The Better Selves Fellowship is a week of care and support for BIPOC leaders and their allies working for environmental and social change. It’s a chance to rest, replenish, network with others, take risks and go deeper. It rejuvenates them so they go can further with the change work that matters most to them and their communities. This fellowship is about restoring and building people power in a time when people power is essential for liberation and health.
The 2023 Better Selves Fellowship
Information regarding 2023 coming soon.
If you have any questions regarding the fellowship program, please contact us.
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Meet the 2022 Better Selves Fellows
Alexis Alleyne-Caputo (MFA, MA, BS/MA) is an anthropologist, archivist, researcher, and award-winning commissioned interdisciplinary artist. As a university professor and lecturer, she has taught at the University of Miami (2014-2017), New World School of the Arts at Miami-Dade College (2010-2015). Beyond the academy, she has created and presented work to illustrate women’s contributions to the arts. In addition to being a Better Selves Fellow (2020-2021), she is also a CATALYST Miami 2019-2020 fellow. Her master project, Afro Diaries™ is compelling and offers a window into the landscape of miscarriages women endure. Her work reflects and refracts the critical issues of identity, cultural differences, and human rights, and draws from myriad issues and concerns that create conflict and inequality in society. Grace and Graffiti™, also an initiative in her portfolio, is a well-being and humanities landscape for interdisciplinary arts and consulting. As part of her Better Selves Fellowship, she will be developing her portfolio for Grace and Graffiti™. She has exhibited in the U.S., Caribbean, and Europe and has been funded by philanthropists, private foundations, arts, cultural organizations, and major corporations. To learn more about the artist/fellow visit www.alexiscaputo.com
April Alston-Barron has overcome life challenges and devotes herself to assisting other as they go through hardships. She is the founder and executive director of Helping Hands Outreach a non-profit organization since Dec 8, 2010. Every Sunday April and volunteers can be found feeding the needy under the John Street Bridge to a growing number of people. When the school year begins, she hand delivers school supplies to children in several Bridgeport neighborhoods and local schools. During the Christmas season she donates and distributed toys to children in the community. Through her many years of giving back and seeing the need of many families Helping Hands Outreach has opened doors on its new programs. April continues to lead the charge of helping the less fortunate in the Greater Bridgeport area.
Tayleur is a poet, New Yorker, Howard University alumna and the founder of Gold Beams. She began her career working on the corporate marketing and merchandising teams at AARP, Gap and Banana Republic. Tayleur has also taught spoken word at Oakland school for the Arts and has worked on the event production team at the Oakland Museum of California. She has served as a board member for Oakland Art Murmur and Howard Alumni Association, San Francisco/Bay Area chapter. Tayleur curates and produces events, art projects and experiences for Black creatives through her organization, Gold Beams. Founded in 2018, Gold Beams has produced concerts, cabarets, music series +, and is widely known for its signature open mic, Second Mondays. Gold Beams has partnered with organizations like the San Francisco Exploratorium, the Black Joy Parade, Lyft, Red Bull, The Life is Living Festival and more to bring productions to life. The organization is also contracted to produce for others. Contracted projects range from intimate events to 2,000 seat theater productions. Tayleur’s goal is to be in inspiring spaces with inspiring people. Tayleur’s professional goal is to support Black creatives making careers from their art.
Tafshier Cosby, brings over 25 years of advocacy, organizing and community empowerment experience to her role as The Director of Organizing for National Parents Union. A dedicated leader, Tafshier advocates for the civil rights of Black and brown children to receive equitable and quality education across the United States. Having worked in many facets of education, Tafshier knows that having educational options in under-resourced communities is critical to children’s futures.
