Furthering a Social Justice Mission

Written by
Lois Elfman

Mar 12, 2024

Mar 12, 2024 • by Lois Elfman

Portia Allen-Kyle’s career has focused on advocacy and propelling meaningful change. Her work has involved advancing equity through nonprofit organizations, government and academia. Currently chief of staff and interim head of external affairs at Color of Change (COC), an online racial justice platform, she works to advance the organization’s vision, impact and efficiency.

Her previous position was senior advisor for equity, policy and stakeholder engagement in the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). In addition to leading the Justice40 initiative, she advised leaders how to incorporate equity into agency policy.

“[Color of Change] is a vehicle for change and a place where I can readily translate my various experiences,” says Allen-Kyle, who also previously served as Director of Policy Innovation at the Voting Rights Lab. “I believe in the model of creating pressure on policy-makers and working on narrative change.”

Higher education has been part of Allen-Kyle’s work, both teaching and research. Already an attorney, she is currently completing a doctorate in sociology to enhance her research skills. Her dissertation will examine Supreme Court opinions on deadly force.

Color of Change

COC was launched in 2005 to strengthen the political voice of African Americans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“[It is] a Black-founded organization that is independent, does not take corporate donations, that is both a source of community and a reaffirmation of valuing justice,” Allen-Kyle says. “It’s been a place…to really bring people together toward a common goal and mobilize them to be a force for change.”

An important current project is alternatives to traffic enforcement (compelling obedience to traffic laws and ordinances). Discussions have often involved police and policing. At the federal level, it has involved the Department of Justice. Given her 19 months at DOT, Allen-Kyle understands how government and agencies work, and she is able to identify ways to address issues and affect change to overall public safety.

“There’s so much research on what isn’t working, and there’s a burgeoning amount interest and research to identify new solutions,” she says. “That combination of translating research to proposal, hopefully to solution and implementation, is really a place I enjoy.”


Through COC, Allen-Kyle will address issues in higher education, including the assault on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). She notes that many of the people engaged in this assault have also tried to ban accurate and inclusive telling of history.

“It has always been about race and about power,” she says. “If we are to achieve our goals of democracy, we have to make sure that we are investing in, protecting and ensuring that our spaces of education are inclusive. The fight for democracy and the fight for racial justice by definition have to be mindful of and have a pulse on the temperature of what is happening at our institutions of public education of which the academy is one.”

Allen-Kyle has worked as adjunct faculty at St. Thomas Aquinas College in NY and as a lecturer at Rutgers University in NJ, teaching a range of undergraduate courses, including Law in Society and Criminology.

“Every time you engage with students, it’s an opportunity to introduce a new idea, a new way to think about an issue or to build a new skill or hone a skill that has already been building,” she says. “My goal was always to go beyond and make sure that I did my best to teach students an approach to grasp and analyze things they weren’t familiar with and to build confidence in their ability to write effectively about issues.

“Also, they can use that in conversations with others who may think differently than they do,” she adds.

Looking Forward

“Belief in democracy is a core component of what justice will feel like when we get there,” Allen-Kyle says.

The mobilization of the Black community to vote in the 2020 election was essential and has led to legislation that has positive impact, such as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal. She works to make people aware of the impact of participatory democracy, including authoring the book (published by the American Bar Association) Advice to Thrive by: How to Use Your Resume and Cover Letter to Build Your Brand and Launch a Dynamic Public Interest Career.

A doctorate combined with her law degree will be valuable in conducting and disseminating research. It will, she says, enable her to carry out her personal mission of leaving a positive social footprint on this world and making a better place for Black communities.

Going forward, she sees herself translating real-life experience into research questions. “Translating research into policy proposals,” she says. “Leveraging data to bolster storytelling. Leveraging stories to bolster and animate data.”

Whether making change from within systems or from outside, a lawyer who understands data and research has powerful tools. “Your goal is to understand institutions and to move them and change them,” Allen-Kyle says.