About Us


Martin Luther King, Pete Seeger, Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy, and Charis Horton at Highlander Institute, 1957
Martin Luther King, Pete Seeger, Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy, and Charis Horton at Highlander Institute, 1957

Highlander serves as a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the U.S. South. Through popular education, participatory research, and cultural work, we help to create spaces — at Highlander and in local communities — where people gain knowledge, hope and courage, expanding their ideas of what is possible.

Highlander is a place where leaders, networks, and movement strands come together to interact, build friendships, craft joint strategy and develop the tools and mechanisms needed to advance a multi-racial, inter-generational movement for social and economic justice in our region. Highlander is also a source of political continuity, across both geography and history, linking current movement efforts to movements across the globe and to the history of movements across multiple generations. Highlander’s work – convening workshops; scouting for emerging leadership and political action; ‘relationship-building’; connecting across difference; documentation; cultural engagement – marks, shapes and forms the trajectory of political action by helping to create a common understanding of the work to be done by supporting and connecting actual and potential doers of that work.

View from the Hill
photo by Benedict Campbell
Highlander Research and Education Center
photo by Marcus Hill

21st Century Highlander Booklet

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Save the Date-Highlander's 85th Anniversary Sept. 22-24, 2017

Join us as we celebrate a historic 85th year in our story and  dig deep into what the road ahead holds in building a solidarity economy, new leadership, politics, roles, and relationships. We will be lifting up the legacy of seasoned leadership while discussing the current moment and upcoming movement leaders, all in traditional Highlander fashion, with workshops and plenaries, conversation and culture, lots of singing, food, friendship, and recommitting ourselves to the long haul. Stay tuned for more info.

Elizabeth Wright

A Tennessee native, Elizabeth first came to Highlander as an intern. She is the founder of KnowHow, an organization which supports leadership development and community engagement among Knoxville’s youth, celebrating art, culture, and media as vital tools to cultivate their agency and amplify their voices. Elizabeth holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Tennessee. Formerly, she was Executive Director of Tennesseans for Fair Taxation, and editor of the Knoxville Voice newspaper. As part of the Education Team, she works on the Appalachian Transition Fellowship.

Susan Williams

Susan is coordinator of the Highlander Library/Resource Center and member of the Education Team. Susan grew up in East Tennessee, and before coming to Highlander she worked for ten years as a community organizer for Save Our Cumberland Mountains. In 1979 she was a researcher for the Appalachian Land Ownership Study. Susan came to Highlander in 1989 to coordinate the Environmental/Economic Program and worked with the Tennessee Industrial Renewal Network, organizing around fair trade and coordinating worker-to-worker exchanges between Mexico and Tennessee factory workers. In the 1990s, she led economy schools and coordinated Highlander’s Across Races and Nations project. Susan has served on the steering committee of the Economic Literacy Action Network and the Board of United for a Fair Economy. She is currently working on a historical timeline book about Highlander, helping with efforts to build language justice in the region, encouraging economic education and organizing, supporting youth leadership and adult allies in the Seeds of Fire program and providing popular education and participatory research workshops for groups at Highlander and elsewhere.

Elandria Williams

Elandria Williams is a member of the Education Team. She helps coordinate the Appalachian Transition Fellowship Program and the Southern Grassroots Economies Project.  She does other work around economics including helping create an Economics and Governance Curriculum and is a lifelong youth organizer/adult ally. She was born and raised in Powell, TN but her roots and family are in Florida and the Gulf Coast. She is on the board of the US Solidarity Economy Network and the Pedagogy of the Theater of the Oppressed.

Coy Wakefield

Coy views the realm of social justice through a creative lens. She serves as the Grant Administrator of the We Shall Overcome Fund, which was created to nurture grassroots efforts within African American communities to use art and activism against injustice. She believes that art and activism intersect and create an entry point for otherwise marginalized people to engage in community organizing and build awareness. Coy uses cultural organizing, mainly through poetry and music, as a way to address socio-economic inequality, race relations and state sanctioned violence. She works collaboratively with various organizations and student groups in the ongoing stand against injustice on a local, national and global scale. Along with her Bachelor’s in Business Administration: Finance, she brings to Highlander her experience in facilitating financial literacy workshops, hosting diverse groups of people, and a broad range of digital media, communications, writing and business skills.