In addition to serving at National Parents Union, She is also the CEO of Parent Impact, an organization created by parents for parents dedicated to empowering, advocating, and creating opportunities for parents to lead in their communities. In this role she is responsible for establishing community partnerships, relationship management, developing and implementing innovative initiatives, and analyzing impending policies. As a volunteer leader, Tafshier has also had the honor to serve on many state-wide committees and coalitions such as The New Jersey Parent Summit Advisory Committee, New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE)’s Restart and Recovery Committee and We Raise NJ Statewide Coalition. Tafshier has completed two education fellowships, 50CAN’s YouCAN and KIPP NJ’s Impact Leader. Tafshier is currently in cohort 7th of the PIE Network Leadership and the 10th cohort of The Georgetown Education Finance Certification. Tafshier is NJ certified board member and is on the New Jersey State PTA – Legislative Committee. She resides in Newark, NJ with her husband, is the Mother of three adult children and three beautiful grandchildren.
Paige Curtis is a Boston-based writer covering the intersection of environment and culture. Raised in Atlanta, Georgia, with familial ties to the Caribbean, climate change – and its immediate impacts – has always been on her mind. Formally trained in Environmental Management from the Yale School of Environment, she believes that moving climate to the center of public discourse is critical. As the Culture & Communications Manager at the Boston Ujima Project, she tells stories about the solidarity economy movement in Boston: how public banks can finance green infrastructure, mutual aid as hunger relief, and the role of community land trusts in housing security. Paige is a 2021 Shine Bootcamp Graduate, and was selected by the Somerville Office of Sustainability & Environment to train as a 2020 Climate Forward Ambassador. She remains deeply engaged in local climate justice activism, and serves as a grant reader for the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund. Her writing has appeared in Vox, GreenBiz, Yes!Magazine, Atmos and other publications.
VERI du SUVERO
Veri di Suvero (they/them) grew up on unceded Lenape lands in New York City and currently lives on Dena’ina lands in Anchorage, Alaska. They are the Executive Director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group (2018 – present), where their work has included power-building and litigation support for the 2020 redistricting cycle, translating the 2020 Census into seven Alaska Native languages for the first time, establishing new regulatory oversight for utility monopolies, and building a movement working towards debt cancellation. Coming from a family of Italian and Jewish refugees as well as artists, Veri’s interests are focused on the interactions between language, power, and community.
Dione Dwyer, is a resident of PT Barnum, President of Resident Council, and the new System Change Fellow with the PT Partners grass root organization. She was originally an Island girl from Jamaica, currently a citizen of the United States living in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Her education background is the completion of high school and then some college, with an Office application program certificate from Butler Business. She is also a Certified Nurses Assistant certificate and currently pursuing an Occupational Therapy degree.
Dione volunteered over 500 hours at Bridgeport Hospital, and has 1400 dedicated hours of advocacy, professional development and relationship building with PT Partners organization, and attended a weekend training for undoing racism under their tutelage. She was also a part of a forum in the beginning of 2020 to hold public housing accountable for their policies and procedures they don’t follow themselves. Dione participates continuously in a weekly peer to peer model training on development of leadership in low income housing, working alongside peers while training them on becoming empowered leaders themselves. Dione’s most major and memorable accomplishment would be when she worked alongside Dr. Kimberly Brown and PT Partners on getting re-familiarized with the black feminist organizing. They did a live discussion around that to bring more awareness on where systematic oppression is rooted and how we the people can change that. She is now the newly appointed System Change Fellow which allows her to sit at the table of local political policies and laws being changed and or made, and has the opportunity of making sure the community she lives in becomes a part of the conversation and that their voice is heard when and how the changes affect them.
Shanita Farris is a capital defense attorney in Louisiana. Her work includes challenging the conviction and death sentence of individuals sentenced to death in Louisiana on direct appeal and in state post-conviction. She also represents clients who were sentenced to life without parole for offenses that occurred when they were under 18 years old. Shanita is also an adjunct professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Shanita is a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, and University of California, Berkeley School of Law.
