February 22, 2024

Celebrating Our Diverse AFJ Village In Honor Of Black History Month

Avenues for Justice (AFJ) was founded to combat an issue that is rooted in structural racism and oppression; as a result, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is the very fabric of who we are as an organization. Our commitment to DEI is present in all that we do – from staffing to programming to strategy and growth. In hiring, we ensure that candidates we interview and employ, as well as service providers and facilitators, have lived experiences that are similar to our Participants. Being rooted in the neighborhoods we serve, our community centers in Harlem and the Lower East Side are safe spaces for our Participants.

At AFJ, we embrace, amplify and celebrate diversity. Our Board Chair, Alanna Rutherford, is African American, our management team is 100% African American, 83% of our staff team are African American and 61% of our Court-Involved Participants are African American. This week, in honor of Black History Month, we are celebrating our diverse village and highlighting all of their contributions to the impact of our program.


Alanna Rutherford is an experienced legal advisor and strategist. Alanna is currently Head of Commercial Litigation at Apple. Prior to that she was the Vice President of Legal for Global Products & Operations at Visa Inc., where she was in charge of a variety of legal issues related to product development and commercialization for Visa’s core products and value-added services. She was an equity partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, where her primary practice areas were complex civil litigation and antitrust. Not only was she the youngest and first African American equity partner at the firm, but she also played a leading role in a number of successfully concluded trials and litigation matters. Alanna has served as the Board Chair since 2019 and has been a board member since 2010.

"AFJ provides youth with a second chance. Too often society is willing to write off black and brown youth and I am happy to be part of an organization that supports those who made mistakes get back on track." ~Alanna

ELIZABETH FREDERICK, Chief Operating Officer

In 2020, Liz was selected by AFJ’s Board to become Chief Operating Officer (COO) at AFJ. As COO, Liz oversees the agency's financial wellbeing, fundraising and administrative operations, HR, board development, Participant data collection and impact evaluation. In addition to her leadership, Liz works closely with the Board and AFJ’s Executive Director on strategic programmatic expansion. She holds a Master of Arts from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She is also a proud Ithaca College alumna. In 2021, she was selected for Columbia Business School’s Programs in Social Enterprise – Developing Leaders Program For Nonprofit Professionals. In 2022, she was selected to join a team of executive professionals for the Cause Effective Fellows Program: Advancing Leaders of Color in Fundraising. She is a member of Impact 100 NYC. She enjoys traveling with her daughter, having visited 5 continents in the last decade.

“What brings levity to my days are the calls from Co-founder and Executive Director, Angel, and our Court Advocates telling me about a Participant. A Participant who has been accepted into three colleges, or a Participant who had a 50% attendance rate at school, but is now an A student. The real-life stories of how our Participants, when given a second chance, along with tough love from our Court Advocates---can change one poor decision into a positive trajectory – that is what brightens my day!” ~Liz

GAMAL WILLIS, Director of Court Advocacy and Outreach

Gamal's remarkable career is a testament to his commitment to justice and community service. Currently overseeing a demanding caseload, Gamal supervises the Court Advocates, the Activities and Facilities Coordinators and all of AFJ’s HIRE Up facilitators. Gamal manages programs and activities, ensuring the highest quality of service, successful outcomes for AFJ Participants, and strict adherence to court advocacy requirements. His strategic programmatic leadership played a pivotal role, between 2020 and 2023, in deepening services offered to the largest number of Participants in AFJ’s history. Notably, Gamal instituted and expanded AFJ’s Summer Youth Employment Program in 2021 and 2022. A graduate of the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Arts, Gamal honed his skills at the Criminal Justice Training Institute at CASES, where he served before joining AFJ in 2018. Gamal's achievements extend beyond his professional role, as he has been the recipient of numerous awards in the criminal justice field. His expertise lies in Project Management, and he has actively participated in the Robin Hood / Berkeley Executive Coaching Program.

