INFORM + INSPIRE + ENTERTAIN + DEMONSTRATE

Speakers and Contributors

Stay tuned for new speaker announcements coming every day!

Keynote Speakers

Angely Mercado

Angely Mercado is writer and researcher from Queens NYC. She is a social justice fellow at Grist where she covers the intersection between environmental and racial justice. Her work is also featured in The Nation, MotherJones, Rolling Stone, The New York Times and more. Follow more of her work on Twitter @AngelyMercado

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson is Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Research & Education Center, which serves as a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South. They work with people fighting for justice, equality and sustainability, supporting their efforts to take collective action to shape their own destiny. Through popular education, language justice, participatory research, cultural work, and intergenerational organizing, they help create spaces — at Highlander and in local communities — where people gain knowledge, hope and courage, expanding their ideas of what is possible. Ash-Lee is a long-time activist and community organizer, working to win environmental justice in central and southern Appalachia, and a multitude of issues, including labor, reproductive health and rights, ending anti-Black racism and police brutality and more, across the US South. She is an active participant in the Movement for Black Lives and is on the governance council of the Southern Movement Assembly.

Benya Kraus

Hailing from a fusion of Waseca, MN and Bangkok, Thailand, Benya graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Tufts University with a B.A. in International Relations and minors in Urban Studies and Colonialism Studies. While at Tufts, she served as President of the Tufts Community Union Senate and worked as a Minneapolis Urban Scholar with the city's Community Planning & Economic Development department. Searching for a pathway back to serve in Waseca after graduation, she realized that little infrastructure and cultural narrative existed to bring young talent back to small towns, rural, and economically distressed urban communities - particularly to engage in public service. She went on to co-found Lead For America, a national nonprofit that supports young talent in returning to their hometowns through two-year paid fellowships with the mission of catalyzing community renewal and strengthening our public institutions. Supported by the Bush Foundation, Benya has returned home to Minnesota to launch Lead For Minnesota - the next state affiliate headquartered in her hometown of Waseca. In addition to Lead For America, Benya serves as the youngest member elected to the Amnesty USA Board of Directors, was recently appointed by Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan to the Minnesota Young Women's Cabinet, and is involved in her hometown community as a board member of the Mayo Clinic Waseca Outreach Board, the Waseca Area Foundation, the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, and 100 Rural Women.

Dr. Danielle Allen

Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, is a political theorist who has published broadly in democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought. She is the recipient of the 2020 John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity, an award administered by the Library of Congress that recognizes work in disciplines not covered by the Nobel Prizes.Widely known for her work on justice and citizenship in both ancient Athens and modern America, Allen is the author of The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens (2000), Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown vs. the Board of Education (2004), Why Plato Wrote (2010), Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (2014), Education and Equality (2016), and Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. (2017).
Allen is also the principal investigator for the Democratic Knowledge Project, a distributed research and action lab at Harvard University. Allen is past Chair of the Mellon Foundation Board and the Pulitzer Prize Board, as well as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. She is a co-Chair of the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, formed to explore how best to respond to the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in political and civic life.

Kathleen Sebelius

Kathleen Sebelius has been engaged in health policy for decades in the public and private sectors. She served in President Obama’s cabinet at HHS Secretary and was elected statewide four times in Kansas as Governor and Insurance Commissioner. Currently, Sebelius is the CEO of Sebelius Resources LLC. She serves on the boards of directors of Dermira, Devoted Health, Exact Sciences, Myovant Sciences, and several private health sector interests. She continues policy work with the Kaiser Family Foundation and co-leads the Health Strategy Group for the Aspen Institute. Sebelius lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with her husband, Gary. They have two married sons and four grandchildren.

Krista Tippett

Krista Tippett is a Peabody-award winning broadcaster, National Humanities Medalist, and New York Times bestselling author. She hosts the On Being public radio show and podcast and leads The On Being Project, a non-profit media and public life initiative that pursues deep thinking and moral imagination, social courage and joy, towards the renewal of inner life, outer life, and life together. Krista grew up in a small town in Oklahoma, attended Brown University, worked as a journalist and diplomat in Cold War Berlin, and later received a Master of Divinity from Yale University. She was awarded a National Humanities Medal from President Obama. Her books are Speaking of Faith, Einstein’s God, and Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.