VANESSA GARCIA POLANCO
Vanessa Garcia Polanco co-designs the strategy and implementation of the National Young Farmers Coalition policy campaigns, ensuring equity-driven, farmer-centric research, policy, and programmatic interventions for a more just food system. She serves as the organizational council member and co-chair of the Farming Opportunities & Fair Competition Committee of the US National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. She has previously worked with the US Department of Agriculture, and the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. She is a United Nations Youth Agriculture Working Group member and was part of 2021 New York Times Generation Climate at the United Nations Conference of the Parties Climate Hub. She is an alumna of Michigan State University and the University of Rhode Island. She is a James Beard Foundation Scholar, an Agriculture, Food, Human Values Society Innovation Leader, and a 2021 Emerging Leader in Food and Ag. As an Afro-Dominican immigrant, she brings her experiences and identities to her policy and advocacy activities. She leads #DominicanFoodStudies and funnels financial and physical resources to Dominican food sovereignty projects.
Karen is passionate as a grass roots activist, collaborator, community builder, racial justice advocate in the Boston area. Since 2016, as co-founder of Courageous Conversations Towards Racial Justice Milton-Mattapan, she has helped build a movement bringing cross racial groups together monthly for conversations and events to discuss racism, white supremacy culture and work to build a new way forward. As Exec. Dir. she has overseen growth and expansion of this model to college campuses such as Boston College and several area communities through consultancy, education and advocacy. In her day job, Karen serves with a Boston area United Way directing Equity and Justice initiatives. Proud single mom of daughters, Karen stands on the shoulders of and basks in the legacy of Black matriarchs.
Yaritza Guillen is an urban planner, horticulturist, and environmentalist with a strong focus on interdisciplinary practices, community-based design, and story mapping. She has worked with nonprofits and designers to educate institutions on effective ways to collaborate with BIPOC communities throughout the South and West side of Chicago. She has worked for and collaborated with Lurie Garden, Chicago Park District, Chicago Partnership for Health Promotion, and GGN ltd.
She currently engages with multiple projects in an expanded capacity as a cultural producer and community planner. Most recently she was selected to be one of the pillar hub artists to design civic engagement activities in North Lawndale, Little Village, and Garfield Park through the We Will Chicago Initiative – A collaborative planning effort by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and the Department of Planning and Development. Additional planning collaboration as part of the design team for the Airpark Columbus College Campus and engaging students, stakeholders, and visitors to improve the campus experience.
Ray works with middle and high school students who have been intentionally marginalized from higher education and STEM careers. He aims to help students achieve their goals by supporting them academically, guiding their research of post-secondary opportunities, facilitating internship and job placements, and fostering a sense of belonging. One of his greatest passions is creating spaces of radical joy for youth and prioritizing their holistic wellbeing through abolitionist social and emotional learning.
Helina Haile is a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, and granddaughter. As an Ethiopian immigrant she’s inspired by the stories of abolitionists and civil rights freedom fighters whose courage paved the path for her to have the rights she does. She finds “home” within relationships rooted in similar values of peace, justice, and solidarity. She finds “peace” in contributing to the process of justice as a way to honor her experiences and connect with others. Her calling as a racial justice advocate is to use trauma-informed law as a tool for individual and communal healing by re-imagining institutions and systems. She believes, to build collective power, a justice that heals must be transformative, sustainable, and embodied. Her goal is to make her purpose pleasurable and minister in her chosen career path at the intersection of trauma healing, prison abolition, and human rights. She’s motivated by justice being an ancestral project and a claim to her descendants, both blood and chosen. For she hopes things are better for them.
Alexy Irving is a photojournalist and garden educator that has found a string of intersection through her work. residing in Chicago she is gravely influenced by the vast amount of impact the agriculture community has on the city, but the city doesn’t see. Alexy utilizes her photography to inspire an appreciation for the nature and people that occupy this world. Within her photo documentation practice, she uses natural environments to tell stories about agriculture, new cities and to spark a curiosity in it all. Curiosity is created by using photography to tell the story of people in an environment unlike your own doing things you don’t normally see. All of which, bring humanity closer together and inspires one to leave their comfort zone. Alexy hails from St. Louis where she uprooted everything to pursue her passion in Chicago. That journey makes her a walking example of how leaving your comfort zone can establish growth and curiosity for the world and make this place a more passionate environment.
