Mary Hooks joined the SONG team as a field organizer for the state of Alabama in March 2011. Her passion for helping people is reflected in her years of community service and mentoring. Mary’s background is in Human Resources and holds a Master of Business Administration with a focus in Human Resources Management and recently obtained her Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification. Though Mary is new to organizing, her personal story has prepared her for such a time as this. The chapters of her life begin with a life of poverty, being parentless, and shy. Eventually the story unfolds of a rebellious teenager who converts to a devoted Christian in Pentecostal church, who comes out as a lesbian and left without the support of her foster or church family and stricken with tons of Christian guilt. The climax of this story occurs when, in undergrad at a private Lutheran college, Mary begins to redefine her self and discovered a radical desire to be a catalyst for change in the world. Since then Mary has relocated to the hot shades of Atlanta, GA, and has found her niche in organizing with SONG, throwing dope parties and singing with the Juicebox Jubilees, a queer choir, created to provide a safe space for folks to gather their voices together, sip a little wine, and sing songs that uplift, inspire, and liberate. As she continues to navigate through movement work, she hopes that the folks she connects with are inspired to write their stories of self-determination, liberation, and love. firstname.lastname@example.org
Roberto Tijerina is a queer, Latino, first-generation child of immigrants, keeper of the heart-space, and closet diva. In his early adolescence he realized two things: that language – and language barriers – impact access to power and that his dream of a charro wedding would only work if he was marrying Vicente Fernandez or Lee Majors. Since then he has worked as an activist – in Chicago and in the South – with his three mainstays being queer, immigrant, and language justice.
His never-boring political path includes working for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund supporting diverse LGBT communities around civil rights issues, coordinating the Highlander Center’s Multilingual Capacity Building Program, serving as the Director of Finance and Administration for the Audre Lorde Project, and spent the last decade building language access infrastructure in movement spaces. He served on the SONG board of directors for seven years.
When he’s not doing work, he can be found doing freelance interpreting, bartending, and converting folks to the miracles of mole and mezcal. Mostly though, he listens – at the experience of elders, at the inspired vision of young folks, at the magic of queers – to keep his work grounded and true.
Kate Shapiro is originally from North Carolina with roots in West Virginia, Georgia and New York City. Kate is a long time member of SONG and thrilled to be back home in GA. Since 2008 she has worked with Spark Reproductive Justice Now, The Center for Participatory Change and The Beehive Design Collective doing youth organizing, capacity building, and popular political education with rural, queer, and immigrant communities. She came to SONG after an amazing stint in rural Wisconsin working in the historic recall elections where she had the opportunity to fuse electoral and community organizing strategies. She is a founding and continued member of the Vision and Strategies Council of Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective. Shapz loves ‘making what we need’, swimming holes and all things savory.
Regional Organizing Manager
Dr. Serena Sebring, PhD is a queer black feminist organizer, educator, and mother. Originally born in Boston, MA, Serena came to the South by way of Boulder, CO in 2005, where she found home in Durham, NC and SONG family. Serena lives and loves in Bull City (aka Durham, aka Queer Capital of the Universe) with her partner and teenage children. Her academic background includes research examining the history of reproductive justice and women of color in North Carolina. She is a Taurus, who loves working in the garden, house parties, porch-sitting, and kitchen table talks.
R. Ashley Jackson
R. Ashley Jackson is a Black queer activist, advocate, feminist, and fiber artist. Ashley assists the LGBTQ+ community in the South by designing, planning and organizing campaigns to shape public policy affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) community. She works with community members, business owners, elected officials and stakeholders to raise awareness of issues affecting LGBTQ+ people including racial justice; intersections of communities and youth led organizing. Ashley served as the first Alabama State Director for the Human Rights Campaign and the first LGBT Community Advocate for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Ashley has Business and Marketing degrees from Hinds College and attended Auburn University Montgomery for Sociology and Political Science. She has written for and been featured in CNN’s Gay in America series, and autostraddle.com. She’s featured in Queer Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America and the film Mississippi: I Am. Ashley co-founded the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition and served as the director for three years and co-founded QYLTS (Queer Youth Leading the South) Activist Summer Camp. She was recently named a New Civil Rights Leader: Emerging Voice in the 21st Century by the L.A. Times. She’s a Mississippi native currently residing in Atlanta, GA.
Jillian Brandl is a Philly born, Wisconsin raised white dyke who finally found home in the South in 2008. They first came across SONG in the Lowcountry of South Carolina alongside a crew that came together for a political education program being rolled out by SONG. From that study group grew a team of dedicated organizers that pulled off many visionary direct actions in the belly of the white supremacist beast that is Charleston, SC.
