2019 Whole Communities Fellows Cohort

The Whole Communities Fellowship brings together 24 community leaders and activists, whose work lives at the intersections of Justice and Environment – Land and People.  Meet this year’s cohort of change-makers ready to grow, transform, and lead in turbulent times.

Alena Paisano
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Alena Paisano is an experienced practitioner of Farm to School dedicated to the development of just and local food systems serving our youth, families and communities. Alena is deeply invested in her work with National Farm to School Network (NFSN), where she partners with native communities to expand and sustain farm to school activities as a strategy for advancing food sovereignty. Her past work has been focused on supporting diverse partners to reach their goals for improving community well-being and access to healthy local food by engaging in development of food policy with schools and farmers to achieve their vision for farm to school in action. She is passionate about working with partners in Native American communities to uplift the many unique assets highlighted in their efforts for others to learn from; promoting indigenous knowledge and supporting community leadership as foundations to movement building throughout Indian Country. As a multicultural indigenous woman with roots in the Pueblo, Apache and Dine cultures, Alena is deeply committed to working in the SW region. Based out of Santa Fe, NM she is active in local/state food policy efforts as a community advocate and a mother, seeking to contribute to a healthier, more equitable future for our next generation.  

Athena Bernkopf
New York, New York 

Athena Bernkopf is a cross-pollinator flexing at the intersections of healing justice, land sovereignty, and black and queer liberation. Brooklyn born and bred, they have worked as a facilitator and organizer across New York City in roles such as cop watch and community safety trainer with Harlem Cop Watch; tenant rights and anti-displacement advocate at the Legal Aid Society; member of The Audre Lorde Project’s 3rd Space Wellness Collective; and project coordinator at the East Harlem-El Barrio Community Land Trust. They dream up cityscapes abundant in ancient trees taller and more common than skyscrapers, and are driven by a commitment to co-creating liberated futures with and for oppressed peoples.

Ashley Alvarez
Seattle, Washington 

Ashley is Unangax (Aleut) and Filipina on her mother’s side and Black on her father’s side. Her pronouns are She/Her. Ashley grew up in Bellingham Washington with her grandparents and was involved in her local Unangax/Aleut community through a Unangan dance group, Sngagim Axasniikangin (Dream Dancers).  As a first generation college student and Gates Millennium Scholar she attended Western Washington University and earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in Human Services. In 2015, she earned her Masters of Social Work degree from University of Washington with a concentration in Community-centered Integrative Practice.

Ashley has worked with a wide variety folks from youth of color, houseless community, and land & food workers. She currently works full time supporting Indigenous womxn in getting certifications in traditional land design and teaching (Permaculture) and once certified helping them find contract work. Ashley is also a farmer and co-owner of a Indigenous/POC owned farm called Indigenous Roots Farm. The farm produces indigenous plants mainly from the Pacific Northwest and, as of now, does workshops for Native students in the King County Area. Lastly, Ashley is also a co-host on a podcast called Fresh Out of Dough.

Ashley has a passion for land work, food, learning Unangam Tunuu, creating art and all things related to community uplifting/building. She is very excited and full of gratitude for the opportunity to be apart of the Whole Communities Fellowship. As a fellow, she hopes to contribute to the work many current and past activists, community members and ancestors have done in building up and advocating for community. Ashley’s current favorite quote is: “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Audre Lorde.

Christie Green
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Christie Green is a designer weaving the elegant and the edgy among land, art, ecology and people. Raised in Alaska, with an educational background in Cultural History from UC Berkeley and Landscape Architecture from the University of New Mexico, her award-winning land-based projects educate and inspire connection between people and place. Ms. Green founded Down to Earth, LLC, a landscape design-build firm in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1999 with the politically motivated intent to make edible gardens, native plant landscapes, repurposed materials and recycled wastewater more prolific than the two-car garage. Healthy food, water, soil, wildlife and habitat are the guiding principles behind Ms. Green’s regenerative work. Ms. Green activates dialogue and interaction about land, food and water through unlikely insertions and educates via interactive workshops and presentations locally and nationally. In 2014, Christie Green established radicle, a complementary adjunct to Down to Earth, offering a community forum for collaboration and artful activism. Ms. Green hunts and harvests for herself and her daughter, and offers curated, seasonal suppers as interactive, educational and sensual opportunity to connect to each other and place through food.

Claudio Rodriguez
Tuscon, Arizona

Claudio Rodriguez is a migrant from Sonora/Oaxaca who set roots in south side Tucson. He has over ten years experience organizing with Tierra Y Libertad Organization around migrant, environmental and food justice issues. As an ex-gang member he teaches and mentors youth to become leaders in their community and control narrative of their own stories. As the Community Education Coordinator for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona he oversees the development of school gardens as outdoor learning spaces that foster learning, respect and advocacy for a just food system.

Dolores Chandler
Efland, North Carolina

Dolores Chandler (they/them) is a mixed race-black, transmasculine and gender non-conforming, tender, tough human. They work as a radical social worker with over 10 years of experience as a facilitator, trainer, performer, writer, and angelic trouble maker. They entered into this work through drag kinging and gender performance which led them to community organizing. Dolores obtained their MSW in 2014 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dolores approaches their work through a violence prevention lens, as well as a racial and gender justice lens. Professionally, they have worked in sexual violence prevention education and supporting LGBTQ and POC youth leadership development. They currently live in Efland, North Carolina with their dog Tucker, a most handsome lad, and cat, Mona Luna Lovegood, a.k.a. Southern Snow Leopard.

