Person

Tanya Coke

Occupation:

Lawyer

Director:

Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice team at Ford Foundation

Previously:

Open Society Foundations

Atlantic Philanthropies

Tanya Coke is a lawyer and left-of-center criminal justice activist who works as the director of the Gender, Racial and Ethnic Justice program at the Ford Foundation. [1] She previously worked at George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (previously known as Open Society Institute, or OSI) and Atlantic Philanthropies, a now-defunct left-of-center grantmaking group. [2]

Career

While attending NYU Law School, Tanya Coke worked as the director of research for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. [3] She also worked as a researcher on the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s capital punishment project. [4] During law school, Coke was a Root Tilden public interest scholar and editor in chief of the school’s law review. [5]

After graduating from law school, Coke became a trial attorney for the Federal Defender Division of the Legal Aid Society where she defended clients involved in drug and immigration trials in New York City. [6]

Coke previously worked as a program manager for the U.S. Human Rights Fund. [7]

In 1999, Coke founded Open Society Institute’s Gideon Project, a criminal justice policy organization. Coke worked at OSI, beginning as a program development fellow in the law and society program and eventually becoming the program director on criminal justice, until 2002 when she left to become a consultant. [8] [9] With OSI, Coke funded Columbia University academics to research into criminal justice practices. [10]

She operated a strategic-planning consulting firm that worked with left-of-center nonprofits and philanthropies. She worked as senior consultant to Atlantic Philanthropies from 2010 to 2013. [11] Atlantic Philanthropies completed its operations and closed its doors in October 2020 after giving out $8 billion over the course of its existence. [12] [13]

Coke has worked as a distinguished lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York (CUNY), teaching courses related to public policy and prison reform. [14] Atlantic Philanthropies awarded Coke with a two-year $550,000 grant to advance John Jay’s School-Justice project. [15]

Ford Foundation

Tanya Coke is the director of the Gender, Racial and Ethnic Justice program at the Ford Foundation. [16] She oversees efforts relating to mass incarceration, criminal justice, immigration, gender politics, and abortion. [17]

In August 2021, Coke said that she sits on the Warner Music Group’s $100 million racial equity fund where she advises the company on how to allow “Black folks” to profit more from their work; she described it as a “reckoning within corporate America” that she hopes will spread to other American companies as well. [18]

Policy Views

Tanya Coke has argued that the death penalty should be abolished or at least severely limited in use. [19] Coke has said that she wants to use her position at the Ford Foundation to reduce the U.S. prison population by 20 percent by 2022. [20]

In 2019, Coke noted that “low crime rates, tight state budgets, and a much greater understanding of how mass incarceration has decimated families and communities” all factored into the “bipartisan momentum” for criminal justice reform. She stated at the time that “it is not a window that will remain open forever,” and that criminal justice reform advocates needed to work hard and effectively to seize the opportunity. [21]

Coke has expressed the view that the U.S. justice system is marked with white supremacy, having said that “there is no question that mass incarceration is driven by structural racism.” She also theorizes that “mass incarceration” was used as a way of locking up “idle black men” who had lost jobs in the 1980s due to the offshoring of manufacturing jobs and the tightening of labor markets. [22]

Coke said the Trump administration’s policies on immigration “aim[ed] to sow chaos and confusion” and that the U.S. should instead “decouple” the immigration enforcement system and the criminal justice system, thereby de-criminalizing illegal immigration. [23]

In May 2021, Coke wrote an article for Bloomberg Law titled “Let’s Rethink Calling the Cops,” in which she urged people to reduce their “reliance” upon police officers when dealing with crime. [24]

