Equal Voice Q&A: Rose Berry, EVA Community Organizing Manager

EVA Community Organizing Manager Rose Berry (second from left) connects with members at a PVD + EVA member meeting in May 2019

Rose Berry is an Afro-Latinx femme organizer who committed to social justice at an early age and has focused her work on racial and economic equity, and women’s and migrants’ rights. 

As EVA’s Community Organizing Manager, she leads Equal Voice Action’s community outreach and partnership work, including the coordination of EVA’s partnership programs with Equal Voice allies in South Texas and Louisiana.

We sat down with Rose to learn more about her deep roots in organizing, her work with EVA’s grassroots partners, her own priorities for policy change, and more.

You started organizing at age 16. How did you first get into organizing?

Growing up in poor, Black and Brown neighborhoods instilled a deep-rooted understanding of social injustice and inequity from a young age. Hence, I was politicized at a young age. My older sister was always suggesting books, movies, and documentaries that introduced me to social concepts, ideologies, issues, and ways of understanding the world around me. 

When I was 16, my sister and a friend of hers co-founded a young women’s theater organization called Reflect and Strengthen (R&S). The purpose of the group at the time was to create a safe space for young, working-class women from the city of Boston to heal from trauma and use art as a means toward healing and social justice. 

I became one of the founding members of R&S, where I continued my social justice journey and the expansion of my politicization. And at 19, I became one of the co-leads of the organization. For the next 8 years, R&S evolved and we began organizing around issues impacting the lives of poor and working-class young women, including poverty, juvenile justice, and transformative justice. 

I like to say I grew up in R&S – because I did. I learned a lot about myself and the woman I was meant to be in the world through my first political home. It shaped so much of my current identity and politics.

What inspired you to join the Equal Voice Action team?

The opportunity to support and work in partnership with grassroots organizations. Coming from grassroots organizing for over a decade, I know firsthand the hardships that come along with doing important and necessary work in our communities. I am honored to support the work of organizations that are so instrumental in fighting for the world that we all deserve. 

You’ve spent much of 2019 collaborating with partners and shared members through EVA’s partnership with Proyecto Vida Digna (PVD) in South Texas. What are you seeing in RGV communities? Are there any key takeaways or moments that stand out to you so far?

So far, my favorite moments while working with PVD have been hearing about the deep impact that the PVD + EVA project is having in the community. PVD has been able to pinpoint some of the most crucial services necessary to sustaining their community and delivering them with integrity. Hearing directly from PVD + EVA members about the citizenship classes providing a pathway toward passing the citizenship exam and using PVD + EVA member ID as valid identification for opening bank accounts, registering vehicles, and accessing additional services has been inspiring. 

While the PVD partnership continues, you’re also working to launch a new pilot project with an Equal Voice Network ally in New Orleans. Can you tell us about this next project?

Next we’ll be partnering with Ubuntu Village, an established organization in New Orleans. I have known Mr. Ernest Johnson, Ubuntu’s Executive Director, since I was a young person doing organizing work in Boston. It’s humbling to have our work cross paths again in this way. 

“The Village Project” will focus on base building; outreach; providing education, training, and support to court-involved families; leadership development; and organizing to change the systems that cause harm in our communities. 

As someone who has been directly impacted by the criminalization of poor communities and who also spent a decade doing juvenile justice reform work, this project really hits home for me. I truly believe that this work is imperative and coming together at such a crucial time, when poor communities are being targeted; we need to pool our resources and support each other to make sure that poor families have what they need to thrive.

In your work with EVA community partners, what do you find motivates you the most? 

Truly believing that when we band together, we are unstoppable. 

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I am most proud of creating, building, working with, and supporting grassroots organizing work and the ripple effect that it has on the world. The longer I do justice work, the more I bear witness to and experience firsthand the fruit of seeds planted years ago. What might seem like a small feat in the moment is actually creating opportunities for progress – small and large victories that will come to fruition in the future. 

For example, while organizing at Reflect and Strengthen, it felt like our impact was tiny, compared to the major systems that we were up against, but we were cultivating leaders who are now out in the world making change happen. Many of the reforms we pushed in the juvenile justice system in Massachusetts have evolved to create safer communities for young people to grow up in. To know that I contributed to those efforts makes me proud. 

As we push for ways for more families and communities to have the opportunity to thrive, is there an issue that you’d like to see get more attention by political leaders and policy makers?

There continues to be a blatant avoidance by political leaders and policymakers to explicitly address the role of Black reparations as a pathway toward true equity. Without authentic discourse and the policy shifts to follow, most other economic reforms are a bandage to the actual root causes of socio-economic disenfranchisement. 

How about a message or voice that needs to be lifted up for more people to hear?

We hear a lot from advocates, many of whom have not experienced firsthand the direct impacts of marginalization at the intersections they are advocating on behalf of. We need to hear more from the people most impacted by the issue at hand. Hashtags have assisted in these efforts, though it still tends to be the people with the greatest access to resources whose voices get heard the most. We need to do more work to create avenues for communities at the margins of the margins to advocate for themselves. 

As we approach Election 2020, we’re seeing lots of bold policy proposals from progressive leaders, candidates, and advocates. What’s at the top of your wish list for policy ideas that could bring about deep-seated change for families and communities of color? 

My wish list is:

  • A plan for Black reparations
  • A plan to relieve the $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S.
  • Immigration reform that de-criminalizes migrant people, especially undocumented people, and creates avenues toward citizenship, asylum, and long-term legal residency without fear of targeting, attack, detention, and deportation
  • Plans for access to reproductive health for all people, regardless of gender, sexuality, class, race, migration status, or abilities 

What is the most important thing you’ve learned through your work?

I’ve learned that lasting, sustainable change takes time. Living in a society preoccupied with instant gratification is a difficult environment to organize in. The reality is that change takes time to strategize about, to fight for, to implement, and then to nurture and sustain. I’ve learned to be grateful for the small victories because they’re indicators that bigger, greater change is in the works.

When you’re not busy organizing, where can people find you?

People can find me with my fiance, taking road trips, sightseeing in the city or trying out a new restaurant. You can find me with family, cooking, having a good meal, and reminiscing together. You can find me listening to true crime podcasts, listening to good music, reading something by Toni Morrison or Octavia Butler, or somewhere in the world soaking up the sun and lots of laughter with my friends.

What future work or goals are you passionate about?

I am passionate about getting married in 2020 and starting a new chapter in my personal life! I am excited for EVA finding new and bigger ways of supporting community work, including our digital organizing strategy!

I am passionate about getting a different candidate in office, one who is committed to making the country (and the world) a safer place for all of us.

I am passionate about continuing to fight for what I believe in, in every space and place I am in. 

Learn more about Rose here, and visit our Programs page for updates on EVA’s grassroots partnerships.

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