Ligia Cravo

Ligia Cravo is a Senior Program Officer at the William Randolph Hearst Foundations, which she joined in 1996. Working closely with the Foundations’ leadership team and their Board of Trustees, her leading responsibilities are to make funding recommendations within the Foundations’ four major areas of interest—education, health, culture and social services—and contribute to the development of effective philanthropic policies and practices. The Hearst Foundations are national, independent, private philanthropies operating separately from the Hearst Corporation. The Foundations have combined assets of more than $1.1 billion and operate out of their New York Headquarters and a San Francisco Office. Prior to joining the Hearst Foundations, Ligia worked with several nonprofit and philanthropic institutions, including Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Express Foundation. Ligia serves on the board of the Center for Rural Strategies and the Advisory Council of the New York Foundation for the Arts. She held leadership roles has a former trustee of the LCU Fund for Women’s Education, Hispanics in Philanthropy and Women in Philanthropy, as well as a member of several committees within Philanthropy New York and the Council on Foundations. Ligia received a Master of Science in Social Work Administration from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts from Mills College. She is fluent in Portuguese and English and has a working knowledge of Spanish and French. Ligia was born in Angola, lived in Portugal for 10 years and has resided in the United States since 1980.

Monica Ramirez

Mónica Ramírez is the daughter and granddaughter of migrant farmworkers. She is also an attorney, author and activist. She founded Justice for Migrant Women, a national organization that seeks to advance the human and civil rights of migrant women workers. Mónica is also cofounder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, The Latinx House, Sisters Rising and She Se Puede, among other initiatives. She serves on the Board of the National Women’s Law Center and as a member of the TIMES UP Global Leadership Board. Mónica wrote the “Dear Sisters” letter from 700,000 farmworker women to women in Hollywood that was published in TIME magazine in November 2017 that has been credited with helping to spark the TIMES UP movement. She has received numerous awards for her leadership, including Harvard Kennedy School’s first Gender Equity Changemaker Award, Feminist Majority’s Global Women’s Rights Award, the Smithsonian’s Ingenuity Award and Forbes Mexico named her among the100 Most Powerful Women in 2018. In 2020, she was named an inaugural cohort member of the Ford Global Fellowship. Mónica is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and Harvard Kennedy School. She was lives in Fremont, Ohio with her family.

Reyna Lopez

Reyna is a leader and proud daughter of immigrants from Mexico, who came to Oregon in the late 80’s following the migration of farm work in the Marion County area. She is currently the Executive Director of PCUN, which was started by farmworkers and is now Oregon’s longest standing Latinx led organization. Reyna grew up in Salem, Oregon and graduated from Willamette University with her BA in Political Science and Sociology. For over a decade, she has been a fierce leader and advocate for the Latinx community in Oregon, receiving the Immigrant Award from the American Association of Immigration Lawyers of Oregon, and Willamette University’s Young Alumni of the Year Award for her work in social justice causes, campaigns, movement and coalition building. Today, Reyna is also leading on national efforts as a member of the board of the Center for Popular Democracy, and the Secretary Treasurer of the Oregon Working Families Party.

Richard Besser

Richard E. Besser, MD, is president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a position he assumed in April 2017. Dr. Besser is the former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ABC News’ former Chief Health and Medical Editor and is now on the Multi-State Council to Get People Back to Work and Restore the Economy and the New Jersey Governor’s Restart and Recovery Commission. At RWJF, Dr. Besser leads the largest private foundation in the country devoted solely to improving the nation’s health. In Dr. Besser’s role at ABC News, he worked to shape how viewers think about health here and around the globe. His weekly health chats on social media reached millions. Before joining ABC News in 2009, Dr. Besser worked as Director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response at the CDC. In that role he was responsible for all the CDC's public health emergency preparedness and emergency response activities. He also served as acting director of the CDC from January to June 2009, during which time he led the CDC's response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic. Dr. Besser received his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Williams College and medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He completed a residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. He continues to practice as a volunteer pediatrician at the Henry J. Austin Health Center in Trenton, NJ. He and his wife Jeanne, a food writer, have two sons, Alex and Jack.

Sarah Eagle Heart

Sarah Eagle Heart is an Emmy award winning social justice storyteller, activist, media strategist, and producer focused on advocacy on behalf of Indigenous Peoples rooted worldview as an Oglala Lakota raised on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She is currently the CEO of Return to the Heart Foundation and is an internationally accomplished executive with a diverse background in tribal, corporate, and non-profit organizations. Ms. Eagle Heart recently served as CEO of Native Americans in Philanthropy, a national nonprofit that focuses on investment in Native American communities. She created narrative change endeavors amplifying truth and healing, history and contemporary issues. Her partnerships include: Anne Hathaway, Dispatch, Indigenous Women Rise, John Legend, Mark Ruffalo, Obama White House and Taboo of The Black Eyed Peas. Her partnership with John Legend "Crow: the Legend" led to a 2019 Emmy as a Consultant Producer. Prior to this role, she served as the Team Leader for Diversity, Social Justice and Environmental Ministries and Program Officer for Indigenous Ministry at The Episcopal Church, New York, NY. Under her leadership, The Episcopal Church became the first major denomination to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery in 2009 and presented oral interventions at the United Nations in 2012.

