30th Anniversary

Abby Anderson | Yasmine Arrington | Evan Cabnet | Danielle CooperJason Lewis | Nicole Lewis | Jasmin Luciano-King | Kip MarshHernán Carvente Martinez | Hancy Maxis | Charles Moore | Erica Murphy | Diana Oh | Donnell Penny | Hemali Phatnani | Rhonda Ryan | Martha StoneAimee Toner | Aminta WillamsKatie WorthKai Wright

Abby Anderson

Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance

Every day, Abby Anderson is motivated by the brilliant and energized community of people fighting to change the juvenile justice system. As the executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, she has dedicated herself to ending the criminalization of youth, especially children of color. In 2007, Abby successfully led a coalition to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in Connecticut from 15 to 17, removing youths from a system in which they did not belong and pushing for a public discussion of implicit versus explicit bias in the justice system. Since “raise the age” reforms began rolling out in 2010, more than 40,000 16 and 17 year olds have been served in juvenile courts instead of adult courts, saving them from a lifelong adult criminal record. Currently, Abby is working with young adult leaders directly impacted by the justice system to ensure that reform efforts are centered on their experiences and voices.

Yasmine Arrington

ScholarCHIPS

Yasmine Arrington is no stranger to the stigma of having an incarcerated parent. As a high school student with a father in prison, Yasmine knew she needed to find additional financial support outside of her household if she wanted to attend college. With the help of LearnServe International, a program that trains high schoolers to become social entrepreneurs, Yasmine founded a nonprofit called ScholarCHIPS, which provides college scholarships, mentoring and a peer support network to graduating high school seniors who, like her, have a parent in prison. In 2015, Yasmine was awarded a Peace First Prize, which recognized her as a young leader focused on making lasting social change in her community through compassion, courage and collaboration. To date, ScholarCHIPS has awarded more than $100,000 in college scholarships to 51 scholars, an investment that is helping create a future that will break the cycle of poverty and incarceration. Recently, Yasmine graduated from the Howard University School of Divinity with a master of divinity degree, and she incorporates what she’s learned in her training as a preacher into the work she does with ScholarCHIPS.

Evan Cabnet

LCT3 at Lincoln Center Theater

Evan Cabnet grew up surrounded by art. His parents designed jewelry together for more than 40 years, which gave Evan a deep appreciation of the creative process and the hard work that goes into making something. Evan explored his own artistic talents at a young age, performing on stage in school plays, at community centers and at summer camp. Taking a page out of his parents’ book, Evan decided to pursue art as a career, and in 2008 he won the Claire Tow Award for Emerging Artists and was celebrated for his excellence in directing. Now Evan serves as the artistic director of LCT3 at Lincoln Center Theater. He believes that a theater is only as strong as its commitment to the next generation of artists and audiences, and for 15 years he has been championing work by new playwrights. Each season, Evan ensures that LCT3’s programming focuses on as many different artists and voices as possible. By offering inexpensive tickets to groundbreaking work, Evan and his team at LCT3 are encouraging a new generation of theatergoers to experience and engage with the most exciting new artistic voices of our time, presented in the Claire Tow Theater.

Danielle Cooper

Tow Youth Justice Institute at the University of New Haven

Danielle Cooper went to college thinking she would become a chemist. Once she got into the classroom, she realized that science wasn’t her passion, but the act of hypothesizing — asking and answering important questions — stimulated her mind. This interest in critical thinking led her directly to the field of criminology. After graduating, Danielle continued to challenge herself and those around her by confronting existing knowledge and assumptions about our environment and the world. As an assistant professor of criminal justice and the director of research at the Tow Youth Justice Institute at the University of New Haven, Danielle conducts research in the areas of youth and young adults, juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, criminological theory, and sexual offenses. She examines the current state of the juvenile justice system and what can be done to improve it. Danielle also serves as a certified prevention professional, working with nonprofits and community organizations as a prevention trainer and evaluation consultant.

Jason Lewis

Memorial Sloan Kettering Center for Molecular Imaging and Nanotechnology

In 1981, the very first space shuttle was launched by NASA, and a young Jason Lewis was watching. Inspired by this feat of human engineering, Jason knew that when he grew up he wanted to become a scientist. Now, as the chief of Radiochemistry and Imaging Sciences Service and the director of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Center for Molecular Imaging and Nanotechnology, Jason is using his passion for science to fight cancer. His lab is developing novel molecules that can specifically target cancer cells in hopes of finding new therapies to fight the disease. Jason is also a professor at the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Weill-Cornell Medicine, and he finds great joy in seeing his students and fellows work hard and succeed. As an educator, Jason believes in investing in his students. In partnership with the Tow Foundation, he was able to create a program for CUNY Fellows in his lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering to support research on the development of radiopharmaceuticals for the targeted diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Nicole Lewis

