Selection Committee Members

Taryn Higashi (left) is the Executive Director of Unbound Philanthropy, a private grantmaking foundation dedicated to ensuring that migrants and refugees are treated with respect and dignity; are able to contribute fully in their receiving communities; and can ultimately thrive in a society that is comfortable with the diversity that immigration brings.  Previously, Taryn managed the Migrant and Refugee Rights portfolio at the Ford Foundation and also served as Deputy Director of Ford’s Human Rights Unit. Taryn began her career in philanthropy and immigrant advocacy at The New York Community Trust, where she coordinated the Fund for New Citizens. Prior to that, she was a staff attorney and program coordinator for Safe Horizons in New York City, and an associate at the law firm O’Melveny & Myers. Organizations that have honored or recognized Taryn for her philanthropic leadership include the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, Center for Community Change, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (which she co-chaired from 1999-2005), Border Network for Human Rights, and the National Immigration Law Center. Taryn is a third-generation Japanese American whose family was interned during World War II, along with 110,000 other Japanese Americans—almost two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens.

Geri Mannion (above right) directs the U.S. Democracy Program and the Special Opportunities Fund of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.  She is a longtime philanthropic champion of broad civic engagement and immigrant integration. In August 2010, Geri was named by NonProfit Times as one of the 50 most influential executives in the nonprofit sector. Geri is a naturalized U.S. citizen who grew up in an Irish immigrant family in the Bronx. Her thirty-plus years in the field of philanthropy include positions at the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations. Geri has also been a leader in professional organizations, in particular the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees. She also serves on the boards of the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars and the Center for Development and Population Activities.

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Wade Henderson is the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund, the nation’s premier civil and human rights coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States. Mr. Henderson is also the Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., Professor of Public Interest Law at the David A. Clarke School of Law, University of the District of Columbia.  Mr. Henderson is well known for his expertise on a wide range of civil rights, civil liberties, and human rights issues, and is the author of numerous articles on civil rights and public policy issues. Since taking the helm of The Leadership Conference in June 1996, Mr. Henderson has worked diligently to address emerging policy issues of concern to the civil and human rights community and to strengthen the effectiveness of the coalition. Under his stewardship, The Leadership Conference has become one of the nation’s most effective advocates for civil and human rights.  As a tireless civil rights leader and advocate, Mr. Henderson has received countless awards and honors, including the prestigious Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights.  He holds an honorary Doctorate in Law from Queens College School of Law, City University of New York.

Eliseo Medina: As International Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Eliseo Medina has been one of the nation’s most prominent labor leaders working to achieve comprehensive immigration reform by building a strong, diverse coalition of community and national partners. At the age of ten, Medina came to the United States from Mexico with his mother and siblings to join their father, who was an immigrant farm worker. His career as a labor activist began in 1965 when, as a 19-year-old grape-picker, Medina participated in the historic United Farm Workers’ strike in Delano, Calif. Over the next 13 years, Medina worked alongside labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, eventually rising through the ranks to serve as the United Farm Workers’ national vice president. Since 1986, Medina has helped SEIU to become the fastest growing union in the Americas, with 2.2 million members and the largest number of immigrant workers. Eliseo Medina is described by the Los Angeles Times as “one of the most successful labor organizers in the country” and was named one of the “Top 50 Most Powerful Latino Leaders” in Poder Magazine.

Rev. David Ostendorf
Rev. David Ostendorf is a United Church of Christ Minister currently serving as Executive Director of the Chicago-based Center for New Community.  Since 1974 he has been engaged in social, economic, and racial justice organizing, and in that capacity has worked closely with the nation’s religious and civic community at every level.  The Center, established in 1995, is committed to building democratic communities for justice and racial equality.   From 1981 until 1993 Dave served as Executive Director of PrairieFire Rural Action, a rural education, training and organizing group based in Des Moines, Iowa.  Prior to that he served on the national staff of Rural America.  He began his organizing work in the coalfields of southern Illinois. He has published over fifty articles on social, economic, and racial justice issues in newspapers, magazines and books.

Carlos Saavedra is National Coordinator of the United We Dream Coalition. He came to the United States from Peru in 1998 with this family. Facing the harsh reality of being an undocumented immigrant, he felt as if no one was working to fix the broken system. In 2001, one of his high school teachers challenged him, along with a group of classmates, to discuss these issues and to take action themselves. They formed what eventually become the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM), a statewide group in Massachusetts.  During Carlos’ involvement with the organization, SIM led campaigns for in-state tuition and successfully fought against the deportation of a DREAM Act student in the “Keep Mario Home” Campaign. SIM also persuading all ten of MA’s congressional representatives to co-sponsor the DREAM Act. Most recently, he traveled with SIM to the state of Arkansas to meet members of the Little Rock 9, who encouraged the work of immigrant youth across the country.  As an organizer with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, Carlos worked with immigrant families devastated by raids in New Bedford (MA), Postville (IA), and Providence (RI). Carlos has since become a seasoned trainer of other youth, working with Marshall Ganz at Harvard University, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Industrial Areas Foundation, and Center for Community Change.  He was the 2006 Recipient of the New Bostonian Youth Leadership Award presented by the mayor’s Office of New Bostonians.

Kyrsten Sinema is State Senator for District 15 in the Arizona Legislature, representing central Phoenix. She is currently serving her third term in the Arizona House of Representatives and was chosen by her peers to serve as the House Democratic Assistant Leader in 2009-2010.   An Arizona native, Kyrsten has been courageous in fighting her home state’s political shift to the right, for example, opposing SB1070 which would mandate the most sweeping racial profiling policies in country. In 2008, she chaired Protect Arizona’s Freedom, the coalition that defeated Ward Connerly’s effort to place an initiative on the state ballot to eliminate equal opportunity programs.  In 2006 Kyrsten chaired Arizona Together, the first and only successful effort in the country to defeat a same-sex marriage ballot initiative.  Sinema was named in October 2010 by Time Magazine as one of its “40 Under 40 – Rising Stars of U.S. Politics.” She recently authored the book, Unite and Conquer: How to Build Coalitions that Win and Last, and has received leadership awards from the NAACP, Arizona Hispanic Community Forum, Planned Parenthood, YWCA, Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the Sierra Club.

Chuck Wexler is Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a national membership organization of progressive police executives from the largest city, county and state law enforcement agencies. PERF is dedicated to improving policing and advancing professionalism through research and involvement in public policy debate. The organization has taken a leadership role in balancing anti-crime strategies with democratic principles, such as the fair and humane treatment of all members of society. For example, PERF has developed best-practice guidelines for traffic stops, which have been frequent flashpoints between police and minority citizens/residents. A native of Boston, Wexler held a number of key positions in the Boston Police Department, including Operations Assistant to the Police Commissioner. He was also instrumental in the development and management of the Community Disorders Unit, which earned a national reputation for successfully prosecuting and preventing racially motivated crime. Prior to joining PERF, he worked as an assistant to the nation¹s first Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, where he identified exemplary local initiatives and helped craft national policy. Wexler has advised police departments in Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, London, Northern Ireland, Jamaica, and the Middle East. In February 2006 he was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his extensive work with British and American police agencies.

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