A native of Bombay, Rajiv leads the Philanthropic Partnerships Program at Thousand Currents, overseeing individual and institutional donor engagement, education, and fundraising. He is engaged in strategic development and effective execution of all activities related to cultivating a just, equitable, and inclusive philanthropic and impact investing sector that centers local solutions, forms learning partnerships with grassroots movements, and reimagines wealth, well-being, and giving. As part of the Senior Management Team, Rajiv informs and guides Thousand Currents’ overall strategy and planning, ensuring collaboration and interconnectedness across all Thousand Currents’ programs. He currently serves on the Board of the EDGE Funders Group and Change Elemental, which strengthens individuals, organizations, and networks to bring about transformative change. A member of the Leadership Circle of Thrive East Bay, a purpose-driven community of people committed to creating a flourishing world for all, Rajiv is also a recovering academic, who was professionally trained as a historian of international relations with expertise in Modern Europe, South Asia, and the Cold War. In addition to designing and teaching college courses, he has led the Indian Diaspora Oral History Project, a community-centered project focused on South Asian immigrants in Silicon Valley at San Jose State University. A cricket fanatic, he is a published poet and writer who enjoys cooking, the outdoors, the ocean, reading, and traveling.
Hong Le is an attorney on the Justice & Equity Team at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, California. Her work focuses on impact litigation to eliminate fines and fees imposed on youth and their families through the various court systems as part of the national Debt Free Justice Campaign. These unfair and extractive practices have been shown to disproportionately harm communities of color and deepen economic disparities. Hong is a refugee from Vietnam, coming to the United States with her family when she was almost 8 years old under the Humanitarian Operation program. She is also a first generation college student and professional. She started out her career as a public defender before transitioning to legal aid and impact litigation. She earned her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.
Matt LaVine is an activist for racial, environmental, and social justice. In addition to being on the ground and in the streets, he is a race equity consultant and facilitator at the Center for Equity & Inclusion in what is now known as Portland, Oregon (ancestral, unceded, occupied lands of peoples from the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians). Prior to this, Matt spent a decade working in higher education as a DEI Analyst and teaching courses on Africana philosophy, environmental ethics & justice, residential segregation, global intellectual and cultural history, mathematics, and the history of analytic philosophy. While he was very excited to move outside of the confines of higher education and into the CEI community, he still occasionally engages in writing, lecturing, and podcasting on racial justice, gender justice, and environmental justice.
Dr. Dwight K Lewis Jr is an assistant professor of philosophy and co-founder/co-director of the Center for Canon Expansion and Change at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. His research interrogates philosophy through a historical lens; he focuses on the Early Modern Period, Africana Philosophy, the Philosophical Canon, and the discipline of philosophy. He attempts to live his life as James Baldwin says, “larger, freer, and more loving”, for himself and in relation to his community, both locally and globally. Larger, Freer, More Loving is also the name of his podcast with Matt LaVine. Enjoy life! Love yourself! Before Minnesota, he was an assistant professor of philosophy and Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of Central Florida. In 2019-2020, he was a Postdoctoral Mellon Fellow at Pennsylvania State University. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy (2019) from the University of South Florida – working under Roger Ariew and Justin E.H. Smith in the History of Philosophy – while holding a Mellon Fellowship at Emory University (2018-19) in the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference.
A born and bred Tarheel, Abi Mlo graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a B.A. in Education and fire for community capacity-building. While Greensboro is her forever home, she relocated to Philadelphia to join Trust for Public Land as an FAO Schwarz Fellow. TPL’s mission is to connect everyone to the outdoors. She now serves as Stewardship and Engagement Coordinator. Abi is a first-generation Montagnard American and a writer. She co-founded Voices of the Highlands alongside two childhood friends to meet a long-time community need for connection and storytelling. She authored a children’s book with Room to Read titled “Yă’s Backyard Jungle”. You’ll find Abi outside (when the weather is nice) exploring a park, in a bookstore, or at home catching up with her latest show.
