We Are Highlander.

We are a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South. We work with people fighting for justice, equality and sustainability, supporting their efforts to take collective action to shape their own destiny.


Since 1932, Highlander has centered the experiences of directly-impacted people in our region, knowing that together, we have the solutions to address the challenges we face in our communities and to build more just, equitable, and sustainable systems and structures. Our workshops and programming bring people together across issues, identity, and geography to share and build skills, knowledge, and strategies for transformative social change.
This work has created strong movement infrastructure in the South and Appalachia, building networks and organizing efforts that advanced the labor movements of the 1930s and 40s, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, and environmental, economic, and racial justice organizing across decades.
Today, this work is fortifying movement in the 21st Century by building the leadership of youth, LGBTQ+, and Black and Brown organizers; advancing solidarity economies to dismantle capitalism and extractive industries in our region; creating capacity for movement organizations through fiscal sponsorships and hands-on network support to groups like the Movement for Black Lives and the Southern Movement Assembly; shifting resources to build power within our region; and making sure Southern freedom fighters not only have a seat at decision-making tables, but are leading national and global efforts to shift systems and structures that all too often have incubated oppression and exploitation in our home communities.


After leading the Highlander Research and Education Center together for more than seven years, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson and Rev. Allyn Maxfield-Steele, Highlander’s Co-Executive Directors, recently announced to the Board of Directors, Organizational Leadership Team, and Staff that their co-leadership is ending. Ash-Lee is assuming a Special Advisor role until the late summer, and Allyn will continue to lead as Co-Executive Director during this period of organizational transition. Salimah Muhammad, Highlander’s Chief Financial Officer, will join Allyn as Interim Co-Executive Director while maintaining CFO responsibilities.

Highlander wishes to take this occasion to celebrate Ash-Lee’s and Allyn’s joint leadership and to extend our highest praise for their incredible stewardship since the announcement of their positions as Co-Executive Director in late 2016. Their unique talents and synergy as co-directors afforded Highlander the opportunity to deepen the organization’s amazing legacy and to fulfill its mission to be a catalyst and school for social movements and grassroots leaders from the South, Appalachia, and around the world.

From the very beginning of their joint tenure, Ash-Lee and Allyn focused on listening to the many stakeholders in Highlander’s work: staff, Board, program participants, movement allies, and elders. They asked powerful questions, synthesized the feedback, and brought Highlander together to accelerate the school’s educational and operational interventions for transformative justice, movement accompaniment and support, and the incubation of radical work.

Under their leadership, Highlander’s 21st century role in social movements has expanded while the organization has grown financially and infrastructurally. They increased staff size, doubled staff wages, enhanced campus infrastructure, and oversaw the expansion of a model fiscal sponsorship program. Fundraising and fiscal management during Ash-Lee’s and Allyn’s time together consistently led to surpluses, allowing the organization to anticipate profound fluctuations in the philanthropic landscape while also moving resources to the frontlines. During their tenure, Highlander’s staff unionized and successfully negotiated its first Collective Bargaining Agreement.

With gratitude for Ash-Lee and Allyn’s powerful collective leadership, Highlander is in good shape as it moves toward celebrating its 100th year in 2032. Now, under Allyn and Salimah’s leadership, Highlander is also well positioned for a successful, impactful, and transformational leadership transition, and the organization is excited for how the process will spark new thinking and innovation, galvanize stakeholders, and propel Highlander to achieve even greater impact.

Personal letters from Ash-Lee and Allyn follow.

From Ash-Lee:

Dear Colleagues,

I’ve had both the privilege and epic responsibility of being the first Black woman to serve as Co-Executive Director at Highlander. It has been a real honor to be in community with you in this role as we continue to do the work required to build the capacity of grassroots organizations. I am especially proud to have worked with so many leaders who serve as catalysts for positive change. The lifelong relationships we’ve built over the years and our collective commitment to teaching and learning not only makes us better leaders in movement, but also improves the material conditions in our respective communities.

As Co-Directors, Allyn and I practiced big, bold, and audacious leadership for Highlander—all in pursuit of increasing the organization’s legacy. Together, we’ve accomplished the goals we set (and then some), and the organization is in good shape to move confidently toward its 100th year of radical education and movement accompaniment.

I am transitioning now and will assist the Highlander leadership transition as an Advisor. I will be around for the next few months and am really excited about moving from co-directorship into more of an advisory role and helping with some ongoing development commitments. I’ll also take the time to say goodbye to the really incredible people we’ve worked with as Co-Executive Directors.