"The generation before me pushed for community upliftment, self-reliance, and the importance of standing up against injustice. These struggles still exist, and I hope to pass on to this generation the resources and structure to advance our plight and Avenues for Justice allows me to have that platform." ~Gamal

JALIL ABDURRAHEEM, Harlem Court Advocate

Prior to onboarding Jalil as a Court Advocate, he facilitated weekly fitness classes at AFJ’s Harlem and Lower East Side centers as a community partner. With more than 15 years of experience in the fitness industry, Jalil helped our Participants achieve and exceed their personal goals for muscle building, toning and conditioning. Jalil is certified as a Boxing Instructor and holds certifications from the American Sports & Fitness Association for Personal Training and Advanced Senior Fitness Instruction. After being incarcerated for over 20 years, Jalil’s background and story resonates with our Participants because he understands the circumstances, peer pressure and obstacles that many of our young people experience in their communities. With the benefit of hindsight, Jalil has lived experience he can share with our Participants on how to avoid making some of the same mistakes that he made as a teenager.

"If I can reach one youth from not traveling down the wrong path like I did, it’s a win for all. I try to invest my time, experience, and passion with these young people because they’re crying out for help.

Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying. Obstacles don’t have to stop you." ~Jalil


Shantel Brooks joined AFJ in 2021 with over 5 years of experience spanning supportive housing, case management at a family shelter. Shantel was a Mental Health Intake Coordinator at Fortune Society and Housing Advocacy Case Manager at University Settlement Society of New York. In addition to working with those impacted by issues of mental health and homelessness, Shantel has worked with returning citizens, helping them reintegrate into their communities. In Spring 2023, Shantel was instrumental in AFJ’s paid internship initiative, partnering with two Black owned businesses, Buy Better Food & Stuart Cinema. After the completion of the first cohort and seeing the invaluable work experience that Participants gained, Shantel helped AFJ partner with 22 small owned business in NYC for the second cohort in Fall 2023. Shantel looks forward to her continued work with our Participants to assist them in securing internships, employment and training opportunities in 2024 and beyond. Shantel holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

"A moment of patience in a moment of anger prevents a thousand moments of regret." ~Ali ibn Abn Talib

SAMANTHA FIKILINI, Program and Activities Coordinator

Samantha joined AFJ in 2021 with 10 years of experience working with high-risk youth, homeless youth and alternative children's education programming. She has worked in program implementation, management and evaluation at multiple NY non-profits including Young Survival Coalition, New York Cares, and iMentor. Samantha provides exceptional programming geared towards the professional and personal growth of AFJ’s Participants. With a focus towards certifications, Samantha has helped increase AFJ’s programming menu to include more OSHA, CPR, and Food Handler workshops. Always looking to shape our Participants wholly, she is on the lookout for more opportunities to help lead our clients to safer and brighter futures. Samantha received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Affairs with a minor in Nonprofit Leadership and Biology from Seattle University and serves on the GOLD Council for her alma mater.

"Over the course of my time here at AFJ as the Program and Activities Coordinator, its been an honor to provide services to our young people. Learning from our participants and their experiences has helped me shape and design more intentional and meaningful programming. There is nothing better than seeing their achievements and success as they navigate their own storytelling of their lives!" ~Samantha

MALEKA LAWRENCE, AFJ Development Consultant

Maleka is the founder of Village Nonprofit Solutions, a consulting firm that supports nonprofit organizations and their leaders with holistic fundraising strategies and systems, diverse leadership development, and ready-to-use resources to support development efforts. For nearly 20 years, she has worked within organizations big and small to create efficient and collaborative systems and positive culture. Her roles have included development and leadership positions at national and community-based organizations, all committed to equity and justice.

"Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.” ~Zora Neale Hurston

BRIAN STANLEY, Harlem Court Advocate

Brian has brought years of experience working with NYC youth to his work at AFJ. Over the last decade, Brian has served as a gang violence mediator, writing tutor, basketball coach, and an after-school art teacher with a focus on hip-hop. He has also run a center for teens that engaged Brooklyn youth in anti-violence work, college and job readiness, and health classes. Brian's unique capability to connect with and understand our Participants has made him an asset to the AFJ team. Brian is the lead facilitator of AFJ'scry Legal Rights & Responsibilities workshop---a weekly series aimed at educating our Participants on their legal rights and responsibilities, criminal law, the criminal and juvenile court process, and collateral consequences.

"America is the first country... that can actually have a bloodless revolution" ~Malcolm X


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