The Story of the Gathering




The Story of the Gathering




The Gathering for Justice was founded in 2005 by Harry Belafonte after he witnessed a news report of a 5 year old black girl being handcuffed and arrested in her Florida classroom for “being unruly”. The Gathering’s mission is to build a movement to end child incarceration while working to eliminate the racial inequities in the criminal justice system that enliven mass incarceration.

From its inception, The Gathering provided a safe environment for policy and model exchange, and dialogue between generations of activists, community members, formerly-incarcerated individuals, gang members and academics from all communities and cultures. In order to facilitate these intergenerational conversations, The Gathering enlisted tactical support from The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the youth divisions of Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP, and the Congress on Racial Equality, among others.


This strategic planning led to years of Gathering retreats in communities all over the country including in Epps, Alabama with the initial Gathering of the Elders and Youth primarily from the black community, and Santa Cruz where we built with the Latino community, and to the Onondaga Nation to bring the indigenous youth into the conversation, and in Orange County, California where we engaged the youth leaders from the Asian and Pacific Islander community, and on to the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee, where The Gathering gave the white coal miners and those victimized by justice miscarried, the opportunity to instruct our black and brown communities and youth about the commonality of class experience and poverty across racial lines. These Gatherings revealed to the youth assembled that there were powerful parallels in their civil and human rights struggle in this country. And that message of inclusivity, that work of uncovering the common ground that unites peoples from diverse communities – that is the best work of The Gathering. And that work continues, and is more vital than ever.

In 2010, Carmen Perez became the Executive Director of The Gathering, moving the national office to NYC and forming a meaningful partnership with 1199SEIU by helping build their young workers program, called Purple Gold. From 2010 until 2014, The Gathering essentially was a one-woman shop with all the services (juvenile detention programming, international gang-intervention, organizing training) – provided by Carmen Perez. In April 2014, Carmen brought on a Director of Operations and the two set a challenging agenda for the next 12 months.  While initially working with a fiscal sponsor, The Gathering incorporated in January 2015 and in April 2015 was awarded its 501C3 non-profit status.

Click an image below to learn more about the work of the Gathering:

Many of the photos appearing on this site were taken by our friend Alex Arbuckle during the historic March2Justice, a 250-mile journey where Justice Champions and Supports from all over the East Coast marched from New York City to Washington, DC to deliver the Justice Package to Congress.  Alex joined us the whole way and snapped thousands of photos, some of which are displayed here. To see more of his work, please visit


Mission, Vision and Values

Mission, Vision and Values


The mission of The Gathering is to build a national movement rooted in culture, spirituality and non-violence to end child incarceration, while working to eliminate the racial inequities in the criminal justice system that enliven mass incarceration. 


The Gathering for Justice is a social justice organization founded by Harry Belafonte in 2005.  Led since 2010 by Executive Director Carmen Perez, The Gathering utilizes Kingian nonviolence as a social application for change and civic engagement. The organization is unique in that we provide direct services, engage artists and cultural leaders as foot soldiers in grassroots mobilization, and consult and advise on legislative and policy initiatives while organizing in local and national communities – all to sustain and build this Movement, the essence of which is grounded in the Movement for Racial Equality.

Since 2013, The Gathering has been building justice initiatives on multiple fronts. Our work includes leading policy initiatives for police accountability; bringing in individuals and groups from diverse communities to organize as a ‘family coalition’ in order to capitalize on our combined power and build the agenda for sustained black and brown liberation; being the catalyst for the re-introduction of federal legislation to end racial profiling and stop the militarization of law enforcement; engaging a serious and sustained effort for Raise the Age in NY State; and creating a blueprint – in the form of a substantive list of demands – for criminal justice redress and accountability for NY City and State.

The Gathering for Justice follows a set of guiding principles. We stand on the radical shoulders of Civil Rights leaders and elders like our Founder Harry Belafonte, who was educated in radical thought by Paul Robeson. We ground ourselves in Kingnian nonviolence because we understand the power of nonviolence as a tactic in the struggle for social justice.

Accepting that nonviolence is not passive, but is a strength-based tactic of reform helps The Gathering and Justice League maintain integrity in an environment often fraught with internal struggles for identity and messaging. We are grounded in methodology.  We’ve got a lot of work to do. The nation needs us, now, to change the unjust systems that have shackled our youth for generations.

Never in our lifetime has there been a more urgent call for Justice and Equality. We see the hopeful signs of change coming – and we know we cannot take our eyes off the road for even a moment – for the moment is right now. The Gathering for Justice is the Movement. 


The values of The Gathering are essential and enduring tenets that provide a frame of reference for decision-making, contribute to the organizational atmosphere, and guide the annual, shifting strategies:

Collaboration: Victory is attainable only when we work in genuine collaboration with each other, our allies and our stakeholders. The Gathering seeks to engage allies and stakeholders to achieve mutual goals and strengthen the movement.

Competency: The Gathering is unwavering in its commitment to bring competent, committed leaders into the campaign to end child incarceration.  There is no compromising the high standards expected of people in these campaigns.  The Gathering supports all young people in reaching these standards.

Culture: The Gathering has made culture a centerpiece of organizing. All cultures are represented in every aspect of planning and execution of The Gathering.

Non-violence:  The Gathering is committed to a moral framework of justice and love that informs its organizing and strategy. The tactics used internally and externally will be nonviolent.

Innovation: The Gathering works to identify new efficient ways of bringing people together, as well as using innovation as a tool for model exchange.

Integrity: The Gathering is unwavering in its commitment to bring leaders with integrity into the organization as staff members, advisors and committee members. The Gathering seeks to bring integrity and purpose to all that it does.

Performance: The Gathering evaluates its work based on the impact it has on improving the lives of the young people it works with, and on the movement it is making towards policy change.  The Gathering holds itself and others to a high performance standard that accomplishes tangible social and political change.

Professionalism: Ethical, professional behavior by all individuals associated with The Gathering is essential in order for the public to have trust in its mission.

Responsibility: The Gathering understands it has a responsibility to achieve short-term victories that shift the balance of power while supporting long-term change that will have an enduring impact on communities for years to come. The Gathering will not sacrifice its ideological vision for quick gain and will not engage in gratuitous battles that detract from that vision.