Meet the People at PeoplesHub
System Administrator, PeoplesHub Trainer, & Steering Committee Member
Executive Director, and PeoplesHub Trainer
- What’s the main inspiration for your activism or organizing work? I am inspired by my ancestors who came before me, and all of what they went through and the work they did to get us to the place we are now. I come from a family of movers and shakers, from people who started Youth Negro Baseball Leagues, to some of the first NAACP chapters in Florida, to folks who ran away from slavery and started their own town. I am also inspired by the domestic workers, cooks, concrete layers and aircraft mechanics who molded my parents and molded me to be the person I am today. They believed in unions and workers rights, along with civil rights, and pushed social activism in all aspects of life. I am also inspired by all of the young people who I have organized, worked with, hung out with and am family with over the last 18 years. They are who have changed me the most and who I am trying to always live up to.
- When and why did you first start organizing? I was one of those kids who always went to meetings, events and rallies with their families, but I think the first time I started organizing was around zero-tolerance policies and confederate flags at my high school. There were tons of fights, and in my mixed school, a black kid got expelled for having a “weapon” locked in the trunk of his car. This weapon was a sword for a martial arts tournament he was attending right after school. Zero-tolerance policies started my first year of high school, and we realized that we had to push back. We also had to organize against racist behaviors, policies and practices at my high school, and we won some serious fights that year.
- What was the single most successful campaign or action you were ever a part of? Wow!! What determines success? I helped start a union in college at the University of Tennessee that is still moving today, and they have had some incredible wins. I helped change policies around policing, environmental protections, education, housing, economic possibilities and others. What I sense the most success around is when people feel like they are important and powerful enough to band together to stand up for themselves and their communities. That is the long-term win that will enable one to hold firm regardless of what comes at you.
- Why do you love training, and what makes you excited about leading trainings online? I love people taking over and making something theirs, and I believe that working yourself out of a job is essential in movement work. That means leadership development and training so that people have the political education and skills they need to actually run the organizations, communities and institutions that are in their lives. What makes me excited about leading trainings online is that no matter where people are, I get to learn from them and make myself better. I am honored to be a part of people’s transformation processes. When people have “aha” moments and are blown away by some piece of knowledge or wisdom that they had in their bodies and souls, that is the most beautiful experience to be a part of. Being able to experience it with people 500 miles from me without having to even leave my home is just miraculous. Online technology gives us the ability to learn from others in real time across the country and the world, and that is powerful.
- Where do you see hope, possibility and life? What keeps you healthy and grounded? I see hope, possibility and life in my nephews, niece and all of the children in my life that I know, and others I see around. I see possibility in the music of Tank and the Bangas, which I’m listening to as I write. I see hope in the earth that grounds us and holds strong no matter what we as humans do to her. I see possibility in the people that have been rising and are building and creating beautiful solutions all over this world, and have been rising since there was something to rise against. I have possibility in knowing that I am the child of people that suffered through things that we can never even imagine. I am the child of people who were whipped on their backs and hid in the swamps and made schools, foster care homes, banks, towns, beauty parlors, hospitals, and so much more to not only survive but thrive. We are their children, we are their legacy, and that is what grounds me to the bone. We are carrying their dreams and are the embodiment of their hopes. Prayer, movement, yoga, meditation, dancing, being vegan, exploring places I have never been to, reading, constantly reading, watching murder mysteries, playing with kids, hanging out with my baby who is now 19 keeps me healthier than anything else. Shawn, Nevyn, Niyah, Grant, Garret, and Inara/Bacon and then all of the other youth that are now so grown are who keep me healthy and grounded.
Training Team, Workshops Lead, and PeoplesHub Trainer
- What’s the main inspiration for your activism or organizing work? I organize my life with the inspiration that my children offer me. I strive to align my thoughts and actions with co-creating a better world for them. As far as organizing I start with what hits close to home: people who I know and care about, and places my energy can make a difference in the lives of those who are closest to me, with the hope and intention of causing ripple effects to folks that I may not know yet.
- How did you first start organizing? I first started organizing in high school, although I wasn’t calling it that. I began hosting community art classes and facilitating co-creation with students younger than myself. That thread of organizing has continued over the past 20 years, and many folks remind me that making art together has empowered them in other ways as well.
