A few years ago, as the Tahirih Justice Center closed in on 20 years of service, it was also closing a several year expansion campaign called Ready to Soar. The overall goals? Increasing by 250% the number of women and girls served, doubling the advocacy of our national policy team, doubling our education and training capacity, and opening two more field offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and Atlanta. With the opening of the San Francisco Bay Area office, a #DreamTeam of professionals came together to immediately begin providing full-scale legal representation, training frontline professionals, creating a Bay Area Pro Bono Network, and fundraising for services. Now, two years later and all that much stronger, this work in the Bay Area includes the fierce efforts of Development and Special Events Manager, Jade Atkins.
Jade spent most of her childhood in Culver City, California, before moving to a San Diego suburb in the eighth grade. After high school, she went north to the Bay Area to attend San Jose State University, where she played water polo, was involved in the university’s journalism program, and received her Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism. During her junior year, Jade was selected along with nine other journalism students to spend 13 days traveling through the Deep South – visiting famed Civil Rights “U” before ending up in Washington, D.C. for President Barack Obama’s inauguration. The trip was astoundingly transformative and was dubbed “44 Years to the 44th President,” due to the alchemy that it had also been 44 years since the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi.
After graduating, Jade returned to Southern California and started working as a photographer for the San Diego Padres and the Anaheim Angels. She began executing events and discovered that her type-A personality made her a skilled event planner. Jade then moved back to the Bay Area to grow her wedding and event planning business and continued freelance journalism on the side. But after spending time in both event planning and journalism, Jade started to question how her work was impacting the world.
“I began to question if what I was doing really had an impact on the world, or if I was just going through life, making a living. I started working in the nonprofit sector, first at a cancer nonprofit, then at a wildlife nonprofit. Both are notable causes, but I quickly realized my heart wasn’t in it. When I eagerly accepted a position with the Bay Area Dream Team, it was an instant love connection.”
Among many reasons, Jade fell in love with Tahirih because of the warm and supportive atmosphere.
“The women I work with are direct, to the point, and want to solve problems together. Not for personal gain – but because it means helping other woman realize their full potential. To me, this is exactly the kind of work environment I always wanted to be a part of.”
As Tahirih Bay Area’s Development Manager, Jade finds that each day brings something unique.
“My days are always different. Being in development, I find that nothing is the same and everything is the same. By this I mean that I work with several different groups of people on a daily basis – clients, colleagues, donors, pro bonos, etc. Everyone has different needs and a different lens that I have to look through in order to engage with them effectively, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are fiercely passionate about the change they wish to see in the world and the impact they have by serving alongside us.”
This passion and drive, especially from her Tahirih colleagues, is one of the most inspiring parts of Jade’s work.
“Aside from our clients who are without a doubt some of the strongest people I have ever had the pleasure and honor of meeting, working with my colleagues is the most rewarding part of being at Tahirih. Everyone is so driven, strong, and determined. No one ever backs down from a challenge, no matter the size. To me, that is remarkable and truly inspiring.”
Recently, Jade and four other Tahirih staff members took the opportunity to volunteer with Al Otro Lado, a bi-national direct legal services organization serving deportees, migrants, and refugees in Tijuana, Mexico. While on site, Jade worked mostly with the children of Al Otro Lado’s clients, playing with and caring for them while their parents sought brief advice and counsel on their asylum claims. She passed out flyers about Al Otro Lado’s work at El Chaparral, one of the ports of entry between Tijuana and San Diego so that individuals and families knew where to receive services. And she, along with her Tahirih team who fundraised $5,000 before arriving on site, purchased food, drink, clothing, toiletries, and other basic necessities for those in need.
This was not Jade’s first time serving migrants at the border. A few years back, she joined a team in assembling packs with food, water, and other necessities and distributing them, but found that this experience – with her Tahirih family – had an especially profound impact on her.
“I’ve always been dedicated to Tahirih’s work, but this reinvigorated me — seeing the situation at the border firsthand, and having the opportunity to go and work with potential clients before they’re even in the U.S. It reminded me to be humble, and recognize my own power and privilege. We at Tahirih need to use that power and privilege, not just for our clients, but for the betterment of our society.”
For Jade, one of the challenges of her job is knowing that Tahirih plays a part in a larger movement that may not be mainstream, and that using her power and privilege isn’t always a popular decision.
“But – no great movement was ever the popular opinion when it began.”
And it isn’t just about popular opinion. Jade internalizes the deep reasons to strive for a world where all genders are treated equally and may live in safety and with dignity.
“We’re a part of a movement and we fight the good fight every day. Not because it’s easy, or because we want praise, or because we are heroes – we fight because it’s right. And the more we stand up and give a voice to those who have, for whatever reason, been denied a seat at the table, the more we are working for a society and a world that we can be proud of. One that we fought for.”