About WCRJ 


WCRJ was founded in 2012 by a group of unemployed and formerly incarcerated Black workers. We aim to eliminate barriers to sustainable, living-wage employment for Black workers; to strengthen economic security for Black families and communities; and to advance a progressive, pro-worker agenda that will lead to inclusion and prosperity for all marginalized workers.

WCRJ seeks to improve the economic conditions and stability of Illinois’ Black communities by addressing issues of labor market discrimination and over-criminalization. Our work rests at the intersection of these two issues, which are inextricably linked and constitute root causes of many related problems including systemic poverty, mass incarceration, violence and poor health outcomes in Black communities.


What we do 


  • - Build an active and engaged base of unemployed, low-wage and formerly incarcerated Black workers with critical consciousness and deep analysis of structural racialization
  • - Develop and advance a set of policies at the metropolitan and state levels that help to eliminate persistent racial inequality in the areas of employment and criminal justice
  • - Improve working conditions and earnings in low-wage job sectors
  • - Directly challenge implicit bias associated with Black workers, in order to change the narrative about them
  • - Shift the public discourse on race to advance a grassroots racial justice agenda


Who We Are


WCRJ Staff

Deangelo Bester, Executive Director



DeAngelo is the Executive Director of the Workers Center For Racial Justice and Center for Racial and Gender Equity. He has worked as both a community and labor organizer for over 15 years. He has organized and helped developed a diverse set of leaders, from nurses in rural Wisconsin to public housing residents in New York. DeAngelo has led local, state, and national organizing campaigns that advanced racial justice around issues such as educational equity, preservation and expansion of affordable housing, re-entry, and increasing access to living wage jobs for Black workers. In 2012 DeAngelo founded Workers Center For Racial Justice (WCRJ), which is a Black workers center focused on organizing unemployed, low wage and formerly incarcerated Black workers around racial and economic justice, and in 2015 he started WCRJ’s sister 501 c4 organization, the Center for Racial and Gender Equity (CRGE). In 2014 after just two and half years in existence, under DeAngelo's leadership, WCRJ achieved a major victory by getting statewide Ban the Box legislation passed and signed into law that covers both public and private sectors employers. In 2016 DeAngelo led the field effort for WCRJ and CRGE, which helped get former police Superintendent McCarthy fired and State's Attorney Alvarez voted out of office. Also, in December of 2015, DeAngelo helped co-found the BlackRoots Alliance.


Yolanda Godwin, Operations Director

Kandice Harris, Field Director

Antonio Lightfoot, Organizer

Nicole Watson, Organizer

Louisa Manske, Policy and Communications Coordinator

Sarah Wilson, Development Associate

Street Outreach Team

The WCRJ employs a group of canvassers known as the Street Action Team (SAT). This team supports WCRJ by conducting strategic canvassing campaigns to engage Black workers and family members in WCRJ advocacy work, campaigns and Get Out the Vote efforts. The SAT is largely comprised of low-wage and formerly incarcerated Black workers.




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