Alongside their work with SONG, Jillian organized with Girls Rock Charleston, a grassroots nonprofit that uses music as a vehicle for social change and builds power among girls and transgender youth that develops feminist and anti-racist youth leaders through cultural organizing practices that blend music education, political education, and DIY media making. Right before leaving Charleston, Jillian helped run a Girls Rock Charleston’s alternative to incarceration program, the first program of its kind for Charleston youth.
They are currently settling into life in Atlanta, GA, and are deeply excited to be constantly surrounded by SONG family and continue to be part of the historic and revolutionary work happening in Atlanta. In their off time, Jillian is often making weird things out of fiber and flour, sugar, and butter or asking people about their signs (they are a Cancer).
Bilingual Regional Organizer
Alan Ramirez is a chicano southern queer gemini who was raised for most of his life in the Western North Carolina mountains. His father is from Morelos, Mexico and his mother is from La Puente, California where Alan was born. He was raised in a colonized Mexican household and now is recovering from a catholic upbringing. He likes getting down and dirty in the work against the criminalization of black and brown and immigrant communities. He’s been organizing with grassroots communities in the south to push back on police and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) collaboration, fight anti-immigrant policy changes and building access to political consciousness. He studied Electronic Media/Broadcasting in North Carolina and currently lives in Hendersonville WNC. Although he only has a few years organizing in the south, Alan’s political home is in SONG and believes in a sweaty queer liberation! He hopes to build spaces to heal from racial, intergeneration and migrational trauma by connecting to his ancestors, eating good food and loving on his big ass family.
Micky is a Black queer and genderqueer activist born in Florida, but has called Richmond, VA, home for over 20 years. Micky joined SONG as a member leader in 2014 and in 2016 became the Richmond Organizing Fellow leading campaign work around police accountability and continuing to build SONG’s base. For the past year, Micky has worked at Side by Side, an LGBTQ youth center in Richmond, Va, as the Richmond Youth Programs Coordinator. This job has taught him a lot about the power of queer youth and the depth of the issues in Richmond around LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, combating mental health problems, and just surviving. Micky serves on the board of the Virginia Anti-Violence Project an organization close to his heart, that serves LGBTQ folks in Virginia experiencing violence and offers them support with: help from trained advocates, support groups, operating in a Language Justice framework with interpretation, and political education about what it means to be in a healthy relationship. He has spoken on panels at the University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, Randolph Macon University and for different organizations about his experiences as a Black queer and trans organizer, racism, oppression and organizing in general. Micky loves graphic design and dreaming about building a safer, beautiful, more affirming world for trans and queer people of color to not just survive in, but thrive in.
Maya Avery Washington
Maya Avery Washington is a Black, queer woman from Atlanta, Ga. She spent the early part of social justice work studying black history and getting involved in the art activism around queer liberation for black, brown and low income folks in the city of Chicago and Atlanta. She spent 2017-2018 as a Tzedek Social Justice Fellow for Operations and Engagement at the Campaign for Southern Equality. Her path towards liberation is through lgbtqia+ visibility, prison abolition and children’s advocacy. She has spent the better part of five years orchestrating various events around the South that utilize human centered design, language justice and crip theory to create radically accessible spaces as a powerful political tool. Maya is an environmental alchemist, transforming unimaginative rooms to wildly inclusive spaces. She believes a strong operations team, well crafted events, and community engagement with fully realized aesthetic choices makes social justice accessible to all. Maya values the power of organizing the organizers, inter-generational and ancestral work, creativity, and working with the Earth. In her spare time Maya likes to spend time in the water, listen to true crime podcasts, and experiment with fiber art. Her personal future lies in designing the tangible liberated future of autonomous healing, living and growing space for black and brown queer folks.
Regional Organizing Manager
Jade Brooks grew up poor in a small forest city in the Northwest. Her people are white immigrants (Eastern European Jews and bohemian French Catholics) and the Quakers who were among the first to colonize stolen indigenous land in Pennsylvania. She found her way South 7 years ago. She fell into great luck to attend SONG’s North Carolina Organizing School in 2009 and then fell in love with the work. Jade helped to organize against Amendment One with All of Us North Carolina in 2012 and then with SONG’s Free From Fear campaign in Durham for the last 2 years. She’s all the way fired up for campaign work that builds movement and people’s power. An anti-Zionist Jew and member of the organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, Jade helped to lead a boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Durham County in North Carolina to drop a contract with Israeli-apartheid profiteer and private security company, G4S. She loves girls, camping, books, bookstores, poetry, radical publishing, hot summer thunderstorms, and making shameful pop mix CDs.
