Lateefah Simon, Rosenberg Foundation

TITLE: Program Director

FOCUS AREAS: Justice and Public Safety, Immigrant Rights and Integration, Civil Rights and Civic Participation 

CONTACT: 415-644-9777; Lateefah@rosenfound.org

PROFILE: Before becoming Rosenberg’s program director, Lateefah Simon worked as the executive director of the Center for Young Women's Development and the executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. She has been with Rosenberg since 2011. Simon’s profile on the Rosenberg Foundation website shares:

Lateefah Simon is program director for the Rosenberg Foundation, which seeks to change the odds for Californians through statewide grantmaking to support policy change. A longtime advocate for low-income young women and girls and for juvenile and criminal justice reform, at the age of 19, Ms. Simon was appointed executive director of the Center for Young Women’s Development (CYWD) in San Francisco. CYWD is the nation’s first economic and gender justice organization solely run for and by low-income and formerly incarcerated young women.

After an 11-year tenure as executive director, Ms. Simon then led the creation of San Francisco’s first reentry services division under the leadership of District Attorney Kamala D. Harris. As division director, Ms. Simon led a strategic citywide public/private partnership effort aimed at providing concrete pathways to prevent young adults charged with low-level felony drug sales from returning to a life of crime. The flagship program, Back on Track, has reduced the recidivism rate for the population it serves to less than 10 percent. It has been replicated in several prosecutors' offices across the county and was selected as a national model program by Attorney General Eric Holder.

In 2009, Ms. Simon was appointed executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. LCCR works to champion the legal rights of people of color, poor people, immigrants and refugees, with a special commitment to African Americans, through litigation, policy advocacy and direct service programs. Under her leadership, the organization revamped and streamlined its 40-year-old infrastructure and implemented successful community based initiatives, including the Second Chance Legal Services Clinic.

An avid speaker, Ms. Simon lectures across the county at top conferences and top universities. She has served on numerous boards of directors and has received awards for her efforts including the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, inclusion in O Magazine’s first ever “Power List”, Ford Foundation’s Leadership for A Changing World, the Remarkable Woman Award from Lifetime Television, the Levi Straus Pioneer Activist Fellowship, and the New Frontier Award from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Ms. Simon also was Winter 2014 Social Entrepreneurs in-Residence (SEERS) Fellow at Stanford University.

Simon’s Americans Who Tell the Truth biography shares a few more personal details:

It’s not easy to find one’s path in life, one’s passion. For young at-risk women -- sex workers, drug dealers and incarcerated women -- in particular, opportunities for positive development are rare. Lateefah Simon found her passion in working with just those same women, having been one once herself.

At about the age of sixteen, Lateefah Simon had given up school and was working full-time at Taco Bell when she was recruited by an outreach worker to become part of the Huckleberry Youth Program. At first reluctant to join a group of at-risk girls, Simon tried the program and loved it; in fact, when newly opened San Francisco’s Center for Young Women’s Development was looking for employees, Simon applied and became a street outreach worker. As a young girl who was, at the time, on probation in the court system for being a habitual shoplifter, she was a perfect choice for the job.

The Center for Young Women’s Development, founded by Rachel Pfeffer, helps women drug dealers, prostitutes and to those in the juvenile justice system, to become self-sufficient and develop self-esteem. It also trains them to become community leaders who can insist on their rights and affect laws that improve their lives and those of other women like them. What makes the Center a singular place is that it is peer-run; the outreach workers are often the same age as those they are working with, with similar backgrounds and experiences.

About Pfeffer’s unique vision, Simon says, “She wanted to develop an organization where young people who had been pushed aside by pretty much everyone, who make people uncomfortable – sex workers, girls who sell crack, the Lateefahs of the world – could lead. There was no other place that would respect my experience, my intelligence.”

When Pfeffer decided to leave the Center, Lateefah Simon was named Executive Director in 1998. In that role, Simon continued the Center´s work in the justice system. She also expanded the Center´s vision, to work nationally and internationally to help at-risk women find much needed support.

In 2005, Simon left the Center to become Director of Reentry Programs in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. The DA’s Reentry Unit uses different educational and community programs to keep first-time young drug offenders from ending up back in the juvenile justice system, and helps them reenter the community with economic opportunities and chances for positive development. Simon is a member of the Board of Directors of both the Women’s Foundation of California, and the San Francisco Foundation’s Koshland Committee. She is a student at the Mills College School of Public Policy.

Lateefah Simon’s remarkable achievements have garnered her recognition from the Ford Foundation, Ms. Foundation, The Oprah Magazine, the National Council on Research on Women, and the National Organization for Women. She also received the MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellowship in 2004, and was featured in the PBS documentary Girl Trouble.

Simon was nominated for the Chronicle’s Visionary of the Year for 2015 and made the following comments in an SF Gate interview:

Everyone’s talking about social justice. What is it? What does it look like? Well, it looks like less crime, less poverty, good schools, jobs we love. ... It looks like peace. I think everyone wants the same things. It’s really pretty basic.

I want people to know that a better life is possible,” she said. “This city is my soil. I know these people. I love these people. I want them to know that no matter who you are or what you’ve done, you are due a process of transformation. You deserve another chance.

Simon’s personal life made news in 2012 when her husband, Kevin Weston, was diagnosed with leukemia. She gave a speech at TEDxPeacePlaza in 2013, and Kevin passed away in 2014. Here are some additional resources to learn more about Lateefah Simon: