Health Professions in May of 2005. She is a member of the Women’s Forum of New York.