Tahirih Justice Center’s Board of Directors held its regular quarterly meeting in late March 2021. In our review of accomplishments in 2020 and the plans for 2021, we came away with an immense sense of gratitude to the entire Tahirih community for its steadfast support and dedication over these past fifteen months. We are moved to send a note of sincere thanks and to provide some perspective of challenges overcome and those we now face.
In December 2019, Tahirih’s Board of Directors met in person for two days with staff to deliberate on a new five-year strategic plan. The plan reflected staff-led initiatives that were developed with extensive and meaningful input from our clients, analyzed for several months in close coordination with the Board, and which included a review of our mission, vision, and value statements that all exemplary organizations perform from time-to-time.
The strategic plan was impressive and innovative, positioning Tahirih to be an even stronger force in the fight in the years to come to achieve justice for survivors. Final decisions on this new strategic plan were to be made at the scheduled Board meeting in March 2020.
And then the pandemic hit.
The March 2020 Board meeting happened on schedule, but it was by videoconference. The regular Board reports were prepared, but the agenda was dominated by a new strategic imperative: contingency planning. No one knew for sure how long the lockdowns would last, what would be their effect on the organization’s health, and what mitigating plans could be implemented to manage the full panoply of organizational risks we were facing.
At the same time, our hardworking staff and many of the communities we serve were heavily affected by the recent waves of White nationalism and racism, particularly against the Black, AAPI, and immigrant communities. Our local offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Houston faced additional challenges dealing with wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural emergencies. As a result, every area of the organization, our work, and members of our staff were pushed to their limits.
One year later, we look back at what has transpired, and our hearts are filled with gratitude.
Our legal services teams provided representation to more than 3,000 individuals and families – about the same number of individuals in 2020 as in 2019. And our social services teams connected more than 500 of our clients with emergency shelter, food and clothing, and healthcare – all vital social services especially during a global pandemic.
Even while switching to entirely virtual sessions, Tahirih’s training and education efforts remained strong, reaching more than 13,000 frontline professionals – as many individuals as in prior years.
The Forced Marriage Initiative continues to rack up victories, working closely with survivor-advocates and pro bono partners to achieve or inspire new legislation against child marriage in five states. And our policy advocacy team had a record number of initiatives with the filing of 17 amicus briefs, 5 new lawsuits, and 13 sets of regulatory comments opposing a broad range of policies from increases of application fees to efforts effectively to end asylum.
With the help of our communications team, Tahirih launched a new campaign, Stand With Survivors, that helped garner 90,000 public comments on a harmful asylum rule and is continuing to spread the word about ongoing threats to gender-based asylum. We educated the public and framed the national dialogue about the experiences of survivors with hundreds of news articles and through our growing online communities.
And while our finances were affected by the pandemic, we came through the year with a sustainable path forward thanks to the wise and efficient use of resources and innovative fundraising efforts.
More recently, the Board has been working on another issue: the announced departure of our Founder & CEO, Layli Miller-Muro, and the promotion of Archi Pyati, currently head of Public Policy Advocacy and long-time executive at Tahirih.
We look forward to celebrating and honoring Layli properly for her visionary leadership over the past 20 years. The organization is extremely fortunate to have in place an executive of Archi’s capabilities, experience, and credibility to take over next month. Layli has graciously agreed to continue to work with the organization through the end of 2021 in order to ensure a smooth transition. As is true with all major initiatives at Tahirih, this has been well planned and will be well managed.
We’d like to thank the entire Tahirih community for your part in making this past year a success despite its myriad challenges. We honor, first, the courage of our clients, and we greet with awe and admiration the many dedicated staff members, volunteers, and contributors who have continued to support Tahirih and its mission.
The Tahirih Justice Center Board of Directors
Tara Hogan Charles
Paul B. Salvaty