Fanya Baruti

“What struck me and stayed with me most from the program was the concept of internalized oppression. When they hit that, I said to myself that’s what I’ve been suffering from. I’ve been suffering from this syndrome for a long time and now it has a name. As Black males, we experience so much so where we become hardened and apathetic. If we do not talk about the systematic walls of institutionalized racism – and tear them down like the Berlin Wall – we’ll never be recognized as human beings. We’ll only be sugar-coating a lot of the pain and the privilege some people don’t want to let go of.”

His Pathway into the Program

Fanya Baruti has faced the walls of institutionalized racism directly – as someone who was incarcerated and as an organizer. While incarcerated, Fanya organized other prisoners to fight for better conditions, educational and self-development opportunities, and pre-release programs.  When he was released, Fanya started working as an organizer with A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project. That’s when a colleague who told him, “Hey Fanya, there’s a class at CDTech I think you would like.” Fanya recalls: “We were in a phase of organizational maneuvers where we were trying to figure out the best practices so I looked into it.  It turned out that I already knew Benny [Benjamin Torres, CDTech President and CEO] through a community collaboration we were involved with so I enrolled and was accepted.”

What Fanya Learned

Fanya graduated from Los Angeles’ Community Learning Partnership program – the Los Angeles Community Organizing Academy (LACOA) – in the spring of 2013.  Although he had been an organizer for years, Fanya says: “The program helped me sharpen my skills.  It was a refresher course in the now.  We learned about different methods to investigate issues, to do power analysis, and to mobilize people in our community to stand up for things. Then we went out and practiced what we learned.  For example, we went out and investigated how people feel about voting and came back and did a presentation about what we found.  The program introduced me for the first time to the theory behind what I had been doing. It gave it a name.”

How the Program Changed Him

The program also broadened Fanya’s horizons: “We also looked at other models and how other movements sustain themselves. We studied Venezuela and the Zapatistas. This broadened my horizons.  I also made new friends.  Some of us worked on projects together and I learned that anyone can work together if you drop your walls.”

Fanya continues to work at A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project, where he is the lead organizer for the Los Angeles Chapter of All of Us or None, a national organizing initiative that is building a movement to win full restoration of the human and civil rights of people with past convictions.  In working with All of Us or None, Fanya is using the theory, skills and tools he learned in the program:  “We are pushing the most progressive ‘ban the box’ policies to end discrimination in hiring and housing in the nation.  Why is our ‘ban the box’ here in LA the most progressive in the nation? Because the voices of the people most affected have been at the table.”

Fanya’s Pathway from Here

What’s next? The program also introduced Fanya to the concept of Social Enterprise: “How does this population of formerly incarcerated people start to build entrepreneurship, to grow the economic resources to sustain themselves, their families and their community? This is something I want to work on. I also want to write a book about my experience and to travel and share what I’ve learned.” But above all, Fanya says: “What I would like to see is that when anything is going on with legislation at the state level or locally, we – formerly incarcerated people and their families – will be in a position where we will be recognized as a power.  The voices of the people will have power.  We will have a seat at the table. People will be serious about who we are and who we represent.  The voices of the people will be leading.”