She was born in Plainfield, NJ in 1985 and was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her mother was office manager for the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority where she was exposed to speakers addressing social injustice in her and how to try combat prejudice that was ever prevalent in her community. This was her first taste of activism. She attended Aiken Senior High School, Cincinnati, Oh where she was involved in both Teen Institute and Leadership Team Programs; which taught her how to not only care for her community, but who to lead it as well. Her “Call to Action” moment came in 2001 when she was a sophomore in high school and 19 year old Timothy Thomas was unjustly shot and killed by officer Stephen Roach. The city erupted in protest in response. This led to the biggest case of civil disobedience since the 1992 LA riots. The city government put the city on an 8 p.m. curfew. Residents decided to counter with their own entertainment ban that called for the protest of all entertainment revenue coming into the city as well as a boycott of all of downtown businesses. The boycott ended up costing the city over $10 million dollars over time. City residents also called for police retraining and reform. This was when she realized what could happen when people unified and believed they could change the world.
Meanwhile, she began working for 5-star hotels as front desk agent/night auditor where she worked hard to make each guest that know that they were family. She felt that her decade-plus experience in the field of customer service and hospitality, and her passion to create a better world combine to make her the ideal person to be the welcoming face at Highlander…and the staff agreed!
Johnny Bailey serves as Highlander’s Buildings and Grounds Manager. He is from Tennessee and did odd jobs at Highlander in the 1980s and early 1990s. Johnny oversees the hay fields, orchards, lawns, and the maintenance of the Workshop Center, office, library, resource center, barn, and five residences on the Highlander farm.
Esmeralda brings a wealth of experience to the Education Team. At 19, while studying art education in Chicago, she co-founded The Crib Collective, a youth-led non-profit. The organization became a center for artistic expression, cross-cultural alliances, and youth organizing that addressed a number of issues, including: gentrification, toxic waste, and the public education system. Since then, she has worked with the Rural Development Leadership Network in New York, Do Something.org, and other community based groups.
Most recently, Esmeralda worked with Fuerza Unida, a Latina-led organization in her hometown of San Antonio, TX, that empowers women workers and their families to organize for justice. It’s through that work that she came to Highlander, first through the Southern Grassroots Economies Project. Highlander is an anchoring organization of SGEP, which promotes and supports the launch of sustainable cooperative economies across the South. Esmeralda’s connection to Highlander deepened when, as a youth ally, she brought two young people from Fuerta Unida’s youth leadership program to our Seeds of Fire Camp.
An accomplished visual artist, Esmeralda also holds an MA in Educational Leadership, Politics and Advocacy from New York University. We are thrilled that she’ll be bringing her unique and powerful combination of art, education, and organizing to Highlander
André is a native of Knoxville and a graduate of South Doyle High School. He began his undergraduate work at Middle Tennessee State University and later transferred to the University of Tennessee and graduated with degree in English Literature. He was the instructor for the Odd Fellows Scholars Program in Knoxville, where he taught students in grades 7-12 to illustrate Black history in the East Knoxville area through written material and digital storytelling. He’s the former President the 100 Black Men of Greater Knoxville. He is a writer with publications in the Knoxville News Sentinel, Knoxville Writers’ Guild, Huffington Post, and various other sources. His interest in social justice started as a junior at Middle Tennessee State University. Canty also serves on the board for KnowHow Knoxville and the Save Our Sons initiative with the City of Knoxville.
Thomas gained his love of food and culture through community, his single mother and many other strong women influencing him as he grew up in very diverse, low income communities in nearby Knoxville, Tennessee. It was community that gave Thomas his sense of humanity and the need for change and justice for all.
Thomas worked as a community organizer in Connecticut, as in 2004 the state broadened its hate crime laws to include Trans folks, in 2005 civil unions were made available to the LGBTQ community, and in 2008 complete equality under the law extended full rights to marriage. This is where Thomas was first introduced to grassroots organizing with organizations such as Love Makes a Family.
