THE PRAXIS PROJECT STAFF
Makani Themba, Executive Director
Makani Themba is executive director of The Praxis Project, a nonprofit organization helping communities use media and policy advocacy to advance health justice. Under her leadership, The Praxis Project has raised more than $20 million for advocacy organizations working in communities of color nationwide. These initiatives include Communities Creating Healthy Environments (C-CHE), an initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to support policy advocacy to advance healthy food outlets and safe places to play in communities of color and Building Capacity Building Power, a partnership with Ford Foundation to support grassroots civic engagement.
Makani was previously director of the Transnational Racial Justice Initiative (TRJI), an international project to build capacity among advocates to more effectively address structural racism and leverage tools and best practices from around the world. While at TRJI, she co-authored and edited a "shadow report" on institutional racism and white privilege – the first of its kind.
Prior to that, she directed the Grass Roots Innovative Policy Program (GRIPP) a national project to build capacity among local organizing groups to more effectively engage in media and policy advocacy to address institutional racism in welfare and public education. She was a staffer for the California State Legislature, served as media director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference/Los Angeles, and worked five years for the Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems, including three years as director of its Center for Media and Policy Analysis.
Makani has published numerous articles and case studies on race, class, media, policy advocacy and public health. She is author of Making Policy, Making Change, and co-author of Media Advocacy and Public Health: Power for Prevention, a contributor to the volumes Community Based Participatory Research for Health, Prevention is Primary: Strategies for Community well Being, We the Media along with many other edited book projects. Her publications have helped set the standard for policy advocacy work and contributed significantly to the field’s current emphasis on media and policy advocacy to address health problems. She has also co-authored with Hunter Cutting is Talking the Walk: Communications Guide for Racial Justice. Her latest book, a collaboration under The Praxis Project with contributions from Malkia Cyril and others, is Fair Game: A Strategy Guide for Racial Justice Communications in the Obama Era.
Ditra has centered her life's work on working with communities of color to fight for justice. A skilled trainer, facilitator, community organizer, fundraiser and strategist, Ditra brings a high level integrity and effectiveness to all of her work.
Prior to coming to Praxis, Ditra served as a consultant in partnership with the Hill-Snowdon Foundation, The Center for Applied Research and Technical Assistance, Inc. (CARTA) and The Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO). From 1999 to 2005, Ditra Edwards was on the staff of LISTEN, Inc., serving as Executive Director from 2002 to 2005. Under Ditra's leadership, the organization grew tremendously. LISTEN secured and managed the National Roots Initiative - a two-year partnership with the Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing. Ditra also won multi-year funding to secure the infrastructure of LISTEN and core support for grass roots organizations in their national network.
As director of Training and Youth Development at LISTEN, Ditra was responsible for the design and implementation of the Global Exchange Program, which supported youth activists from the United States and their counterparts in other countries to learn about leadership and democracy. Ditra was also the catalyst for the content and framework of the organization's leadership and youth development curriculum. Ditra also helped incubate Youth Education Alliance (YEA), a DC based youth organizing group fighting for equality education in DC Public Schools. She also helped create the national network of youth workers and organizers called Building Leadership Organizing Communities (BLOC).
Ditra has served on the boards of the Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing, and the Columbia Heights Shaw Family Support Collaborative. Ditra was the recipient of the Salzburg Seminar Fellowship, Session 366 on Urban Youth and the Smithsonian Institute Museum Leadership Award.
Salimah Salaam-Muhammad, Finance and Personnel Director
Salimah Salaam is a native Washingtonian and serves as the Finance and Personnel Director for the Praxis Project. Her primary function is to act as the financial liaison for the organization and to provide administrative and fiscal management. She also works directly with the PATH grantees to provide technical assistance in the areas of budget development, planning policies and procedures and accounting.
Hailing from a varied business background that spans nearly two decades, her experience includes managing the Abundant Life Clinic, an inclusive and non-sectarian community-based holistic health clinic serving health care needs to underserved and disadvantaged communities, to a management stint at Citibank. Prior to working at Praxis, Salimah was professionally employed with various financial planning, investment and community based fundraising to individuals and small businesses. She holds a master’s degree in business finance from the University of the District of Columbia and she completed her undergraduate work at Howard University.
Ayenay Abye, Field Director
AyeNay Abye was born and raised in Los Angeles. She was formerly, Lead Organizer with Californians for Justice in Oakland and Long Beach, California. At Californians For Justice AyeNay led a successful campaign, So Fresh, So Clean, winning $16 million dollars for Oakland High School under the landmark Williams v. California Settlement. She received her BA in American Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz. During her time at UCSC, she was heavily involved in student organizing on campus and the greater community. She has now moved to Washington DC and is the Field Director at The Praxis Project.