The Marshall Project

Nicole Lewis is a community organizer at heart. Several years ago, she wrote a book about her experiences as an organizer, which deeply resonated with readers in a way that she didn’t expect. Her book sparked an important conversation about race and class, and she knew in that moment that she wanted to pursue writing full-time as a journalist. Now Nicole is a Tow Reporting Fellow at The Marshall Project, where she writes about the intersections of technology, education and incarceration. Specifically, she’s exploring how new tech, like virtual reality headsets and tablets, are generating millions in profits from incarcerated users and are transforming the way prisons provide educational content. Nicole is motivated by the impact an investigative piece can have, especially on a platform like The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. The ability to have such an impact and hold institutions accountable for their actions inspires Nicole’s reporting.

Jasmin Luciano-King

Friends of Island Academy

At age 13, Jasmin Luciano-King befriended a woman who was homeless and living in Tompkins Square Park in New York City. As Jasmin learned more about this woman’s story, she empathized with her and developed a passion for helping people struggling with homelessness. In college, Jasmin took a job as a residential advisor for a local youth shelter and was assigned to the female unit. There, she learned about the many things women needed — from psychiatric support to access to feminine products. Later, Jasmin discovered Friends of Island Academy, an organization that works with youth involved in the justice system. Jasmin worked on and off at Rikers Island for six years as a cognitive behavioral facilitator and senior youth advocate and is now coordinator of community advocacy and support services for the Manhattan and Bronx region. At Friends, Jasmin is able to use a unique combination of clinical and holistic therapies to lead high-risk-youth interventions. Recently, she completed her degree in clinical social work, so that she can continue to make changes in the lives of those who need it most.

Kip Marsh

Brooklyn College

Kip Marsh began his career as an art director for television commercials. After seeing one of his commercials in an airport lounge, he realized that his artistic perspective was being rendered down to a split-second video and didn’t communicate his work the way he wanted. Kip wanted to have more space to express his vision, so he decided to push his work into a physical environment and pursue theater-making full time. Kip is now the chair of the Department of Theater at Brooklyn College, where he heads that department’s MFA and BFA programs in stage design and technical theater. Kip believes that theater is the perfect vehicle to advance our ability to better understand one another, and he promotes this belief through his work. In celebration of the opening of the Leonard and Claire Tow Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College, Kip and his team will be presenting a season of plays authored by students of Brooklyn College’s MFA program in playwriting.

Hernán Carvente Martinez

Youth First Initiative

Hernán Carvente Martinez was tired of being one of only a few young people involved in conversations influencing juvenile justice reform. As a formerly incarcerated youth, Hernán knew he had a lot to contribute to the discussion, but he wanted to make sure that the perspectives of other young people were also heard. Now, six years after his release, he serves as the national youth partnership strategist for the Youth First Initiative, an organization that works to end youth incarceration, close youth prisons, and invest in community-based programs, services and opportunities for young people who have encountered the system. In this role, he manages the Youth Leaders Network, providing emerging leaders with training and tools to fight against youth incarceration. Hernán has served on state-appointed boards, including the New York State Juvenile Justice Advisory Group and the Citizens Policy and Complaint Review Council. Through these appointments, he participated in the development and implementation of New York’s federal juvenile justice plan and helped ensure that local correctional facilities were fair and humane. Seeing other young leaders come out of the struggle and find their voice or purpose motivates and empowers Hernán to continue to work hard every day.

Hancy Maxis

Bard Prison Initiative

When Hancy Maxis turned 18, his life took two unexpected turns: His mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and he went to prison for 17 years. As his mother’s medical bills piled up, Hancy started to see the gross inequities that exist in our health care system. While incarcerated, he decided to focus on making positive changes, and when he learned about the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) college program, he hoped that that was where he could find success. After applying twice, Hancy was accepted to the program, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Eastern NY Correctional Facility. Then, inspired by his mother’s journey with cancer, he obtained a specialization in public health at Woodbourne Correctional Facility. Bard offered Hancy many things he had never experienced before: mentorship from professors who challenged him, a community of fellow students who championed him, and an environment in which everyone expected the best he had to offer. Now, back in New York City, Hancy is pursuing a master of health administration in health policy and management from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. He has also embarked on a BPI/Tow Fellowship in Public Health, and he is translating his rigorous education into real-world applications through his work at Harlem Children's Zone.

