Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler is the force behind a mobile app that accumulates the ‘unwanted’ change of users after using their credit card to help free incarcerated black people in America’s jails.
With a strong belief that the tech industry has the power to break cycles of poverty that many Black people are grappled with due to systemic oppression, Ziegler joined with Tiffany Mikel to create the Appolition.us.
This was done in collaboration with National Bail Out—a Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to support folks and end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration.
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“Although bail relief via an app isn’t the perfect solution to true abolishment of the prison industrial complex, being able to provide a tiny dent in the system along the way is always important. Supporting the work that prison abolitionists are already doing, is my contribution,” Ziegler stated in an interview.
The app works by linking to a banking account. It rounds up regular purchases to the nearest dollar and donates the accumulated funds.
“Our short-term goals are to get as many folks home for the holidays as possible,” Ziegler said. “Long term, we see the platform being used in a variety of ways to bolster the voices of those in need beyond just a financial contribution.”
Noted also for his contribution to the film industry and academia, Ziegler directed the acclaimed 2008 documentary STILL BLACK: A Portrait of Black Transmen. The documentary features the stories of six black transmen from diverse backgrounds in different parts of the United States at different stages in their lives.
Ziegler spoke to activists, teachers, students, and more to tell their story of transition, the relationships they have with family, as well as, the outside world, and how being a black trans man has negative stereotypes and stigmas.
“I was thinking about my own transition and wanted to share stories of other men like me,” Ziegler said.
“I think directing that film really helped make my time getting my PhD much more pleasurable. I’ve been in school my whole life. I never planned on getting a PhD, but I was encouraged by my advisors while I was in a master’s program at San Francisco State University,” he said.
Ziegler was the first African-American to receive a PhD in African-American Studies at Northwestern University. However, he struggled to get employment after graduating, so he had to devise a way to provide employment for himself and others.
“It had been a year and a half out of my PhD program and I was still without a job,” said Ziegler. “I started to think, ‘If I can’t get a job with all my credentials, then a lot of folks [like me] must be struggling too.'”
That led to the launch of Trans*H4ck in 2013, a company that blends trans advocacy and technology to respond to the growing social and economic barriers that plague the trans community.