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From Christa Gannon: The Power of Allyship

FLYs’ former CEO of 20 years reflects the past year as FLY’s Founder in Residence and an ally in our pursuit of justice.

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I stepped down as FLY’s CEO and became our Founder in Residence! Yet I’m not surprised at how smooth this transition was because we laid the foundation with so much intention and have such a dedicated team at FLY.

I’m so impressed by all that our staff, volunteers, supporters, and most importantly our youth accomplished under Ali Knight’s leadership during such unbelievable times:

  • We served more than 1,600 kids and even expanded some programs.
  • We ensured that our youth, families, and FLY team had access to critical pandemic relief and support.
  • We worked with our young people on system reforms both locally and state-wide.
  • We helped our youth overcome incredible obstacles and celebrate scores of virtual high school graduations, plus even a bachelor’s and a master’s degree!
  • We completed a successful Law Program project in Monterey County that proved we could spread FLY by training and supporting other organizations.

My role has been and will continue to be supporting FLY’s efforts to help reform the criminal justice system; extend our reach to more kids in the Bay Area and beyond; and build our capacity to share what we’ve learned with others to accelerate the pace of change.

Having the opportunity to be an ally at this critical time in the history of our agency, our communities, and our country is powerful, humbling, and gratifying.

Being an ally means using my power and privilege to support the leadership and wisdom of others, especially those with lived experience. It means recognizing that those closest to the pain of racism, injustice, and oppression are those closest to the solutions. It means being honest about my own areas of growth as a white woman with privilege, and being willing to challenge and educate myself to be better.

It also means supporting FLY’s continued evolution from being about service for some to working toward justice for all. When I started FLY back in 1998, one of the hardest parts of the job was leaving Santa Clara County’s juvenile hall on Friday nights knowing that as a staff of one there was no way I could visit with every incarcerated youth. (There were more than 380 youth at the time; as I write this, there are only 43.)

And I remember visiting clients when a brother, sister, cousin, or friend would crash the meeting and ask if they could have a mentor because they needed help, too. All the while I knew that because our capacity was so limited I couldn’t give them a spot.

It became so apparent that we could not “direct service” our way out of the problems often created and exacerbated by our criminal justice system. And so we began the work to not only reach more kids but to also help the system change and become more effective and humane.

Reaching as many kids as we can with our services is still an impactful, life-changing strategy. But for true justice to happen over the long term, we must use our power and privilege to fight to remove the obstacles that create the need for FLY in the first place—including biases, practices, policies, legislation, and under-investment in our communities.

True justice means that the pipeline to prison is dismantled and replaced with meaningful opportunities for all kids to thrive.

At FLY we have always believed that our best work is yet to be done. I am so hopeful for our future and proud to see Ali, the Board, our staff, volunteers, investors, and youth embrace that sentiment and fight every day for the justice that young people deserve. I am humbled, honored, and excited to fight alongside them as their ally.