JOSE PABLO ORTIZ PARTIDA
Pablo Ortiz is originally from Jalisco, Mexico, the land of Tequila and Mariachi. Since he was young, he has been passionate about water; flowing clean rivers, clear lakes, and the majestic oceans are among his favorite landscapes. His professional goal is to develop equitable solutions for preserving and distributing clean water for people and the environment. Pablo works as a Senior Bilingual Climate and Water Scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. In his role, he takes the lead in identifying and developing analytic and community-based research projects about how climate change is affecting disadvantaged communities. Pablo also works on developing strategies for vulnerable sectors and populations to cope and adapt to climate change’s current and projected impacts, particularly related to water impacts.
Dr. Chera Reid is rooted in values of liberation, curiosity, and connection. For over two decades, she has worked across the social sector in nonprofit, philanthropic, and educational organizations. She is co-Executive Director of the Center for Evaluation Innovation, which partners with philanthropy to provide changemakers space and resources to advance racial justice and create an equitable future. Chera previously served as Director of Strategic Learning, Research, and Evaluation at the Kresge Foundation, where she guided the foundation to become an intentional learning organization rooted in values of equity and opportunity. Chera serves on the board of ProInspire and on the advisory boards of the Phillips Academy Institute for Recruitment of Teachers, University of Virginia Equity Center, and Tulane University Public Administration program.
Dálida Rocha (she/her) is the Executive Director of Renew U.S., an organization building state-based, multi-racial grassroots power to combat our overlapping crises of climate change, economic inequality, and racial injustice.
Renew combines deep coalition building, policy development and electoral organizing to win multi-racial, working-class governing power and enact ambitious climate justice, racial justice, and economic justice legislation in states nationwide. Renew works with local grassroots organizations and coalitions that share its commitment to bold politics grounded in deep local organizing and base-building to recruit and support state and local candidates and win urgent policy victories and sustained transformation.
Renew piloted its program in 2020, supporting over 200 legislative candidates in six northeastern states, each of whom committed to fight for Renew’s ambitious policy platform and to refuse donations from the fossil fuel industry. 64% of Renew’s candidates won, and those 129 Renew legislators have already worked with the Renew coalition to pass ambitious environmental justice legislation in multiple states. Under Rocha’s leadership, Renew is expanding from its successful New England pilot to 12 states in 2022 – endorsing and supporting more than 300 candidates – and 24 states in 2024.
Prior to joining Renew, Rocha served as the Political Director for SEIU 32BJ New England District. This is the largest property service workers union in the nation, with 175,000 members. The New England district represents 20,000 janitors, security officers and other property service workers at office buildings, universities, convention centers and other major institutions. In her role as the Political Director, Rocha convened and served as the Co-Chair of the Driving Families Forward coalition. The coalition was convened with the purpose of passing the Work & Family Mobility Act legislation also known as driver’s license. If passed, this legislation will enable all qualified state residents to apply for a standard driver’s license, regardless of immigration status.
The work of justice is not one that she takes lightly and whether it is immigration, climate, racial and/or economic justice, we can always count on Rocha’s commitment to a world where everyone has access to their basic needs.
When she is not busy caring for her 3 children, Rocha is serving on boards such as Black Economic Council of Massachusetts and Episcopal City Mission. As a member of the Democratic State Committee and co-chair of the African Descendant Caucus, Rocha is working tirelessly to ensure that the issues of African descendants are included in the Democratic Party Platform and championed by Democratic elected officials. Rocha is a proud African immigrant from Cabo Verde.
