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Western Center Roundup – March 2023

Celebrating Women’s History Month and Cesar Chavez Day


Advocating, Organizing, Speaking Up and Out: Women Are Driving the Change We Need in California

This Women’s History Month was shaped by powerful testimony women provided in press conferences, legislative hearings, strikes, and listening tours. From demanding Housing as a Human Right, advocating for Affordable Health Care, preventing homelessness through expanded tenant protections, Reimagining a CalWORKs program that truly supports families, and shining a spotlight on the unique barriers faced by farmworkers braving climate change to feed our State, women shared how policies and systems of power impact their daily lives, offering both inspiration and solutions centered in their lived experiences. We stand in awe of these change makers and thank them for their dedication to improving the lives of all Californians. We would also like to extend our congratulations to Sonya Young Aadam, WCLP partner, who received a major national nod with the Unsung Hero Award from the NAACP Image Awards for her work leading the California Black Women’s Health Project and Christine Chambers Goodman, WCLP board member and Professor of Law at Caruso School of Law at Pepperdine, who was recognized with the University’s 10th Annual Award for Excellence in Leadership.



Western Center’s Executive Director, Crystal Crawford Receives NYU School of Law Woman of Distinction Award

Our very own Crystal Crawford, Western Center Executive Director was honored by the New York School of Law with the 2022 Woman of Color Collective Woman of Distinction Award, recognizing alumnae who have made outstanding achievements in the field of law. Crystal’s acceptance speech spoke to the theme of the awards event, Building Bridges, Fostering Wellbeing. A Hays Fellow and Chairperson of Black Allied Law Students Association at NYU Law, Crystal paid homage to several of her classmates who were in attendance, as well as NYU Law professors Paulette Caldwell, Derrick Bell, Bryan Stevenson, and Leon Higginbotham for providing encouragement and inspiration throughout her career. In her closing remarks, Crystal noted that a guiding mantra for her has been the Kwanzaa principle of kujichagulia, or self-determination. “This notion of defining who we are and not letting other people define us, that’s how you foster your own wellbeing.”

Congratulations and thank you for your leadership, Crystal!



NEW REPORT: Return to Sender: How an Unreliable Mail System Harms Californians Living in Poverty

Shaped by interviews throughout the state with public benefits advocates, legal aid attorneys, food bank employees, shelter operators, and nonprofit leaders, as well as individuals struggling to access their mail, and Public Records Act responses from counties concerning their mail holding practices and methods for ensuring unhoused people can access mail, this new report outlines the challenges facing Californians without permanent addresses and/or access to reliable mail services. Special thanks to Liv Williams, who spent a year working at Western Center as a Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP Social Impact Pro Bono Fellow, for her extensive research and authorship of this report. This fellowship project has become a powerful advocacy tool to garner support for SB 491 (Durazo), co-sponsored by Western Center and the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations. This bill would create an option for unhoused Californians to pick up government related mail from a county department of social services such as Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, election ballots, public housing waiting list notifications, student report cards, and much more. You can track this bill HERE.

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Community Centric Fundraising Hub Highlights Western Center Team’s Journey into Fundraising from a Place of Empowerment and Awareness

Western Center’s development department is as bold as they come. The team, composed of four women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, is fertile ground to try things differently. The team, Heather Masterton, Xochi Flores, Cinthya Martinez, and April Walker recently documented their experience of reimagining development work by implementing community centric fundraising principles in a new Women’s History Month publication on the CCF hub; we invite you to learn more. “We are not just grant seekers, grant writers, foundation relationship stewards, and event planners. We are also parents, students, and professors. We are sisters and siblings in family and in community. We are connectors of all of the spaces we occupy and engage in. And just like social justice work is transformative and process based, so are the humans who use their creativity, their wordsmithing, their love of language and communication, and their acquired-by-living skillset to propel the work forward…” 

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NEW Blog Post: CalFresh Hunger Games

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit levels through Emergency Allotments to address America’s deepening hunger crisis. On March 1, 2023, those increased SNAP benefits, known as CalFresh in California, expired for approximately three million recipients, bringing food benefits down to an average of $6 per day per person. Western Center’s Outreach and Advocacy Associate, Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez connects with recipients to learn more about the impact of losing those life sustaining increases as inflation rises and the cost of food soars. Jesus and Alicia are getting by with a tight budget. They budget in the face of rising inflation where prices on milk, eggs, and bread skyrocket. For them community driven food banks have been a blessing. Alicia shared, “this is the reality for many Californians. We are doing our best to get by. Our neighbors who are also retired are in a similar situation. Others we know live in houses or apartments where multiple families are living under one roof – it is the only way to survive, but we are running out of time.”

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Authenticity is crucial for wellbeing, says WoCC’s 2023 Womxn of Distinction Crystal Crawford ’91 | NYU School of Law

On February 28, the Women of Color Collective (WoCC) recognized Crystal Crawford ’91, executive director of the Western Center on Law & Poverty, as WoCC’s 2023 Womxn of Distinction at the student organization’s annual alumnae reception.

The award is given each year to a woman, non-binary, or gender non-conforming graduate of color who has significantly contributed to the legal profession and whose work embodies the reception’s theme—this year, “Building Bridges: Fostering Wellbeing.” Crawford is the 16th alumna to receive the award.

Crystal Crawford '91
Crystal Crawford ’91

“My time at NYU was so special,” said Crawford, who was a Hays fellow and co-chair of Black Allied Law Students Association at NYU Law. She emphasized the importance of community and authenticity for wellbeing, noting that several members of her community—her friends from Law School—were in the audience that night. Crawford said that her classmates as well as NYU Law professors Paulette Caldwell, Derrick Bell, Bryan Stevenson, and Leon Higginbotham have provided encouragement and inspiration throughout her career. “Such a wealth of race and social justice leaders and activists on whose shoulders I stand in the work that I do every day,” she said.

Crawford worked as a litigation associate at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips before moving into public service and nonprofit work. Before joining the Western Center on Law & Poverty in 2020, Crawford served in a number of leadership positions at organizations seeking to improve the wellbeing of people of color, including as a program director at the California Wellness Foundation, as CEO of the California Black Women’s Health Project, and as legal director for the Alliance for Children’s Rights.

“Crystal’s tireless work exemplifies the grit and dedication required to pursue justice,” said WoCC co-chair Sruthi Rao ’24 in her remarks.

While fighting battles to improve the health and economic outcomes of people of color, Crawford said, being authentic has helped her maintain her own wellbeing. “You have got to have a definition of who you are—and that’s an evolving definition, right?—and stand by it,” she said.

At the California Black Women’s Health Project, Crawford helped create the Black Women’s Mental Health Initiative in 2000 to advocate for policy change to better support Black women. The first step, Crawford said, was hosting townhalls and panels to ascertain where women were struggling. Grantmakers doubted that women would be willing to speak openly about their mental health, she recalled, but she stayed firm in her belief in the significance of this work for her community. The town halls were packed, she recalled: “Hundreds and hundreds of people were coming to these town halls and other forums.”

In her closing remarks, Crawford noted that a guiding mantra for her has been the Kwanzaa principle of kujichagulia, or self-determination. “This notion of defining who we are and not letting other people define us, that’s how you foster your own wellbeing,” she said. “Making sure that you define for yourself what you’re going to do. Don’t let anybody discourage you from doing something that’s kind of out of the box.”

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