About Us

Our Mission

I Am Why brings young women and gender expansive activists together with researchers and other partners to increase young activists’ individual and collective power. By celebrating their strengths and sharing their stories and visions for justice, young people lead the way to policies, practices and programs that work.

Our Approach

I Am Why centers young activists in all our work using three approaches:

  • A methodology that is authentic, connecting young activists’ narratives to policy and practice;
  • Communications tools and opportunities that clarify issues, reframe solutions and model shared power; and
  • Movement building through young women’s direct engagement with systems we aim to change.

Our History

In April 2018, eight young women and gender expansive activists gathered for a two-day workshop in New York City to express their strengths and visions for power and justice through photographic portraits and creative writing. The energy, siblinghood and power created through that workshop was a major first step toward achieving I Am Why’s two broad goals:

  1. Building and implementing a model that expands the power and policy reach of young women and gender expansive activists; and
  2. Influencing policy and practice to center self-determination and justice and align with the vision of young activist consultants.

Since 2018, I Am Why has held many workshops across the country and grown into a national collective of young women and gender expansive consultants who host webinars, provide professional mentorship, curate art exhibits, advocate for policy change, and have even published their very own art and social justice book. Our consultants work in teams and are nurtured through I Am Why’s model of nested peer and intergenerational mentorship. Through our eight teams—communications, curatorial, curriculum, marketing/social media, motherhood, planning, racial justice, and research/evaluation—I Am Why develops priorities and implements activities that are authentic and meaningful to young activists, and aim to catalyze a power shift and change policy.

Team Leads & Staff

Lauren Adelman

Co-lead of Curatorial and Curriculum Teams and Motherhood Support Group

Lauren Adelman is an artist and educator based in Beacon, NY. She is a co-founder of Artistic Noise, was the executive director for 16 years and currently serves on the board of directors. She has presented and published on social justice-based art education, as well as on the intersection of art and mass incarceration. Lauren worked as an educator at the Museum of Modern Art from 2006-2013. Lauren is also a licensed New York State Department of Education teacher and has taught art in many varied settings such as public schools, youth detention centers, and non-profit arts organizations both locally and internationally. Lauren’s own artistic practice explores environmental and social issues through printmaking, drawing, animation and other media.

Alondra Aragon

Program Associate and Co-lead of Communications and Social Media Teams

Alondra is a mother, a community organizer, land steward, youth advocate and plant medicine promoter. Born and raised in Ohlone Ramaytush territory, she has dedicated the past decade to working in the environmental and youth justice sectors. She is also the first full-time staff employee with I Am Why. Alondra is passionately rooted in creating healing and thriving regenerative pathways in the community for youth and all our relations by dismantling systems of oppression.

Annie Balck

Co-lead of Communications Team

Annie is an independent consultant with deep expertise in areas of youth legal system reform and girls and young women involved in the youth legal system. Through this work, she helps her clients develop research, strategy and messaging to support their specific reform goals and to create legal systems that are equitable, just and effective. Annie has also worked on a variety of projects related to the child welfare system, special education, and disability rights. As a consultant, Annie has written and contributed to a number of policy papers, reports, research summaries, and grant proposals for clients including The Annie E. Casey Foundation; National Crittenton, the Initiative on Gender Justice and Opportunity at the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality; John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; National Association of Counsel for Children; Justice System Partners; National Juvenile Justice Network; Justice Policy Institute; and Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings. Annie co-authored the seminal 2015 report, Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls with I Am Why founder Fran Sherman. Annie works with I Am Why on issues related to messaging, strategy, research and policy reform. She has a Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law School and a Bachelor of Arts in English from University of Michigan.

La’Nesha Baldwin

Co-lead of Restorative Practice Team

La’Nesha was born and raised in Chicago. She is a social worker focusing on expanding support in the mental health community, but she didn’t stop there. She began her journey of activism as a teen with A Long Walk Home, where her connection with I Am Why came to be. She is versatile in her reach of the communities she supports. She believes that healing begins with what we put into our bodies, with a plan to one day share that love and belief through her own cooking business. La’Nesha is an optimist: She believes there is ALWAYS a possibility and opportunity to make things happen right on time for yourself and others.

Lina To Carter

Co-lead of Planning Team

Lina is from Boston and lives in Worcester, MA. She feels her experiences with I Am Why have been inspirational and empowering, providing opportunities for her to discuss the struggle she had in the system. For Lina, the best part of consulting for I Am Why has been the opportunity to meet and hear from women in other states who have experienced similar struggles. Lina is a mentor and advocate for youth in the juvenile justice system, while also working as a real estate agent.

