Staff Profile with Campaigns and Advocacy Coordinator, Danielle Dillard
Casey Rocheteau: When did you move here?
Danielle Dillard: Last year, so I’m fairly new. I wanted to move to a place where I could continue the organizing work I was doing while learning and growing within community spaces. I will say that I thought a lot about what it meant to be doing organizing work in Detroit while not being from here so I started working on issues that were similar to some of the work I did before this, like gaining access to reproductive health care and raising minimum wage—issues that are still really important to me. I immediately started trying to learn as much as possible about the city and the people when I moved here. I set up one on ones, went to events, and met some really beautiful people in my first few months of being here.
CR: How did you hear about the Detroit Justice Center?
DD: I had gone to an event at Wayne State and I met Topeka K. Sam, who had spoken about being incarcerated. I was really moved by her story as she reminded me of one of my siblings. Initially, I was thinking my org could partner with her around the work she was doing to get things like sanitary products in prisons and jails. Out of that conversation, Topeka invited me to this meeting at the Detroit Justice Center with people like Natalie Holbrook at American Friends Service Committee and Amanda Alexander, all these people who have been doing this work for years. I couldn’t believe I had found myself at that table. Just from that one meeting I got plugged into all these efforts around Michigan. From there, I kept bumping into Amanda at different meetings, and eventually I was looking for work again. I ran into my friend Rashad from Good Jobs Now at a coffee shop who told me that DJC was hiring so I eventually applied. I got called for an interview, and it felt better than any job interview I’ve ever been on. When I got the call saying I was hired, I was jumping up and down and yelling “I got the job! I got the job!”
CR: What does your job as Campaigns and Advocacy Coordinator involve? What are you excited about working on right now?
DD: I’m really excited about everything I’m working on! Right now, I’m focused on three campaigns: stopping the construction of the proposed Wayne County Jail Complex, ending cash bail, and working on clean slate legislation in Michigan. That work looks like event planning, working with organizers and community members in the city, and engaging folks in conversation around safety and healing. I’m really excited to be working alongside directly impacted folks and folks like myself whose family members and community have been largely impacted by the system. It’s also really inspiring to be doing this work with people who have been fighting for so long. The intergenerational collaboration and knowledge sharing is super powerful. I see the current system of incarceration as a continuation of slavery, and doing this work feels like carrying on and engaging in the work of my ancestors.
CR: What’s one key thing that you want people to take away from your work, or one thing you think is important for them to know about DJC?
DD: I see DJC as having a pretty holistic approach to ending mass incarceration. In our model, we are trying to address immediate needs created by the oppressive criminal legal system, while also building opportunities for communal growth through our economic equity practice. Additionally, we are working for just cities, which has everything to do with imagination and dreaming. Part of my work sits in the dreaming section. It is both beautiful and also really hard. A lot of what we are doing is unlearning what society has taught us about safety and justice, and instead imagining what real safety looks and feels like. Once we have that vision, we get to start thinking about how to make those dreams into realities. I’ll reiterate that the people I get to work alongside while “out in the field” are incredible.
CR: What is one thing that you are looking forward to learning more about in Detroit?
DD: Well one of the things that I’ve learned thus far is how black tradition runs deep in this city, in a way you don’t quite see in other cities and It’s been wonderful being immersed in it. I’m excited to continue learning about these traditions and the history of our people. In that vein, I would love to learn how to do more line dances, like the Detroit hustle. I thought I could hustle before moving here. I was clearly wrong!