- Where do you see hope, possibility and life? I see hope and possibility all around me. I am sometimes called an “optimist,” but I think I am pretty practical and realistic. I am thankful that my life allows me time to move slowly and have conversations with people regularly. And I am constantly amazed at how ingenious and kind and loving people are. I think that we need to share more; we are totally able to re-create the superstructures that sustain us in a way to allow for more daily creativity, beauty, and time for ourselves.
- What keeps you healthy and grounded? My friends and family inspire me daily and help keep me grounded. I have a gratitude practice (or a collection) that helps keep me aligned and moving forward even when I feel a case of the “blahs” or encounter a challenge. One practice is keeping a jar and filling it with scraps of paper that have specific gratitude statements written on them… later I put my hand in the jar and read them. Another practice is laying in bed for a few moments every morning and thinking about the way I want to feel, asking myself “what can I do today to feel this?,” mindfully doing something that day, and then, reflecting in gratitude that evening.
Director of Development & Communications
Training Team, Technology Lead, Core Development Team, and PeoplesHub Trainer
- What’s the main inspiration for your activism? For me, being involved in activism is about my personal integrity. It’s about being an active co-creator in the world I believe in.
- How did you first start organizing? As a teenager I became very focused on intersectionality. I thought if I could understand how different forms of oppression interact and overlap, I could figure out how to end all oppression. While trying to figure this all out, I was living in a community that houses federal death row. An upcoming high-profile execution made intersectionality very real. I started organizing to stop the death penalty – just one life-and-death example of how racism, classism and other forms of oppression show up in public policy.
- What was the single most successful campaign or action you were ever a part of? I feel lucky that through my work with Equal Justice USA I was able to play a small part in the grassroots campaign that won a historical legislative victory in New Jersey, ending the death penalty. I learned so much from seeing first hand how it is possible to connect people across political boundaries and make positive change through a state legislative campaign.
- Where do you see hope, possibility and life? The world of justice and peace I want to live in is not something that can just be handed down or handed over from someone who holds the power to give it to the rest of us. It requires that we all participate, and that together we learn how to live compassionately and creatively with each other. Those moments when I feel connection, synergy and true collaboration with others in this work give me the hope that that future is possible.
- What keeps you healthy and grounded? I’m best able to sustain myself and this work when I don’t wait for everything to be “fixed” in the world to live and enjoy life. For me that means connecting and spending time with my partner, with the Earth, and with my human and non-human friends and family. It also means being actively creative, like making art and growing food.
- Why do you love training and what makes you excited about leading trainings online? Powerful trainings have been key catalysts and turning points for me in my activism. There have been so many times when I left a good training feeling new energy, new hope, and new clarity, and that has kept me going. My hope is that as a trainer I can support the work of other activists the way that other amazing trainers have created spaces that have helped me. Training online is exciting because it allows special opportunities to connect trainers and community members who might not otherwise be able to connect due to distance or time constraints. Connecting with people in this way can be really inspiring and strengthens our movements.
Training and Community Engagement Lead
- What inspires you? The powerful women and queers in my blood and chosen family ground me and inspire my commitment to justice. Coming from a long line of nurses, teachers, spiritual leaders, and subsistence farmers – many of whom are survivors of domestic and sexual violence, I draw strength from their stories and perseverance. My mom has modeled for me what it means to be courageous in the midst of complacency, to trust your gut, and to stay in it for the long haul. She brought me to my first protests, and gave me tasks in her community organizing projects since I was little. Now that my mom, my little sister, and I are all organizing in our own communities, I love how we get to learn together, push each other to grow, and support one another to heal.
- When and why did you start organizing? I began organizing in high school around environmental issues. I helped organize a club that took on a range of projects like assessing the environmental impact of our school, reducing food and water waste in the cafeteria, and starting a community garden. The first campaign I was a part of was in my first year of college when a neighboring college was threatening to build a parking lot on Tongva Tribal land and some of the last remaining undeveloped land in San Bernardino. We worked in solidarity with the Tongva to put pressure on the colleges to halt construction plans and protect the tribe’s right to their land, and to preserve the ecosystem. We were able to put a hold on construction, but the fight to protect Tongva Tribal land continues. I began organizing — and keep going — because of the relationships and community I’ve found, the transformation I’ve experienced in collective action, and a deep spiritual responsibility I feel to defend what is sacred and fight for our collective humanity.