References

  1. “Tanya Coke.” Ford Foundation. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.fordfoundation.org/about/people/tanya-coke/. ^
  2. “Tanya Coke.” Ford Foundation. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.fordfoundation.org/about/people/tanya-coke/. ^
  3. “OSI Announces Senior Staff Changes.” Open Society Foundations. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/newsroom/osi-announces-senior-staff-changes. ^
  4. “Tanya Coke.” Ford Foundation. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.fordfoundation.org/about/people/tanya-coke/. ^
  5. “Tanya Coke.” Ford Foundation. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.fordfoundation.org/about/people/tanya-coke/. ^
  6. “Tanya Coke.” Ford Foundation. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.fordfoundation.org/about/people/tanya-coke/. ^
  7. [1] “Tanya Coke.” Ford Foundation. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.fordfoundation.org/about/people/tanya-coke/. ^
  8. OSI Announces Senior Staff Changes.” Open Society Foundations. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/newsroom/osi-announces-senior-staff-changes. ^
  9. “11 Executions Scheduled for August; Concern and Conversation over Death Penalty at New High.” Open Society Foundations, August 7, 2021. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/newsroom/11-executions-scheduled-august-concern-and-conversation-over-death-penalty-new-high. ^
  10. “The Ford Foundation’s Tanya Coke ’94 talks about her work fighting racial injustice.” NYU Law. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.law.nyu.edu/news/tanya-coke-ford-foundation-almo. ^
  11. “Tanya Coke.” Ford Foundation. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.fordfoundation.org/about/people/tanya-coke/. ^
  12. Joanne Florino. “New Reports on Strategic Time Horizons in Philanthropy.” Philanthropy Roundtable. November 3, 2020. Accessed November 3, 2020. https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/home/blog/post/roundtable/2020/11/03/new-reports-on-strategic-time-horizons-in-philanthropy ^
  13. Joe Wilensky. “Chuck Feeney reaches lifetime goal: giving away a fortune.” Cornell Chronicle. October 8, 2020. Accessed November 3, 2020. https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2020/10/chuck-feeney-reaches-lifetime-goal-giving-away-fortune ^
  14. “Tanya Coke.” Ford Foundation. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.fordfoundation.org/about/people/tanya-coke/. ^
  15. “Distinguished Lecturer Tanya Coke, Expert In Public School Discipline Policies, Receives $550,000 Grant From Atlantic Philanthropies.” City University of New York, January 28, 2014. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www1.cuny.edu/mu/forum/2014/01/28/distinguished-lecturer-tanya-coke-expert-in-public-school-discipline-policies-receives-550000-grant-from-atlantic-philanthropies/. ^
  16. “Tanya Coke.” Ford Foundation. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.fordfoundation.org/about/people/tanya-coke/. ^
  17. “Tanya Coke.” Ford Foundation. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.fordfoundation.org/about/people/tanya-coke/. ^
  18. “The Ford Foundation’s Tanya Coke ’94 talks about her work fighting racial injustice.” NYU Law. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.law.nyu.edu/news/tanya-coke-ford-foundation-almo. ^
  19. “11 Executions Scheduled for August; Concern and Conversation over Death Penalty at New High.” Open Society Foundations, August 7, 2021. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/newsroom/11-executions-scheduled-august-concern-and-conversation-over-death-penalty-new-high. ^
  20. “Tanya Coke, Director, Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice, Ford Foundation.” PhilanthropyNewsDigest, May 31, 2019. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/5-questions-for/tanya-coke-director-gender-racial-and-ethnic-justice-ford-foundation. ^
  21. “Tanya Coke, Director, Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice, Ford Foundation.” PhilanthropyNewsDigest, May 31, 2019. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/5-questions-for/tanya-coke-director-gender-racial-and-ethnic-justice-ford-foundation. ^
  22.  “Tanya Coke, Director, Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice, Ford Foundation.” PhilanthropyNewsDigest, May 31, 2019. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/5-questions-for/tanya-coke-director-gender-racial-and-ethnic-justice-ford-foundation. ^
  23. “Tanya Coke, Director, Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice, Ford Foundation.” PhilanthropyNewsDigest, May 31, 2019. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/5-questions-for/tanya-coke-director-gender-racial-and-ethnic-justice-ford-foundation. ^
  24. “Let’s Rethink Calling the Cops.” Bloomberg Law, May 6, 2021. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/lets-rethink-calling-the-cops. ^
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