Lorenzo Jones is the Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. He has more than 25 years of experience mentoring community leaders and organizing communities to make systemic change.
As a trainer, strategist, and coach, Jones is sought after by groups across the United States and globally. He has trained groups as varied as: People’s Action, Open Society Foundations, the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Families and People’s Movement, Perrin Family Foundation (in which he now serves as a member of their Strategy Council), Public Welfare Foundation, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Drug Policy Alliance, Council of Europe’s Pompidou Working Group on Drug Policy, and more. He has trained advocates from dozens of states within the U.S. and Canada, Brazil, Hungary, and Poland. In 2013, in an effort to train a new generation of community organizers in Connecticut, Jones led a partnership with the Perrin Family Foundation to build and launch the innovative BLOC program -- Building Leadership and Organizing Capacity - which is a training cohort of young community organizers in Connecticut. BLOC is now the flagship organizing training program at Katal.
For nearly 15 years, Jones has served as strategic advisor and consultant to criminal justice and drug policy reform organizers and campaigns around the country. Jones’s leadership strategy focuses on teaching everyday people that they can make the change they want to see, and helping organizers understand the political terrain on which they operate. From 2005 – 2016, Jones served as the executive director of A Better Way Foundation (ABWF), a Connecticut-based organization that used advocacy and organizing to build power in urban, suburban, and rural communities most affected by mass incarceration, the drug war, and the inequitable access to resources. During his tenure, ABWF made community organizing a fundamental part of their policy reform strategy. He built numerous campaigns that ran the spectrum of criminal justice and drug policy reform objectives. At the center of these campaigns were local leaders, trained and coached by Jones and his team. ABWF racked up an impressive list of victories, among them, reforming Connecticut’s cannabis laws – including decriminalization of marijuana and passing a medical marijuana bill; establishing racial and ethnic impact statements for criminal justice legislation (CT was the second state in the nation to pass such a law); passing harm reduction and overdose prevention laws, including expanding naloxone access and access to clean syringes; banning the box in CT to reduce employment discrimination for people convicted of felonies (overriding a governor’s veto); ending mandatory minimums; and more.
Reflecting Jones’s systems-oriented approach, ABWF wasn’t only advocating in the state capital to change laws – they sponsored midget football teams, fought to save public libraries, organized father-son fishing trips, and more. These activities stand as an example of Jones’s theory of change in action, while ABWF’s impressive track record stands as a testament to the success of this approach.
Jones began his organizing career in 1991 in Hartford, Connecticut as a community organizer with the Asylum Hill Organizing Project. In 1994, he joined United Connecticut Action for Neighborhoods (UCAN), where Alta Lash and Jack Mimnaugh mentored him for nearly 15 years. He learned the science and art of community organizing by building campaigns led by community residents fighting for police accountability and public safety, expanding alternative to incarceration programs, securing resources for community development, and more. In the late 90s, Jones organized a campaign to win the first community diversion court in Connecticut. His last major project at UCAN was the organizing of Create Change, an action group led primarily by people of color and people directly impacted by the failed war on drugs. Create Change was founded with the mission of using community organizing to build leaders and transform policies in Connecticut. Under Jones’s leadership, Create Change built and launched new groups like the BROTHERS group, working with people that had been marginalized, criminalized, and locked out of the mainstream economy. They took on fights nobody else would take up, like the effort in 2005 to end Connecticut’s racially biased disparities in crack/powder cocaine penalties.
In 2013, Jones was honored with an award by the Drug Policy Alliance in recognition of his efforts to make democracy work in drug law and policy reform. He lives in Hartford, Connecticut, with his wife Kimberly. They have three children –Jordan, Lorenzo Jr., and Loren. Born and raised in Chicago, Jones is an avid fan of the Bears and the Blackhawks.
Kenyatta Thompson is a Community Organizer with the Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice. Her experiences in her native Brooklyn, New York exposed her to disparities in police surveillance, access to educational opportunities and overall outcomes for those in her neighborhood. These early experiences remained with her, and propelled her to challenge the justice system.
Prior to joining Katal, Kenyatta worked as a Workforce Developer at Roca Inc. in Springfield, MA. There, she facilitated Workforce Readiness groups with young people who had been incarcerated. The disparities that existed in Brooklyn were present in Springfield, which in turn, shaped Kenyatta’s path towards justice. Previous internship experiences have also shaped her path. Kenyatta has worked with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention on prison suicide prevention strategies, the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services on statewide suicide prevention policy and with State Senator Eric P. Lesser (D-Longmeadow, MA) on criminal justice reform and constituent cases in his district.
A self-described east coast nomad, Kenyatta also holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree from Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Connecticut School of Social Work in Hartford, CT. Outside of work, Kenyatta enjoys long walks on the beach, skateboarding through her neighborhood and re-runs of MTV’s Daria.