Dalene Davenport is a native to Atlanta, Georgia, and is naturally a peach at heart. She was raised as a conservative church girl but always knew there was more to learn than what was taught to her in the church. While her interests for professional growth span a wide range, she ultimately decided to study nursing at Chattahoochee State College. After taking several classes Dalene determined that wasn’t the mark that she wanted to make on the world. Although she wasn’t sure of exactly what field she wanted to pursue, she was clear that nursing wasn’t it. Along Dalene’s journey of figuring out how she wanted to make an impact on those around her, she met Mary Hooks the co director of SONG. Mary introduced her to SONG which lit a fire inside of her. It was there that she discovered where her talents could be used and It’s as if she grasped a new understanding of her blackness and the struggle of so many others. Dalene fell in love with the people and the movement, which eventually lead to her becoming a part of the SONG family.
Bia Jackson is a Black queer, feminist and content creator from Richmond, Virginia with roots in White Castle, Louisiana. She was raised by a single mother in the Southside of Richmond and politicized by poor, small town, factory workers from Louisiana. Growing up with her heart in Louisiana and life in Virginia, she gained a deep appreciation for Southern traditions and community. She graduated from James Madison University with a B.A. in Communication Studies and Women & Gender Studies. In 2016, she was SONG’s Harrisonburg Communications and Organizing Fellow. Bia believes in the power of narrative and storytelling to eliminate isolation, to build power and to reconnect Southern queer folks of color. Bia currently resides in Harrisonburg, VA, where she organizes, writes, and builds community.
Bilingual Regional Organizer
Monserrat “Monse” Ramirez Perez is a queer, twenty one-year-old, Mexican immigrant. She was first brought to the U.S. at the age of five. In 2012, Monse was a recipient of Deffered Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). She calls Asheville and the mountains of Western North Carolina her home. One of Monse’s passions is fighting for language justice by building bridges among different communities. Through outreach, she uses our shared experience with language to connect communities throughout Western North Carolina. Monse is a social justice Spanish/English interpreter, a poet, and musician. Monse believes in the importance altars and the magic of healing in community. She is a Pisces sun, Virgo moon, and Cancer ascending. Monse hopes to empower undocumented youth to come out of the shadows and create change for their communities.
Nicole “Coco” Townsend
Nicole “Coco” Townsend was born and raised in the bootheel of Missouri, and currently resides in Western North Carolina. She identifies as an unapologetic Black. Queer. Woman. Reserved, and often quiet, but she’s not afraid to TURN UP when needed. She stepped into movement work before she even knew what movement work was – educating folks about HIV/Aids after losing her brother to the disease in 2001.
Nicole’s introduction to Queer organizing spaces came in 2010 after a string of hate crimes took place in Asheville, NC – it was at this time that she began to use poetry and spoken word as a medium to connect folks to the work that needed to be done to combat the phobias and isms. This work eventually lead her to direct a film in 2012 entitled “Color ME Brown: Conversations with unmuted voices” – which uplifted the voices of of Black and Brown folks navigating through Asheville. Since then, her organizing work has been heavily rooted in Western North Carolina and has focused on environmental justice, sustainable food policies, police accountability, and Queer & Trans liberation. Her formal introduction to SONG came in January 2017 when she joined the North Carolina BLM Cohort.
For all the curious Queers, she’s a Scorpio. Her rising is Capricorn. Her moon is Aquarius. She likes kayaking, naps, and cuddling on the couch with her beagle Roscoe.
Micah Blaise is an educator, organizer, and femme born & raised in rural South Carolina. She is currently based in Charleston, South Carolina. Micah has been involved in feminist and anti-racist youth-led organizing in her home state over ten years. Her professional background includes working as special education teacher with a radical agenda and serving as the first full-time staff person for the Carolina Youth Action Project (formerly Girls Rock Charleston). During her time with CYAP, she helped establish South Carolina’s first community-based alternative to incarceration program for young people and tripled the budget of the organization. Micah is passionate about organizing resources to build power in the South and fundraising to support movement leaders fighting for a world where all of us can live Free from Fear. She is Libra with a Virgo rising who loves making commitments, swimming in the ocean under the full moon, and being barefoot in the kitchen.