“if we don’t stand for something, we will not see the changes that we want to in our community.” – Chala Bonner
By Safe Return Project
In honor of Women’s History Month, we want to showcase the wisdom and accomplishments of the exceptional women of color leading Safe Return Project’s efforts to create a better world for formerly incarcerated people, their families, and their communities. Their personal strength, integrity, and character serve as an inspiration and beacon of light for everyone who crosses their paths.
The Richmond-based organization is invested in building a base of power at the political, social, and economic levels of formerly incarcerated persons across the state of California, addressing the root causes of poverty and the impact that the criminal legal system has had on black people and communities of color.
First up, we are featuring Civic Engagement Organizer, Chala Bonner! She works hard at Safe Return to level the playing field for formerly incarcerated people of color. Her passion for helping others in her community shines through her work.
Her goal is to build equity in the community by helping folks overcome the obstacles and challenges that come with incarceration and reentry and bring healing to those who have had traumatic and stressful experiences. Her personal motto is “Don’t let your past dictate your future.”
Where did you grow up? What was it like?
Richmond, CA. Growing up in Richmond had its ups and downs. However, for the most part, I loved growing up in Richmond. Most of my family and friends live in Richmond. I remember as a little girl always hanging out at the North Richmond Community Center when my grandmother worked there.
Who have been your mentors, and what did you learn from them?
I have mentors who don’t even realize that they are mentors to me. Some people truly lead by example, and I just admire their leadership and learn from them.
What does feminism mean to you?
To me, feminism is standing up for women to have the same rights, power, positions, and opportunities as men and be treated as equal and not less than.
Who are the women you admire most, both in your personal life and in the fight for social justice?
The two women I admire the most in my personal life are my late grandmother and my mother. I’ve learned a lot from them; how to walk in power, truth, love, and resilience. The women that I admire in the fight for social justice are too many to name but just to name a few Kim Carter, Jessica Nowlan, and of course Tamisha Walker. These ladies are paving the way for social justice.
What in particular led you to choose working to serve formerly incarcerated people?
My lived experience led me to choose this work. After going through what I have been through, I knew I wanted to make a change. I did not know much about grassroots organizing when I first got started with the Safe Return Project, but I knew that I wanted to make changes in my community and the injustice system.
What struggles do you see formerly incarcerated women and non-binary folks face that formerly incarcerated men do not? How can we best address them?
I see a lack of adequate resources for formerly incarcerated women and non-binary folks. Not just jobs and housing, but family reunification, education, rehabilitation, and mental and physical health services. The way that we have been addressing these issues is to bring them to light through our participatory action research, advocating for change at the local, county, and even state levels.
What piece of advice would you give to formerly incarcerated women and non-binary folks to overcome gender-related obstacles?
Never give up! Yes, you may get a thousand no’s before you get the yes, but if we don’t stand for something, we will not see the changes that we want to in our community.
What is an important piece of wisdom you learned from working directly with formerly incarcerated women and non-binary folks?
Rest is revolutionary! We carry trauma, we tell our stories over and over, we fight for change constantly, and we have to take the time to rest, restore, empower and heal daily to stay in the fight.
For more information visit www.safereturnprj.org.