Better Selves Fellows August 24-30, 2019
Aaron Asis is a public artist focused on promoting access, awareness and appreciation – throughout our built environments. Born and raised in New York City, Aaron’s work explores a variety of artistic processes designed to inspire, educate, and demonstrate the power of creative collaborations – at the intersection of public interest, community engagement, and governmental coordination.
ELISABETH BALSTER DABNEY
Elisabeth Balster Dabney is the executive director of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, an environmental conservation organization working to protect 180 million acres of Arctic and sub-Arctic Alaska. Elisabeth is a second-generation Alaskan and identifies as a settler on the traditional lands of the Lower Tanana Dene Peoples. She is an historian by training and seeking better ways to do conservation work that respects the traditional lifeways of Alaska’s Indigenous Peoples and keeps Alaska’s vibrant and thriving ecosystems intact for future generations.
Rich Bard has been working in some aspect of conservation for his entire 25-year career, though the exact work has changed a number of times. He has been a zookeeper, a wolf biologist in Arizona, a Maine state wildlife biologist, a farmer, and the Executive Director of two different land trusts. He is also the author of “Beyond Acadia: Exploring the Bold Coast of Down East Maine,” a travel guide to the easternmost part of the Maine coast, published in 2019. Rich lives in Portland, Maine with his wife and son where he loves exploring the city and surrounding countryside on foot or by bicycle. He is the Executive Director of Scarborough Land Trust.
Gail Burton grew up in East Harlem NYC and currently lives in Providence, RI. She is an educator, theater practitioner and Joker of Theater of the oppressed. She is a member of the facilitation collective, Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory (TOPLAB) and studied as a Joker under the guidance of Marie-Claire Picher and Augusto Boal. Additionally, she has trained Jokers of Theater of the Oppressed nationally through the TOPLAB facilitation training program, and internationally for the Federation of Senegalese Theater of the Oppressed groups. She has facilitated workshops for hundreds of participants since beginning to practice theater of the oppressed techniques in 2006. Recently, she became a core group member of the Water Is Life campaign—Land and Water Sovereignty Project to fight the monetization and privatization of water in RI.
Husband and father of 3 incredible souls. Director of NC Fair Share CDC and fighter for my community. Steward for South of the Ferry Farm. Creator and coach for better lives.
Dayna-Joy Chin is a child of the Diaspora via Jamaica and the Bronx. She is an educator, coach, facilitator, and consultant based in New York City. Dayna-Joy graduated Brown University with a BA in Africana Studies and BA Human Development in Education, and holds a Masters in Teaching in Social Studies Education from Georgia State University. She has experience with various aspects of educational programming and management, and has created and facilitated curriculum to push teacher identity development and culturally responsive teaching practices. At the core of Dayna-Joy’s practice is centering student voice, leading her to frequently incorporate student interviewing into her coaching and teaching practices. Dayna-Joy currently works as an educational consultant and Curriculum/Evaluation Coordinator with the Brotherhood-Sister Sol in Harlem, NY. She also works on a number of artistic projects that bring together her passions for photography, crafting, preserving our planet, and affirming people of color.
Jamila is the Senior Supervising Attorney for Criminal Justice Reform in the New Orleans office of the Southern Poverty Law Center, where she works to reverse the “new Jim Crow” and eliminate the structural racism entrenched in the policing, sentencing, imprisonment and post-conviction practices in Louisiana through litigation, legislation and public education. In 2018, Jamila served on the steering committee for the Unanimous Jury Coalition, and worked to overturn a 138-year-old Jim Crow era law that allowed Louisiana to convict people for crimes without unanimous jury verdicts. Jamila also serves in leadership for Louisianans for Prison Alternatives—a diverse statewide coalition committed to reducing Louisiana’s imprisonment rate, the highest in the world. Jamila is a graduate of the University of Washington School of Law and spent a decade working in private law in the Pacific Northwest, before transitioning to public interest in the Deep South. She has a son in college and has a female Old English Bulldog named Tennessee Williams.
Lecester Johnson is a respected leader and a seasoned educator. She has served as Chief Executive Officer of Academy of Hope since 2006, an adult public charter school in Washington, DC. Lecester has spent her entire career working alongside adults helping them to achieve their lifelong education and career goals. In 2014, she led Academy of Hope through a major change when the school transitioned from a small community-based organization to an Adult Public Charter School. The school now serves over 500 learners with low literacy a year and has helped thousands of adults to realize their full potential, earn a high school credential and go on to college and living wage employment. She has been a teacher since the ripe old age of 12 when she held her first class with her four siblings to prevent learning loss during their summer break. During her downtime, Lecester enjoys Crossfit, going for long walks, and exploring the world with her wife Kerry-Ann.
Phil has always committed his energy and skills towards trying to leave the planet better off than the world he was brought into. His career has involved many movements and missions, from counseling men in abortion clinics and increasing workers’ rights for a safe workplace to his strengthening local agriculture and building a resilient and diverse food economy. He serves as Executive Director of CISA, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, the longest running ‘buy local’ in the nation. Phil believes that we can only evolve when we listen and learn from those whose experiences and cultures are different from our own. And that requires a little bit of humor and often music!
