MacArthur Fellow Lateefah Simon is part of a new wave of African American civil rights and community leaders. Born and raised in San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood, Lateefah has advocated tirelessly on behalf of communities of color, youth and women since her teenage years.
At age 15, Simon joined the Center for Young Women’s Development (CYWD), first as a volunteer and then as a staff member, working to provide homeless, low-income and incarcerated young women with the tools they needed to transform and rebuild their lives. At 19, Simon was appointed Executive Director of CYWD, becoming one of the youngest leaders of a social service agency in the country.
During her 11-year tenure, CYWD grew into an organization with a $1.2 million budget, serving approximately 3,500 women per year and hiring more than 250 women. CYWD also worked toimpact public policy at the state and local levels, expanding its violence prevention work to include rights education for California juvenile offenders and advocating for firearm policy reform in San Francisco. Simon soon became a nationally recognized advocate for juvenile and criminal justice reform, and also focused her organizing efforts around poverty, reproductive and immigrant rights and GLBT issues.
In 2005, she was hired by San Francisco District Attorney Kamala D. Harris to lead the Office’s Reentry Services division, a new initiative that created a citywide public/private partnership with numerous agencies and implemented new ways to prevent former offenders from returning to a life of crime. Simon helped launch and oversaw successful programs such as Changing the Odds and Back on Track, which combine close supervision for offenders with educational and employment opportunities. Now a national model for similar programs in local prosecutors’ offices, Back on Track has reduced the recidivism rate for the population it serves to less than 10 percent.
In addition to the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, Simon has received numerous awards, including the Jefferson Award for extraordinary public service in 2007. She was named “California Woman of the Year” by the California State Assembly in 2005, and also has been recognized by the Ford Foundation, the National Organization for Women, the Women’s Foundation of California and Girls, Inc. She has spoken at the United Nations, before the United States Senate, and at countless trainings and conferences around the country. A member of the board of directors of the ACLU of Northern California and the Women’s Foundation of California,. She lives in Emeryville, California, with her family.
Listen to Lateefah Simon[audio:http://www.womenrisingradio.com/audio/lateefah.mp3]