SONG Staff

SONG main office: (404) 549-8628

Paulina Helm-Hernandez, Co-Director

Paulina Helm-Hernandez is a queer femme cha-cha girl, artist, trainer, political organizer & trouble-maker-at-large from Veracrúz, Mexico. This Chicana grew up in rural North Carolina, and is currently growing roots in Atlanta, GA. She has been the Co-Director of Southerners on New Ground (SONG) for 7 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 is also a founding member of the national First Nations / Two Spirit Collective, an queer & trans indigenous movement-building cadre, and has served on the boards of YouthAction, Student Action with Farmworkers, The Third Wave Foundation and the DataCenter.  She currently sits on the  Vision and Strategies Council of Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective.


Caitlin Breedlove, Co-Director

Caitlin Breedlove is a Queer, Femme, 2nd generation Eastern European immigrant who has been in the South her whole adult life. She has been the Co-Director of SONG since 2006. Previous to her time with SONG, Caitlin spent three years as the Coordinator of the Intern Program at the Historic Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee. She currently sits on the board of North Carolina Community Aids Fund (NC-CAF), has been on the funding panel for the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, and is an occasional contributor to the Bilerico Project blog. Caitlin’s current organizing passions are intersectional campaign building and new organizer leadership development. She lives in North Carolina.


Suzanne Pharr,  Political Education Coordinator

Suzanne Pharr is an old school lesbian/feminist who was born the youngest of eight children on a farm in Hog Mountain, Georgia. She believes that racism, sexism and economic injustice are inextricably connected and we must work on their dismantlement simultaneously— radically, going right to their roots. Pharr founded the Women’s Project in Arkansas in 1981, was a co-founder of Southerners on New Ground in 1982, and was the director of the Highlander Center 1999-2004.  She is an organizer and political strategist who has spent her adult life working to build a broad-based social and economic justice movement.  When not organizing and doing strategic thinking with hellraisers, Pharr works in her big yard and garden, reads books like others eat chocolate, and pals with her dogs and cats.  She is the author of Homophobia:  A Weapon of Sexism, and In the Time of the Right:  Reflections on Liberation.


Mary Hooks, Campaign Co-Coordinator

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.


Kate ShapiroKate Shapiro, Membership Coordinator

Originally from North Carolina with roots in West Virginia, Georgia and New York City, Kate Shapiro 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 just returned from 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.

Elias Lyles, South Carolina Field Organizer

Jenna Lyles grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. She is SONG’s South Carolina Field Organizers and she is also a founding organizer for Girls Rock Charleston. Jenna sees herself as coming from a legacy of Southern dykes fighting and surviving in their hometowns and home states, and also from a family legacy of justice seekers, loudmouths, and rabble rousers on both sides. She makes her home in Charleston, SC, where she haunts the beach on Sullivan’s Island, reads a lot of books, and plots liberation and girl empowerment around the kitchen table with her chosen family.


Salem Acuña, Regional Organizer

Salem Acuña is a latino, queer regional organizer with SONG. As an immigrant, originally from Santiago, Chile, Salem is committed to social change and liberation work that is rooted in an international understanding of oppression and history. An understanding that recognizes that we are all part of one another and that social change must come from communities directly impacted by oppression–in any part of the world. Through his work with SONG, Salem has been part of community organizing efforts on a local, regional and national level and has experience working on issues of anti-violence, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, language justice and anti racism. Salem is committed to radical and long-term social change that centers transformation, accountability, resilience and joy within ourselves, our communities and our world.


Hermelinda Cortes, Rural and Communications Organizer

Hermelinda Cortes 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 from the heart of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Brought up between two seemingly different worlds, she has a special interest in building bridges between communities including second language learning, and food, land, and health justice issues in LGBTQ, working people, and people of color communities.   She has previously organized with Students for a Democratic Society, the People United, 97.3 LPFM WRIR Independent Radio, and the Flying Brick Library and is a founding member of the Shenandoah Valley YES! Alliance. When sheʼs not organizing she has a penchant for writing, reading theory, gardening, and cooking. After a seven year stint in Richmond, VA, she has returned to the rolling hills of Virginia where she continues to pursue her dream of building a multi-racial, multi-generational queer farming familia.


serena in the garden


Serena Sebring, North Carolina Field Organizer

Serena Sebring 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 at the LoveShack in Bull City (aka Durham, aka Queer Capital of the Universe) with her partner, three children, one nephew, and two beagles. She teaches Sociology at North Carolina State University, where her academic research examines the history of reproductive justice and women of color in North Carolina. Serena is a Taurus, who loves working in the garden, house parties, porch-sitting, and kitchen table talks.