From left to right: Christine Lashaw, Rahsaan Thomas, Emily Nonko
Rahsaan Thomas is the Executive Director of Empowerment Avenue, a program he created while incarcerated to meet the pre-entry needs of incarcerated writers and artists, helping them to get their voices in mainstream spaces for prevailing wages. He built the organization based on his experiences as a writer, filmmaker, and social justice advocate. He is most known for co-hosting and co-producing the Pulitzer Prize finalist and 2020 Dupont Award winning podcast, Ear Hustle, as well as appearances in United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell and the documentary What These Walls Won't Hold. Initiate Justice credits Rahsaan with initiating the successful restoration of voting rights for people on parole in California.
Emily Nonko is the Director of Writing for Liberation. She is also a social justice and solutions oriented journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. A visit to San Quentin State Prison in 2018 changed the trajectory of her career and she would go on to work closely with the journalists there to help bring their writing outside prison walls. After co-founding Empowerment Avenue with Rahsaan, she has overseen the outside logistics of Writing for Liberation, is the co-editor of the Press in Prison guidebook, and has advised countless publications and journalists on how to meaningfully work with and transfer power to incarcerated writers.
Christine Lashaw is the Director of Visual Arts for Liberation. She has 20+ years of experience as a senior Experience Developer at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA), where she dedicated herself to connecting people from diverse backgrounds with art, history, natural sciences and critical contemporary topics through open dialogue, storytelling, and hands-on activities. Christine is a nationally recognized creative museum leader known for producing art and cultural exhibitions and programs, shaped by community ideas. She first met Rahsaan “New York” Thomas during a visit to San Quentin’s Prison Art Program, which launched her advocacy work for incarcerated artists. After leaving OMCA in 2021, she reconnected with Rahsaan to support Empowerment Avenue’s pilot art project—Meet Us Quickly: Painting for Justice, exhibition and art sale. The success of that project paved the way for her current role. She has a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design.
Dejon Joy is the Assistant Director. He is an ambitious community organizer with a strong dedication to creating opportunities for cultural learning and increasing policy familiarity among individuals who are most impacted by the carceral system. With a background deeply rooted in social justice, Dejon strives to empower marginalized communities and advocate for their rights. Dejon's exceptional communication skills and empathetic nature enable him to connect with individuals from all walks of life, instilling a sense of empowerment and motivation within the communities he serves. By fostering an environment of collaboration and inclusion, Dejon strives to build lasting relationships and amplify the voices of the marginalized.
Miye Sugino is Empowerment Avenue's Arts Advocacy Coordinator.She is a student at Yale, with a background in art and writing. She is interested in distilling inexpressible topics—memory, displacement, and loss—into an image. Her work has been recognized by the National YoungArts Foundation, U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, and the Japanese American National Museum.