What We Believe
Coleman Advocates believes that all children and families deserve access to high quality education, living wage jobs, family-supporting benefits, affordable housing, and a voice in the decisions that affect us. Since 1975, Coleman Advocates has pioneered programs and policies to expand opportunity for San Francisco’s children, youth and families, Many of these hard-won programs and policies have served as models adopted by communities all over the country.
Coleman currently focuses on building more effective, equitable, and supportive public schools in San Francisco and beyond. We believe the transformation of our educational system requires the involvement of the entire community—not just teachers, school administrators, and politicians. Our organizational model has evolved over the years and today combines the development of rigorous policy proposals and implementation plans with deep community engagement and leadership development involving youth and parents.
While we work to increase opportunity for all young people in San Francisco, our primary focus is fighting to advance rights, safety, and full inclusion of low-income people of color. We know that quality education is key to future economic security, individual well-being, and social participation. San Francisco is considered a liberal bastion, but the racial achievement gap and the racial opportunity gap indicate how far we still need to go to achieve true equity.
Our Core Values
Grassroots Community Leadership: We believe that the people most affected by a problem must be the ones who determine and fight for the solutions.
Education as a Human Right: The fight for quality education, as a fundamental human right and a strategy of upward mobility for low-income people and people of color, is central to our work to keep families in San Francisco.
Equity and Social Justice: We are actively committed to the fight for equity and social justice, as they relate to race, class, gender and other areas of disenfranchisement, in our schools and communities.
Unity and Solidarity: We are a multigenerational, multiracial, multicultural and multilingual organization and we prioritize creating spaces for people of different ages, languages, races, and ethnicities to learn about and from each other, build community, and develop a collective vision for change. Together, we are stronger.
Youth at the Center: Youth have been—and will always be—at the forefront of social change movements. At the same time that we centralize the leadership of young people, we understand that building community around an intergenerational model is essential to effective community organizing.
Movement building: We believe that we must form strategic alliances with other community organizations to build a movement capable of winning long-term systemic social change because we cannot achieve our vision alone.
Innovation: We are working to solve some of our community’s toughest challenges and this requires bold and innovative leadership. We must consistently challenge ourselves to leverage our strengths in new and creative ways… to think, dream, and act outside of the box.
How We Work
We believe that policy and systems change happens through a combination of these strategies:
- Base building and leadership development of young people and families from our constituency
- Member-driven campaigns for policy change and increased resources to benefit our communities
- Monitoring systems to hold institutions and policy-makers accountable to community interests and to commitments made
- Voter engagement of historically disenfranchised communities to shift the balance of power and impact elections
- Strategic coalition and alliance-building to grow movements capable of winning large-scale and long-term change
Who We Are
- Steve Bingham (Treasurer)—Staff attorney emeritus, Bay Area Legal Aid
- Christina Canaveral—Director of Community at New School San Francisco, former Director of Parent Engagement and Education Policy at Coleman Advocates
- Rosario Cervantes (President)—Consumer rights advocate with the CA Public Utilities Commission
- Curtis Chan, M.D.—Medical Director of Maternal, Child & Adolescent Health, San Francisco Department of Public Health
- Maria Luz Torre (Vice President)—Director and lead organizer for SF Parent Voices
- Ianthia Mack—Former PAY member; Community Organizer
- Giuliana Milanese—Community and Political Organizer, Civil Rights activist
- Kevine Boggess, Political Director
- Brandie Bowen, CMAC Organizer
- Michelle Chan, Lead Organizer
- Tomie Craig, PMAC Organizer
- Natalie Kim, YMAC Organizer
- Sara Leaverton, Development Manager
- Ranesha McDonald, Administrative Associate
- Andrea Mejia, Civic Engagement Organizer
- José-Luis Tekun Mejia, Special Projects Director
- Tamara Taefu, Office Manager
- Katherine Saviskas, Grants & Communications Manager
- Mirna Vasquez, PMAC Organizer
- Neva Walker, Executive Director
Kevine Boggess | Political Director
Before joining the Coleman staff team, first as part-time support for SMAC and then as our Program Lead for our Youth Organizing Project, Kevine worked with Black Youth Vote in Atlanta and led the Morehouse University Amnesty International chapter. While at City College of San Francisco, Kevine served as the Student Body President and Coordinator of Students Serving Students (S Cubed), a peer mentoring program at CCSF.
Brandie Bowen | CMAC Organizer
Brandie is a recent graduate from UC Santa Cruz where she majored in Community Studies. She was first introduced to Coleman during a long term Field Study and fell in love with their commitment to low income families of color. After continuing her work with various community organizations, she has returned to Coleman with a mission to support the development of Coleman’s children and youngest members as they become strong advocates and students for justice. In her happiest moments, you can find Brandie painting with a Stevie Wonder vinyl playing in the background or laughing uncontrollably with her family, community, and friends.
Michelle Chan | Lead Organizer
Prior to joining Coleman, Michelle Chan was Founder and President of Parents Against Child Protective Services Corruption, a Bay Area activist group that is fighting to increase accountability, transparency, and oversight of California’s child welfare and foster care systems as well as California’s juvenile and family courts. Michelle was the Lead Organizer of the March for Family Rights protests in Walnut Creek, Martinez, and San Francisco, which demanded the resignation of Judge Rebecca Hardie, Judge Lois Haight, and Judge Fannin. Three judge recall petitions were filed and recall supporters gathered signatures daily for six months. For Michelle, fighting to improve conditions and increase opportunities for low-income children and families of color is a passion and a calling. Michelle is also a contributing writer for the San Francisco Bay View newspaper and has a son attending public elementary school in San Francisco.
