Donna Hylton

Donna Hylton is an activist and author who advocates for the rights and well-being of women and girls who have been impacted by intersectional trauma such as violent and sexual abuse and assault, domestic violence, police brutality, and incarceration. She is an outspoken proponent of the need to incorporate harm reduction into our policies for addressing societal and justice issues within a humane framework.

Ms. Hylton’s advocacy includes contributing to legislation that seeks to reverse injustice and improve the lives of impacted people, such as the landmark Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA), the New York State Less is More bill, #CloseRikers campaign. A leading voice in the bail reform movement, Donna, also sits on the Brooklyn Bail Fund Board of Directors. She also a member of the Advisory Board for Sankofa, the progressive organization founded by actor and activist Harry Belafonte.

A sought-after voice on women’s and social justice issues, Donna was a featured speaker at the Women’s March on March 21, 2017, in Washington D.C., and was interviewed as part of Viceland’s Emmy Award-winning coverage of the historic event attended by millions of people and seen around the world on television. She again spoke at the 2020 Women’s March in New York City.

Born in Jamaica, Donna was human trafficked to the United States in an illegal adoption, which led to the trauma and abuse she experienced, unabated, throughout her childhood and early adult life. In desperation to escape unfathomable circumstances, her path took a devastating turn and led to her incarceration at age 20 for 27 years. Documented in her well-received 2018 memoir, “A Little Piece of Light,” Donna’s journey encompasses the depths of despair and the heights of spiritual and intellectual enlightenment. While imprisoned, she understood, claimed, lived, and grew in her truth as a survivor of abject trauma, earned three college degrees (an Associate’s and a Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science and a Master’s in English Literature) and begin her activism.

It is this complex experience that Donna draws upon in her direct work with women and girls. Through A Little Piece of Light, (APOL), the 501 (c) 3 organization she founded and named after her memoir, reflects her abiding belief that there is always hope. From life and skill enhancement workshops for cohorts of impacted participants to assistance for community members who are food insecure and speak out for those who remain in pain, incarcerated, peril, and voiceless.

Donna’s work as an individual advocate and her non-profit have been supported variously by The Art for Justice Fund, The Ford Foundation, the Francis Lear Foundation, the New York Women’s Foundation, the Pinkerton Foundation, The Sills Foundation, and Trinity Church.

Donna is a founding member of The National Council for incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and an alumna of the first cohort of Leading with Conviction Fellows of JustLeadership USA. She is also a recipient of the Ann Atwater Icon Award for her contributions to the community and activism in criminal justice reform and the first Social Justice
Scholar in Residence at Philander Smith College, an HBCU institution in Arkansas affiliated with the Methodist Church. The college is also a founding organization of the United Negro College Fund. Donna developed and taught course on the effects of trauma on women and girls based on her book.

Most recently, Donna was selected to be one of 60 changemaker women from 60 countries honored by World Women Hour #shesmyhero, a global initiative sponsored by Women Foundation in partnership with WPP and BCW PR. Donna was the only directly-impacted activist to appear in the “We The People” video, which kicked-off the 2020 Democratic National Convention’s broadcast.

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