Isabel Coronado, Mvskoke (Creek), has worn a couple different hats in her 23 years of life. She is a child of formerly incarcerated parents. A Center for Native American Youth ‘Champion for Change’ and has been recently named to the inaugural class of policy entrepreneurs for the Next100, a new startup think tank based out of New York City.
When Coronado was 7 years old, her mom was sentenced to and served a multiple-year prison sentence for drug-related charges. After her release, she would go on to law school and become a civil rights attorney for their tribe, the Mvskoke (Creek) Nation.
Seeing her mother’s journey inspired Coronado’s passion for the work she will be doing at Next100, researching and creating policy aimed at reducing the generational cycle of incarceration in Native communities.
Given her own experiences Coronado knows and understands the hardships children go through when a parent is sent to prison or jail.
“Something I’ve been very passionate about is making sure, if it’s safe, that kids are able to go see their parents [in prison],” Coronado said.
One resource Coronado says helped her a lot when she was a kid was the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program which began in 1992 to help girls visit their mothers in prison or jail.
Before moving to New York City from Oklahoma, Coronado helped create the American Indian Criminal Justice Navigation Council and was the deputy director. It is a nonprofit that helps incarcerated individuals understand their rights and responsibilities by pairing them up with ex-offenders who have become success stories in their own right.
She was told to apply for the Next100 opportunity from a colleague she met at a conference who was familiar with her work. Coronado felt that getting into the policy side of things was a logical and important step to take.
Coronado got the good news that she was selected along with seven others to be the inaugural class of policy entrepreneurs while visiting her grandma in Gallup, New Mexico. She was told there were more than 740 applicants.
“Once I heard that number I was like, ‘No way I’m going to get this, might as well keep looking for other jobs,’” Coronado said with a chuckle over the phone. “But when I got the call, I was just stunned.”
Next100 is not your traditional think tank, but what Coronado describes as a “think and do” tank. The organization’s mission is to “change the face and future of progressive policy, through making the policymaking space more inclusive of diverse, next generation voices, and by helping emerging leaders translate their creative policy ideas into tangible policy change.”
Emma Vadehra, executive director of Next100, says that despite having the most at stake in decisions being made, the next generation is too often excluded from the policy making table.
“As a result, we end up with the same people, with the same ideas, trying to solve the same problems, in the same ways. Next100 is trying to change that, and reimagine what a think tank can and should be,” Vadehra said in a press release. “We’re giving diverse leaders of the next generation a chance to cut through the inertia and bring their unmatched creativity, knowledge, skills, and experiences to bear on the policymaking process. Policy by those with the most at stake, for those with the most at stake.”
The independent think tank, The Century Foundation, announced the creation of Next100 earlier this year as part of their 100th anniversary celebration. The president of the foundation, Mark Zuckerman, said he is excited about this incoming class.
“They represent the best of the next generation: they’re fearless, brilliant, and unwavering in their commitment to progressive change,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what they accomplish in the next two years and beyond.”
During her two years in the Big Apple, Coronado hopes to affect policy change both at the federal level and back in her home state of Oklahoma. In the more immediate future she is looking forward to next week’s Frank LaMere Presidential Forum in Iowa and hopes Native youth get out and vote in the 2020 election.
“I think we don’t think about voting as affecting policy, but it is, because we’re choosing people that are going to come up with policies and pass them,” Coronado said. “So one advice I’d give to Native youth is vote, find your passion, find what changes you want to see in your community and get out and vote.”
Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org