top of page
  • Writer's pictureNBWJI Staff

NBWJI Announces Dr. Sydney McKinney As NBWJI Executive Director

(Berkeley, CA – April 4, 2020) - Today, the National Black Women's Justice Institute (NBWJI) announces that acting executive director, Dr. Sydney McKinney, a seasoned leader and expert in child welfare and justice system reform, has been named NBWJI’s new executive director. Dr. McKinney brings nearly 15 years of experience and a strong commitment to public service, justice reform, and using research to advocate for our most vulnerable youth, families, and communities.

"It has been a great honor and privilege to found and lead an organization that holds such an important space with and for Black women and girls," says Dr. Morris. “I’m thrilled that Dr. McKinney will continue the work we’ve been building over the past five years.”

NBWJI was founded in a season of much skepticism about the necessity of work to reduce racial and gender disparities across the justice continuum. Since then, NBWJI has produced groundbreaking research on the disproportionate impact of exclusionary school discipline on Black girls that has made an indelible mark on our field and public opinion. The Institute has helped shape and advance legislation to remove barriers facing Black women and girls and built pathways to healing, justice, and opportunity.

"NBWJI is fortunate to now have Dr. McKinney leading the Institute," says Dr. Morris. "The rich research and technical assistance experience she brings -- coupled with her deep commitment to partnering with Black women and girls to advance community-led solutions -- is precisely what NBWJI needs to further its mission to reduce the overrepresentation and disparate treatment of Black women and girls across the justice continuum. I am excited that Dr. McKinney will become the Institute's executive director. The vision and leadership she brings, along with her experience and expertise, is precisely what the Institute needs as we enter this next chapter of growth and change. There is no one more suited to take the helm of this organization."

“I’m thrilled to work with Dr. McKinney, especially knowing firsthand the impact that her research can have on small women run community-based organizations that have historically been underfunded and overlooked,” says Isis Sapp-Grant, LMSW, NBWJI Board member. “When I ran the Youth Empowerment Mission, she evaluated the Blossom Program for Girls (Blossom), the first community-based and operated gender-specific alternative program for girls in the country. We worked with other researchers, but none understood our work or our community, and all defaulted to cookie cutter approaches to evaluation. Dr. McKinney, on the other hand, was the first to take the time to get to know our girls, our staff, and spend time in our community. At the end, she produced a rich and layered report that enabled us to communicate the impact of our work on the girls and the community we served and garner additional foundation support to strengthen Blossom. Dr. McKinney has a true passion for using research and data to lift up organizations that center Black women and girls, and I am excited for her to steer NBWJI into the next stage of our growth and leadership in the field."

“I am honored to be NBWJI’s next executive director at this important moment,” said Dr. McKinney. “I look forward to deepening our research on the impact of criminalization and confinement on black girlhood and to expanding the technical assistance and capacity building support we provide organizations that center and uplift Black women and girls who have been directly impacted by the criminal legal system. Given the exorbitant rate at which the number of women in prison is growing, it is critical that NBWJI continues and grows its work to bring attention to the effects of mass incarceration on Black women and girls and to promote community-led solutions that dismantle pathways to criminalization and confinement, expand opportunities with and for system impacted women and girls, and advocate for healing-centered justice. I am delighted to lead NBWJI and to continue to work with the Institute’s dedicated and passionate staff, board, and partners.”

Dr. McKinney comes to the National Black Women's Justice Institute (NBWJI) with a wealth of experience in the areas of child welfare and justice system reform. For the past five years, she led research and data analysis efforts at HeartShare St. Vincent's Services, a nonprofit organization in New York City providing direct services to nearly 6000 individuals, children, and families affected by the child welfare system, as well as those experiencing homelessness and mental illness. She created data monitoring systems for 8 different programs, ranging from supported housing for formerly incarcerated women and men to foster care and preventive services for families in crisis.

For more than seven years, Dr. McKinney worked at the Vera Institute of Justice, addressing issues including stop and frisk, alternatives to incarceration, restorative justice, and the status offense system. She conducted research as part of Governor Cuomo’s Commission on Youth, Public Safety, and Justice, which sought to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York State, and the MacArthur Foundation’s Status Offense Reform Center, which provides support and guidance to policymakers and practitioners about the importance of establishing community-based alternatives to court and juvenile justice system involvement for youth. Dr. McKinney also led a process evaluation for Common Justice, an alternative to incarceration and victims’ services program grounded in restorative justice practices that develops and advances solutions to violence without relying on incarceration, and worked closely with Common Justice’s executive director Danielle Sered and her team to develop Common Justice’s initial key performance measures and monitoring efforts.

Dr. McKinney has been published discussing a number of topics, including reforming the status offense system in the United States and its history as a system of social control over girls, as well as developing systems for monitoring change within organizations in order to strengthen their efficacy and impact on the individuals and communities they serve.

Dr. McKinney earned her Ph.D. in sociology from New York University (NYU) where she studied factors that predict perceptions of the risks, costs, and rewards of crime among a large sample of court-involved youth. She also holds an M.A. in law and society from NYU and an M.P.H. from Columbia University. Dr. McKinney earned her B.A. from Tufts University. She is originally from Michigan and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Earlier this week, Dr. Monique W. Morris announced that she is stepping down from her role as NBWJI’s president to serve as the first executive director of Grantmakers for Girls of Color, a philanthropic organization focused on the unique challenges faced by girls of color. Dr. Morris will remain an integral part of the organization transitioning to chair of NBWJI’s Board of Directors.


The National Black Women’s Justice Institute (NBWJI) is a leading research, training, and technical assistance provider to public agencies, institutions, and foundations on countering the criminalization of Black women and girls. NBWJI works to reduce racial and gender disparities across the justice continuum affecting Black women, girls, and their families, by conducting research, providing technical assistance, engaging in public education, promoting civic engagement and advocating for informed and effective policies. We conduct research, evaluation, and technical assistance from an intersectional lens that centers race/ethnicity and gender as well as gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation/identity for participants, staff, and partner organizations/individuals.

bottom of page