About Us

About Us

We train people in the skills and strategies needed to build powerful organizations and governing majorities that win important victories for their communities and drive forward the movement for justice for all.

OUR MISSION

At Midwest Academy, we train and support the next generation of organizers. We work towards a world where low-income communities, people of color, working-class communities, and underrepresented groups are centered as we build a broad and powerful movement for justice.

We provide a distinct training framework that helps organizers develop key organizing skills and deepen their vision for justice. Our training method is practical, time tested, and built to address the realities of long-term organizing and movement-building by focusing on three core components: 

  • Essential skill-building
  • Vision and power analysis 
  • Guidance on how to practice self care to maintain health and hope over time 

Now more than ever, we believe organizing is one of the most valuable tools for building a more equitable and just society. We’re committed to providing organizers with the practical skills needed to address the challenges of forging change in a system rooted in white supremacy and plagued by widening economic inequality and antidemocratic sentiment, so all of us can thrive.

STAFF

Yomara Velez

Co-Executive Director (she/her) yomara [at] midwestacademy.com

Yomara Velez

Co-Executive Director (she/her) yomara [at] midwestacademy.com

Yomara began organizing as a young single mother in the mid-90s, fighting for women on welfare to gain access to higher education. Yomara spent the first phase of her career organizing in the South Bronx with organizations fighting for educational justice, tenant rights, affordable housing, policing, and environmental justice. In 2002, Yomara founded Sistas on the Rise in the South Bronx. This youth-led, young mother’s collective created a new model of organizing grounded in transformative practices. After founding Sistas on the Rise, Yomara moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she spent 7 years organizing in the South with organizations such as 9to5: National Association of Working Women and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. She served on SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective’s board of directors and on the Feminist Health Center’s Latinas’ Initiative. For the last 10 years, Yomara led organizing initiatives at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, building their chapter structure and managing all of the state organizing campaigns. Specifically, she supported affiliates with organizing campaigns to win domestic workers’ bill of rights in states across the country.

Eric Zachary

Co-Executive Director (he/him) eric [at] midwestacademy.com

Eric Zachary

Co-Executive Director (he/him) eric [at] midwestacademy.com

Eric’s career has included deep experience in both community and union organizing, and has been distinguished by starting and directing new projects and alliances in the struggle for social justice. These have included developing a comprehensive leadership training program for neighborhood and parent leaders, serving as the founding director of the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, and most recently establishing a new community engagement infrastructure at the American Federation of Teachers.  In this last position, he helped to establish community-labor alliances fighting for educational and racial justice in a dozen cities, as well as the national Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. Working with a wide range of community, labor, university, and faith-based allies at the neighborhood, city and national levels, all of these efforts have included a participatory and democratic culture at their heart, along with a deep commitment to racial, economic and gender diversity and justice. A life-long resident of Brooklyn, Eric is a product of both public housing and public education from kindergarten through his doctorate.  He has been co-Director since 2019.

Kristina Tendilla

Lead Trainer (she/they) kristina [at] midwestacademy.com

Kristina Tendilla

Lead Trainer (she/they) kristina [at] midwestacademy.com

Kristina has been a lifelong Filipinx community organizer. They worked as the Executive Director of Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment and a national organizer with National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum working to fight for reproductive justice. Before that, they were a community organizer with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago for several years leading and winning campaigns on immigrant and racial justice. Kristina has worked with many queer/trans/non-binary BIPOC groups on the local and national level to build community and a collective movement abolition.

For over 10 years, Kristina organized alongside families and people to fight for environmental justice, immigrant/refugee rights, worker rights, Illinois TRUST Act, rejecting anti-Muslim and xenophobic executive orders. Kristina was recognized as a National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum Everyday SHEroe and a Chicago Women and Femme to Celebrate. Through her work and other LGBTQIA+ APIDAs, i2i has received the National Queer Asian American Pacific Islander Alliance Advocacy Award in 2016. Driven by a love for community, Kristina has a deep commitment to build collective power for all people.