Rev. Allyn Maxfield-Steele

Raised in Texas, Germany and North Carolina, Rev. Allyn Maxfield-Steele’s movement work has included solidarity struggles with Thai people’s movements, work as an educator and organizer in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and a range of support for front-line struggles in Nashville, Tennessee, and throughout the South and Appalachia. As a member of the Educational Network for Global and Grassroots Exchange (ENGAGE), Allyn was a member of Highlander’s 2010 Threads cohort and served as an adult ally for the 2010 Seeds of Fire youth program. He joined Highlander’s Board of Directors in 2011, where most recently he has served as chair of the board.

An ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Allyn has served congregations in Juneau, Alaska, Nashville, and Springfield, TN. Allyn’s focus and interests lie at the intersection of radical pastoral care, institutional transformation, dismantling toxic white masculinities, and liberation-driven ministry and movement building, especially in rural and small town communities. Allyn holds a B.A. in History from Wofford College (SC) and a Masters of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School. He comes to Highlander from the Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville, where he has served as a member of the education team.

Barbara Mott

Barbara was born in northwest Pennsylvania, the youngest of seven children. Her father was a minister and mother taught special education. When Barbara was five, her father went into home missions, moving the family into rural Russell County, Kentucky.  After a two-year term of service, the family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee.  From age seven, Barbara grew up in urban residential South Knoxville in a low-income, working class neighborhood.  Barbara’s parents, who had met at Oberlin, were staunch advocates of the Civil Rights movement, and Barbara took action in her high school by walking out of class and going to the principal’s office to report a teacher who was denigrating Dr. King the day following his assassination. Barbara’s parents also protested the Vietnam War; her father made his own signs directed to President Nixon and marched with Barbara and her mother in peace marches.

Barbara received her bachelor’s from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her master’s in Urban Multicultural Education from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville. Barbara has served on the boards of Dismas House (Knoxville), the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, the Knoxville Women’s Center, Women in Transition Partnership (Knoxville), and Community Shares of Tennessee.  Barbara attends St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in east Knoxville, where her father served as priest from 1971 until the time of death in 1979 and where she served as vestry clerk for ten years. Barbara describes St. Luke’s as an African American Episcopal parish that is “white friendly, gay friendly, biker friendly and bigot friendly.”

Barbara attends St. Luke’s with her sister Nancy Mott and her brother John Mott.  Barbara’s hot-point issues include protecting women’s reproductive rights, supporting immigration reform and bringing an end to mountain top removal strip mining.

Stephanie McAninch

Stephanie joined the Highlander staff in September of 2011. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee with a degree in Economics. During her time at UT, she developed a passion for third world economics, micro lending and Non-Governmental Organizations. Before coming to Highlander, she spent several years as a small business owner and worked with special needs children. She also spent several years as cash manager for a national insurance company before starting a family. Since that time, she worked as the Finance Manager for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Spartanburg whose mission is to treat children of severe physical and sexual abuse. She remains committed to volunteer work.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson is a 32 year old, Affrilachian (Black Appalachian), working class woman, born and raised in Southeast Tennessee. She has served in positions of leadership for many organizations including being the past president of the Black Affairs Association at East Tennessee State University and the Rho Upsilon Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She holds a B.A. in English with a minor in African and African American History. She has extensive experience with community organizing and is a former staff member of the Chicago SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) History Project, and a past member of the United Students Against Sweatshops National Coordinating, Political Education and Collective Liberation Committees.

Additionally she is a long-time activist working around issues of mountaintop removal mining, and environmental racism in central and southern Appalachia, and has served on the National Council of the Student Environmental Action Coalition. She is also an active participant in the Movement for Black Lives. Ash-Lee has experienced Highlander through participating in Cultural Organizers’ Weekend, Transitions, and has served as a board member since 2012. Ash-Lee comes to Highlander from Project South, where she is a member and regional organizer, active participant on the governance council of the Southern Movement Assembly, and organizer with Concerned Citizens for Justice (Chattanooga, TN).