Niyati Shah (she, her) has over 25 years of experience addressing structural inequalities and systemic oppression and is a practitioner and teacher of embodied trauma-centered approaches to healing and wellbeing. Niyati has been working to advance intersectional gender equality and social justice and has managed multi-sector initiatives to address gender-based violence in a number of contexts across the world. Related and concurrent to her professional work in the space of violence against women and girls and social justice, for over two decades, she has been engaging in collective care and studying, practicing, and teaching somatics, mindfulness — connecting the science and practice to center resilience and healing. She has been working to expand attention to the importance of including and resourcing collective care and wellbeing as a core element of addressing gender-based violence and advancing gender equality in international development. Niyati has led numerous workshops, training and learning experiences, and retreats domestically and internationally and continues to evolve her work with fellow practitioners, movement builders, and advocates. In addition to her work in international development at the World Bank, USAID, and as a producer at Discovery Channel, she continues to engage in storytelling as a creative consultant, producer, and writer with independent productions. Niyati is also actively involved in the Washington DC-area community and serves on the Board of Directors at DC SAFE (offering 24/7 crisis intervention services for survivors and their families), and on the Advisory Board at the Purple Campaign, focusing on workplace harassment. Niyati was born in the United States and is a first-generation South Asian Indian. She is continually humbled and grateful to healing practices, the community, the journey of connecting self and collective knowledge and action, and our extraordinary connections to and with one another.
Jill Sigman is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and agent of change whose work exists at the intersection of dance, visual art, and social practice. Working with things we cast off such as “garbage” and “weeds”, Sigman helps us to re-see our environments and re-connect with the natural world and each other in meaningful and empathic ways. She has partnered with activists, legal advocates, anthropologists, and farmers to do this work. In 1998, Sigman founded jill sigman/thinkdance to reflect on pressing social justice issues through the body, and in 2016, she founded “Body Politic”, a program of workshops, performance laboratories, and an artist-activist incubator that helps people to ask salient political questions somatically. She is about to embark on a new Social Justice Movement Lab that subverts the performance world’s emphasis on product and compensates dancers for social justice work. Sigman was the inaugural Gibney Dance Community Action Artist in Residence; an artist in residence at Movement Research, The Rauschenberg Residency, Guapamacátaro Interdisciplinary Residency in Art and Ecology (Mexico), and the Kri Foundation (India); a Choreographic Fellow at MANCC and the Tisch Initiative for Creative Research at NYU; and a Creative Campus Fellow at Wesleyan University, where she teaches collaboratively with scholars in many disciplines. She grew up in Brooklyn, NY and studied ballet, philosophy, and art conservation.
Jasmine Sudarkasa is the Executive Director of the Curve Foundation, a philanthropic organization inspired by and committed to the cultural and historical empowerment of lesbians, queer women, trans people and non-binary people.
Prior to joining Curve, Jasmine served as the program Fellow for the Effective Philanthropy Group at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. In this role, she supported the foundation’s five-pillared approach to effective philanthropy, consulting with program staff on grantmaking strategy and evaluation, organizational effectiveness and equitable practice. In 2020, she designed and led a $15 million anti-racist grantmaking effort, a personal and career highlight.
Jasmine has been a capacity builder, development officer, trainer and cheesemonger – sometimes all at once. Before philanthropy, she served as a senior trainer on behalf of Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), the subject agency of the film Very Young Girls. In that role, Jasmine led a national training and technical assistance program on best practices for identifying and serving commercially sexually exploited and domestically sex-trafficked youth. Notable participants include the Dallas County Juvenile Department and the Miami State Attorney’s Office.
Jasmine received her bachelor’s degree in political science and comparative ethnic studies from Columbia University, but confesses to have learnt just as much from Chani Nicholas.
ASHLEY TARBET DESTEFANO
Ashley is an activist and organizer who is deeply rooted in the community of greater Boston. They organize through movements for migrant justice, prison abolition, and the intersections of the two with Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN), Building Up People Not Prisons, and Massachusetts Jobs With Justice. In 2021, Ashley completed their master’s degree in Critical Ethnic and Community Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston by collaborating with BIJAN on a transdisciplinary participatory action research project that challenges the power dynamics in the immigration courtroom and offers tools for immigrant community members to empower themselves through pro se representation. Ashley is committed to working towards a world without cages, borders, and an owning class, where all people care for one another and have the support and resources they need to thrive. Ashley seeks liberation through a lived practice of radical solidarity that includes constant learning and growing, striving to embody their values, being accountable to their communities, showing up with their loved ones and comrades, creative practice, and reclaiming their own humanity. Ashley finds joy in singing loudly, cooking for loved ones, traveling, reading visionary and science fiction, and being outdoors. They especially love spending time at the beach and are trying to make this the year their vegetable garden actually grows.
