Meet Our Team
Allison R. Brown
In loving memory of our fearless leader, our North Star.
I am the Executive Director of the Communities for Just Schools Fund (CJSF). CJSF brings strategic vision and fruitful collaboration to a field that is focused on school discipline reform and creation of healthy school climates. A nationally-focused donor collaborative, we leverage resources in support of community-led organizations that are forcing the elimination of barriers to educational opportunity for historically under-served students and ensuring positive and supportive school climates that affirm and foster the success of all students. Learn more about our work in these public pieces: USA Today (2018), Education Week (2018), Medium (2017), Memphis Music Initiative (2017), Nonprofit Quarterly (2017), Education Week (2016).
Previously, I worked as a program officer at the Open Society Foundations and as a trial attorney for the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division. At DOJ, I initiated, developed, and led the Civil Rights Division’s efforts to combat the school-to-prison pipeline, which closes off opportunities for academic and lifelong success for far too many students of color. For my work at DOJ, I received the Attorney General’s Meritorious Award, Special Achievement Award, and Special Commendation Award. I also was recognized by the National Bar Association and IMPACT as a member of the 2012 Nation’s Best Advocates: Top 40 Lawyers Under 40.
I am the founder of Allison Brown Consulting (ABC), a service organization that worked with schools, students, and families to bring about improved academic outcomes through equitable school climates where all students thrive. I have worked as a litigation associate at the law firm of Crowell & Moring LLP in Washington, D.C. After law school, I clerked for Justice Theodore R. Boehm of the Indiana Supreme Court and for Judge David F. Hamilton of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana (now of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit). I am a summa cum laude graduate of Howard University and a graduate of Harvard Law School, where I was an articles editor for the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.
I am a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of the Center for Policy Analysis and Research, the Board for The Beautiful Project, and the National Advisory for EmbraceRace. I am admitted to the United States Supreme Court Bar, the Maryland State Bar, and the Bar of the District of Columbia. I live in Washington, D.C., with my husband and two children.
I still have in me that shy little girl from Indiana who would never let her mother get too far from her. Who grew up in the unspoken richness and traditions of African American community. Whose instincts were her ancestors, her great grands, ordering her steps. Who has seen success because her family told her to, and expected nothing less. All of that informs how I move about the world and how I find myself now leading the Communities for Just Schools Fund and this phenomenal team of people.
Jaime T. Koppel
Jaime T. Koppel is the Co-Director of the Communities for Just Schools Fund. A self-identified policy wonk, Jaime is also a steadfast believer in the fundamental importance of centering community organizers’ expertise as we journey towards education justice and the schools our children deserve. Before CJSF, Jaime was a Senior Fellow at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), where she worked across federal agencies and with external partners towards eliminating punitive school discipline and increasing positive school climate. Prior to her time at the DOJ, Jaime served as the Director of Youth & Education Justice at the Children's Defense Fund - New York (CDF-NY), working with community organizers and advocates on efforts most aptly summed up as “seeking to decriminalize childhood” for youth of color. Jaime also served as Chief of Staff for the Executive Deputy Commissioner of New York City's Administration for Children's Services, an experience that cemented her belief in the importance of empowering families to imagine and create their own solutions. While living in Honduras from 2001 - 2003, Jaime founded Bilingual Education for Central America (BECA), a nonprofit working directly with financially disadvantaged families in Honduras to provide high-quality bilingual education. Jaime now serves as BECA’s Board Chair.
Jaime has a B.A. from Hamilton College and a Master of Public Administration from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) from which she was awarded the Harvey Picker Prize for Public Service.
She and her husband have two energetic school-aged boys, an anxious dog, and a wily cat. They will never have a fish. Jaime does this work because all children deserve to be seen, to be safe, and to be loved by school staff and curriculum that reflect them, their history, and their brilliant potential.
Alexis J. Smith
Alexis J. Smith is the Operations Manager for the Communities for Just Schools Fund. She is the best one to contact for communications, vendor contracts, human resources and IT/website functions, CJSF event logistics, and if ever you’re not sure who to call on the team. Prior to her employment with CJSF, Alexis successfully launched and operated a consulting practice providing similar services to small businesses and national non-profit organizations for more than a decade. Born in Washington DC, she grew up in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, Maryland before attending Temple University (PA) and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. She is married to a devoted Educator and Coach, lives in Baltimore County (MD) and holds her role as mother (“head nurturer”) of three wonderful and brilliant black girls as her strongest purpose and contribution to community.
Dr. Cierra Kaler-Jones
Director of Storytelling
Dr. Cierra Kaler-Jones, Ph.D. (she/her) is the Director of Storytelling for Communities for Just Schools Fund. Cierra previously served as an intern and then fellow with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. She was also the previous Education Anew Fellow with Teaching for Change and Communities for Just Schools Fund.
Cierra’s research broadly focuses on how to create and sustain educational spaces rooted in joy and love, while refuting control and management tactics in schools that deny young people opportunities for creativity and critical consciousness-building. Her dissertation explored how Black girls use arts-based practices (e.g. movement, music, and hair) as mechanisms for identity construction and resistance. As a researcher, Cierra's work can be found in peer-reviewed journals, such as the Middle School Journal, and on online outlets, such as Education Post and EBONY.