Tomie Craig | PMAC Organizer
Tomie Craig is a San Francisco native deeply rooted in the San Francisco community. She is committed to families of color achieving education equity. As a single mother of three children, she has navigated the difficulties of student enrollment in San Francisco Unified School District, learning to find her voice and advocate for change. Working at Coleman is an opportunity to guide other parents and students to find their voices and make a positive impact in our schools and communities.
Natalie Kim | YMAC Organizer
Natalie (she/her) is a queer, Korean-American community organizer with passions in education, technology, and justice. She recently graduated from UC San Diego where she studied Public Health, Bioethics and served as a research assistant for two labs, a program coordinator, and a bustling dinner host and attendee with her San Diego friends and family. She is excited to join Coleman in disrupting and reforming the broken school system that wasn’t made for students of color by empowering young folx and their voices with her #wondertwin Derrell! You can find her rollerblading, reading, and musing in thought throughout the city.
Sara Leaverton | Development Manager
Before moving to San Francisco, Sara grew up in a low income community in rural Oregon. Finding a passion for economic and racial justice in her youth, Sara has worked with community based organizations for years, assisting in various capacities. She attended SFSU and majored in Sociology with an emphasis in Africana studies. While in school, Sara interned at Coleman, supporting with the Solutions Not Suspensions campaign and the re-approval of the Children’s Amendment. Sara also brings administrative, event planning, and marketing experience from the restaurant industry.
Ranesha McDonald | Administrative Associate
Ranesha McDonald is Coleman’s Administrative Associate. She is a proud single mom to two boys. Ranesha has a Medical Administrative Assistant degree and a degree from Culinary school. Prior to working at Coleman, she provided services to abused, impoverished and incarcerated women as a staff member of the Women’s Resource Center. She is passionate about giving back to her community and supporting people who have fallen between the cracks of society to get back on their feet. She is excited to be a part of an organization that builds the voices and power of young people and families who are often ignored and neglected by the system.
Andrea Mejia | Civic Engagement Organizer
Andrea Mejia is a San Francisco native, proud mother of a baby boy, and daughter of immigrant parents from Central America. She comes with over 5 years of managerial experience that translates into this sector to help organize and train people to be advocates for themselves and others. Raised by a grandmother that always taught her to stand up against injustices, she developed a passion for helping people. Now, being a mother herself, she is teaching her son to be an advocate for himself and his community as Coleman is teaching others.
José-Luis Tekun Mejia | Special Projects Director
José-Luis was born and raised in San Francisco and East Oakland to immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala. He “flipped the script” from experiencing violence and the street economy to dedicating his life to creating positive change and opportunity locally and nationally through direct service, policy advocacy, and community organizing. José-Luis has worked in youth development for thirteen years as a mentorship, life-skills, multi-media, and rites-of-passage facilitator. He also has extensive experience in the youth and young adult policy sector as a youth engagement strategist, qualitative researcher, advocate, trainer, and public speaker. Prior to his role in Coleman, he served as Associate Director at Transitional Age Youth San Francisco (TAYSF), where he worked with the Children & Youth Fund Community Coalition (CYFCC) to win the inclusion of TAY in the reauthorization of San Francisco’s historic Children’s Fund. José-Luis is a proud father of two children.
Katherine Saviskas | Grants & Communications Manager
Katherine is a community organizer, youth worker, and education justice researcher, writer, and filmmaker from New York City and its suburbs who first moved to the Bay in 2007. She started organizing around racial justice and education justice as a high schooler and studied education history and policy in college and grad school. She has over 12 years of experience working with low income youth of color as well as wealthy/privileged youth in leadership development, community organizing, and media/film programs, has facilitated many dismantling racism workshops/organizing for white folks, and has 15 years of experience as a writer, editor, and researcher. She’s currently working on a documentary film about 5 leaders of color from San Francisco becoming public school teachers and is an Ayurveda practitioner.
Tamara Taefu | Office Manager
Originally from the island of Oahu, Tamara moved to the Bay Area almost 10 years ago. She was raised by a single mother of three children in low income housing, which eventually fueled Tamara’s strong desire to work with minority groups and the low income demographic. Tamara was a first generation college student, graduated from Cal State East Bay with a Bachelors in Sociology, and comes to Coleman with six years of experience working with children in different realms of child care, two years of administrative work, and four years of customer service and retail. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, cooking, indoor cycling, chasing the latest food trend and sleeping.
Mirna Vasquez| PMAC Organizer
Mirna Vasquez transitioned into the role of Parent Organizer at Coleman after five years as a Parent Leader. She is a mother of three children in SF public schools. In addition to helping to lead Coleman district-level campaigns, including our Solutions Not Suspensions campaign to win transformative school discipline reforms, Mirna serves as a volunteer fundraiser at her children’s school as well as a member of the School Site Council and English Language Advisory Council. She is also an appointed member of the District Bilingual Community Council.
Neva Walker | Executive Director
Neva is a long-time youth worker, community organizer and political leader from Minneapolis who recently relocated to the Bay Area. She was born into an activist family; her mother founded and ran community programs at the Sabathani Community Center, located right across the street from the family’s home. Neva herself now has decades of experience working with low income youth and families of color around economic and racial justice issues. She has organized intensively around community demands for affordable housing and opportunities for youth. At age 28, Neva was the first African American woman elected to the Minnesota Legislature in the state’s history. She ran a precedent-setting grassroots election campaign that involved young people of color at every level of leadership. She served 8 years as a legislator before stepping down to return to her organizing roots.
459 Vienna Street
San Francisco, CA 94112