“Black History is Every Day”: CFR Staff Members On Black History Month

Every day, CFR staff members work on behalf of predominantly poor Black and Brown families who are targeted and surveilled by systems of family policing and youth incarceration. To commemorate Black History Month, which honors the triumphs and struggles of Black people throughout U.S. history, we interviewed four CFR staff members: Alicia Williams, Chief Operating Officer; Imani Worthy, Family Advocate; Teyora Graves-Ferrell, Parent Advocate Supervisor; and Dinah Clemmons-Graham, Parent Advocate. Below, they discuss their roles at CFR, their hopes for the future of this work, and what Black History Month means to them. 

Interview responses lightly edited for clarity. Pictured left to right: Teyora Graves-Ferrell, Alicia Williams and Imani Worthy. 


CFR: Can you tell us a bit about your role at CFR?

Dinah Clemmons-Graham: I am a Parent Advocate and I assist parents navigating the multiple systems that become a part of their lives once ACS involvement occurs. These parents have been contacted by ACS and may or may not have an active court case against them. 

Teyora Graves-Ferrell: I am a Parent Advocate Supervisor for CFR’s Family Defense Practice. I currently supervise three amazing Parent Advocates in our Queens office. My ability to serve in this role has helped me grow tremendously and witness the great benefit of having impacted people in positions of leadership. I am able to provide support and guidance to other advocates as they assist clients navigating the family policing system. In my role I am able to sit at decision-making tables and use my voice to uplift the voices of other impacted parents and advocates. I have held several positions at CFR including Housing Specialist, but having the title of Parent Advocate Supervisor is something very dear to me.

Alicia Williams: I am CFR’s Chief Operating Officer and have the pleasure of shepherding all of CFR’s HR, Administration, IT, Facilities and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) work with a focus on centering the experience of being a CFRian.

Imani Worthy: CFR has an amazing interdisciplinary approach to defending parents who have open Article 10 cases in Family Court. While lawyers defend parents in court, I, as a Family Advocate, defend parents in other areas including conferences (such as family team conferences, preservation conferences, pre-birth conferences, etc.). I support the parents as they go through the system and refer them to services as needed. 

CFR: From your work at CFR, what intersections between race and family policing have you witnessed?

Dinah: I have witnessed this oppressive, racist and unjust system continue to implement a form of slavery. If you don’t do as I say, I will disrupt your family by separation. There is more empathy when it involves white people, which is very rare.

Teyora: Parents are presumed guilty and have to fight to prove that they are capable of parenting their own children from the very beginning of the case. This has been going on since Africians were forced into enslavement. Black children were seen as commodities and often removed from their parents for the financial benefit of the eslavers. In present day, Black children are overrepresented in the family policing system, which receives approximately $3.6 billion dollars. The constant fight to control Black and Brown families has led to generational trauma among our communities.  

Alicia: Though not doing our direct client, court or conference representation of our Black and Brown clients, I am so proud of the genuine, committed, all-in, zealous fight our fellow CFRians engage in day in and day out with an unbreakable passion for justice!

Imani: Intersections between race and family policing are everywhere. Intersections begin when the report to the State Central Register (SCR) Child Abuse and Maltreatment Hotline is made. These reports are from mandated reporters: the schools, hospitals, therapists and social workers, shelters and police. These are the people who have stability. The ones who sit at their cushy jobs, have housing, working housing appliances, nice therapists and the like. They have problems, sure, but usually do not face the intense scrutiny and bias that our clients do.

Poverty can affect anyone. There are more white people who receive public benefits than Black and Brown people; however, this system primarily punishes Black families for living in poverty. This is by design. The systems that impact families are all rooted in racism. The Constitution itself was formulated for the political, cultural and economic interests of a particular ethnic group: White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.  


CFR: What would you like to see change in this sphere of work? 

Dinah: The same empathy that is provided to others be provided to people of color.

Teyora: I love to see families be allowed to parent freely and receive support instead of surveillance. Money should be poured into communities and grassroots organizations that can provide services and goods directly to families. I would like to see impacted parents be paid equitably when sharing their stories and be provided opportunities to lead organizations that assist families. 

Alicia: Ideally, I would like to see each of us owning a more intentional focus on calling out acts of harm and racism and further holding people accountable for such behaviors, no matter the power structures they face.

Imani: I really believe that it needs to be torn down. You can’t fix something that is not broken. The system does what it’s supposed to do. The only thing I want to see change is our mindset: we must work ourselves out of this job, not make it better. Transform, not reform.  

CFR: As we celebrate Black History Month this February, can you share what this month means to you?

Dinah: The month itself has no meaning to me. Black history is every day. It is the history of a people who have had to endure the separation of their families, the stealing of their ideas, the destruction of entire cities, being utilized as guinea pigs and the intentional lack of being acknowledged as a race that brings more to this society than is given credit for. This has happened for centuries and continues to happen.

Teyora: This month is important to me because it is a time for Americans to recognize the contributions Black people have made to this country and beyond. Although I feel our contributions can’t fit into one month, my hope is that we will get to a place where we are valued and our history will be accurately told and not erased. I have purposely enrolled my children in a school where Black history is taught all year around and it is disheartening that some children are not taught about people who look like them. There is nothing criminal about being Black and as Marcus Garvey and many other Black leaders have said, “Black is beautiful.” 

Alicia: Black History Month is an opportunity to boldly uplift, celebrate and honor the tremendous contributions Black people have made and make in our world.

Imani: Black History Month is every day for me; however, this particular month brings me back to grade school. Every year the teachers would line our hallways with pictures of prominent Black faces. Black History Month was a time of learning and honoring our Black superstars. I went to predominantly Black schools. I believe that our teachers would go the extra mile during Black History Month and took time to teach us about so many causes and people because the history books and stories we would read throughout the year rarely did that for Black people. Black History Month was our pride and joy at school. It’s a time of solidarity. 


CFR: Are there any folks you would like to uplift this month? 

Dinah: I would uplift all people of color who continue to pursue peace and the right to live without interruption. Dorothy Roberts would be an author and activist of color who fits that criteria. 

Teyora: Joyce McMillan, who is the Founder and Executive Director of Just Making A Change for Families (JMAC for Families) and Elizabeth Leiba, who is a writer, college professor and advocate for Black business women.

Alicia: Without hesitation, my mama, who is the essence of Black history in her daily fight for justice, fairness and treating ALL people with dignity and respect.

Imani: Ella Josephine Baker (December 13, 1903 – December 13, 1986), who was a prominent African-American civil rights and human rights activist. Operating mostly behind the scenes, her impactful career spanned over five decades. She collaborated with renowned figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King, Jr. in New York City and the South. She is the mother of the civil rights movement. One of her quotes that I keep near and dear to my heart is: “Give light and people will find the way.”


These interviews were conducted and published in February 2024.