Mel Harris

Co-lead of Racial Justice Team

Mel was born in Harlem, NY and lives in Charlotte, NC. I Am Why has been an extraordinary experience for her. She has learned about women from different walks of life and, more importantly, learned a lot about herself. As an I Am Why consultant, Mel has watched the organization grow in ways she couldn’t imagine—from it being a discussion to putting together workshops to publishing a book—and she is extremely excited to see where it will go.

Felicia Mosley Smith

Co-lead of Team Lead Working Group and Restorative Practice Team

Felicia is a mother of two, leadership coach and licensed clinical social worker with more than 15 years of experience in the field of youth and young adult justice. Felicia came to I Am Why with deep commitment and passion to uplift young women and mothers affected by child welfare and legal systems. Felicia currently serves as associate executive director for Youth Justice Network, an organization focused on providing opportunities to young adults during and after their time in New York City jails. During her career, she’s held various positions in clinical settings, educational spaces and community-based settings in New York City focused on advocating for young people and families impacted by systems. She is a licensed trainer with the International Institute for Restorative Practices and has previously taught at the Hunter School of Social Work as an adjunct professor. Felicia received her Bachelor of Science from Temple University and MSocial Work from the University of Connecticut.

Francine Sherman

Founder and President

Francine is a Clinical Professor Emerita at Boston College Law School where she taught Juvenile Justice and Children’s Rights and Public Policy for over thirty years and where she founded the Juvenile Rights Advocacy Program. She speaks and writes widely about the youth legal system and, in particular, about girls and young women in the legal system. Francine has spoken before Congress and at the White House; served on a U.S. Department of Justice National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women focusing on children and teens victimized by domestic violence and sexual assault; and as consultant to OJJDP’s National Girls Initiative. Her report, Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls, provides a comprehensive overview of the needs and pathways of girls into and through the youth legal system and details a developmental approach to current youth legal system reforms. She is also the author of Gender, Justice and Youth Development in the Oxford Handbook of Children and the Law, Juvenile Justice: Advancing Research, Policy and Practice (Wiley & Sons), and “Justice for Girls: Are We Making Progress?” (UCLA Law Review). She regularly consults with national and local foundations and systems on issues related to gender and youth legal systems. She consults with the International Legal Foundation, where she has worked in the West Bank and Myanmar.

Francine is a co-founder of Artistic Noise and, as founder of I Am Why, is incredibly excited about I Am Why’s growth and the power of our young women and gender expansive consultants. She is I Am Why’s photographer and provides research and operations support.

Ebony Walcott

Co-lead of Marketing and Curriculum Teams

Ebony is a Brooklyn-born art educator. She is working towards a Bachelor of Arts in business administration. Ebony was the program assistant and community outreach specialist at Artistic Noise in Harlem for nine years and is one of the original developers of the I Am Why curriculum. She has co-facilitated I Am Why workshops in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta and Boston and regularly co-facilitates I Am Why virtual workshops. In addition to serving as co-lead of the marketing team, Ebony is on the curriculum and communications teams. Ebony is an artist, writer and poet.

Aliyah Young

Co-lead of Racial Justice Team

Aliyah is an activist born and raised in Chicago. She is currently an undergraduate at Depaul University. Aliyah is passionate about racial and gender equity work, which has led her to pursue degrees in anthropology, African and Black diaspora, and Latin American and Latino studies.

Board of Directors

Chanelle Elaine

Chanelle Elaine is a Social Impact Producer, working in community with filmmakers, activists and philanthropists committed to cultural and social transformation. Founder of CreativeBionics, Chanelle has produced videos, live and virtual events for the Novo, Ford, Gates and Surdna foundations, Grantmakers for Girls of Color, Black Girls Freedom Fund, Black Feminist Fund, the Women’s March on Washington, President Obama’s Tribal Nations and Generation Indigenous Youth conferences, Women and Justice Project, plus many other organizations committed to equality and diversity.

CreativeBionics’ collaboration in the fall of 2020 with Supermajority, the largest female-led political organization in the nation, was the live production Supercharge 2020. A virtual event focused on energizing the electorate, it was successful in registering over 150,000 voters leading up to the 2020 election. It included special appearances by Vice-President Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Dolores Huerta, Eva Longoria and many, many others. Chanelle’s first feature, First Match, is a Netflix Original and winner of the SXSW Audience and LUNA Gamechanger awards.