- What was the single most successful campaign or action you were ever a part of? Immediately following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, two other students and I launched a five-college campaign for fossil fuel divestment and reinvestment. After two years of base building, direct action, and culture shift on campus, we won divestment and reinvestment at Pitzer College. This win was significant because it was the first time an institution divested from the fossil fuel industry as a result of student organizing. Hearing the news that we had won while our team was attending the second national student divestment convergence was one of the most powerful moments of my life. Sharing the moment of our victory with hundreds of other student organizers was deeply motivating and inspiring for our movement.
- Why do you love training? What excites you about training online? I love the way that learning together has the potential to transform groups and individuals in the way they relate, the way they see themselves, and the way they understand the world. Witnessing and supporting moments when people recognize their own power, confront self-limiting beliefs, and support each other to take bold action is magical. I’m excited about the possibilities that online training creates for connecting across geographies and making training more accessible.
- What keeps you healthy and grounded? Investing in my work as a ceramic artist, somatic practice, adventuring with my partner, spending time outside, giving our foster dogs lots of love, making music, and learning how to cook new things keeps me healthy and grounded.
Training Team, Core Development Team, and PeoplesHub Trainer
- What’s the main inspiration for your activism or organizing work? I grew up in poverty, the daughter of a farmworker. I also am 13th generation Quaker. I believe in equity, peace, and justice and hold a vision for a better world for generations to come.
- When and why did you first start organizing? I first became involved in the early ‘70s when my mentor, civil rights leader Septima Clark, took me under her wing. It was through the strong women in my life that I was able to find my voice and my power to organize.
- What was the single most successful campaign or action you were ever a part of? When I built Piedmont Peace Project, a multi-racial poor people’s organization in 1984, we were able to train around 5000 leaders and to mobilize 44,000 people over a period of five years. Through using the ballot box and holding elected officials accountable, we were able to make dramatic changes. For example, our congressman, who sat on the Defense Appropriations Committee and chaired the New Military Construction Subcommittee, changed his voting record from 0% to 87% on peace issues, and from 33% to 98% on social justice issues. Through empowering low-income people to take on leadership roles, we were awarded the National Grassroots Peace Award.
- Why do you love training and what makes you excited about leading trainings online? I love teaching people how to organize and build power. I’m so excited to offer these trainings online to make these opportunities more accessible to larger groups of activists.
- Where do you see hope, possibility and life? I see so much hope and possibility in young leaders today and have been thrilled to see Black Lives Matters and the March for Our Lives leaders reflecting diversity and calling for a new revolution. Their sophistication and understanding of politics is awesome! I believe more in revolutionary change today than I ever have.
- What’s the main inspiration for your activism or organizing work? A spirit of defiance coupled with a desire for the extraordinary. Refusal to accept the status quo. Irreverence as a response to authority and decorum. People who value experimentation in the service of winning, over the need to hold to a posture of idealogical purity. The care that I’ve been shown and learned to show others in the course of committing to work that is difficult, confronting, and, at its best, transformational.
- When and why did you first start organizing? I started organizing as a student in California, following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. We opposed the invasion of Iraq, and we also wanted to challenge how increased militarism was being played out on communities of color at home; from the USA Patriot Act and surveillance culture, to the targeting of Muslim Americans and immigrants, to the presence of military recruiters in high schools populated by young black and brown people. Organizing was a new concept to me at that time. Previously, my understanding of social change was limited to electoral politics and civil rights litigation. When I came to understand that there are actual frameworks for creating grassroots campaigns and mass movements, I was like, oh, that’s so much more exciting than waiting on a politician or a lawsuit to produce political and cultural change.
- What was the single most successful campaign or action you were ever a part of? From 2010-2013 I helped to lead a direct action campaign aimed at changing a policy on Philadelphia’s public transportation system that caused harassment and discrimination against trans and non-binary riders. It was a scrappy little campaign, and we did it on a shoe-string. I think in the entire three years of organizing we maybe spent $500. We won, and the victory was especially meaningful given the risks that people took in being visible during a time when trans identity and trans right were only just beginning to register in mainstream conversation. The campaign also tested me in ways I’m grateful for: I learned — through my mistakes and successes — what was required to build trust with trans women in my community, what of my own internalized oppression as a trans person I needed to address, and how too stay in it when things were hard and when I didn’t have answers about what to do.