Miles Parish, Technology Manager
Miles began his organizing career at a young age when he began volunteering in election campaigns before he was ten years old. As a college student at Morehouse, he worked in the Obama For America campaign, designed websites and technology applications for independent musicians and produced short viral videos and other promotional materials. Miles coordinates digital outreach for the CCHE Get FReE initiative, which focuses on networking, support and tools for youth-led organizing nationwide.
Now in his fifth year at Praxis Miles has stepped into the role as Technology Manager adding to his multimedia credentials through various accredidation programs and independent study on how to use the web more effectively for organizing and also speaking at gatherings on the importance for people of color to use available technology to better their communities by taking charge in its development.
Lakshmi Sridaran, Policy Director
Lakshmi Sridaran serves as the Policy Director for the Praxis Project. She was born and raised in Atlanta, GA. Lakshmi has varied community organizing, urban planning, and advocacy experiences from around the country, but primarily focused in the South. Most recently, she concluded six years of work in New Orleans, starting as a community development specialist with Bright Moments public relations firm and national research institute, PolicyLink, to produce joint research findings on improving federal contracting opportunities for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises. Her latest position was as Director of Programs for Neighborhoods Partnership Network. Much of her work there was focused on building neighborhood organizational capacity among the over 100 NPN members, helping shape local policy issues among neighborhoods and linking them to state and federal policy efforts. She helped initiate resident participation in the New Orleans city budgeting process, producing two widely distributed residents’ guides to understanding and evaluating the city budget.
Lakshmi comes to this work with a deep commitment to racial and economic justice inspired by her organizing background in the labor movement in California where she completed her undergraduate degree in Ethnic Studies at U.C. Berkeley. Lakshmi also has a master’s degree in Urban Studies and Planning from M.I.T. specializing in post-disaster planning. There she had the opportunity to assist and document community rebuilding efforts in New Orleans; Tambo de Mora, Peru; and Tamil Nadu, India leading to a comparative analysis for her master’s thesis.
Mikael Wagner, Director of Health Communications Initiatives
Serving as the Director of Health Communications Initiatives, Wagner is on loan from the Praxis Project, working as Media Policy Analyst with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, an Executive Office of the President. He manages a National Anti-Drug Youth Media campaign called Above the Influence, reaching teens between the ages of 14 to 17 years of age.
Wagner is the founder of Promotions West, a public relations and marketing strategy firm based in San Francisco. He brings over 15 years of social marketing, public affairs, social media, graphic design, group facilitation, public policy and public outreach to organizations.
During his public health experience, Wagner worked with the San Francisco Department of Public Health on a variety of campaigns that include HIV/AIDS in the African American communities, Go Folic, Dogs Are Talking, under the STDI Prevention Branch and with Black Infant Health. Working with the California Department of Public Health, Wagner developed strategies for reducing tobacco use and creating non-traditional media awareness. Recently he created a toolkit on Asthma and African American Churches in California.
Wagner has developed two e-Books to help organizations to reach African Americans and other ethnic communities called Outreach to African Americans. He also created an e-Book called Planning Successful Focus Groups. Both can be downloaded from the Promotions West website – www.promotionswest.com or from Amazon.
Wagner received an award from KQED Public Broadcasting, Kaiser Permanente and Union Bank for outstanding commitment to community service in the African American Bay Area community.
Wagner received a Bachelor’s degree in Education from Texas Southern University and a Master’s from San Francisco State University. Wagner taught elementary school at the Oakland Black Panther Freedom School, with the Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco Unified School Districts. He has also taught Marketing and Public Relations at the San Francisco State University’s School of Business and at Community College San Francisco. Wagner also spent 10 years working in broadcasting with KSFO Radio, KSOL Radio and KTLA TV in the areas of Promotions, Advertising, and Public Affairs.
Srav Puranam, Policy Associate (California)
Srav was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was first exposed to social justice work in high school as a community activist for Not in Our School, mobilizing her classmates against hate crimes in the Bay Area. Since then, she has worked at the intersection of social impact, policy, technology, and business in Boston, New Orleans, Haiti, and India. In particular, her recent work in Boston with MataHari, organizing for the passing of the Massachusetts Domestic Workers Rights Bill, and co-founding the Boston chapter of Incite, a feminists of color organization, have motivated her to join Praxis and continue working in the social justice space.
Srav recently graduated from MIT with a degree in Materials Science and Engineering and a minor in Urban Planning and Public Policy. She has now returned back to the Bay Area and is based out of Praxis' Oakland, CA office.
Gabriella Gutierrez, Program Associate (California)
Gabriella was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio by her mother and a loving village of relatives where values of social awareness and community service were instilled in her at a very young age. She moved to the California Bay Area in 1991 and now shares her values by being a loving member of multiple villages, where she has spent time mentoring and empowering the youth in her chosen family and community. As a licensed spiritual counselor and mentor, she co-leads a weekly pre-teen and teen program at her church. The experience Gabriella brings to Praxis includes over a decade of volunteer recruitment and management as well as a diverse conference and event production skill set. She is committed to social justice, equality and a world that works for everyone.