As I reflect on my tenure as Co-Executive Director, I am most grateful for the friends, leaders, mentors, allies, and colleagues who have made this the journey of a lifetime. To the many members of our Board of Directors over the years, our co-conspirators in philanthropy, our coaches, our comrades who lead our sister organizations, and especially our families, specifically our parents, partners, and kiddos, you have gone above and beyond and we are grateful. And to my beloved brother, friend, comrade, Allyn—I wouldn’t have danced this dance with anyone but you. Onward to our family’s next great adventure. If it’s anything like this one, it’s gonna be one helluva ride!

Looking back on our journey and the many accomplishments of Highlander to date, Allyn and I both believe deeply that there is no better time than now to announce a new season of leadership for the organization. I look forward to the advisory role I will play to kick off a deliberate, effective, and intentional transition to new leadership.

In love and solidarity,


From Allyn:

Dear Colleagues,

As Ash-Lee departs, I’m staying to lead Highlander through this transitional period. I’m committed to seeing the organization through a smooth transition—one that fortifies an organizational culture and land-based strategy that bring our values to life, fosters life-giving working relationships, and strengthens Highlander’s work to be a catalyst for change.

With big changes come big opportunities. I’m thrilled that Salimah Muhammad has said “yes” to serving alongside me as interim Co-Executive Director. Other than Ash-Lee, there’s no one with whom I’ve led more closely than Salimah. She brings decades of experience in successful implementation of financial and operational strategies in social movement organizations and other sectors. Since she joined the staff on the eve of the Covid 19 pandemic, Salimah has graced all of us with her joyful presence, sage counsel, sharp political analysis, and incredible sense of humor. As former Board member and dear friend of Highlander, Makani Themba, once said, “Salimah is a star!”

Highlander’s staff is dynamic and brilliant, and we look forward to the staff’s full participation in the transition work. Highlander’s strong, actively engaged Board is fully supportive of our plan and will offer critical guidance at key moments during the process.

Given the accomplishments we’ve experienced over the past several years, Ash-Lee and I believe there is no better time than now to initiate this season of transition. Highlander has retained some amazing accompaniment from teams at RoadMap and Strategies for Social Change who will support staff and Board with critical internal change work as we continue our cutting edge education and research work on and off the Highlander hill.

To our partners, funders, allies in the movement, and special friends: Highlander will finalize our latest Strategic Plan, much of which is already in effect. Core to our educational program and coalitional work is the urgency of supporting people’s movements and weaving their strengths together to block fascist, authoritarian, and Christian Nationalist threats to our communities—before, during, and beyond the elections of 2024. And to do that, I turn to the words of the late Dr. Vincent Harding, who taught us to sing that “Builders must be strong!” Among our key “building” priorities are further developing Highlander’s new People & Culture and Land & Place departments, partnering with the staff union to foster an even healthier staff-centered workplace, constructing a new main office, and putting long-term land visions and strategies into action. After all, Highlander not only builds and supports movement infrastructure, but it also is movement infrastructure, and our role in the movement ecosystem grows more critical and demands more from us with every current and coming crisis.

In short, I’m beyond pleased with where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed. As it is for so many others, Highlander has long been a political and spiritual home for me, and I remain honored to be one of its leaders.

Lastly, as I reflect on my tenure as Co-Executive Director with Ash-Lee, I want to share:

We are not finished. Not even close. I love you, dear sister, and thank you for loving me. Thank you for trusting me. Thank you for singing with me. See you on the porch.

In love and solidarity,



Transformative Justice via a Social Solidarity Economy​

We explore economic and governance systems with communities and grassroots organizations through participatory processes that create knowledge and share solutions to transform community wealth and health through democratic and cooperative practices and policies.

Movement Accompaniment + Support

We support grassroots organizing and movement-building by boosting capacity and infrastructure for movement, supporting intergenerational leadership development for this long-haul work, resourcing and funding Southern organizing with mini-grants and technical support, and supporting regional, national and global networks that build collective power for transformative justice. We also facilitate workshops and residencies to deepen skills in Highlander's methodologies and in grassroots organizing tactics and strategies.

Incubate & Innovate Radical Work

We build capacity and power for grassroots organizing networks through active network participation and support, strategic partnerships, anchor roles in movement coalitions and collaborations, and by providing fiscal sponsorship to emerging groups and organizations.

Intergenerational Leadership

Our Seeds of Fire Program and Children's Justice Camp promote youth-centered, youth-led spaces and organizing, providing peer guidance and mentorship, political education, and skill-based trainings that make room for young people to take the resources they need and build power together.


Highlander ON SOCIAL