Aimée-Josiane Twagirumukiza

Lead Trainer (they/them) aimee-josiane [at] midwestacademy.com

Aimée-Josiane Twagirumukiza

Lead Trainer (they/them) aimee-josiane [at] midwestacademy.com

Aimée-Josiane (they/them) is an anti-racist organizer, cultural worker, and a certified professional coach (CPC) who is rooted in the struggles of Black, immigrant, trans and queer, survivors and workers. Aimée-Josiane is a co-founder and sustaining member of Queer the Land, a QTBIPOC housing collective in Seattle, WA, as well as a founding member of the National LGBTQ Workers Center, which fights against sexual and gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Aimée-Josiane has organized with public and private sector employees throughout the South and Pacific Northwest with locals of the Communication Workers of America and the American Federation of Teachers. They have also coordinated large-scale anti-violence education for the Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse. Before their joining the Midwest Academy’s staff in 2021 as a trainer and coach, Aimée-Josiane worked at the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) leading the We Dream in Black Organizing Program, which builds the power and leadership of Black homecare workers, nannies, house cleaners and unpaid family caregivers across the U.S. Aimée-Josiane is from Gikongoro, Rwanda, and was raised in Zambia until 1999, when their family emigrated to the U.S. and received asylum.  Since then they have lived on the U.S. coasts, and currently make home in Georgia with their wife, Denechia who is an author and journalist , and a sassy cat named Seven. They have a BA in Sociology from Georgia State University and are certified under the International Coaching Federation.

Samantha Master

Trainer (she/her) samantha [at] midwestacademy.com

Samantha Master

Trainer (she/her) samantha [at] midwestacademy.com

Sam Master is a Black queer feminist organizer, storyteller and educator from Baltimore, MD by way of PG County, MD.

Sam has organized at the intersections of racial, gender and LGBTQ justice for over years and has been featured in several publications including TheRoot, TheGrio, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, NowThis, and the film, The New Black. Since graduating from the Academy in 2012, she has served as the communications manager for Organizing Black, a collective of Black 18-35 year old direct action organizers in Baltimore City, a co-leader of #FreeBlackMamasDMV, a bail out project to decarcerate Black mothers and caretakers who cannot afford bail to reunite them with their families and their communities, and a founding member of BYP100.

When she’s not reading, writing, and freedom-dreaming with her people, you can find her in the kitchen cooking up ways to feed the spirit and soul of her community.

Zanetta Byers-Harris

Operations Manager (they/them) zanetta [at] midwestacademy.com

Zanetta Byers-Harris

Operations Manager (they/them) zanetta [at] midwestacademy.com

Zanetta is a Black, queer, non-binary ATLien that comes to Midwest Academy having worked in youth-serving and youth justice institutions and organizations for nearly 20 years, from California to New York to Georgia. Having spent many of those years in direct-serving roles, they recently saw a need to create a space for operations-focused work in their last position. Now they delight in evaluating current processes and adapting them or creating new processes, with a goal towards better team and org. support, management, and efficiency. Additionally, they are excited to have joined an organization working to support and train folks dedicated to dismantling the cooperating systems of oppression that perpetually challenge the joy and livelihood of BIPOC folks, queer, trans and intersex folks, disabled folks, and immigrant folks.

Zanetta lives in the city in the forest, Atlanta, GA with their partner, little one, and pup. They serve on the Board of Directors of Charis Circle, the non-profit programming arm of Charis Books and More, the oldest feminist bookstore in the southern US.

Gabby Hernandez

Operations Coordinator (she/her) training [at] midwestacademy.com

Gabby Hernandez

Operations Coordinator (she/her) training [at] midwestacademy.com

Kaylee Tock

Accounting/Finance (she/her) kaylee [at] midwestacademy.com

Kaylee Tock

Accounting/Finance (she/her) kaylee [at] midwestacademy.com

Kaylee started in the world of nonprofits as an intern for the Chicago Artists’ Coalition during her time at Bennington College.  From there, she dabbled in both the music industry and the world of women’s fashion.  Her meandering path eventually led to Midwest Academy, where she is able to put her administrative and accounting skills to use in a place she feels 100% fulfilled and morally aligned (how refreshing!).  She is thrilled to be part of such a strong group with such a vital mission, and is the person to holler at if you’ve attended a training and found the pastry selection unacceptable.

Judy Hertz

Executive Director Emeritus judy [at] midwestacademy.com

Judy Hertz

Executive Director Emeritus judy [at] midwestacademy.com

Judy served as Director of Special Projects at the Midwest Academy from 1999- 2010, lead the organization as Executive Director from 2011-2019, and is currently focusing on training (leading, updating curriculum, and training the trainers). She serves as a trainer at our core workshops, Organizing for Social Change and Supervising Organizers, and consults with a variety of organizations, from neighborhood organizations to state and national groups.

Prior to joining the Academy, Judy worked as a community organizer in Chicago for 20 years. She began with an institution-based organization on the southwest side, and then served for ten years as executive director of Rogers Park Tenants Committee, Chicago’s largest and most powerful neighborhood-based tenants’ rights organization. During her time there, she helped lead campaign to pass the Chicago Tenants’ Bill of Rights, which dramatically transformed renters’ rights in Chicago, and helped launch the Lead Elimination Action Drive, which improved Chicago’s response to lead paint poisoning. She guided the organization through a transition into a multi-issue organization, changing its name to Rogers Park Community Action Network (RPCAN).