As the Executive Director of Out in the Open (formerly Green Mountain Crossroads), HB is building the power of rural LGBTQ people throughout the U.S. They are also a spoon carver, oral historian, former farmer, and a Senior Fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program.
A’Dorian Murray-Thomas is the Founder and CEO of SHE Wins Inc., a leadership and social action organization serving middle and high school girls in Newark. SHE Wins! was initially created for girls who lost a parent or sibling to homicide. While that remains our core interest, we have expanded to serve girls seeking leadership development or who have in other ways been affected by violence. At only 23 years old, A’Dorian has been recognized as a 2016 President Obama White House Champion of Change and recently made history becoming the youngest woman elected to the Newark Public School Board. A’Dorian is a 2016 graduate of Swarthmore College and holds a baccalaureate degree in Political Science and Educational Studies with a minor in Black Studies.
Andrianna Natsoulas has coordinated with the global food sovereignty movements and has developed policy initiatives at the federal and regional levels to ensure farmers and fishermen can provide local and culturally appropriate food to their communities. She also wrote the book, Food Voices, Stories from the People Who Feed Us, which tells the stories of farmers and fishermen across five countries. In August of 2016, Andrianna joined NOFA-NY as the Executive Director and now lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley.
Gary Petersen has worked in local and regional government serves for over 35 years. Areas of expertise include Public Works, Aviation, emergency Services and Administration. Gary has also held a parallel career working as an organizational development consultant in the public and nonprofit sectors. Gary is currently the General Manager for Salinas Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency and is paying close attention to natural resources governance structures.
After the refugee resettlement program Alina helped start in Oakland, California was discontinued, she moved to Darfur, Sudan, in 2006, to take a job with the IRC. This began a decade of working alongside women and girls to address gender-based violence in emergencies, from Syria to DR Congo to Bangladesh and beyond. Shifting focus to violence prevention, she worked with the UN in Italy for several years, before moving back to the US to more deeply engage as an activist, and join the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University. She undertakes feminist, participatory action reseasrch around gender, power, and humanitarian aid, in Lebanon and Uganda. Alina holds degrees in anthropology and public health, and a deep interest in what it means to belong, to be kind, and to be accountable. She teaches at Columbia and GW, and trained as a meditation instructor with the Interdependence Project in NYC.
Mark H. Robinson serves as Executive Director of The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts, Inc. A graduate of Williams College and the University of Rhode Island, Robinson previously worked in regional government on coastal management and water quality issues. He currently serves as the Governor’s appointee to the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission. The US Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged Robinson’s work with a lifetime achievement award in 2009. Mark lives in Cotuit and has two sons. He is an avid sailor and experienced nature guide. “I fell in love with the Cape as a summer kid,” he says. “I am lucky to have found a way as an adult to exercise my passion to preserve this place.”
Cited by Bill McKibben as “one of the key figures in the religious environmental surge,” Rev. Fred Small is Minister for Climate Justice at Arlington Street Church, Boston. He serves on the Steering Committee of the Faith Science Alliance for Climate Leadership. A Unitarian Universalist parish minister for nearly two decades, Fred is also a singer-songwriter and environmental lawyer. In 2015 he left parish ministry to devote his energies to climate advocacy.
Anita is a volunteer advocate for victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence at Mount Sinai hospital in Manhattan. Previously, she has supported survivors during her Peace Corps service in Paraguay, as well as through her work in the Rikers Island jail system while employed with Correctional Health Services as an advocate for incarcerated survivors of sexual violence. She is currently in a dual masters program at New York University in social work and public health. In addition to traveling, she enjoys creating art, especially using watercolors and ink and mixed media. Anita is currently living in Jersey City, NJ, with her Paraguayan dog, Laika.
Kyaira Ware serves as the Community Conservation Manager at Potomac Conservancy, where she mobilizes residents to fight for clean water in her community. She graduated from Howard University in 2016 with a BS in biology and has worked with major institutions such as Cornell University, The Nature Conservancy, and The National Park Service. Kyaira considers her voice to be her superpower. She enjoys singing, debating, and anything else that involves fighting for a just world and actively calling out the major systems that oppress us.
“I feel rooted, I feel thoughtful, I feel quiet inside, I feel rejuvenated. This land has filled me up. I met incredible people, considered the “long work” of my life, sunk my teeth into slowness, and enjoyed the natural evolution of each day.”
“I can’t believe it’s been about a year and a half since I attended the Better Selves fellowship. I still haven’t been able to fully put into words how grateful I am for such a powerful experience. But thank you, thank you for a life changing experience. I still carry the impact of those 5 days at the farm with me, and I want you to know what a positive imprint it has made on my life.”
“I left with more clarity for the next year as well as a new found interest in the intersectionality of race, environment and food”
2017 Fellow, Operations Manager at the Center for Equity and Inclusion
“I walk away with focusing on the journey and the work. Refuge is good for all people. Place matters. ”
2017 Fellow, CHI Elevate Program Manager for the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center
“The expanse of the land, the distance between the yurt village and the barn/office, the nooks around the property and stone slabs with quotes and paintings on them…all of these contributed to a sense of spaciousness and gentle magic. I didn’t feel pressed for time once all week, which is kind of miraculous considering how I feel most of the time at home! I got to remember how it feels to have time. ”
2017 Fellow, Fellow with EDGE Funders Alliance
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