Advocacy Leadership Accelerator – 2023-2024 Cohort

Meet the participants in our Advocacy Leadership Accelerator (ALA) program! In recruiting for this year’s Accelerator, we prioritized participants from BIPOC-led organizations doing community organizing and actively sought a regionally diverse cohort from various parts of NY State.

We are very excited to have the following individuals and their respective organizations participate in the 2023-2024 Accelerator. Learn more about our ALA participants by reading their bios below!

Bella Cockerell

NY State Organizing Manager, Mothers Out Front

Briana Carbajal

State Legislative Manager, WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Casey Dalporto

Senior Policy Attorney, New York County Defender Services

Elmer Flores

Long Island Regional Organizer, Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP)

Bella Cockerell, Mothers Out Front

Bella Cockerell is a passionate advocate for social justice and environmental causes, with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. With a Master’s in Development Practice from Emory University and a Bachelor’s in Education and Spanish from Wagner College, she has developed a love for deepening her viewpoint. As NY State Organizing Manager for Mothers Out Front, Bella is attempting to lead result-oriented campaigns for climate justice. While at Girl Scouts of the USA, she expanded members’ engagement at the United Nations as Global Advocacy Manager. Additionally, her Peace Corps service in Kosovo showcased her dedication to community development and cross-cultural dialogue. A multilingual individual, Bella brings language skills in Albanian and Spanish. Her commitment to empowerment is evident in her fellowships and mentorship roles. With a proven ability to drive positive change, Bella hopes to make a significant impact in the world!

Briana Carbajal, WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Briana Carbajal is the State Legislative Manager at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. They are responsible for working directly with State legislators and agencies to build programs and policies that advance environmental justice for the Northern Manhattan community and other environmental justice communities across New York.

Briana received their Master’s degree in Climate Science and Policy at the Columbia Climate School with a focus on environmental law and community-based solutions to climate change.

Casey Dalporto, New York County Defender Services

Casey Dalporto is a Senior Policy Attorney at New York County Defender Services, where for the past 2 years has led the Treatment Not Jail coalition. She began her career in 2012 at the Legal Aid Society, where she gained a range of experience as a Criminal Defense Attorney in Manhattan, a Criminal Immigration Specialist in the Bronx, and an instructor in the Training Unit. Casey is a graduate of Cardozo School of Law and New York University.

Elmer Flores, Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP)

Elmer Flores is the Long Island Regional Organizer at RAPP – Release Aging People in Prison campaign where he helps to base build justice-impacted individuals and leads the organization’s campaigns for parole reform, clemency and advocating for the rights of incarcerated individuals. Since joining RAPP three years ago, Elmer has been primarily organizing and mobilizing communities across Long Island to take action in support of the Parole Justice NY campaign which seeks to promote fair and meaningful release opportunities for incarcerated people in New York State prisons.

Elmer is an abolitionist and organizer with a passion for leadership development and capacity building in the movement space. Before joining RAPP, he has been organizing across Long Island on electoral and issue-based campaigns including being a former steering committee member of LI United to Transform Policing and Community Safety and Young LI for Justice. In addition, Elmer currently serves as a Advisory Board member of the Long Island Immigration Clinic that assists undocumented friends with pro-se asylum support.

Francis Nunez

Follow Black Women Campaign Director, Community Voices Heard (CVH)

Monique Fitzgerald

Climate Justice Organizer, Long Island Progressive Coalition (LIPC)

Halema Wali

Co-Founder & Director of Community Engagement, Afghans For A Better Tomorrow

Huanjie Li

Civic Participation Associate, MinKwon Center for Community Action

Francis Nunez, Community Voices Heard (CVH)

Francis comes with over a decade of experience in grassroots community organizing in the tri-state area for education equity, harm reduction and community violence intervention, decarceration, and housing. She is currently serving as campaign director for “Follow Black Women” at CVH. Follow Black Women is a campaign dedicated to centering Black Women in the development of a policy agenda that will directly improve our lives in the issue areas of healthcare, wage equity, housing, and education.

Monique Fitzgerald, Long Island Progressive Coalition (LIPC)

Monique Fitzgerald is a tribal member of the Setalcott Nation, a nation traditionally based on the north shore of Suffolk County, and was born and raised in North Bellport. Her past work has been at the grassroots level, organizing and advocating for the North Bellport community and communities with similar socioeconomic demographics. As a person living in a community on the front line of the climate crisis, Monique brings first-hand experience of what climate justice is not and what it could be.

Halema Wali, Afghans For A Better Tomorrow

Halema Wali is the Co-founder and Director of Community Engagement for Afghans For A Better Tomorrow, a grassroots advocacy and community organization dedicated to transformative change for Afghans in the US and beyond. Her work focuses on pressuring the U.S. to create legal pathways to safety for at-risk Afghans, including members of her own family left behind in Afghanistan. She also advocates for passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act and safety, housing, and a life of dignity for recently arrived Afghan migrants in NYC.

Previously, she co-founded the Afghan Diaspora for Equality & Progress and the Shia Racial Justice Coalition – both organizations that looked to further advance each respective community via efforts of education and advocacy. Her work is grounded in equity and justice for all, through progressive values.

Halema holds her Bachelors in Political Science and Biology from Rutgers University-Newark.

Huanjie Li, Minkown Center for Community Action

Huanjie Li (she/her) is the Civic Participation Associate at MinKwon Center for Community Action. She helps coordinate MinKwon Center’s and APA VOICE’s civic engagement efforts in underserved Korean & Chinese communities and supports senior members and young community leaders through civic education and leadership training. Huanjie was born and raised in Shenyang, China, and has a background in Computer Science and Graphic Design. After immigrating to the U.S., she has actively organized in Chinese American space to combat structural racism against people of color and stigma against individuals impacted by homelessness and incarceration. She is also vocal about the human rights struggles and democracy movement in China and actively uses her past experience in electoral campaigns to advocate for a better, more equitable future for all.

Iridian Lucas Garcia

Coalition Coordinator, Columbia County Sanctuary Movement (CCSM)

Janet Fry

Director of Advocacy, Community Resource Center (CRC)

Jorge Gruber

Coordinator, Northeast Dutchess Immigrant Services (NEDIS)

Kelsey Pirnak

NYS Deputy Director, Fines and Fees Justice Center

Iridian Lucas Garcia, Columbia County Sanctuary Movement (CCSM)

Iridian Lucas Garcia is a DACAmented Organizer based in the Hudson Valley, currently working as the Coalition and Member Engagement Coordinator with Columbia County Sanctuary Movement and as the Youth Organizer with Adelante Student Voices.
Iridian began working with CCSM as their Excluded Workers Fund Regional Implementation Coordinator, but shortly after joining, she began transitioning into full-time advocacy work because the EWF had closed. During the 2023 NYS Legislative Session, she worked as the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition’s Campaign Coordinator, where she gained much insight relating to the inner workings of what it means to run a coalition. Then, in the spring of 2023, Iridian joined Adelante Student Voices as their Youth Organizer to lead their newly formed youth advocacy committee, Vision Adelante, to support in the development of their campaign to push Hudson Valley school districts to address the educational equity gap that undocumented students and their families face.

Janet Fry, Community Resource Center (CRC)

Janet Fry is the Director of Advocacy at the Community Resource Center (CRC). CRC is a community-based organization dedicated to empowering new immigrants in Westchester to become self-sufficient and active community members. Janet began her career at the CRC as a Worker Organizer. Over the course of 19 years at the organization, Janet has overseen the Case Management Department, Worker Center, and Legal Services Program. In 2015, Janet was accredited by the US Department of Justice and received full DOJ Accreditation to legally represent immigrant clients in Immigration Court in 2019. Janet’s passion for immigrant empowerment is reflected in her incredible community advocacy and organizing efforts. As a Peruvian immigrant, Janet proudly supports her people through the CRC’s mission and various programs and services.
Janet received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In addition to her work at the CRC, Janet serves on the Board of the Westchester Women’s Agenda.