Charles Moore

Rehabilitation Through the Arts

When Charles Moore walked into prison, he promised himself he would be a better person when he walked out. While incarcerated, Charles became an active member of Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA), an organization that uses the transformative power of the arts to help incarcerated people develop the social and cognitive skills they’ll need for successful reintegration into the community. He participated in theater and writing workshops, worked behind the scenes in RTA’s theatrical productions, and led his peers as a member of RTA’s prisoner steering committee. After joining RTA, Charles slowly regained the self-esteem he had lost when he was first incarcerated. While at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, he dedicated himself to earning a GED, a bachelor’s degree in human services from Mercy College and a master’s in professional studies from New York Theological Seminary. The staff at RTA recognized Charles’s extraordinary talent and hired him soon after his release. He is now a valued part of the organization, returning to prison as a free man to work with RTA groups in five facilities and serving as a role model to other formerly incarcerated people.

Erica Murphy

CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Erica Murphy is a disruptor. She feels a strong responsibility to disrupt and reform unjust systems, which is why she is currently focused on improving the criminal justice system. As a Tow Policy Advocacy Fellow at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, she serves as a youth justice clinician for Bronx Community Solutions, a project of the Center for Court Innovation. There she oversees the Adolescent Diversion Program, which provides counseling sessions, facilitated group conversations and partnerships with community-based service providers. This real-world experience enhances Erica’s academic learning and allows her to become part of a more thoughtful and dynamic generation of policy advocates and social justice leaders. Previously, Erica was a life coach for Harlem Justice Corps, where she served young people ages 18 to 24 who had been impacted by the criminal justice system and were working toward future employment and education goals. She was also recognized by the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI for her participation in research on violent behavior.

Diana Oh

Rattlestick Theater

Diana Oh’s father named his three children after their destinies. Her/their Korean name, Yea Bin, means “artistic light,” and she’s/they’ve spent her/their professional career embodying that name. Diana is a multihyphenate who works simultaneously as an actor, singer, songwriter, performance-maker, nightlife-event-thrower and performance artist. Most notably, she/they are the creator of {my lingerie play}, a series of radical performance installations in public spaces that culminate with rock concerts staged in an effort to provide a safer, more courageous world for women, queer, trans and nonbinary humans to live in. In 2017, Diana was a Tow Playwright-in-Residence at Rattlestick Theater and through that program was able to gain valuable experience and insight into all aspects of the nonprofit theater world. As an artist, Diana works passionately to undim the shine of marginalized voices.

Donnell Penny

Common Justice

Donnell Penny believes that, as a society, we can safely address violence in communities without relying on the prison system. In March 2014, Donnell joined Common Justice, the first alternative-to-incarceration and victim service program in the United States that focuses exclusively on violent felonies in the adult courts. Through the program, he was able to understand his own trauma, deepen his empathy toward those he had hurt, and focus on making a positive change. As a graduate of Common Justice, Donnell served as an assistant coordinator for the program and soon expanded his work to lead groups for MOVE (Men Opposing Violence Everywhere). Now he works full time for the organization as an intervention manager and is committed to restorative justice, violence intervention, and advancing the well-being of his peers and his community.

Hemali Phatnani

Center for Genomics of Neurodegenerative Disease at the New York Genome Center

As the daughter of a forensic pathologist and a clinical psychologist, Hemali Phatnani grew up in a very analytical home. She was constantly encouraged by her parents to be curious and to figure out how and why systems worked, which meant her days were often filled with solving puzzles and reading detective stories. Hemali’s continued love of systems led her to pursue a career in biology, and she is now the director at the Center for Genomics of Neurodegenerative Disease at the New York Genome Center. While studying genomics, Hemali met a patient who was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and she was deeply moved by how he never lost his spirit or the will to help other patients even when he was facing his own challenges. This strength inspired Hemali to refocus her research and shift from solving abstract problems to tackling research that is more tangible. Now she is uncovering how changes in DNA cause ALS, which she hopes can help inform possible therapies for the disease. Hemali also facilitates the ALS Consortium, which brings together key players in the medical field to combat ALS, including Columbia University Motor Neuron Center, where Hemali also has an academic appointment.

Rhonda Ryan

Friends of Karen

For five years, Rhonda Ryan was employed as a social worker at a for-profit nursing home facility. Though the work was well-intentioned, she felt inhibited by the red tape and bureaucracy of a large institution. Searching for a place where she could have a more direct impact on the people she served, Rhonda found Friends of Karen, an organization that provides emotional, financial and advocacy support for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Working with families and children for the past 30 years, along with her strong social work education, has given Rhonda the skills needed to provide guidance and tools that help parents talk to their children about difficult topics such as cancer treatment, pain, death and dying. She assesses and provides appropriate interventions to assure that families are able to remain financially stable and be with their ill child throughout treatment. Recently, Rhonda created the Sibling Support Program, where art therapists and life specialists collaborate to address the unique needs of siblings living in a home with a sick brother or sister. Her next endeavor is to spearhead a peer support group for ill young adults between the ages of 16 and 21, as she has learned that this age group uniquely struggles with isolation and a lack of socialization throughout treatment.