Thomas came to Highlander in 2009 as part-time Center staff. Early on, he took an interest in the organizational work and mission, and he found ways to be involved above his normal duties. Thomas has received training in Kingian Nonviolence, receiving a certificate from Emory University and Dr. Bernard Lafayette. Thomas has been an active participant in organizational Racial Healing and Dismantling Racism work and popular education training by participation in Highlander’s Wacky Work Week. His role has grown considerably, since Thomas is currently acting as Workshop Center Manager. He also provides admin support for the education team and development teams as needed. Thomas is dedicated to more sustainable practices at the Workshop Center and has been researching and implementing healthier techniques for sourcing and preparing foods. From his work with local CSA’s (community sponsored agriculture) to our local grocer’s co-op, the percentage of responsibly sourced food and supplies grows all the time. Thomas believes in a straightforward, unprocessed style of cooking that is both flavorful and healthy. He also has a very talented core staff that shares his commitment. That staff includes Betty Hickman, Isis Tafari , Dennie Fisher, Ritchie Carr, and Tracey Gilbert. Together they create a very warm, hospitable and welcoming Workshop Center.
Tony Denton serves as Highlander’s Buildings & Grounds Assistant. Alongside Johnny, he tends the land and maintains Highlander’s facilities. Tony has also led work camp teams at Highlander’s Wacky Workshop Work Week, where participants learned real life skills from his gentle teaching style.
Samir joined Highlander’s staff as the Education Team Administrative and Communications support in August 2015. He helps in supporting all of the programmatic work with a particular role in supporting the Southern Grassroots Economies Project and the Econ and Governance curriculum. He strongly believes in moving power and resources into communities that need them most. Samir was born in Washington, D.C.; raised in Takoma Park, MD; raised up by his chosen family in Greensboro, NC; loves his life-long friends at Catoctin Quaker Camp; and never forgets his ancestral roots in Palestine.
Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson is a 31 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).
Betty Hickman (known as Ms.B) is a native of Jefferson County born at home just miles from the Highlander hill. Betty has two daughters and a son and is grandmother to three beautiful young women. She has been employed at Highlander as hospitality staff for 17 years. Betty came to Highlander in her retirement; she was an active member of AFL-CIO for seventeen years while working for Levis Strauss Co. in nearby Knoxville. When the plant closed its doors she was forced into early retirement. Her drive and incomparable work ethic would not allow her to rest; at 54 she enrolled at Tennessee College of Applied Technology and received a certificate in Office Administration. In her seventeen years of service Betty has helped to feed thousands of community activist, artist, and leaders while maintaining a warm, welcoming and hospitable WorkshopCenter. Betty has also used her skills in administration, assisting in fund raising efforts through working with the Development team on mailings. At 75 she continues to be a driving force and it would be hard to imagine a Workshop Center without her gentle care and warm smile.
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.
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.
Kierra joins us after over seven years of working as an organizer, recruiter, and fundraiser in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Wofford College, where she later worked as Resident Director. While in Spartanburg, Kierra co-founded Glendale Community Action, the first neighborhood association in the rural former mill village, organizing and facilitating community meetings. Kierra first became involved through our Seeds of Fire program’s annual camp, which she first attended in 2010, then returned in 2013 with youth from the Imagine That Improv Theatre Troupe, where she was Program Coordinator, working with youth to use improvisational theatre to address social issues including race and gender discrimination, drug use, domestic abuse, and more.
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.
Coy views the realm of social justice through a creative lens. She believes that art and activism intersect and create an entry point for otherwise marginalized people to engage in community organizing and creating awareness. Coy uses her poetry as a platform to address socio-economic inequality, race relations and state sanctioned violence. She is a founding member of the Knoxville Chapter of Black Lives Matter and 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.
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.
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.
Will Wilson is Highlander’s bookkeeper. Will became interested in social change bookkeeping through being active with groups that needed the service, and currently serves as part-time bookkeeper for other non-profit organizations. He also has for-profit bookkeeping experience. Will was radicalized by the events of September 11th and the response of the Bush Administration. Over the years he has taken action with Food Not Bombs, Earth First!, the anti-war movement, community radio, and a variety of other causes. He is passionate about environmental and economic justice.
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.
Candie Carawan and her late husband Guy have been associated with Highlander for more than forty years. Candie came as a student participant to the first gathering of students involved in the Sit-In movement in April 1960. Guy came first as a volunteer in 1959, offering his musical skills at workshops and community events. Throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, the Carawans organized cultural workshops at Highlander and in the field, focused on civil rights, citizenship education in the Sea Islands, and coalfield and environmental organizing in Appalachia. They documented in recordings and in books Southern and Appalachian musical traditions — especially as they related to community struggles for justice — and helped infuse a cultural component into all Highlander workshops and programs. In the 1990s Candie also served as residential education coordinator. The Carawans live next door to Highlander and currently serve as consultants to the school. Guy Carawan passed away on May 2nd, 2015. You can learn more about their cultural work by visiting their Web site.