Jorge Gruber, Northeast Dutchess Immigrant Services (NEDIS)

Jorge Gruber is an advocate currently serving Northeast Dutchess Immigrant Services (NEDIS) in Millbrook, New York, overseeing its youth leadership development program, EPIC. A Hudson Valley resident for almost a decade, his work focuses on empowering migrant communities, especially immigrant youth. Previously, Jorge coordinated VELLOP, connecting English Language Learner students and educators in the Poughkeepsie City School District with language resources and mentorship. Jorge’s work revolves around empowering migrant communities, with a specific focus on immigrant youth. He holds a degree in International Studies from Vassar College and his passion for legal education, history, political philosophy, and baseball is matched only by his love for his hometowns of Miami, Florida, and Caracas, Venezuela.

Kelsey Pirnak, Fines and Fees Justice Center

Kelsey Pirnak is the New York State Deputy Director for the Fines and Fees Justice Center. Kelsey works closely with a wide range of organizations to collaboratively garner support for local and state campaigns. Kelsey has previously worked as a community organizer in both local initiatives and statewide campaigns to advance criminal justice reform. During this time, they organized community groups and leaders to transform the political and social landscape of Long Island and across New York, helping to pass a multitude of legislation. They also provided direct service work to women who were both currently and formerly incarcerated, assisting with advocacy as well as reentry services. In addition, they created practices utilizing case mitigation to work towards significantly reducing sentencing. Kelsey has a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Stonybrook University specializing in Community, Policy and Political Social Action and a Bachelor’s Degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies from the University at Albany.

Kulsoom Tapal

Education Policy Coordinator, Coalition for Chinese American Children and Families (CACF)

Cassandra Bocanegra

Finger Lakes Manager of Organizing and Strategy, New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC)

Mina Aguilar

Campaign Organizer, Workers Center of Central New York

Nafanaba Sanogo

Community Organizer, African Communities Together (ACT)

Kulsoom Tapal, Coalition for Chinese American Children and Families (CACF)

Kulsoom (she/her) is a community organizer, creative thinker, and a child of immigrants. She is the Education Policy Coordinator at the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families and one of the lead organizers with the New York Muslim Organizing Collective. Kulsoom has worked in various advocacy, policy, and non-profit spaces at the local and national level. She is passionate about community-informed and intersectional efforts that move us towards collective liberation.
As an advocate for the most marginalized Asian American students – English language learners, immigrants, low-income students, and students with disabilities, Kulsoom’s work aims to uplift CACF’s Education Equity Agenda and ensure AANHPI student needs are uplifted in discussions around education justice. In her role, she also co-leads the REACH Coalition to advocate for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander history (AANHPI) to New York State schools. The growing coalition, which was created in 2022, is composed of over 170 community leaders, parents, students, educators, and 70+ organizations that are committed to promoting inclusive and diverse curricula in schools. This year, the coalition lead a bill advocating for AANHPI history to pass the NY State Senate.

Cassandra Bocanegra, New York Immigration Coalition

Cassandra Bocanegra is the Manager of Organizing and Strategy for the Finger Lakes. Raised in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon (Mexico), Cass immigrated with her family to Rochester, NY in 1999 and has worked and supported farmworker and immigrant rights in the Finger Lakes Region. Prior to NYIC, she worked in Outreach and Education with the Workers Justice Center of NY, visiting and supporting farmworkers across the state. Cass was a founding member of the Greater Rochester Coalition for Immigrant Justice bringing together local organizations to uplift the continued need for immigrant justice work. As a member of Kids for College, she provided mentorship to other first generation college students in the Finger Lakes community. She attended Our Lady of Mercy High School and graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a BA in International Relations and minors in Philosophy and Women and Gender Studies. Currently residing in the 19th Ward of Rochester, she takes advantage of the variety of landscapes and often wanders into the woods with her dog Noah.

