Aleah Bacquie Vaughn is Director at Circle for Justice Innovations and was a member of the Quill and Dagger Honor Society and Recipient of the Outstanding Senior Award from Cornell University, where she was a leader in the Student Divestment Coalition. She went on to become the Program Director then Interim Executive Director at the American Committee on Africa and the Africa Fund. There she championed campaigns demanding the release of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, and divestment from companies doing business in South Africa.
She lived in South Africa in the period leading up to and immediately following the country’s historic first democratic elections. There she worked for the South African Council of Churches on a team devoted to decreasing the violence in the East Rand, one of the bloodiest regions during that time; on the Independent Electoral Commission where she helped educate communities about registering and voting in the country’s historic elections; for the World Council on Religion and Peace, which first called for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and for the Women’s Development Foundation, which championed and supported the election of women to national government positions.
Upon her return to the United States, she worked on the Jubilee campaign promoting cancellation of African debt to rich nations and demanding medication for African nations in the devastating fight against HIV/AIDS. She then worked as the Director of Social Justice Ministries for the historic Riverside Church, guiding 13 social justice ministries, including a fund for the Prison Ministry and the creation of Sojourners, a ministry for people detained in U.S. facilities. During a demonstration that she helped organize, she was illegally arrested, detained and strip-searched by NYPD. The action was intended to highlight Columbia Presbyterian’s testing of serotonin levels in black and Latino boys, using fenfluramine, a dangerous substance later withdrawn by the FDA due to its association with heart failure. She subsequently sued and won a case against the NYPD. Aleah is the granddaughter of Irene Morgan, of the Morgan v. Virginia Supreme Court decision against segregation in interstate travel, which enforcement of the Freedom Rides were organized to ensure. She is the fierce mother of two black boys. She has been a member of the CJI Circle since 2003.