Sarah Smarsh

Sarah Smarsh is a journalist who has covered socioeconomic class, politics and public policy for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation and many other publications. Her first book, “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth,” was a finalist for the National Book Award.
 
Smarsh was Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in 2018 and is a frequent speaker and commentator on economic inequality. Her new book, “She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs,” will be published in October 2020. She lives in Kansas.

Shannon Kring

Shannon Kring is an Emmy-winning producer and humanitarian whose work has been presented by dozens of governments, and by institutions including the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Smithsonian Institution Museum of the American Indian, NASA, MIT, and the British Museum. Shannon works with the UN, US Department of State, and other global bodies concerning the indigenous and other marginalized members of society, environmental sustainability, and cultural preservation. She is a UNWTO Liaison and serves as Honduras’ Goodwill Ambassador. In 2008, Shannon left behind culinary and lifestyle media fame. Gaining unprecedented access into typically fiercely guarded groups in 70+ countries, she has been entrusted with lifting the veil on spiritual and culinary practices long shrouded in mystery and intrigue. To date, she has conducted nearly 3,000 interviews on ancient and indigenous wisdom. After living in places as diverse as Helsinki and San Pedro Sula, Honduras (then the Murder Capital of the World), Shannon returned to the US in 2016 to begin production on her forthcoming feature documentary END OF THE LINE: THE WOMEN OF STANDING ROCK. In 2018, she became the first US director and only third woman to receive the backing of the Finnish Film Foundation. In 2019, she won the Stella Artois-Women in Film Finishing Fund Award. She is the author of five award-winning nonfiction books.

Wašté Win Yellowlodge Young

Wašté Win Yellowlodge Young (Ihunktowanna Dakota/Hunkpapa Lakota) is an enrolled citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Wašté Win grew up along the Mní Šošé—the Missouri River north—of Fort Yates, North Dakota. She graduated from the University of North Dakota in 2001 and worked for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Historic Preservation Office from 2003 to 2015, including seven years as the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. In August 2016, Wašté Win’s family moved to the Očeti Šakowin Camp, the epicenter of the indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at Standing Rock. They resided there until February 22, 2017, when law enforcement and military forcibly removed the water protectors. On February 1, 2017, Wašté Win was one of 72 people arrested at Crazy Horse's Last Child’s Camp at Očeti Šakowin for peacefully maintaining a physical and spiritual presence on Lakota treaty land. After nearly two years of court proceedings, all charges against her were dropped in December of 2018. Wašté Win is in her second year of law school at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where she lives with her four children. Together with her mother, American Indian rights activist Phyllis Young, Wašté Win stars in the forthcoming feature documentary END OF THE LINE: THE WOMEN OF STANDING ROCK.

Poets, Artists, Musicians

Anthony Wiles

17 year-old Anthony John Wiles, Jr. (also known as A.J. by family and friends), is the National Student Poet representing the Northeast region of the country. A resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he attends the Sewickley Academy and is an active member of his school community. In addition to this, he has been active in several other organizations, as well as performing community service and engaging in writing workshops in the Pittsburgh region. Anthony is a proud ninth-generation Affrilachian, with roots in the rural Mountain South. His identity and his heritage shape him as a writer and as a storyteller. He dedicates his writing to telling the stories of the people and places that make him whole, giving voice to himself and his community in the process. Anthony plans to become an educator and historian in addition to his creative writing so that he can continue to make change and tell his story.

Anna Herrod

Anna Harrod

Anna Harrod is a Kentucky born and raised musician, farmer, researcher, and activist. Anna grew up in a musical family where she inherited a deep love for Appalachian music. Anna currently performs in an all female old-time band, The Possum Queens.

Becky Hill

Becky Hill is a sought-after percussive dancer, Appalachian square dance caller, and choreographer “slides and shuffles her feet with the precision of snare brushes” (NPR Music). As an avid community organizer and teacher, Hill’s work is deeply rooted in the connections between music and community. She believes there is always more to learn and is dedicated to creating choreography that blurs the lines between music and dance.

Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera is the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States (2015-2016) and is the first Latino to hold the position. From 2012-2014, Herrera served as California State Poet Laureate. Herrera’s many collections of poetry include Every Day We Get More Illegal; Notes on the Assemblage; Senegal Taxi; Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems, a recipient of the PEN/Beyond Margins Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971-2007. He is also the author of Crashboomlove: A Novel in Verse, which received the Americas Award. His books of prose for children include: SkateFate, Calling The Doves, which won the Ezra Jack Keats Award; Upside Down Boy, which was adapted into a musical for young audiences in New York City; and Cinnamon Girl: Letters Found Inside a Cereal Box. His book Jabberwalking, a children’s book focused on turning your wonder at the world around you into weird, wild, incandescent poetry, is forthcoming in 2018. Herrera is also a performance artist and activist on behalf of migrant and indigenous communities and at-risk youth.

Kyshona Armstrong

Kyshona has always lent her voice and music to those that feel they have been silenced or forgotten. She began her career as a music therapist, writing her first songs with her patients--the students and inmates under her care. She soon found the need to write independently and find her own voice, and endeavor which led her to the fertile ground of the Nashville creative community and songwriting culture. Since then, she has learned how to balance her music career with her passion to heal the hurting. Audiences will find a common thread of empowerment, overcoming adversity, and finding hope in her work. On February 28, 2020, Kyshona will release her new LP Listen, co-produced with Andrija Tokic (St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Alabama Shakes, Hurray For The Riff Raff) and recorded mostly at his famed Nashville studio The Bomb Shelter. Within the grooves of its 10 tracks, Kyshona blends roots, rock, R&B, and folk with lyrical prowess to uplift the marginalized and bring awareness to the masses. It's for every silent scream, every heavy load, every fearful thought, and the simmering sense of anger that the silenced, the lost, and the forgotten try to hide from the world.

Rui Fu

Singer-songwriter Rui Fu specializes in improvisational and impressionistic interpretations of Chinese ethnic musical traditions and modernist portrayals of ancient Taoist meditative music. Through her music, Fu initiates conversations between indigenous music cultures and rare instruments around the world, often employing her signature, non-lexical vocals as her own “language” and lyrics to illustrate a crossing of cultural and religious barriers.

SG Goodman

S.G. Goodman was raised in Western Kentucky on the Mississippi River Delta, in a strict church going family of row crop farmers. She went from singing in church three times a week to becoming a prominent member of the Murray, KY indie scene and an impassioned voice in the political and social movements she supported. Old Time Feeling is an authentic sonic experience built upon beautiful songs that provide glimpses into ordinary lives filled with extraordinary emotion. S.G. Goodman does it all with unforgettable vocal performances. “I go to a different place when I sing,” she says. “When playing all these little bars with no monitors, you have to know what you sound like when you’re singing something, right in your body. You have to feel it.” Best of all, she makes us feel it, too.

Happy Hour Leaders

Ashley Hanson

Ashley Hanson is the founder of PlaceBase Productions, a theater company that creates original, site-specific musicals celebrating small town life and the founder of the Department of Public Transformation, an artist-led organization that collaborates with local leaders in rural areas to develop creative strategies for community connection and civic participation. She is the Director of the Small Town City Artist in Residence program and The YES! House - a radically welcoming creative community gathering space – in Granite Falls, MN. She was recently named a 2018 Obama Foundation Fellow and a 2019 Bush Fellow for her work with rural communities. She spends most of her time on the road visiting with people in rural places and believes wholeheartedly in the power of play and exclamation points!

Ben Katt

Ben Katt has spent over 15 years working at the intersection of spirituality, community, and social healing. After completing his M.Div, he moved to Seattle where he spent a decade launching and leading Awake, a contemplative-active faith community, and co-created the Aurora Commons, a supportive space for unhoused neighbors and committed to radical hospitality and mutual transformation. His deep engagement in community development in his own neighborhood inspired him to help other congregations and organizations serve their local contexts in his work as co-founder of the Parish Collective, creator and host of the 99-episode RePlacing Church podcast, and denominational agency leader. Ben’s work is animated by his commitments to levity, gravity, curiosity, and creativity. He is enthralled by ever-evolving spiritual journeys of individuals and communities, and is fascinated by the practices and wisdom that have emerged from across religious and cultural traditions. He enjoys practicing and teaching meditation, running in the woods, craft beer with friends, and karaoke with strangers. After 14 years in the Pacific Northwest, Ben recently returned to his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his wife and three children.