Following her work with RPCAN, Judy spent two years working on Organizing and Family Issues, conducting leadership training in a feminist organizing model with low-income Hispanic mothers. Judy was a member of the founding board of the National Organizers Alliance, a professional association for progressive community, issue, and labor organizers. She was also a founder and member of the Board of the NOA Retirement Pension Plan, a multiple employer pension plan for community organizers.

Steve Max

Associate Director Emeritus

Steve Max

Associate Director Emeritus

 

BOARD

Heather Booth

Board Chair Democracy Partners

Heather Booth

Board Chair Democracy Partners

Heather Booth is one of the country’s leading strategists and organizers for progressive issue campaigns.  She began organizing with the civil rights movement. She founded the Midwest Academy with funds she won from a back pay settlement while labor organizing.   She has directed many election campaigns and was the training director for the Democratic Party. She was the founding director of the NAACP National Voter Fund that helped increase African American voter turnout by nearly 2 million votes in 2000. She was the senior strategist for the campaign for comprehensive immigration reform. She was the director of the AFL-CIO health care campaign for the Affordable Care Act and ran the campaign for the first Obama budget. She was the director of Americans for Financial Reform, the coalition leading the fight to hold the big banks accountable that passed the Dodd/Frank bill and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  She directed the campaign for marriage equality around the Supreme Court decision.  She has worked on many other campaigns.  There is a movie about her life in organizing, “Heather Booth: Changing the World.” She is a member of Democracy Partners consulting firm.

Jacky Grimshaw

Secretary/Treasurer Center for Neighborhood Technology

Jacky Grimshaw

Secretary/Treasurer Center for Neighborhood Technology

Jacky joined at the Center for Neighborhood Technology ( CNT) in 1992 and created many initiatives in the areas of public participation in transportation planning, environmental justice, community development, air quality and water quality. She developed its capacity to engage in public policy advocacy, transportation research, public participation tool development, GIS mapping, community and economic development. Jacky advocated for and provided expertise to increase transit in the Chicago region. She created and led CNT’s transportation and air quality programs for over a decade. She has advocated for and provided expertise to increase transit service in the Chicago region and led CNT’s Transit Future campaign in the fight for mass transit reform in the Chicago region in 2008. Subsequently, created a new Transit Future campaign aimed at seeking the Cook County Board identify a dedicated revenue stream to expand transit in Cook County. She is also leading CNT’s initiative on creating more equitable TOD. This includes leadership in Elevated Chicago, a project funded by a national collaborative that seeks to promote racial equity, prosperity and resiliency in Chicago communities through eTOD.

Since 2005, she has led CNT’s policy efforts at all levels of government including service on the Transportation Committee of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Transition Team. Jacky serves on numerous boards, including: National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board’s Environmental Justice and Public Involvement Committees. She has just completed terms on the Chicago Transit Authority and TRB’s Women’s Issues in Transportation Committee. Before joining CNT she was the Deputy Director and Director of the Chicago Mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Deputy Treasurer of the City of Chicago. Ms. Grimshaw has been a talk show host for public radio, a talk show regular panelist for commercial radio and a columnist for Crain’s Chicago Business newspaper.

Jitu Brown

National Director Journey for Justice Alliance

Jitu Brown

National Director Journey for Justice Alliance

Jitu Brown, National Director of the Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J) is a long-time community organizer born on Chicago’s south side. He is a product of Chicago’s public school system and is a proud parent and husband. Jitu started volunteering for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), the oldest black-led organizing community-based organization in Chicago in 1991. He eventually joined the staff as Education Organizer in 2006 and organized in the Kenwood Oakland neighborhood for over 20 years bringing parents, students, teachers and community members together to collectively participate in the education system by developing various educational initiatives and battle back against efforts to systematically disinvest in, close and privatize schools in Chicago. In his role as National Director for J4J, he leads an alliance of grassroots community, youth, and parent-led organizations in over 30 cities across the country demanding community-driven alternatives to the privatization of and dismantling of public schools systems. He has brought great energy and focus to the connection between the attacks on public education and the disempowerment of African American communities all across the country.

Robert Creamer

Founder Strategic Consulting Group

Robert Creamer

Founder Strategic Consulting Group

Robert Creamer has been a political organizer and strategist for over four decades. During that time he has worked with many of the country’s most significant issue campaigns. He was one of the major architects and organizers of the successful 2005 campaign to defeat the privatization of Social Security. He has been a consultant to the campaigns to end the war in Iraq, pass universal health care, hold Wall Street accountable, pass progressive budget priorities, and enact comprehensive immigration reform. He works with Americans United for Change where he helped coordinate the campaign to pass President Obama’s landmark jobs and economic recovery legislation.

