DJC Bids Farewell to Amanda Alexander

The Detroit Justice Center (DJC) team celebrates the courageous vision, work, and legacy of our Founding Executive Director, Amanda Alexander, as she steps down on July 1. Amanda has helped us all dream bigger. She has built an organization that makes the vision of a just city–free from policing and incarceration–possible for all of us. She exemplifies principled leadership, and has reminded us every day that we’re the leaders we’ve been waiting for. We wish her well in this upcoming period of rest and rejuvenation and will build upon the foundation she has laid, striving for justice and liberation.

As a racial justice lawyer, scholar, and movement builder, Amanda has committed the past seven years to building DJC and creating a strong pipeline of legal advocates in Detroit. Amanda grew DJC from a budding startup in 2018 to a now 34 person organization with a $5.1M budget that is a leading force for transforming the justice system. DJC has established more than 30 referral partnerships and provided legal services to more than 5,000 people. 

DJC has helped spur major statewide victories to promote economic wellbeing and decrease the criminalization of poverty – including ending the practice of driver’s license suspensions for nonpayment of fines. This practice (and its resulting cycle of debt, warrants, and incarceration) impacted over 360,000 Michiganders in 2019 alone. DJC has also fostered solidarity economy efforts in the city, launching Detroit’s first 3 community land trusts and 12 worker-owned cooperatives. This month we are poised to move into our new headquarters in the LOVE Building, a social justice hub that will inspire greater collaboration and provide wraparound support for Detroiters. 

Amanda’s decision to transition at this time represents her success in creating a stable and forward-thinking organization with a strong team that is ready to carry the mission forward to the next level. As Amanda stated, “I’m handing the reins over to Co-EDs who will take DJC to the next level. I’m also handing the reins over to a deep bench of brilliant movement lawyers, social workers, program managers, policy professionals, financial analysts, fundraisers, and interns who represent the next generation of freedom fighters. Our team is also so much more than their professional capacities: They’re artists, literary fellows, parents and grandparents, members of cooperatives, gardeners, and healers. Most importantly, they’re people who love Detroit and regard the freedom dreams of Detroiters as sacred.”

In our last staff meeting with Amanda, staff reflected on what DJC means to them: 

DJC to me is community, it’s mentorship, it’s getting to learn from the best, most inspiring colleagues everyday… Before DJC, work kind of felt like the antithesis to life, but now I definitely don’t feel that anymore.

This is the first workplace that I’ve ever had where I don’t have shame in sharing that I have loved ones that are incarcerated.

I remember one of my first staff meetings Amanda was asking all of us in the room ‘what has brought you joy in your work?’ and I was like, no one has ever asked me this! I was absolutely blown away that in the struggle there can be joy, we do have joy in the connection.

What DJC means to me is hope, that we have hope for a better society, a better future.

I’ve never been a part of an organization where we all work together to create the work environment that we want that best fits everyone internally. We could be on the cutting edge of a new type of organization. We could be the force that forces everyone else to move into four day workweeks and all the collaborative policy and procedure building.

It really has become a home for me in a way that other organizations weren’t because of visioning, that there’s this vision that is deeply part of this organization–that we dare to dream… And we know the people closest to the problem are closest to the solution.

What I’ve been experiencing with DJC is a weaving force, a weaving potential of different arms of the work. When I’m doing more community-facing work people are like ‘of course DJC is connecting us!’ And taking risks, like we don’t know exactly what will come from this, but opening to new knowledge, opening to new ways of being, and opening to just trying to create spaces where more of us feel heard.

DJC’s new distributed leadership model, with two Co-EDs, is in line with other efforts the DJC team has made to build a sustainable work culture during Amanda’s tenure. We have worked a 4-day workweek since the start of the pandemic, and we close for recharge weeks twice a year to allow for collective rest. DJC’s generous benefits package includes: 100% employer paid health benefits; plentiful paid time off; a retirement match; a sabbatical for all employees after five years; a flexible schedule; and robust professional development funds and wellness stipends for each staff member. 

DJC’s Board Chair Michael Carter stated, “This leadership transition is a unique opportunity for an organization such as DJC to set an example for other nonprofit organizations. DJC thrives on breaking the mold and will continue to do so in Amanda’s absence. We’re excited to make way for new leadership and to help shift DJC to a more sustainable collective leadership model. Amanda has worked relentlessly to create the incredible foundation that DJC stands upon; as she makes this next move in her life to rest and reflect, I am confident and excited for DJC’s future.”

We’re grateful for Amanda’s amazing leadership, contagious hope, and relentless advocacy, and wish her the very best as she moves toward rest and reflection and whatever endeavors come next. She’s been a guiding light for the organization since we opened our doors in 2018 and we intend to build on her legacy as we move into this next chapter. Thank you for all you have done, Amanda, to build a more just Detroit.