Getting Saved to Organize In the South: Welcoming Mary Hooks as SONG’s New Co-Director

Photo Credit Hunter Boone, March For Black Lives, Charleston, SC

Photo Hunter James Boone, courtesy

Over a week ago, SONG’s former co-director Caitlin Breedlove told us that she was stepping down as co-director and that SONG had confidently chosen her replacement to lead alongside Paulina Helm-Hernandez, and the current SONG staff and board. We could not be more excited to announce that the one and only Mary Hooks will be stepping in as Caitlin’s successor as SONG’s new co-director. She has our full vote of confidence to co-lead the organization with Paulina into the next phase of our work.



Mary is a strong and vibrant leader who is no stranger to struggle and hard humble work. This is only one reason why she has earned the love and respect of so many SONG members and leaders. Mary grew up in the hostile climate of the war on drugs, and its impact has had a profound effect on her life, family and community. She was raised by various family members and the Black church and eventually spent a few years in foster care. As a teen she found a home in the Pentecostal church but was rejected by the church and her foster parents when she came out. Mary successfully worked towards getting a Masters of Business Administration, and one night in a southern gay bar she was recruited into an organization of LGBTQ people in the South that offered a new sense of home. She has been a part of the life-blood of SONG ever since.


Since becoming an organizer with SONG in 2011, Mary has been bringing her best thinking, principles and heart into the work. With her she has brought new people, new blood and relationships that have only served to strengthen our shared vision towards liberation in our lifetime. At SONG we believe in people earning their place in leadership. From the beginning, Mary has modeled the kind of self-reflective, brave, and abundant leadership we believe our movements, coalitions and organizations so desperately need. She is a mother of a 2-year old wonder kid, a leader in the regional and Atlanta area Black Lives Matter movement, and a queer powerhouse throughout the South. Her leadership is deeply needed in a region and organization facing new fights and adversaries and in a time when SONG is filled with members and leaders, new and existing, who are ready and willing to take on these fights.

“I have always loved working with folks who never ask of others what they aren’t willing to do themselves, and Mary Hooks has always led by example.  In her relentless love for other Black folks, women, queer and trans folks, she has modeled that it is our duty to fight for our freedom, that love and movement are never without struggle, and that organizing and kinship are the best medicine. It’s my honor to continue building the SONG kindred alongside Mary Hooks and the rest of the staff, board and members to usher in the next phase of our unity and liberation work.” Paulina Helm-Hernandez

For over twenty years, together we have built SONG into the organizing ship that it is today. We continue to build an organization that is supporting member-initiated work and that is diving deeper in anti-criminalization campaigns, Black and Brown unity work, and cultural work that saves our souls. This work takes all of us and we are building the team we need at every level of the organization from members to staff to board; and from Richmond, VA, to Birmingham, AL, and all the southern towns beyond and in between.

As we welcome Mary in her new role and celebrate Caitlin’s near-decade of leadership, we invite you to join us in jubilee for this new phase of SONG. We are marking this grand transition with:  a regional membership call, a gallery of love notes, and a Forever SONG Family Reunion &  Celebration in the coming weeks.

We don’t believe in individual superstars, but we do believe in acknowledging the work of Mary and Caitlin for their daily work of bringing about liberation through the often unglamourous grind of organizing. Our celebration is not just about Mary and Caitlin, but it is also about the hundreds of leaders that have made this moment possible for SONG. We acknowledge Mary and Caitlin as people and leaders who are a part of something so much bigger and who have helped shape the legacy of the dream and vision of SONG. We hope you’ll join us at the celebration and in the streets over the coming months and year.



We’ll be collecting love notes, letters, old photos, memories, intentions, prayers, lyrics, and more for Mary, Caitlin, and SONG, for both display and as an offering at the Forever SONG celebration. Please email digital submissions to You can mail physical submissions to:

Southerners On New Ground
ATTN:  Kate Shapiro
RE: Forever SONG Love Note
PO Box 11250
Atlanta, GA 30310


Join us for a regional membership call OCT 12 at 7PM-EST to discuss our upcoming staff transitions including:  Mary Hooks moving into the co-directorship with Paulina Helm-Hernandez, Caitlin Breedlove stepping down from co-directorship, and the addition of Roberto Tijerina and Asa King (as part of the TLC@SONG partnership). We want to be able to answer questions, discuss further some of political assesment about what is needed from our organizations and leaders in this time, and share our excitement, questions, reflections, and blessing across the entire organization!