ANA “MASACOTE” TINAJERO
Ana “Masacote” Tinajero is an award-winning Afro-Latin dance artist and performing arts curator who loves engineering spaces for community connection and conversation through the arts. She has spread the salsa bug to more than 30 countries and is the founder of Dance to Power, an online Afro-Latin dance academy. Through her social impact initiatives, Ana advocates for LGBTQ inclusivity and gender and racial equity in the arts. She holds a BS in Management Science from MIT. Recent awards include: 2022 MCC Artist Fellow, 2020/21 Kennedy Citizens Fellow, 2019 WBUR Artery 25.
Ayanna Williams is a tested leader in place-based environmentally focused nonprofits.
She currently serves as the Director of Community and Environmental Resilience at the National Recreation and Park Association focusing on facilitating conversations
between park and recreation professionals and community partners to amplify equitable solutions to address historic environmental injustices. Throughout her career Ayanna has cultivated a broad perspective and deep understanding of environmental resilience through local parks. Park and recreation professionals plan, manage, program and maintain 11 million acres of public parks and green spaces across the USA, and are poised to bring community-driven climate solutions that build a healthy, more resilient and more equitable future for generations to come. Previously she was the Healthy Cities Director at The Nature Conservancy in Georgia, mobilizing public and private financial support, facilitating equity centered conversations, and sharing stories of impact with caring respect for all. For more than a decade she served as the Director of Community Building with Park Pride a small Atlanta based community driven nonprofit. Throughout her career she has cultivated a broad perspective and deep understanding of environmental resilience, building and maintaining relationships, while engaging in work that depends on diverse local partnerships and the support of national institutions. Ayanna possesses a unique combination of hands-on experience, knowledge fueled passion, and commitment to community. Ayanna has also worked with the United Way of Central Indiana, the University of Michigan’s Ginsberg Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement, and Hands On Atlanta AmeriCorps. She holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan with a concentration in community organizing and social systems. Ayanna grew up in Michigan’s Manistee National Forest where she developed an appreciation for green spaces, gardening, and community.
Emira Woods is a global justice strategist and advocate focused on people and the planet. She brings an intersectional lens to her work as an environmentalist and political activist specializing in social impact and innovation. As the Executive Director of Green Leadership Trust, Emira works at the nexus of race, governance, and climate justice. Green Leadership Trust strengthens environmental organizations and foundations by building more diverse, equitable, and inclusive governing boards and senior leadership across the sector. Prior to this, Emira served as Senior Advisor at the Shine Campaign, a community of practice with philanthropists, faith and values-driven agencies catalyzing investment in women-led, community based renewable energy initiatives. Committed to feminist leadership, Emira established Shine’s Energy Access Women Leadership Council and co-created Shine’s Energy Access COVID Recovery Fund. Emira previously worked in the private sector as Director of Social Impact at ThoughtWorks, a global technology firm. Originally from Liberia, Emira led ThoughtWorks’ efforts to bring more robust technology solutions to the Ebola crisis and other global initiatives. Ms. Woods is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She is a Trustee of the Wallace Global Fund and the Janelia Fund, where she is Vice-Chair. Emira is also Ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace, and Dignity, a network of African social movements on the continent and the diaspora. Ms. Woods is an analyst on CNN’s One World with Zain Asher, Voice of America, BBC and National Public Radio, among others. Emira is widely published on a range of issues from climate change, trade and investment to U.S. military policy. Ms. Woods completed her undergraduate studies in Political Science at Columbia University and her graduate studies in Political Economy and Government at Harvard.
“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. ”