Matt Hammer has spent his career supporting low-income communities in the United States to build political power to hold unjust, racist systems accountable to their needs. He first learned community organizing in Mississippi from former staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the premier civil rights organizations in the 1960s, shaped by the extraordinary civil rights leader and organizer Ella Baker.
Before founding Innovate in 2012, Matt was the Executive Director of People Acting In Community Together (PACT), a multi-faith, grassroots organization in San Jose that provides leadership training and experience to community members to solve social problems. Under Matt’s leadership, PACT’s grassroots leaders led a successful effort to make Santa Clara County the first county in the United States to provide access to health insurance to all low-income children regardless of their immigration status, and the organization convened law enforcement to protect Muslims and other religious minorities. Over a decade, PACT built one of the only large, sustained education justice movements in the country initiated and led by low-income parents, winning the creation of many of the highest-performing public schools for Latino students in the Bay Area.
In the 1990s, Matt was a community organizer with Oakland Community Organizations, where he supported Black and Latino families to build and lead their new education justice campaign. This effort transformed the district and made it the most improved urban district in California for seven years in a row, thanks to the dramatic rise in student achievement at dozens of new, more effective district schools, as well as new charter schools.
Matt’s work is featured in Jonathan Schorr’s book, Hard Lessons: The Promise of an Inner-City Charter School, and in Mark Warren’s book, A Match On Dry Grass: Community Organizing As A Catalyst For School Reform. Matt supports organizations around the country that are seeking to build political power for educational justice and world-class public schools.
Before moving back home to the Bay Area, Matt was a staff organizer for Southern Echo in Mississippi and was the founding director of the Community Service Center at Duke University, his alma mater. Matt is a 2013 Pahara-Aspen Fellow and is a Senior Fellow of the American Leadership Forum-Silicon Valley. Matt and his wife Michelle are blessed with two teenage children and a dog named Mo.