During the 2008 Presidential Election he worked for the Democratic National Committee as National Coordinator of field based rapid response to Republican candidates McCain and Palin. During his career, he has worked on hundreds of electoral campaigns at the local, state and national level. Creamer began his organizing career in 1970 working with Chicago’s Citizen Action Program (CAP) which had been organized by Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation. CAP successfully campaigned to reduce the sulfur dioxide in Chicago’s air by almost two thirds.

In 1974 Creamer founded the Illinois Public Action Council – later known as Illinois Citizen Action – which became the state’s largest consumer advocacy organization and progressive political coalition. He directed the organization for 23 years. He has been a full time political consultant since 1997 when he co-founded the Strategic Consulting Group.

Judy Hertz

Executive Director Emeritus

Judy Hertz

Executive Director Emeritus

Judy served as Director of Special Projects at the Midwest Academy from 1999- 2010 and was the Executive Director from 2011-2019. She still serves as a trainer at the five-day Organizing for Social Change workshop, the 3-day Supervising Organizers workshop, and consults with a variety of organizations, from neighborhood organizations to state and national groups.

Prior to joining the Academy, Judy worked as a community organizer in Chicago for 20 years. She began with an institution-based organization on the southwest side, and then served for ten years as executive director of Rogers Park Tenants Committee, Chicago’s largest and most powerful neighborhood-based tenants’ rights organization. During her time there, she helped lead campaign to pass the Chicago Tenants’ Bill of Rights, which dramatically transformed renters’ rights in Chicago, and helped launch the Lead Elimination Action Drive, which improved Chicago’s response to lead paint poisoning. She guided the organization through a transition into a multi-issue organization, changing its’ name to Rogers Park Community Action Network (RPCAN).

Following her work with RPCAN, Judy spent two years working on Organizing and Family Issues, conducting leadership training in a feminist organizing model with low-income Hispanic mothers. Judy was a member of the founding board of the National Organizers Alliance, a professional association for progressive community, issue, and labor organizers. She was also a founder and member of the Board of the NOA Retirement Pension Plan, a multiple employer pension plan for community organizers.

Jackie Kendall

Partner Democracy Partners

Jackie Kendall

Partner Democracy Partners

After winning a successful campaign to get freshness dates on food, Jackie Kendall attended the Midwest Academy and went on to help build Illinois Public Action one of the first statewide multi-issue coalitions. In 1981 she moved to the Midwest Academy where she made arming progressives with the Midwest Academy organizing fundamentals her life’s work.  She has trained thousands of organizers from a wide range of organizations: labor, civil and human rights, faith based, women’s, disability, LGBT, senior citizen and student groups.

As Executive Director of the Midwest Academy (1982-2010), Kendall steered the Midwest Academy to meet the needs of the progressive movement. In the mid 80’s she identified the need to routinely infuse the movement with new generations of skilled organizers and forged a partnership with the United States Student Association (USSA) to create the Grassroots Organizing Weekends (GROW).  In that same spirit, she expanded Midwest Academy’s reach with a paid Internship Program specifically for students and young people interested in learning direct action organizing.

With extensive experience working in electoral campaigns (both partisan and non-partisan), Kendall was part of the team that developed and delivered the first Camp Obama trainings for volunteers going to Iowa the summer of 2007 through the Iowa Caucuses.

Currently she is working for Food and Water Watch/Food and Water Action as Organizing Advisor. She is also a partner at Democracy Partners.

Kendall is co-author of Organizing for Social Change: Midwest Academy Training Manual by Kim Bobo, Jackie Kendall, and Steve Max having over 500,000 copies sold.

James Lopez

Executive Director Power U Center for Social Change

James Lopez

Executive Director Power U Center for Social Change

James Lopez is the Executive Director of Power U Center for Social Change in Miami, Florida. An Afro-Latino native of Rochester, New York, James has made a commitment to developing and working with as many leaders as possible to build strong organizations of everyday working people after the Ferguson Uprising. A graduate of University of Buffalo, he began organizing through various organizations in the city of Buffalo. He was a former Organizer with VOICE-Buffalo, where he organized with residents and faith-based institutions in order to push for policies on policing reform and alternatives to mass incarceration. He also helped build Black Love Resist in the Rust (BLRR), which was an organization that is committed to transformative organizing and Direct Action in Buffalo. James has also consulted and trained dozens of young organizers in his role as a Trainer with BOLD (Black Organizers For Leadership and Dignity) and has been a previous consultant with The Midwest Academy.

David Medina

COO/Co-Founder Results for America

David Medina

COO/Co-Founder Results for America

David Medina has 30 years of national policy and political experience in Washington D.C.

