Speakers and Contributors

Stay tuned for new speaker announcements coming every day!

Keynote Speakers

Angely Mercado Grist Reporter Headshot

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.

Pádraig Ó Tuama headshot

Padraig O'Tuama

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a poet and theologian from Ireland. He presents Poetry Unbound from On Being Studios. His work has appeared in Harvard Review, Poetry Ireland and national broadcasters in Ireland, Britain, the US, and elsewhere. For 20 years he worked in conflict resolution in his native Ireland, particularly addressing the sectarian legacy of British-Irish conflict. He’s coming to us from Ireland.

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 headshot

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 headshot Springboard for the Arts

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

Lucas Johnson has deep, global experience in conflict resolution and community organizing. He has been shaped by his time learning from veterans of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., most closely Vincent Harding and Dorothy Cotton, and by his work with human rights activists around the world, especially in Africa, Europe, and Latin America. Lucas was a leader in the U.S. community of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), the world’s oldest interfaith peace organization, for 6 years, based in Atlanta and focused on the Southeast and mid-Atlantic. From 2014 until he joined the On Being Project in December, 2018, he served as General Secretary of IFOR’s global operation. Among the work he will draw on and extend as part of CCP, he incubated a Beloved Communities Project in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium; and helped to create an Ethics of Reciprocity initiative with the United Nations. Lucas studied at Mercer University and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He was born in Germany in a military family, grew up in Georgia (U.S.), and now resides between Amsterdam and the United States.

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

What’s Next? Setting Our Intentions for the World We Deserve

Colette Pinchon Battle

Colette Pichon Battle, Esq. is the founder and Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy and develops programming focused on Equitable Disaster Recovery, Global Migration, Community Economic Development, Climate Justice and Energy Democracy. Colette works with local communities, national funders and elected officials in the post-Katrina/post-BP disaster recovery and was a lead coordinator for Gulf South Rising 2015 a regional initiative around climate justice and just transition in the South. In addition to developing advocacy initiatives that intersect with race, systems of power and ecology, Colette manages GCCLP’s legal services in immigration law and disaster law. In 2018, Pichon Battle joined on the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table Leadership Team leading to advance national work on Climate Justice. Colette is a 2019 Obama Fellow and a 2019 TED Fellow. In 2018 Colette was awarded with an Honorary Doctorate from Kenyon College and 2016 Colette was named a White House Champion of Change for Climate Equity. In 2015, was selected as an Echoing Green Climate Fellow and has received awards from the State of Louisiana, the American Bar Association for her work in disaster recovery.

Jess James

Jessica “Jess” James is a graduate of Jackson State University (JSU), B.A., Political Science. They are a MS Delta native from Clarksdale, MS. Jess recently held membership at JSU campus organizations, G.I.R.L (Gathering Information Related to Ladies) Feminist/Womanist org., is a charter member of Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity at Jackson State University, and a 2016 JSU Global (Study Abroad) scholar. She has experience in public speaking as an activist/organizer speaking on social justice issues, as they relate to Black lives, and raises awareness on Black women and girls validity, issues, and humanization. Jess is also a freelance writer who has blogged for Jackson, MS media entertainment and cultural blog site, the Hood Hippie and most recently Black With No Chaser , Black media outlet. Their previous employment has included MS Delta’s Economic Justice non-profit, Higher Purpose co., as Operations and Events Coordinator, and Jackson’s, People’s Advocacy Institute as Programs Coordinator. Jess is a member of the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) and Southerners On New Ground (SONG). They have served as communications chair and co-chair in BYP 100’s Jackson chapter. Jess is also a published playwright whose work has reflected the lives of Civil Rights Activists in the MS Delta.