Brandi Turner

Brandi Turner was born in Michigan and raised in New Orleans, LA and Oxford, Mississippi. She is a very creative spirit and an active member of the Utica/Raymond community. Brandi has built a strong career in beauty products, including a number of years with Estee Lauder and Mary Kay. She is still an active freelance makeup artist. Currently, Brandi works as co-owner and Managing Director of TWA Consulting, a firm that provides services in creative consulting for organizations looking to strengthen their work in arts and culture. She is also the Program & Event Coordinator for the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production in Utica, MS. Brandi resides in Utica with her husband Carlton Turner and their three children, Jonathan, Xiauna Lin, and Tristan.

Eddie Gonzales

Eddie Gonzalez has a keen interest in the dance between inner and outer life, the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell each other. He joins On Being Project after a decade of work around stories and spiritual care, most recently at StoryCorps, where he worked across the United States and Canada to help individuals and organizations create space for reflective conversations through community-based storytelling and audio recording projects. Before StoryCorps he was a hospice chaplain and received his clinical pastoral education while earning an M.F.A. in creative writing. Eddie believes deeply in the power of collaboration and is based in New York City, connecting the growing ecosystem of projects, leaders, and listeners that make up the On Being Project community. Eddie Gonzalez has a keen interest in the dance between inner and outer life, the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell each other. He joins On Being Project after a decade of work around stories and spiritual care, most recently at StoryCorps, where he worked across the United States and Canada to help individuals and organizations create space for reflective conversations through community-based storytelling and audio recording projects. Before StoryCorps he was a hospice chaplain and received his clinical pastoral education while earning an M.F.A. in creative writing. Eddie believes deeply in the power of collaboration and is based in New York City, connecting the growing ecosystem of projects, leaders, and listeners that make up the On Being Project community.

Frank X Walker

Frank X Walker, is the author of eleven award-winning collections of poetry and is Professor of English and African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky. He has presented across the US and around the globe and at over 400 national conferences and universities.

Hannah Holman

Hannah K. Holman (she/her or they/them) is a Minnesota-based interdisciplinary maker and social practice artist working in communities of all shapes and sizes — rural, remote, urban, and suburban. They are a poetic playground builder and spreadsheet storyteller leaping between art and administration in a single bound. Currently, Hannah is the Project Manager for the Rural Arts & Culture Summit and Recovery Network with Springboard for the Arts (Fergus Falls, MN), Operations Project Manager with the Department of Public Transformation (Granite Falls, MN), and the Producing Artistic Director of Umbrella Collective (Twin Cities, MN). Previously, she served as the Program Manager and Interim Executive Director with the Minnesota Theater Alliance, as well as the Associate Managing Director with The Loft Literary Center. In 2018, Hannah was named "Performing Arts Administrator of the Year" by Twin Cities Arts Reader. She is an Aquarian water-bearer crafting vessels for connection and creativity.

Lucas Johnson

Eddie Gonzalez has a keen interest in the dance between inner and outer life, the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell each other. He joins On Being Project after a decade of work around stories and spiritual care, most recently at StoryCorps, where he worked across the United States and Canada to help individuals and organizations create space for reflective conversations through community-based storytelling and audio recording projects. Before StoryCorps he was a hospice chaplain and received his clinical pastoral education while earning an M.F.A. in creative writing. Eddie believes deeply in the power of collaboration and is based in New York City, connecting the growing ecosystem of projects, leaders, and listeners that make up the On Being Project community. Eddie Gonzalez has a keen interest in the dance between inner and outer life, the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell each other. He joins On Being Project after a decade of work around stories and spiritual care, most recently at StoryCorps, where he worked across the United States and Canada to help individuals and organizations create space for reflective conversations through community-based storytelling and audio recording projects. Before StoryCorps he was a hospice chaplain and received his clinical pastoral education while earning an M.F.A. in creative writing. Eddie believes deeply in the power of collaboration and is based in New York City, connecting the growing ecosystem of projects, leaders, and listeners that make up the On Being Project community.

Jamie Horter

Jamie Horter is a rural advocate and artist based in Lyons, NE (pop. 850). She works primarily in rural places and believes in the power of art to shape and enhance quality of life in rural communities. Jamie is part of the Dakota Resources team. Dakota Resources connects capacity and capital to empower rural communities. Their annual RuralX event is for community leaders and spirited people who think differently about rural. It's a space to discover new ideas, tools and processes to help you be a catalyst of change in your community.

Nikiko Masumoto

Nikiko Masumoto (she/her) is an organic farmer, memory keeper, and artist. She is Yonsei, a fourth generation Japanese American, and gets to touch the same soil her great-grandparents worked in California where Masumoto Family Farm grows organic nectarines, apricots, peaches and grapes for raisins.

Breakout Speakers

Stay tuned for more information on breakout leaders and speakers!

The Rural Assembly is a program of