David is the Co-Founder and COO of Results for America, the leading national, bipartisan, nonprofit organization helping more than 300 cities, states, and federal departments harness the power of evidence and data to solve our world’s greatest challenges.

David previously served as First Lady Michelle Obama’s deputy chief of staff, the Democratic National Committee’s policy director, the Democratic National Convention Committee’s deputy CEO, and U.S. Senator John Edwards’ presidential campaign national political director.

David has also served as the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign’s government relations director, the Peace Corps’ public engagement director, an AFL-CIO legislative representative, and U.S. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun’s legislative assistant.

David has served on the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, Human Rights Campaign, Millennium March on Washington for LGBT Rights, and University of Chicago Visiting Committee national boards of directors. He currently serves as the Working America Education Fund’s national board chair and as a Midwest Academy national board member.

David received his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his M.P.P. from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Eddy Morales

Morales Public Relations

Eddy Morales

Morales Public Relations

Eddy brings more than ten years of senior leadership experience to the Democracy Alliance, most recently serving as the Deputy Director of Voto Latino, an organization founded by actor Rosario Dawson aimed at increasing Latino civic engagement. While there, he helped increase the annual operating budget and oversaw strategy and day-to-day operations.

Previously, Eddy was the Deputy Director of Leadership Development at the Center for Community Change, where he launched a leadership development program to recruit and nurture low-income community organizers of color into community based organizations.

At the DA, Eddy was the Director of the Latino Engagement Fund, a collaborative effort between individual and institutional donors designed to strengthen high-performing Latino civic engagement organizations and increase the political power of the growing Latino population. Since 2009, Eddy has been continually recognized by Washington Life Magazine as” one of the most influential people under 40 in DC” and also is a proud Midwest Academy Alum.

Jessica Pierce

Co-founder Piece by Piece Strategies

Jessica Pierce

Co-founder Piece by Piece Strategies

A national leader in civil rights, holding expertise in youth engagement, organizational development, and training. Jessica’s passion for organizing started at UC Santa Cruz where she was elected as Student Union Assembly President for two terms. After graduating, Jessica served as the Organizing Director for the United States Student Association (USSA) where she led campaigns in over 15 states. During her tenure USSA led efforts to pass the College Cost Reduction and Access Act – the largest increase to grant aid since the passing of the G.I. bill in 1944. With leaders of the Generational Alliance (GA), Jessica led efforts to develop Generation Vote, a coalition of 20 organizations invested in building a youth voting bloc that generated over 1 million youth contacts. Jessica then served as the National Training Director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) where she helped to coordinate national election efforts for the 2012 election to turnout over 1.2 million Black voters and build uniform capacity & training programs for the national, state, and local levels. Most recently, Jessica was the National Chair for Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) where she focused on capacity-building and sustainability efforts through civic engagement, convenings, and trainings. Outside of organizing, Jessica has committed herself to building power through training, working with organizations such as Wellstone Action, Midwest Academy, and the Center for American Progress. Jessica has been featured in national, state, and local media outlets including Ebony, PBS Newshour, BET, CNN, and Buzzfeed and has won numerous awards including the 21st Century Innovator Award from the Midwest Academy. Throughout her career and to-date, she has personally trained more than 20,000 people.

Marvin Randolph

Director Southern Elections Fund

Marvin Randolph

Director Southern Elections Fund

A nationally recognized expert in voter registration, voter contact and Get Out The Vote operations, Marvin has worked on over 120 campaigns in 31 states.  Past work includes: Senior Vice President for Campaigns at the NAACP; Director of Organizing and Politics at the Center for Community Change; DNC Political Mail Consultant at the Baughman Company; Western Regional Political Director, SEIU; Southern California Field Director, AFL-CIO Labor ’98 Campaign; National Executive Director, 1994 Project Vote; and Managing Partner at Urbanomics Consulting Group. He is a long-time friend and supporter of the Midwest Academy.

Bill Shiebler

Chief Strategy Officer and Deputy Executive Director State Voices

Bill Shiebler

Chief Strategy Officer and Deputy Executive Director State Voices

Bill Shiebler is the Chief Strategy Officer and Deputy Executive Director at State Voices. In his role, he develops strategic plans and programs, builds new partnerships to grow and sustain the organization, and coordinates strategic initiatives that expand the influence and impact of State Voices and its affiliated network of state tables.

Bill has more than fifteen years of experience building coalitions, union organizing, community organizing, public affairs and campaign management. He has dedicated his career helping numerous organizations develop strategy and build capacity to win victories that improve the lives of working people.