Leonette Henderson

Leonette Henderson is a native of Clarksdale, MS and serves as the Executive Director for Griot Arts Inc., a nonprofit empowering young people to create positive change in their lives and community by providing access to opportunities in the arts, education, and workforce development. Leonette has a fervent desire to propel economic and social justice. This desire is rooted in a genuine concern for the overall well-being of people and community as well as a predilection for an equitable distribution of justice. As a documentarian, she believes in shared stories that recreate narratives for individuals, communities, regions, and countries, giving light to their truth and healing. Leonette has spent 14 years in higher education, education reform and secondary education collectively, seven of which as a nonprofit professional. She has served as a Director of Development and Partnership for Higher Purpose Co., a 501c3 economic justice nonprofit, building community wealth with Black residents across Mississippi. She has served on the Faculty Affairs and Faculty Development team for the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine. Prior to returning to the University of Virginia, Leonette joined New Leaders, a national nonprofit that develops transformational school leaders, where she served as the Program Coordinator and later the Program Manager for the Effective Practice Incentive Community (EPIC) in the Memphis City Schools District. She then served as the organization’s Interim Development Manager.

Our Rural is Your Rural: A Breakout with the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative

Amanda Furdge-Shelby

In addition to over 10 solid years and counting as a nationally and internationally known spoken word poet and author, Amanda Furdge is known for possessing a wide array of talents, as well as being highly respected as a mother, community leader, writer and cultural/social influencer. Born and raised in Jackson and throughout the Delta of Mississippi, she began her own journey into creativity as a necessity at 8 years old as a student at Power APAC which at the time was Mississippi’s only academic and performing arts complex. Her first poems landed her yearly placements in the annual Jackson Public School district’s Martin Luther King Oratorical contests. In time, Amanda was known for her writing and performing and hosting of the first and only open mic night to be held at City Hall in Jackson during the years 2005-2006. Upon high school graduation, Amanda relocated to Chicago, IL after a brief stint in the US Navy and became a well trusted and respected poet and writer. She has served as a resident teaching artist for Young Chicago Authors, Chicago Public Schools and a number of faith-based organizations. Amanda moved back to Mississippi in January of 2014. Self-publishing her first collection of non-fictional stories about growing up in Mississippi, motherhood and art in 2016. Featured on numerous websites, blogs, stages, projects and records in many artistic capacities ranging from writing to producing; she aspires to write and record organic material with tremendous depth that will inspire listeners and readers to empower change.

Barbara Brooks

Barbara R. Brooks currently is an Alderwoman in the City of Leland, MS. She was the Mayor of Leland, MS from 2005 – 2009. She is a graduate of Alcorn State University.

Helenor Bell

Currently, Helenor T. Bell co-owns and operates Bell Funeral Home with her husband. The family owned business was opened in 1993. Helenor is a licensed funeral director. The Bells have expanded there reach to Montgomery, Selma and Mobile. Along with the funeral business, Helenor is also owner of a consulting firm, HT Bell Connections. She is a community innovator with a wealth of experience in dealing with state and federal agencies. She has managed multimillion-dollar infrastructure projects, specializing in enhancing municipal roadways as well as water and sewer systems. While serving her community in various capacities, Ms. Bell has developed an international network that allows her clients an unlimited pathway to hard to reach resources. In October of 2004, Mrs. Bell was sworn in as mayor of Hayneville, Alabama and served until 2012. She was the first African American female to be elected mayor in Hayneville and in Lowndes County.

Izandra Rudolph

Izandra Rudolph Heard is a native of Hayneville, Alabama. She is a community activist in the Southern Black Belt of Lowndes County. Izandra is a youth organizer with the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative- Alabama. Izandra is a retired Speech Language Pathologist. She is an advocate for the undeserved communities and youth in the Black Belt. For over 15. years Izandra has served communities all over the central Alabama as a mentor and advocate for women’s rights, education, healthcare and social justice.

Jessica King

Jessica King hails from one of the birthplaces of organizing, born and raised from Albany, GA. Jessica is a homegrown native of Southwest Georgia and a true Southerner from the deep south. She began advocating on behalf of others, such as herself, at the age of fifteen and has shown no signs of slowing down. She has dedicated her young life to be a live-action "on-the-ground "community organizer and is currently working as a community coordinator with The Southwest Georgia Project in Albany, GA. Jessica spends her time in the trenches with community members and organizers of all ages working to shift social norms in rural communities. Jessica has seen the struggles of forgotten communities in the rural south. Motivated by their perseverance, she has shaped her work as an agent of change to focus on the barriers that plague Black communities in the rural south. One day, Jessica hopes to influence the creation of political policies' with the knowledge and experience from her journey. As she powers through bringing forward-thinking and innovative ideologies, she also brings along with her the echoes of voices of underserved rural communities from across the south.