Chanelle is also honored to have been a fellow within Sundance, SFFilm, Independent Filmmaker Project, Tribeca All Access, and Film Independent institutions and was a Dean’s Fellow at Columbia University, where she received her Master of Fine Arts.

Kazani Kalani Finao

Kazani, He/Him/Hers, is an abolitionist, feminist and community advocate and organizer. Kazani is a San Francisco native aka (FRISCO) a term that has been reclaimed by Black Indigenous people of color natives of San Francisco. His upbringing was both street and system raised. Kazani was a community baby, a term used where he’s from, meaning it takes a village to raise a child and in his case he created that community for himself.

Kazani led many efforts from advocating while incarcerated to fighting to end youth incarceration and to now ending youth homelessness. He believes that young people have the right to have unlimited access to housing, education and health care. His work is to challenge systemic practices and end theories that have hindered women and Black, Brown, trans and non-binary people from thriving in their communities, and to invest in practices that are not harmful and dehumanizing.

Xochtil Larios

Xochtil Larios is a 22-year-old full-time college student and 2018 recipient of the California Endowment 2018 Youth Award as a Community Champion. She served as the youngest fellow of the Peer-to-Peer Initiative through the Community Justice Network for Youth Program of the Burns Institute in 2018. She is also a vital youth commissioner on the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Commission.

As CURYJ’s youth justice program associate, Ms. Larios brings her own innovative Youth Transformation Curriculum to detained youth offenders, and is a respected researcher and advisor in the Dream Beyond Bars’ justice system transformation recommendations. Ms. Larios is also a consultant for the I Am Why national policy and art project that connects young women’s experiences to research on policy, practice and programs that work. In addition to serving on I Am Why’s board, she is co-lead of the curatorial team and is a valuable member of the curriculum team, helping to design an art-making and writing workshop curriculum that is being used nationwide.

Montana Ross

Montana Ross, she/her, was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. As a womanist and woman of color, her activism began with A Long Walk Home. Subsequently, through a collaboration with I Am Why, she experienced an I Am Why workshop and now works with and on its behalf.

Montana is currently a graduate student pursuing her licensure as a clinical mental health counselor (LCPC). While in school she also co-leads I Am Why’s social media. A foundational core to her identity is being an activist; specifically against rape culture and gender-based violence, and in support of dance, the arts and healthy/safe and enjoyable sexual health. So there’s no surprise that she intends on gaining her Psy. D. and contributing to the counseling field’s theories on adolescent girls of color and sexual health.

K. Shakira Washington, Ph.D., M.P.A.

K. Shakira Washington, Ph.D. is vice president of advocacy and research at National Crittenton. Dr. Washington has combined community organizing, advocacy and behavioral research to address the social, economic and political inequities faced by marginalized communities with a specific focus and interest in communities of color. Her work has included training and engaging youth and community members in participatory action research (PAR), facilitating discussions between communities most impacted by harmful policies and practices and decision makers, and assisting with the design and implementation of research studies focused on issues such as cancer and HIV/AIDS prevention, and impact of adversity during childhood on individual and community outcomes. Her most recent work has focused on program and policy change for girls, young women and gender expansive youth who have been exposed to various forms of adversity and violence and the challenges they face as a result of these experiences, including youth homelessness, school disconnection and pushout, intergenerational poverty, and juvenile justice and child welfare involvement. Her work is focused on engaging youth as leaders of social change that seeks to shift existing narratives that are antithetical to health and healing. Dr. Washington received her bachelor’s degree in urban studies from San Francisco State University, master’s degree in public administration from New York University, Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, and her doctorate in behavioral and community health from the University of Maryland, College Park, School of Public Health.

Partners and Funders

A Long Walk Home
Chicago, IL

Artistic Noise
Harlem, NY 

Cambridge Family & Children’s Service
Cambridge, MA

CURYJ (Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice)
Oakland, CA

GIFT/Roxbury Youth Works
Roxbury, MA

International Association of Defense Counsel

Massachusetts JDAI (Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative)

Roca, Inc.
Boston, MA

Young Women’s Freedom Center
San Francisco, CA

I Am Why is made possible by the generous support of NoVo Foundation, Tides Foundation, Grantmakers for Girls of Color and Public Welfare Foundation.

I Am Why is a fiscally sponsored project of the Peace Development Fund.