Photo of Aramis. He's wearing a Black Power Matters shirt.

As the Communities Transforming Policing Fund gears up for the announcement of our 2024 grantee partner cohort, we checked in with the two newest members of our participatory grantmaking committee, to learn more about their commitment to ending state violence and what is inspiring their work.

Dig into our interview with Aramis Sundiata of People’s Justice Project (PJP) below, and read our interview with Arleen Yaz Alonso of Gente Organizada here.

How long have you been with the People’s Justice Project and what brought you to the work?

I was a student at Ohio State University during the unrest that followed Trayvon Martin’s murder. I was majoring in African Studies, which was housed in a department building called Hale Hall. It was the area Black students hung out in. One morning someone spray-painted “Long Live Zimmerman” on it, and all hell broke loose. Students and locals, too, we started organizing around Trayvon. In the trial, Zimmerman was exonerated, and around the same time we found out Ohio was introducing a Stand Your Ground bill. The Ohio Student Association (OSA) organized a direct action in which seven of us showed up at the bill hearing and did a banner drop that successfully blocked the bill. That’s when I came to understand the art of organized power. I’ve been obsessed since. 

Fast forward, I’m a program director at the OSA, leading after school programs. I was mentoring high school students during the “hot phase” of the Movement for Black Lives. Ferguson, Baltimore, the murders of John Crawford and Tamir Rice in Ohio had all just happened. The students got involved in marches and occupations, and I organized these weekly training sessions with them. From these experiences, I founded the People’s Justice Project, first doing civic engagement in central Ohio and building a statewide network from there. 

What are the models or examples of the work CTPF grantee partners are leading that most inspire you?

We’re dealing with colonial institutions that are built to subjugate us. So, we’re building an alternative to policing: crisis response. Where if someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, people don’t call 911 first; they call a community program. It’s going to be a big fight, but I’m down for it. We’re always in a fight with the state, but what’s changed over the years is we’re orienting people to  solutions that don’t have to do anything with the state. I’m at the stage of development in my leadership where we’ve tried that. Let’s go outside of the state.

What message do you have for the groups working to end state violence and create a more liberated future for BIPOC queer and trans folks?

Intersections. It’s basic. We organize the working class and oppressed people to lead the struggle against systems. When we say the working class and oppressed people, we are talking about all working class and oppressed people. If you have a problem with someone’s identity, you’re not rolling with us. The enemy is the state, not each other. We all have similar experiences with the state. That first time you realize your class position is your relationship to the state. That can be a police officer in your school. That can be a teacher. That’s when you realize where you are in the pecking order. Don’t come in here to put someone else down. 

I’ll never forget this. A brother came to me and said he was iffy about working with us because of queer folks “feminizing the movement.” I had to pull him aside and explain the valuable feminist perspectives Harriet Tubman and Ella Baker brought to the movement. I told him we had no room for his views here. We have to have a safe space for the people. 

What brings you joy in the work that you’re doing right now?

I got married recently. I really love this work. It allows me to wake up every morning with freedom on my mind, knowing there’s a leader out there that wants to get busy, and my job is to go find them because we’re going to change history. But getting married made me realize I’m just a regular man. It’s humbling when you have to take the trash out and watch random television shows. I’ve been organizing in traumatizing situations where people are dying for a long time. It’s hard and heavy on your heart. You become something different when you accept the possibility of death or jail. But, when you find somebody who isn’t carrying that weight, it balances everything out. 

What’s a lesson you would share with other community based groups like PJP that are working to end state violence?

Forever forward, unafraid. Together. The struggle is eternal. I actually have an excerpt from a book I’d like to share: “Organizing and political consciousness go hand in hand. It is a science and an art. It requires the skill and the capacity to quickly choose and change forms of struggle when the material conditions deem it necessary. It is a process that requires a keen focus and examination of society’s internal and external contradictions in building organization which is our only defense from outside forces.” In other words, organizing is an internal process.

What’s a message that you have for funders about how to better show up for movement organizers? 

We recognize that the revolution will not be funded. Pushing philanthropy is key to our work, but it doesn’t drive us. Many of us started doing this work for free, and it’s a blessing when money is put into the coffers of the organization, and then they start structuring the organization and figuring out how to do new things. It’s great to get the money to do the stuff you know how to do for the community, what you want to do.