Shirley Sherrod

Shirley Sherrod is a Baker County Georgia native who grew up on her family’s farm. In March 1965, her father was murdered by a white farmer who was not prosecuted. The tragic murder of her father when she was 17 years old, had a profound impact on her life and led to her decision to stay in the south to work for change. Shirley helped to start the civil rights movement in Baker County and later married Charles Sherrod, one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and leader of SNCC’s work in southwest Georgia. With her husband and others, she helped to form New Communities, Inc., the first Community Land Trust in the United States. New Communities serves as a laboratory and model in the movement toward the development of community land trusts (CLTs) throughout the country. In 2009, Shirley was appointed by the Obama Administration as USDA Georgia State Director of Rural Development. She became the first person of color to hold the position. Shirley serves as the Executive Director of the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, Inc., Vice President for Development for New Communities, Inc. and State Lead for the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative for Economic and Social Justice (SRBWI).

Sheryl Threadgill

Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews, cofounded BAMA Kids, Inc., back in 1993, which aims to improve the well-being of youth in Wilcox County by combining organized recreational and educational activities, developing and promoting leadership involvement for youth and their parents, and by promoting life skills to prevent substance abuse and other harmful activities. In an region where there are few opportunities for organized activities for youth, BAMA Kids has been successful in recruiting high-risk youth to its programs, maintaining contact with them and making significant impacts on their lives.

Rural Welcoming: Building Inclusive Communities

Alejandra Hernandez

Alejandra Hernandez is Executive Director of Unity Alliance of Southern Idaho. In 2018, a diverse group of community leaders met and committed to find solutions that would bring the community together. The result of many discussion and difficult conversation was the Unity Alliance of Southern Idaho. The goal of the organization is to support immigrant and refugee community, promote community identity based on diversity, integration, and mutual respect and to give everyone a sense of belonging to and care for our common life together.

Bassem Gayed

Bassem Gayed is the Multicultural Services Coordinator the Otis Library in Norwich, CT. Versatile trilingual librarian, Bassem consistently demonstrates a unique combination of organizational and administrative skills combined with an exemplary knowledge of serving a diverse population and information research. He expanded the library’s partnerships with immigrant’s churches, businesses, adult education and schools which increased awareness and library usage significantly, for which the library receives frequent community and national recognition. based on diversity, integration, and mutual respect and to give everyone a sense of belonging to and care for our common life together.

Cecilia Sotelo

Cecilia Cornejo Sotelo is a Chilean-American documentary filmmaker, artist, and educator based in Northfield, Minnesota. Known for placing community members at the center of the creative process, she uses a range of approaches and production methodologies to engage them as active participants and co-creators of meaning. Locally rooted yet globally minded, Cecilia’s work examines notions of belonging and the immigrant experience while exploring the traces of historical trauma on people and places. An inaugural recipient of the 2020 McKnight Fellowship for Community-Engaged Artists, Cecilia teaches in the Cinema and Media Studies department at Carleton College.

Fatima Fine

Fatima Fine is Executive Director of Project FINE. A refugee to the United States from her native Bosnia, she came to Project FINE with a background in education and business, as well as 12 years of experience as a teacher and director of the Head Start program at Child Care Resources and Referral in Rochester. As Executive Director, Fatima provides direction for the organization and builds partnerships with businesses, service providers and organizations in Winona, Minnesota.

Katherine Ferguson

Katharine Ferguson is Associate Director of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group and Director of CSG’s Rural and Regional Initiatives. Before joining the Aspen Institute, Katharine served in the Obama Administration as Chief of Staff for the White House Domestic Policy Council and as Chief of Staff for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Committed to bridging perceived divides and advancing equity, regardless of the topic at hand, Katharine is interested in the practical challenges of civic engagement, institution building, systems change and governance. When not in small-town America or Washington D.C., Katharine lives and works in her hometown of Denver, Colorado.