Over the past ten years, Cierra has learned alongside preschoolers, K-12 students, college students, and adults. With her roots in dance and arts education, Cierra has also taught classes on U.S. history, public policy, and social change & leadership. After dancing professionally for a few years, she became the Assistant Director of a youth dance company.
In addition to being a dance educator, she is also a 200-hr trained yoga instructor and meditation guide. Her heart’s work includes facilitating a program that uses art and political education to fuel social change through the co-creation of healing-centered spaces for and with Black girls and TGNC (transgender, non-conforming) young people.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Cierra attended Rutgers University - Douglass Residential College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work, with minors in women’s & gender studies and race & ethnic studies. She received her master’s degree in education and human development (with a concentration in curriculum and instruction) from The George Washington University. She earned a Ph.D. in education from the University of Maryland - College Park. Her experiences teaching, running community-based art programs, influencing policy, and conducting research all shape her commitment to education justice.
Director of Movement Partnerships
Marianna Islam (she/they) is a spiritual abolitionist, caretaker, circle keeper and poet who works at the intersection of philanthropy and grassroots movements for social change. Marianna brings over two decades of experience in the philanthropic sector as a strategist, a racial justice organizer, and a youth worker with proven experience expanding solidarity efforts. Marianna's love and purpose grows from a practice of embodiment and deep remembering and her medicine is interacting with the essence of what wants to be known. Facilitating learning communities and anchoring integrated spaces for transformative change, community healing, and personal and collective power building has been a long-standing thread in Marianna’s work.
Marianna joins Communities for Just Schools Fund (CJSF) as its inaugural Director of Movement Partnerships. Marianna will lead CJSF’s grantmaking and network development strategy and will take primary responsibility for building and nurturing healthy partnerships with community partners.
Prior to joining CJSF, Marianna served as the Director of Programs and Advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education, Associate Project Director of the Robert Wood Johnson Roadmaps to Health National Grants Program at Community Catalyst and Vice President of Community Impact at United Way of Central Massachusetts. Marianna raises her two children in central Massachusetts on Nipmuc and Black liberator lands where she remains active, helping to support and be guided by the next generation of leaders.
Jose De Jesus Santacruz
Jose (they/them) comes from an organizing background, firmly rooted in the belief that philanthropy must center and take direction from the most directly impacted Black and brown communities. They are currently based on Unceded Ohlone Land, also known as oakland, california, and have worked to mobilize resources through their work with multiple nonprofits in Oakland and most recently with Borealis Philanthropy, a philanthropic intermediary, with the Spark Justice Fund and Communities Transforming Policing Fund, working to center formerly incarcerated and directly impacted folks in resourcing long-term visions of community safety across the country that do not rely on policing or incarceration, but rather on fruitful systems with plentiful resources and opportunities. They helped dream up and actualize the Communities Transforming Policing Fund's first Participatory Grantmaking process and look forward to building more innovative community-centric systems focusing on care and rest. They enjoy a great cup of coffee and reveling in the beauty of nature during their free time.
Education Anew Fellow - CJSF & Teaching for Change
Kimberly Ellis is the Education Anew Fellow with Communities for Just Schools Fund and Teaching for Change. As a former special education teacher, Kimberly has had a longstanding passion for ensuring equitable and enriching educational experiences. She believes in crafting joyful education spaces that affirm all aspects of students' identities. She has an undergraduate degree in Sociology & African American Studies from Harvard University and recently completed a Master of Public Policy in Education Policy from Vanderbilt University. Kimberly looks forward to contributing knowledge gained from her experiences thus far into this new role while continuing to learn and grow with others.
Director of Liberatory Learning & Capacity Building
Briana Perry is a Black Southern feminist from Memphis, TN. She graduated from Vanderbilt University with her B.A. in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies in 2013. While an undergraduate, Briana developed a passion for Black feminism and community organizing, with a focus on reproductive justice. Before obtaining her master’s degree, Briana taught English, science, and social studies for two years. While teaching, she was also involved in local organizing efforts around reproductive health, sexual assault awareness, and racial justice. She went on to co-found the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter. In 2015, Briana returned to Nashville as a graduate student at Peabody College and completed her Master of Education in Learning, Diversity, and Urban Studies in 2016. She continued organizing around gender equity and racial justice issues, and she worked closely with the Nashville Feminist Collective and the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center at Vanderbilt. Briana is currently an advisory committee member with the National Bailout Collective, the group that supports the Black Mama's Bailout, and a coordinating committee member with the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter. She is also a trained birth doula, community mediator, and Circle keeper. Her interests include decolonial Black feminism, transformative justice, and reproductive justice. She enjoys writing about the intersection of these issues and the need to center them in our organizing. Briana also enjoys traveling, being a beginner gardener, and playing with her dog, Zora.
Georgetown Policy Resident
Erika Roberson is the Georgetown Policy Resident for Communities for Just Schools Fund. Erika previously worked in state government roles at the Louisiana Department of Education as well as the Department of Health and Human Services in her home state, North Carolina. She has a passion for serving rural communities and ensuring that historically marginalized populations have access to quality resources. Her interest in Education Policy stems from her lived experience as a product of Title I public schools. She received a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Political Science from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently a Graduate student at Georgetown University studying Educational Transformation with a concentration in Advocacy and Policy.