- Why do you love training and what makes you excited about leading trainings online? Training allows people a space to step out of the grind of their day-to-day as organizers and whatever pressures come along with that, and engage in the kind of reflection that is necessary for their growth and sustainability in those roles in the long haul. I love getting to support the opportunity for leaders I respect to invest time in themselves and whatever they need to learn to be effective in what they do, whether that’s skill-building, political analysis, or uncovering important personal insights. I’ve spent the past few years living rurally and it’s become so clear to me that much of the resource and training that’s available to activists in progressive urban centers never reaches the people doing the front-line work outside those places. Online training provides some of that resource and opportunity for cross-pollination that not everyone has access to in-person.
- What keeps you healthy and grounded? Holding a stance of mystery and wonder toward the universe. Tacos. Getting dirty. Taking naps.
Joe Tolbert Jr.
Circles and Strategy Clinic Coordinator, Trainer
Sarah van Gelder
PeoplesHub Founder and Steering Committee Member
PeoplesHub Trainer and Advisor
PeoplesHub Trainer and Advisor
2. When and why did you first start organizing? The moment when I realized that I had to organize was when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 in New York City. I had just begun my first year of college. The people that I thought of as the ‘leaders’ of organizing on campus did not take immediate action; so, I became involved. In the United States, we had an incredible opportunity, at that time, to look at who we are as a people, who does or does not have access to power, and what actions we could take to transform the ways we interact with each other and the world. Although as a country, after 9/11/2001, we ultimately chose war over peace, the experience of people coming together to create a different way of being with each other became a seed for organizing for me that has continued to grow in a multitude of ways over the years.
3. What was the single most successful campaign or action you were ever a part of? EmergentSee was a majority women of color team that led and trained individuals and groups in racial healing and anti-racism work. We led with the belief that inner work is necessary in order to change external community and institutions. Therefore, all workshops included reflection on our own individual histories and responsibilities; education on issues of systematic racism; interactive practices towards transformation of spirit, body, and mind; and action steps to address systemic racism in our local and national context.
4. Why do you love training and what makes you excited about leading trainings online? I love when people and groups are able to tap into what they deeply care about and bring to life that which most aligns with their own passion and the needs of their community. I am very excited at the potential for cross-pollination that can happen with online trainings.
5. What keeps you healthy and grounded? What keeps me healthy and grounded is my community, tai chi, meditation, gratitude, and keeping a connection with the sacred within all people and the rest of nature.
PeoplesHub Trainer and Advisor
- What’s the main inspiration for your activism or organizing work? I grew up in a church tradition that focused on justice, reconciliation, and nonviolence. That formation led me toward a lifetime commitment to social change organizing and training. The early values I got there, and the calling I felt to this work, sustains and inspires me still.
- When and why did you first start organizing? During the boycott of Shell Oil and during the first Gulf War, I felt stifled in my conservative high school and started to find my voice with small acts of education with my classmates. This led to later campus and community organizing and activism around human rights, peace, the death penalty, military recruitment, racial justice, fossil fuels, and systemic poverty.
- What was the single most successful campaign or action you were ever a part of? A successful action: A seven-day presence around the International Monetary Fund in 1999, in which we circled the IMF every day and called for the cancellation of the debt of seven of the poorest countries of the world. On the final day, we entered the IMF to perform a social exorcism, casting out the “demons” of racism, greed, fear, and domination. This was during the same time that debt cancellation came to seem more like common sense (at least for some), through the work of the Jubilee 2000 movement. I like to think we contributed to that long struggle in some small way.
- Why do you love training and what makes you excited about leading trainings online? I love trainings because I get to see the brilliance of groups emerge, as they face their own problems and find their own solutions. I’m excited to facilitate online because it’s possible to connect with widely different people (geographically or culturally), to go deep and do good work, and to still sleep at home that night!
- Where do you see hope, possibility and life? Connecting with other people working for change, learning what they bring to the work, and building together. My two sons and their expanding sense of themselves and the world. The righteous indignation of so many who are stepping up in these movement times!
Founding Advisory Board
adrienne maree brown
Ma. Teresa "Mayté" Penman