Soffiyah Elijah

Executive Director, Alliance of Families for Justice

How old is your organization? Three years old
What sector do you work in? Nonprofit
How long have you been working in this sector? Eight years
How long have you been with your current organization? Three years

What has been the most significant development in your sector over the last 40 years?
The recognition of the importance of the voices of directly impacted people.

What has been the greatest challenge during this same period?
Overcoming the stigma and shame associated with having an incarcerated loved one.

How has communication—with staff, clients, and/or donors—changed over the course of the last 40 years?
Social media and the internet have had a tremendous impact on the ability to reach countless people immediately at little to no cost.

What is the single greatest challenge you face today in your sector?

What leadership qualities are necessary to succeed as a nonprofit executive today?
Excellent people skills, passion, compassion, patience, common sense, good business sense, being well organized, the ability to multi task, and having a sense of humor.

How do you see shifting views on race, gender, sexuality, age, immigration status, educational achievement, wealth, poverty, and health affecting your organization in the future?
Shifting views on these issues should make advocacy work for our organization easier.

What will nonprofits need to do to remain relevant and necessary to their clients over the next 40 years?
Nonprofits must be run and guided by the people they seek to “serve”.

Where would you like to see your sector in 40 years?
I would like us to be so successful that we make ourselves obsolete.

Why did you join this sector?
This work matters to me personally.

In what ways would others say you are a trailblazer?
I have vision. I’m able to execute. I include people in collective decision-making and am an excellent listener. I’ve successfully taken on difficult and very challenging projects and succeeded. Others would say that I am humble.

Why did you want to become Executive Director of Alliance of Families for Justice?
I became a lawyer because I wanted to help people in my community who were traumatized by incarceration.

Please describe one of your most significant challenges during your career and how you overcame it.
Fighting racism in its many manifestation has been an ongoing challenge in my career. I refused to be limited by it and called it out when I encountered it.

If you were just starting out in your sector today, what advice would the person you are today give to the “newbie”?
Never give up.

What do you want your work culture to be like?
Enjoyable and full of passion so that it does not feel like work.

What are your organization’s values, and specifically leadership values, and how do you ensure everyone who is part of your team embraces them?
Treat everyone with respect and appreciation.

Based on your experience, please offer one piece of advice to a person hoping to break through as a leader in your sector.
Nothing is more important than the relationships you develop in this sector.

Find out more
AFJ website

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