Norris Henderson, Founder & Executive Director
Norris Henderson, a former OSI Soros Justice Fellow, is Executive Director of VOTE. Norris has had tremendous success in his work impacting public policy and public discourse about police accountability, public defense for poor and indigent people, and reforming the notorious Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). As someone who was wrongfully incarcerated for 27 years, Norris shares first hand experience of racism and brutality of the criminal justice system with communities of color across the city. Self-taught in criminal law during his 27 years in prison as a paralegal, advocate and organizer. He is clear that only by working together can communities of color protect themselves from one of the most brutal criminal justice systems in the country and rebuild together a diverse New Orleans rich in culture and community. He has not only achieved significant wins in this area, but he has also built bridges with other communities of color, regularly speaking publicly in support of underprivileged communities in New Orleans and immigrant workers rights, and acting as a general liaison to other community organizations in the city.
Since his release in 2003 Norris has applied his legal expertise and community organizing skills to a number of leadership positions, including Co-Director of Safe Streets/Strong Communities and Community Outreach Coordinator of the Louisiana Justice Coalition. Norris serves on a number of organizations’ Board of Directors including Innocence Project of New Orleans, Family & Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children and Junior Regional Services. He continues to provide valuable insight into the concerns, questions and needs of prisoners, the formerly incarcerated and their families. In 2004, Norris incorporated Voice of the Ex-Offender (VOTE), and is now directing VOTE full time.
Rosana Cruz, Associate Director
Rosana came to VOTE from her position as Co-Director of Safe Streets/Strong Communities. Previously Rosana worked with the National Immigration Law Center helping to create the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice and working to address the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina on immigrants and refugees. Prior to joining NILC, she worked with SEIU in Miami, after having been displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. Before the storm, Rosana worked for a diverse range of community organizations, including the Latin American Library, Hispanic Apostolate, the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of New Orleans, and People's Youth Freedom School. Ms. Cruz came to New Orleans through her work with the Southern Regional Office of Amnesty International in Atlanta.
Ms. Cruz holds a BA in Race and Gender Studies from New College of Florida and a Master of Arts in Latin American Studies from Tulane University.
Gahiji Barrow, Program Assistant
Gahiji comes to VOTE as an ally and a member of Critical Resistance New Orleans. Originally from New Jersey, he has lived in Hawaii and Los Angeles. Since moving to New Orleans he has focused on fighting the injustices of Orleans Parish Prison and the Prison Industrial Complex in general. He graduated from Hawaii Pacific University with a degree in International Relations.