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
Special Projects Director
Paulina Helm-Hernandez is a queer femme artist, trainer, political organizer, strategist & trouble-maker-at-large from Veracrúz, Mexico. This Chicana grew up in rural North Carolina, and is currently growing roots in Atlanta, GA. Paulina was the Co-Director of Southerners on New Ground (SONG) for 11 years, having joined the staff after coordinating the Southern regional youth activism program at the Highlander Research & Education Center for over 4 years. Paulina has a background in farm worker and immigrant / refugee rights organizing, cultural work, youth organizing, anti-violence work, and liberation work that centers people most affected by violence, poverty, war and racism. Paulina currently sits on the Board of Directors of the GA Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Political Research Associates, the Vision and Strategies Council of Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, and is always exploring ways to deepen political unity with people willing to fight and organize for collective liberation.
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.
Hermelinda Cortés is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant father and a white factory-workinʼ mama. Raised on a small farm amidst the Southern delicacies of potato salad and mole, she is a working class Xicana Queer Feminist mama from the heart of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. A luddite techie at heart, she schemes and daydreams about liberation and movement driven communications to build lasting connections between communities and strategically dismantle systems of domination. She came to organizing with lots of other young people through Students for a Democratic Society in the height of protests against the Iraq War and has been organizing ever since. She’s worked with the People United, 97.3 LPFM WRIR Independent Radio, the Flying Brick Library and is a founding member of the Shenandoah Valley YES! Alliance and Better Together. She’s been with SONG since 2010 and returned to the rolling blue hills of Virginia in 2012 after a somewhat failed attempt at city life. She believes in the revolutionary possibilities of small towns and lives in one where she continues to pursue her dream of building a multi-racial, multi-generational queer farming familia.
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.
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.
Mickyel “Micky” Bradford
TLC@SONG Regional Organizer
Mickyel “Micky” Bradford Micky is a magical Black transfemme and army brat, born in Germany yet raised in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Georgia. She joins the TLC@SONG collaboration after working for four years in Atlanta on HIV/AIDS prevention and consulting, LGBTQ youth homelessness, and organizing Queer and Trans artists of color. Politicized while student organizing at Georgia State University in 2012, she was recruited as a youth leader to Spark Reproductive Justice NOW. In 2013, she became one of the founding members and workshop trainers of the Atlanta Coalition for LGBTQ Youth. In 2014, her training was tested as the world was immersed in direct action for Black Lives, repeatedly. In 2015, She co-founded the “Southern Fried Queer Pride” festival, organized action at Atlanta Pride and TransLiberation Tuesday and was named one of 17 Black Trans Activists Fighting for Liberation .” Her (s)hero-ancestors are Marsha P. Johnson and Grace Jones. She is more determined than ever to get her people their “10s” across the board on the runway to liberation.
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.
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.
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 recently 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.
Jaison A. Gardner
A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Jaison A. Gardner has been a social justice activist, health educator, and community organizer for more than 20 years. He is the co-creator and co-host, with Dr. Kaila Story, of WFPL’s Strange Fruit: Musings on Politics, Pop Culture & Black Gay Life, a popular award-winning weekly podcast focusing on social justice and pop culture. Jaison is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Louisville and a board member of the Fairness Campaign, and he is a frequent presenter, moderator, and event emcee whose work focuses on a variety of issues, especially the intersection of racial justice and LGBTQ liberation. Jaison firmly believes that a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.