Molly Hilligoss

Molly Hilligoss is the Midwest Regional Manager for Welcoming America. She provides technical assistance to community partners in the Midwestern United States. Previously, she served as the Social Justice and Advocacy Director for YWCA La Crosse, where she focused on mission impact strategy and public policy initiatives. Prior to returning to the Midwest, she worked as the director of Volunteer Services for La Puente Home in Alamosa, Colorado, where she supervised a large residential AmeriCorps Program and oversaw a wide range community engagement projects.

Rural Women Building Climate Resilience: Their Challenges and Successes

Caitlin Joseph

Caitlin collaborates with AFT’s national staff to advance the Women for the Land Initiative, specifically supporting extension, outreach, and evaluation of regional learning circles with women landowners and farmers. Prior to joining AFT, she worked as a diverse vegetable farmer, farmers market manager, and farm to school coordinator in Michigan, and served in both grassroots organizing and policy analysis roles for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington, D.C. With more than eight years of experience cultivating regional food systems, she has developed programs and policy frameworks for cross-sector partnerships focused on economic development, health equity, and climate resilience in the San Francisco Bay Area, and nationally. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in biology education from Arizona State University and a Master of Science in agriculture, food, and environment with a specialization in urban and environmental policy and planning from Tufts University.

Danielle Antelope headshot

Danielle Antelope

CDanielle Antelope is an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and was raised on the Blackfeet Reservation. She graduated with an Associate Degree from Blackfeet Community College and transferred to Montana State University. Danielle is planning to graduate in the winter of 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Food & Bioenergy Systems. Danielle is heavily involved on MSU campus as well as in her tribal community. On campus Danielle served on the ASMSU Student Senate as a student senator for the College of Education, Health & Human Development. She also holds the Co-Chair position for the non-profit Food Access Sustainability Team (FAST) Blackfeet in her home community. This non-profit is focused on identifying food insecurity and implementing solutions within the Blackfeet Nation. Danielle is passionate about utilizing the indigenous food systems as an example of a sustainable food system. Her hope is to help tribes revitalize and preserve knowledge about their traditional food system. This is a student who seeks opportunities where she can represent and serve others.

Gabrielle Roesch-McNally

Gabrielle leads AFT’s national initiative to ensure women landowners have access to resources, technical advice, and policy facilitators to ensure they lead in conservation and building resilient agrifood systems. Before joining AFT, she worked as a fellow with the USDA Northwest Climate Hub where she conducted social science research to better understand producer decision making in sustainable agrifood systems, particularly in the context of climate change adaptation and mitigation. She has written or contributed to many reports, assessments, and other publications on climate change. Gabrielle earned a Master of Science from the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forestry Science, where she focused on environmental economics and a Doctorate in sociology and sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University where she worked as one of the lead social scientists on a large-scale interdisciplinary USDA-NIFA project as part of her dissertation research.

Naomi Miguel headshot

Naomi Miguel

Naomi Miguel, Ba’ag Nei’dam O’ks (Eagle Singing Woman) is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Ms. Miguel is currently Professional Staff for the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States on the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources. Ms. Miguel previously worked six years at the Tribal Law and Policy Institute and served four years as a Board Member and Board Secretary for Pukúu, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing cultural community services for Native Americans in Los Angeles County. She interned with the tribal liaison at the Federal Communications Commission, and the Office of Inspector General at the National Science Foundation. She is one of the founding board members for the Congressional Native Staff Association and a former Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation Native American Congressional intern. Ms. Miguel received her Bachelor of the Arts degree in Political Science with minors in Pre-Law and Art from Mount St. Mary’s University, an all-women’s college in Los Angeles, CA; and her Master's in Public Administration and Policy from American University in Washington, D.C. She recently received an outstanding alumnus rising star award from the Mount St. Mary’s University Alumni Association. In her free time, she enjoys reading, drawing, painting, live music, and playing alto-saxophone.

The Rural Assembly is a program of