Martha Stone

Center for Children’s Advocacy

As a civil rights attorney, Martha Stone saw the youth in Connecticut’s poorest cities facing debilitating inequality. Knowing that Connecticut has the highest per capita income in the U.S., Martha was determined to do right by those who were suffering. In 1997, she founded the Center for Children’s Advocacy (CCA) with just $2,000 and a vision for a legal office that could give children living in poverty the resources and support they needed to succeed. Twenty-one years later, under Martha’s supervision, CCA has offices in Connecticut’s largest and poorest cities, where attorneys address issues of access to academic support, medical and mental health care, youth homelessness, child abuse and juvenile justice prevention. Martha has filed class action lawsuits that have led to new community-based mental health services for children in the juvenile justice system and consent decrees pushing the reform of child welfare services. In 2001, along with three other organizations, Martha and CCA founded the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, which has offered an additional platform for Martha to successfully fight for justice reform.

Aimee Toner

Barnard College

When Aimee Toner mastered playing the flute in high school, she knew she wanted to pass on the gift of music to other kids but had no idea where to start. Luckily, an attentive band instructor overheard Aimee expressing her desire to teach and chimed in, helping her strategize how to find prospective flute students that very day. Now, as a Tow public service intern at Barnard College — where she is studying ethnomusicology and economics — Aimee is channeling the same kindness her band instructor showed her. She teaches at the nonprofit Harmony Program in New York City helping students in underserved communities learn how to play musical instruments, rounding out their educational experience and closing the opportunity gap. Aimee’s experience as a musician and educator has inspired and shaped her life. In addition to her work with Harmony Program, she plays in the New York Youth Symphony and Columbia University Orchestra.

Aminta Williams

Youth Represent

At the age of 16, Aminta Williams was arrested and convicted of a felony. Despite her age, she was tried as an adult and struggled to find success after reentry due to her criminal record. Luckily, she found Youth Represent, a nonprofit whose mission is to ensure that young people in New York City who are affected by the criminal justice system are afforded every opportunity to reclaim lives of dignity, self-fulfillment and engagement in their communities. With their help, Aminta was able to overcome legal barriers, securing a job with the New York City Payroll Department and successfully challenging a denial of Section 8 housing. Currently, Youth Represent is the only legal services agency in New York City dedicated solely to justice-involved youth. They combine first-rate legal representation with youth development principles to meet the unique needs of young people who have become ensnared in the criminal justice system. Inspired by this cause and the support she received, Aminta joined Youth Represent staff in a campaign to raise the age of adult prosecution in New York from 16 to 18. Aminta is now a program coordinator at Rikers Island working with the Youth Reentry Network at Friends of Island Academy, where she helps people who were recently released from prison achieve their education and employment goals.

Katie Worth

FRONTLINE

Katie Worth entered college as a chemistry major on a pre-med track, thinking she would become a neuroscientist. On a whim, she enrolled in a journalism class to fulfill general education credits, and there she met the gruff and enthusiastic professor who would prophetically deem her to be a journalist before she knew it to be true herself. Years later, Katie is not in the lab but instead in the field, working as an investigative reporter on FRONTLINE’s digital team. She believes that reporting is a crucial public service that exposes abuses of power and spurs reform. This belief has driven her to dig into stories that need to be told, whether she’s uncovering the systemic inequality underpinning Zika’s explosion in northwest Brazil, producing an interactive film in partnership with The GroundTruth Project about how children whose homeland is vulnerable to climate change think about their future, or exposing how DNA forensics is not the infallible science many believe it to be. In 2015, Katie was awarded the FRONTLINE/Columbia Journalism School Fellowship for her excellence in reporting, which has enabled her to continue to shine a light on the truth. Katie feels lucky that her job gives her an excuse to inquire into the lives of strangers, question authority, pursue her curiosity, and learn new things every day.

Kai Wright

WNYC’s Narrative Unit

Kai Wright grew up in a family full of people who had a lot to say. His grandmother Bernice would sit in the front room of her home, which doubled as a community center, and engage those who visited in conversation and debate. Kai, now a writer and editor, uses the curiosity those discussions sparked in him when he was young to honor his grandmother’s legacy by asking questions and interrogating power. Currently, he is the host and editorial director of WNYC’s Narrative Unit and a columnist for The Nation, where he creates content that reveals the systems and structures that shape inequality. He is also the host of several WNYC Studios podcasts, including There Goes the Neighborhood, The United States of Anxiety, and Caught, which focuses on the juvenile justice system.