Prior to joining the State Voices’ team, he spent seven years working at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) where he co-created and led a nationwide community engagement strategy.  Prior to his work at AFT he was the Program Director at The Workers Lab, an innovation lab that supports organizing efforts and enterprises that build scalable and sustainable power for working people in the 21st century economy. He also worked at 1199 Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers East where he led numerous organizing campaigns to empower hospital, nursing and homecare workers the private sector. With a longtime commitment to training and mentoring he was also a trainer with Wellstone Action.

He has been an activist since he was a college student at the University of California Santa Barbara where he registered thousands of students to vote and lobby to expand access and affordability for students of color. He served as the President of the University of California Student Association and was the National Field Director for the United States Student Association, where he trained college students across the country and led federal and electoral campaigns.

He currently resides in Washington, D.C. and when not at work he is usually spending time with family and friends or traveling.

 
Zulema Aleman

(she/they)

Zulema Aleman

(she/they)

Zulema Aleman is an intergenerational organizer, trainer, liberatory coach, and interpreter. Their roots in organizing began within the first months of their first job at a local sweets shop where they organized their peers for dignified pay and better management, as well as every workplace after that. Since then they have continued to seek the magic that is Community and the power of the collective as they built a community of trainers, facilitators, organizers, and healers. As a youth and worker organizer they dedicated seven years to organizing farmworker families for language justice, education equity, anti-military recruitment in low-income communities, food justice, and building immigrant worker power on California’s Central Coast. Currently, they are an Associate Organizing Director with the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), where they lead a passionate team of organizers rooted in healing, Community, and the commitment to be ongoing learners.

Zulema resides in the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Chumash people where she is known as a comadre, queer artist, cat momma, and an aspiring drummer and gardener. They reconnect with the Earth and their ancestors through music, embroidery, story-telling, and laughing with loved ones.

Salome Ayuak

(they/she)

Salome Ayuak

(they/she)

Salome is a scholar-organizer with a teaching philosophy centralized on growth, accountability, and collaboration. Through this lens, she has experienced, written, and taught on genderization, capitalism and racialization throughout the African continent, reproductive justice throughout the U.S, and migration/movements transnationally. She has done this work both within formalized institutions such as organizations and universities in addition to less formalized structures through digital communities. Salome’s drive for this work comes from her passion for  equipping people with the tools to understand and work to dismantle oppressive systems.

Susanna Blankley

(she/her)

Susanna Blankley

(she/her)

Susanna Blankley has 15 years of tenant and labor organizing experience. Currently, she is the Coalition Coordinator for the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition, which is made up of more than 45 tenant advocate groups, tenant organizing groups, faith based groups, academics, and legal services providers throughout New York City. While the Director of CASA, Susanna helped form the coalition in 2014, launching a campaign to pass legislation making it a right for tenants to have an attorney when facing eviction. Her current work focuses on expansion and implementation of the legislation and using this win to build a larger movement. Susanna began her work as a Labor Organizer in Puerto Rico, and has been organizing for safe and affordable housing in New York City since 2009. She has taught community organizing at the City College of New York and the Center for Worker Education.  She currently teaches an Advanced Community Organizing Class through the Center for Community Leadership.

Susanna has worked to advance Women’s Rights in Ecuador, New York City and Kenya. She received her undergraduate degree from Columbia University and her Masters in Intercultural Service, Leadership and Management from the SIT Graduate Institute.

Samuel Chu

(he/him)

Samuel Chu

(he/him)

Samuel Chu (www.samuelmchu.com) is the founder and President of The Campaign for Hong Kong, which advocates for US and international leadership and policies that advance democracy and human rights for Hong Kongers and works at the nexus of anti-authoritarian and pro-human rights movements globally.

Since 2019, he has successfully campaigned for landmark US legislation such as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, and numerous other policies supporting Hong Kong. He also successfully advocated for US economic sanctions and visa bans on Chinese and Hong Kong officials and humanitarian protection such as Deferred Enforcement Deportation (DED) for Hong Kongers residing in the US.

In direct response, Hong Kong authorities issued arrest warrants against Samuel in July 2020, making him the first foreign citizen to be targeted under the city’s National Security Law.

 Samuel is a frequent presenter and speaker at convenings like Forum 2000, Oslo Freedom Forum, #RealCollege, RightsCon, and for organizations such as Jewish World Watch, Pacific Council on International Policy, Freedom House, etc. He regularly testifies in front of the United States Congress and National Parliaments across Europe.

Samuel holds a BA in political science from UC San Diego and an M.Div. in Ethics from Fuller Theological Seminary. A first-generation immigrant from Hong Kong, Samuel is the son of the Rev. Chu Yiu Ming, co-founder of Occupy Central, which led to the Umbrella Movement in 2014. The elder Chu was later tried, convicted, and sentenced on protest-related charges in 2019.

