Although men make up the majority of the U.S. prison and jail population, women, as well as trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals, are being incarcerated at alarming rates and face disproportionate impact from the criminal justice system due to their gender identity. The Still We Rise Freedom Coalition (formerly known as the Incarcerated Women’s Working Group) is a collaborative effort by service providers, advocates, and individuals who were formerly incarcerated, to improve conditions for women and TGNC individuals in and from the Philadelphia area. The organization aims to empower and support these individuals, as well as raise awareness about the systemic issues that contribute to their disproportionate incarceration rates.
The Incarcerated Women’s Working Group sought to rename their organization to be more inclusive of TGNC individuals and allies who have never been incarcerated while still emphasizing that it is a women-led initiative. The group also wanted a more empowering name that reflects their trailblazing legacy to improve conditions and provide life-saving reentry support for both incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.
Our approach to working with the Still We Rise Freedom Coalition was rooted in empathy, collaboration, and a deep commitment to understanding their unique perspective. To ensure that we fully understood the group’s values and goals, we conducted two hour-long focus groups over Zoom with eight Coalition members who volunteered their time for the project. These sessions allowed us to build strong relationships and create a safe space for open communication and brainstorming.
Prior to gathering for the sessions, our project strategist reviewed materials made available by the client. The Coalition had previously gathered to brainstorm names but were struggling to produce something that checked all of their boxes – particularly ensuring empowering and inclusive language for TGNC and formerly incarcerated people while emphasizing the movement’s leadership by women (who have been “rendered largely invisible under the umbrella of the criminal justice system, in both scholarly discourse and policy”).
A spreadsheet containing inspirational figures that represent SWRFC’s mission and legacy, in addition to feedback and names brainstormed by group members, served as a springboard for further conversation around the group’s identity. Our strategist prepared a slide-deck with meaningful imagery – such as pictures of inspirational figures like Maya Angelou and Angela Davis – along with relevant language and open-ended questions to gain a better understanding of the Coalition’s insights, attitudes, experiences, and beliefs.
Once this initial Zoom session was completed, our project strategist set out to continue his research and develop new names that would intersect to meet the group’s goals, resonate with its members, and inspire others to join the Coalition’s movement. He took care to primarily use language that was found in the spreadsheet or spoken in focus group sessions to ensure that the newly developed name would capture the group’s authentic voice.
Five names were drafted for the Coalition, presented in a slide-deck along with rationales explaining each name’s symbolism and alignment with the group’s goals of reflecting their trailblazing legacy, ensuring inclusivity, and emphasizing its women-led roots. Additionally, we researched the drafted names to ensure they were original and available for domain name use as well as social media handle use at the time of their inception. Once presented, we took the time to listen to the group’s feedback and make revisions as needed to ensure that the final product met their needs and exceeded their expectations.
After several rounds of revisions and a private vote over email, the group chose the name “Still We Rise Freedom Coalition.” This name draws inspiration from Maya Angelou’s famous poem (“Still I Rise”). The name evokes the image of a trailblazing woman leader, signifying that this is a women-led initiative, while also being inclusive of allies who have never been incarcerated. It reflects the group’s empowering legacy of improving conditions and providing reentry support for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. The new name not only represents the group’s commitment to supporting women and TGNC individuals but also emphasizes the power of collaboration in bringing about change.
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