soffiyah elijah, executive director
Soffiyah Elijah is the Executive Director of Alliance of Families for Justice (AFJ). Established in 2016 in NY, its mission is to support families of incarcerated people and people with criminal records, empower them as advocates and mobilize them to marshal their voting power to achieve systemic change.
Prior to founding AFJ, Ms. Elijah was the Executive Director of the Correctional Association of NY (CANY) where she was the first woman and the first person of color to lead the 170 year old organization. Ms. Elijah has dedicated her life to human rights and social justice, and is a frequent presenter at national and international forums on criminal justice policy and human rights issues.
Prior to leading CANY Ms. Elijah served as Deputy Director and Clinical Instructor at the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School. Before moving to Harvard, she was a member of the faculty and Director and Supervising Attorney of the Defender Clinic at the City University of New York School of Law. Ms. Elijah has also worked as a Supervising Attorney at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, a Staff Attorney at the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society, and in private practice.
emily patka, director of development and operations
Emily has been involved in criminal justice work since 2012, when she developed and implemented a college program in a correctional facility in upstate New York. The dual experience of witnessing the injustice and dehumanization that occur in prisons every day, while also meeting the incredible human beings who are caged there, showed her that she must dedicate her life to fighting for justice and systemic change. Since then, she has worked in various fundraising and administrative capacities for several nonprofits that serve justice-involved people, most recently as a program analyst at CASES. She also completed her Master's in Organizational Change Management at The New School. She is passionate about ensuring the behind-the-scenes operations of organizations run as efficiently as possible, to ensure organizations fighting for justice are able to achieve maximum impact. Emily also has a formerly incarcerated loved one, so the work of AFJ is personally meaningful to her.
phoebe brown, central new york coordinator
A highly skilled community activist, advocate, and multicultural bridge builder, Phoebe brings her passion for community-building to everything she does and everyone she meets. She moved to Ithaca 24 years ago from Harlem, NY, where she grew up in a community of neighbors who supported each other through life’s joys and challenges. Most recently an educator with the Multicultural Resource Center's new Re-Entry Program, Phoebe has also worked with Cayuga Medical Center, the Southside Community Center’s Black Women’s Empowerment Project, the Ithaca City School District, BOCES, the Crisis Hostel Project, and other local organizations, She is the founder and facilitator of Women’s Healing: Mind, Body and Spirit, which brings together women of all ages from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds to meet in a supportive environment. She has served on the Boards for GreenStar Community Projects, Get Your Greenback and Bike/Walk Tompkins; and currently is a member of the Steering Committee for Building Bridges. In 2013, she was selected as a Civic Leadership Fellow by Cornell University and received the Rere Sojourner Hassett Social Justice Award from the Multicultural Resource Center. She is a 2014 Graduate of the Natural Leaders Initiative. But her biggest achievement, she says, is that she is the mother of three and the grandmother of eight.
Tajuana B. Johnson, esq.
Tajuana B. Johnson is one of the Lead Attorneys of AFJ’s Legal Support Unit. Tajuana has been a legal practitioner for over ten years and has honed her skills in a variety of practice areas. She was born and raised in New York City and knows firsthand the experience of having family members caught in the Criminal Justice system and supporting loved ones through lengthy periods of incarceration. Having spent her early years in Far Rockaway, Queens and her formative years growing up in Brooklyn; Tajuana has personally witnessed and has been touched by the ways in which economic disenfranchisement, the influx of drugs and the prison industrial complex ravages communities.
Tajuana has always believed in the importance of family as a foundation. She started her professional career helping to mold and inspire young minds as a high school teacher and college professor. She taught for ten years before embarking on a second career in law. As part of her legal training, Tajuana spent time studying Human Rights law in South Africa. She started her career as a Court Attorney in the Family Court Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. She then became an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of New York, where she initially represented juveniles in delinquency and persons in need of supervision (PINS) cases in the Bronx. Tajuana then moved into the complex integrated domestic violence and criminal defense practice (IDV) in Manhattan Supreme Court. She handled hundreds of cases annually and was the only attorney representing clients in IDV cases in New York County on behalf of her firm.
Prior to joining AFJ, Tajuana served as an Adjunct Clinical Professor at the City University of New York School of Law. Tajuana is a writer, and she has appeared on a number of panels and media broadcasts. She is also a requested speaker at various forums. Tajuana serves as a mentor to new attorneys and other young professionals, as well as a number of young people across New York City.
kwesi a. dash, esq.
Kwesi A. Dash is one of the Lead Attorneys of AFJ’s Legal Support Unit. Kwesi has devoted his decade-long legal career to defending and advocating on behalf of individuals who have the least amount of access to resources and power, but who are the most targeted by the Criminal Justice System and other prevailing institutions. Kwesi comes from a family of immigrants. He was raised in Brooklyn, New York and learned very early about the importance of safeguarding the rights of the indigent and marginalized. Kwesi pursued a legal career after years of already having been in the workforce. Before attending law school, he was a law clerk and part of a team of lawyers that represented people from poor communities in Washington, D.C. Kwesi was also in charge of the firm's pro bono effort to provide legal rights awareness to people of color in the surrounding neighborhoods in D.C.
Kwesi spent his first years as a lawyer working in the jails of the New York City Department of Corrections. He provided legal assistance to incarcerated individuals, appeared alongside the incarcerated as an advisor at disciplinary hearings; and developed a curriculum for legal research courses that he taught in the correctional facilities. Kwesi then went on to practice at the Legal Aid Society. He spent a number of years as a defense attorney handling parole revocation cases that were heard on Rikers Island. Kwesi subsequently transferred to Legal Aid’s Manhattan trial office, where he represented clients for years in New York City’s hectic Criminal and Supreme courts as a fully-certified felony trial attorney. Before coming to the AFJ, Kwesi was a part of the Community Justice Unit of Legal Aid. As an attorney in that specialized unit, Kwesi provided legal services to all of the Cure Violence sites in Brooklyn. The position allowed Kwesi to work even more directly with the members of the communities he grew up in and gave him the opportunity to better merge his law practice with his 20 years of experience doing grassroots community work. Kwesi was the founder and the head of the Black Attorneys of Legal Aid Caucus, the first caucus of its kind in Legal Aid’s 140 year history. Kwesi has written a number of articles about social justice topics, has been a co-host for a live call-in community television show and has been a requested speaker at a variety of events. Kwesi writes prolifically outside of his professional work and continues to volunteer with community organizations to which he is personally connected.