Mina Aguilar, Workers Center of Central New York

Mina is a Chicana living in Central NY as a membership and campaign organizer for the Workers’ Center of CNY. She graduated from SUNY Oswego in 2022 with a BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.

Mina’s work focuses on organizing statewide campaigns for workers’ and immigrants’ rights. She is currently involved in the Fund Excluded Workers coalition for the Unemployment Bridge Program, the Campaign for Access, Representation, and Equity for Immigrant Families coalition with the New York Immigration Coalition, as well as working within her own organization to organize members and fight for quality working conditions and economic justice.

Nafanaba Sanogo, African Communities Together (ACT)

Nafanaba Sanogo was born and raised in the Ivory Coast. She started at ACT as a High School Intern. Then in 2020, she became one of the captains of the Census program. When Covid hit, Nafanaba worked as a Captain of the Test and Trace Program. In January 2022, she finally joined the team full-time as a Community Organizer.

Nafanaba has an associate degree in business administration and is currently preparing for a bachelor’s degree in accounting. She is fluent in French & Mandigo.

Ruwi Shaikh

HIV/AIDS Campaigns Coordinator, VOCAL-NY

Shay Herbert

Organizer, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU)

Thara Duclosel

Policy & Advocacy Coordinator, Nonprofit New York

Tsering Lama

Policy Manager, Adhikaar for Human Rights and Social Justice

Ruwi Shaikh, VOCAL-NY

Ruwi Shaikh is a queer Indian immigrant, born and raised in Dubai, and moved to NYC for liberation and safety. They are the HIV/AIDS Campaigns coordinator at VOCAL-NY, a position they’ve held for over 2 years. Ruwi has also worked as a community organizer with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Shay Herbert, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU)

Shay Herbert is a Rochester, New York native who has always been passionate about creating a world where everyone can thrive. She has worked closely with members of the Rochester community who have been directly impacted by mass incarceration, police brutality, anti-queerness and the overall criminal punishment system. Shay was introduced to advocating for change by her aunt, Joy Powell, a political prisoner currently serving a 25-to-life sentence. She is dedicated to carrying on the work her aunt has started in Rochester through her role as the Rochester/Genesee Valley Chapter organizer at NYCLU.

Thara Duclosel, Nonprofit New York

Thara Duclosel joined Nonprofit New York in February 2023 as Policy & Advocacy Coordinator. Before joining, Thara served as the Director of Operations for New York State Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn’s district office, working closely with local community boards, community-based organizations, State and City offices, and various community councils. Her government background includes serving as Senate Session Assistant for the Office of Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Women in Public Service Intern, and CUNY Caucus Scholar for the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus. Her nonprofit background includes working with the Human Services Council as Communications Intern and the Prospect Park Alliance as Government and Community Relations Coordinator. Thara holds a B.S. in Public Affairs from Baruch College CUNY and a MSW from Fordham Graduate School of Social Service.

Tsering Lama, Adhikaar for Human Rights and Social Justice

Tsering D. Lama is the Policy Manager at Adhikaar. Tsering joined Adhikaar as a volunteer English For Empowerment facilitator in 2014 and began working as a Domestic Worker Organizer in 2016 and is now a Policy Manager. In her 5+ years of working at Adhikaar, Tsering has led programs related to Workforce Development for domestic workers in NY and NJ, Adult Literacy program with English Classes, Digital literacy and Citizenship Preparation Classes. As an organizer, she led base building for workers’ Campaigns in NJ and helped introduce the New Jersey Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. Tsering is also a trained interpreter and has supported Adhikaar members as case workers as well as worked with various organizations and government offices as an interpreter. In her current role, she supports each program area at Adikaar’s with their Policy needs. Tsering is a Tibetan Immigrant from Nepal. Tsering is a CUNY alum, holds Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Master in Labor Studies.