José Alvillar Hinojosa

(he/him)

José Alvillar Hinojosa

(he/him)

José Alvillar Hinojosa is an artist, educator, and organizer based in Minnesota. He first began organizing as a high school student with Navigate MN, currently Unidos MN, a grassroots non-profit organization fighting for access to higher education for undocumented students. In 2013, he started organizing with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59 to increase teacher pay and union membership. Currently, he serves as the Director of Youth Programs for Unidos MN, where he co-founded the MN Ethnic Studies Coalition and the Youth for Ethnic Studies Coalition, ultimately passing the Ethnic Studies for All bill and the addition of Ethnic Studies in the state academic standards. José has also organized environmental justice and led Unidos MN’s democracy campaigns, which resulted in no new nuclear plants in the state of Minnesota and helped to land a trifecta in 2023 alongside partner base-building organizations.

However, above all else, José enjoys developing leaders and organizers to step into leadership and demand power. He has helped create organizer boot camps for communities of color and Spanish-speaking communities to provide inclusive access to organizing training. He has also served as a trainer at the ISAIAH Weeklong, where he trained organizers and leaders across the U.S.

During his spare time, José enjoys the arts by exploring art history, attending museums, and painting. José is also a traditional dance performer and a 20/20 Fellow with Springboard for the Arts.

Yisel Pomier Maren

(she/her)

Yisel Pomier Maren

(she/her)

Yisel is a Black Latina queer woman and immigrant, and former domestic worker from Cuba. She has directed impactful documentaries spotlighting the hardships facing marginalized communities and challenging traditional gender roles. Her films demonstrate the complexity of the intersectionality of multiple identities.

After leaving Cuba she encountered a fresh challenge – the need to redefine herself in the US. Her journey has become a beacon of hope to others, as she emerged as a fighter and advocate for her community. As lead organizer for the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), We Dream in Black Program, she passionately organizes Black domestic workers, empowering them to assert their rights.

Yisel’s mantra is “Have your own voice, never give up, and stay true to your beliefs,” reflects her philosophy on embracing and persevering through adversity. She inspires change, proving authenticity is a powerful tool. Her story is a testament to the strength in diversity, showcasing the impact each individual can have in empowering others.

Chris Novaton

(they/them)

Chris Novaton

(they/them)

Chris is a Black, Queer, Disabled, Puerto Rican/Cuban born and raised by my single mother in Miami, FL. They have over 15 years of movement experience in racial and environmental justice.

Chris started their organizing work by joining an LGBTQIA organization during Obama’s first presidential campaign to work on protections for LGBTQIA folks in the state of Florida. Soon after, they started working on environmental and climate justice issues at their university. This included stoping a nuclear power plant from expanding across Florida which would’ve placed an additional financial burden on South Florida residents.

They started facilitating and training shortly after. Chris became a part of the Sierra Student Coalition training team to support youth around Turtle Island. The training focused on teaching the skills necessary to organize for social change and fight the many oppressive systems our BIPOC youth face.

In the last 5 years, Chris has supported M4BL’s Black Hive to set our Black Climate Mandate https://theblackhive.org.  They continue to support BIPOC folks on the ground around a multitude of issues and is currently managing a team of trainers to deliver organizing and campaign skills.

Rachel Ramirez

(she/her)

Rachel Ramirez

(she/her)

Rachel Ramirez is an organizer, toddler mom and aspiring gardener originally from Chicago and based in the Atlanta suburbs. After completing her degree in Chicana/o Latina/o Studies in Southern CA, She organized for 7 years with immigrants and returning citizens at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. She led campaigns to remove housing bars for returning citizens at two local housing authorities, and contributed to 6 successful legislative campaigns to remove employment barriers. While at the Coalition, Rachel was a core staff trainer in multiple 3-day trainings each year, and consulted with organizing groups in Central Europe. Via her masters studies in public policy and sociology, she has written two qualitative studies on the organizing model of leadership and on how organizers use time strategies to strive for more equitable work. Most recently, Rachel has organized with the United Parent Leaders Action Network (UPLAN), a national network of parent-led organizations, and is leading on a project with parents to strengthen UPLAN’s local-to-national power-building strategies.

Karn Saetang

(he/him)

Karn Saetang

(he/him)

Born and raised in Chicago, Karn has been able to work with multi-racial grassroots organizations in Chicago, the Bay area, and Portland. In Chicago, he organized Asian American youth around immigration reform and the DREAM Act. He served as the Director of Student Organizing at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth in San Francisco, where he organized black and brown youth and working-class families around education justice issues. In Portland, OR, he worked with high school students to start a youth-led organizing group that started and won an ethnic studies campaign for Portland Public High Schools. He also organized with incarcerated adults at Oregon State Penitentiary. He recently served as the Policy and Alliance Director at Californians for Justice, where he led the state policy program and led advocacy efforts around education justice issues for Black and brown high school youth.

Jianan Shi

(he/him)

Jianan Shi

(he/him)

Jianan Shi is a Chinese American immigrant and adoptee who has fallen in love with Chicago. He is the current President of the Board of Education and works as a consultant supporting nonprofit organizations. 

Raised in the Boston area, Jianan started his career as a high school biology educator in Boston before moving to Chicago to teach at a Solorio Academy, a neighborhood high school on the southwest side. The highlight of his time at Solorio was being the faculty supervisor of the DREAM Team, a group of undocumented students who advocated for immigrant rights. 

Jianan transitioned out of the classroom in 2019 to become the Executive Director of Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education, a parent advocacy organization. Serving parents in this role for four years was one of the biggest honors of life. There is no better way to express his love for Chicago than to improve the conditions for Chicago parents and students. 

As an organizer and educator, Jianan deeply understands that transformative change requires all of us and spends his time outside of education creating structures to build people power. Jianan is a founding core leader with Asian Americans Advancing Justice A Just Chi, 2018 New Leaders Council (NLC) fellow, 2019 NLC board member, 2020 Chicago United for Equity (CUE) fellow and 2022 CUE senior fellow. Jianan is also active politically; he is the current Board Chair of Asian American Midwest Progressives and current United Working Families party member. 

He holds a Master of Education in Secondary Education in Biology from Boston College and was a Donovan Urban Scholar and NOYCE Teaching Fellow. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Boston College, as well.

Brianna Tong

(she/her)

Brianna Tong

(she/her)

Brianna Tong is a movement trainer with a decade of experience in community organizing and activism. She spent 7 years building college student and young people power in Chicago and Illinois, winning changes like reducing racist policing practices in the University of Chicago Police Department, one of the largest private police forces in the country. She has led dozens of trainings for movement builders of all different backgrounds from across the United States. She has also been part of the Black liberation movement through multiple Chicago organizations and organized hyper-locally in her neighborhoods. She is also a public library worker, musician, and proud union member.

Amanda Varela

(she/her)

Amanda Varela

(she/her)

Amanda Varela is a passionate and energetic community and electoral organizer with 10 years of experience working in immigrant, Latine, and communities of color, including 6 years of experience in grassroots organizing, coalition building and advocacy. Amanda helped lead and win several progressive Chicagoland electoral campaigns and prior to that was the state-level organizer at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. She is  a first-generation daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, born and raised in California, and has been living and organizing in Chicago since 2016.

 

OUR HISTORY

Midwest Academy was founded in 1972 by Heather Booth with money from a labor back pay suit. She hoped to combine the vision and spirit of progressive movements with the practical skills of grassroots organizing. In addition, she sought to elevate the role of women in organizing and forge a path to progressive change through multi-state organizations for the emerging labor, women’s rights, and environmental movements by creating a comprehensive training program that provided organizers with the fundamental skills needed to build and sustain power. Steve Max was brought on, and together they created Midwest Academy’s famed Strategy Chart, a critical tool to guide organizers in their path to power; in 1973, they held the first two organizing retreats.

Over the years, the Academy has made significant contributions to the concepts and practices involved in combining movement and organization, multi-issue organizing, statewide organizing, coalition building and labor-community alliances, and connecting with door-to-door canvassing (a concept that was new to the world of grassroots organizing). By the early 1980s we had helped mobilize the first ERA rally, been awarded one of President Carter’s first VISTA grants, and reached more than 16,000 organizers throughout the country. In the mid-1980s, retreats grew from 40 to 400 participants per session, and the Academy developed the USSA/GROW trainer training program, which continued annually to 2015.  In the late 1990s, the Academy expanded an internship program that trained and placed young organizers in community organizations for a paid summer internship.

Over the decades Midwest Academy continued to develop specialized courses, including Supervising Organizers, which addresses the specific challenges of leaders as they develop the next generation of organizers. Today, we have reached more than 50,000 progressive organizers in thoughtful training sessions designed to provide the essential skills, critical power analysis, and necessary self-care guidance to build and sustain powerful movements long term. Organizers have credited our trainings with helping them to win countless victories, including everything from environmental regulations to Medicare reform, more just education policies to fighting gender discrimination.

Midwest Academy continues to work tirelessly to address the challenges of organizing and movement building to confront a system rooted in white supremacy and plagued by widening economic inequality and rising antidemocratic sentiment, and aims to put power back into the hands of the people, so all of us can thrive.

 
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