Jeff Bean
Grand Blanc, Michigan

Jeff is a retired teacher who spent 9 years at Detroit Catholic Central and 25 years at Flint Community Schools. He is married to an Early Childhood Educator who works with parents and children affected by the water crisis in Flint and they have a wonderful son. His perspective is informed by the thousands of powerful souls who filtered through his classroom and taught his so much. He likes to learn and laugh and if he can do them both together he counts it as a good day.

Jodi Burshia
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Jodi Burshia (Laguna Pueblo, Diné, Hunkpapa Lakota, Assiniboine and Sioux) grew up on the Tohono O’otham reservation in southern Arizona. She attended the University of Arizona in Tucson where she earned a BA and MA.Ed before moving to Albuquerque to be closer to her home community of the Laguna Pueblo and to pursue doctoral studies. She loves working in the classroom and has been a classroom educator since 2000. She has a daughter that is the light of her life and keeps her on her toes! Jodi is a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership (ED Lead) at the University of New Mexico (UNM) and a member of the Native American Leadership in Education (NALE) cohort. In addition to doctoral studies, Jodi serves as an Adjunct English and Reading Instructor at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) where she works with Indigenous students to build and strengthen their reading, writing, and comprehension skills. She seeks comprehensive and multidisciplinary approaches to educational, linguistic, and social justice disparities, especially in Indigenous communities. In this role, she seeks to empower Indigenous students to envision and attain academic success as a step to pursuing their dreams and passions. As an educator and an educational activist, she has been able to collaborate with colleagues to bring awareness about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous women (MMIW)  issue to the SIPI campus.

Lena Easton-Calabria
Washington, D.C.

Lena Easton-Calabria is the Urban Conservation Associate for The Nature Conservancy in Washington, DC. In this position, Lena works to address stormwater and flooding challenges through the construction of green infrastructure, and has created a Community Designed Greenspace program. This program utilizes participatory processes to address conservation needs of cities including urban heat, stormwater, and human disconnection from nature. Lena was previously a National Geographic Young Explorer and conducted research in the Amazon rainforest, documenting traditional health systems and impacts of climate change and globalization in indigenous communities.

Lena holds a bachelor’s degree in Medical Anthropology and Global Health from the University of Washington and a Master’s of Science in Environmental Change and Management from the University of Oxford. Through her dissertation, We’re Collateral Damage: Petrochemical Impacts, Marginalization, and Resistance in Louisiana’s Industrial Corridor, Lena worked closely with environmental justice communities in Louisiana. In her free time, Lena enjoys biking, meditating, walking through woods, drawing, and meeting new people.

Leilani Mroczkowski
Boston, Massachusettes

Originally from the Midwest, Leilani is a queer, trans, Pilipinx earthworker and has been living, growing food, designing and installing landscapes, and teaching people of all ages how to grow through an environmental and racial justice lens Massachusetts since 2011. Leilani is passionate about community building, organizing, and fostering spaces that cultivate youth power. In addition to their food justice work at GreenRoots, they are an organizer with Boston PEAR (Pilipinx Education, Advocacy and Resources) and a member of the MA Commission on LGBTQ Youth.

Margot Seigle
Millerton, New York

Margot Seigle (they/them) is a community builder & cultural organizer who co-runs Linke Fligl (left wing in yiddish), a queer Jewish chicken farm and cultural organizing project that uses farming and gathering to grow a Jewish culture aligned with values of diasporism, anti-oppression and dreaming the world to come.  Margot deeply believes in the liberatory potential of song and is the co-creator of Let My People Sing!, a jewish singing retreat working to create spiritually & politically vibrant Jewish singing culture. They are also a co-owner at Random Harvest Market, where they help to uplift food producers historically marginzalized in the food system and to bring to life the community space. From 2010-2017, Margot was a member leader within Resource Generation and currently engages in wealth redistribution and reparations work on an individual and community-based level. They fill their time outside of work making music & magic, creating art, running around the woods, support-parenting, & shabbat-ing with dear friends.  Margot hails from the midwest and currently lives in the Hudson Valley on occupied Schagticoke land, but calls the Jewish diaspora home.

Minna Toloui
Berkeley, California

Minna Toloui (she/they) Minna is an East Bay Area, CA (Muwekma Oholone land) born-and-raised environmental justice educator and advocate. Her focus on the health and resiliency of our most marginalized communities stems from growing up near Chevron’s Richmond refinery and her family’s political refugee background. She is fiercely loyal to the East Bay and is working on ways to fight gentrification – especially stemming from ‘greening’ and ‘climate-smart’ development and policy. Minna has worked with organizations including Green for All, Center for Climate Change & Health, and Ecology Center. She is fluent in Persian and working on getting fluent in Spanish. Minna’s favorite things, outside of talking to people about justice, is being in the sun, laughing and making people laugh, eating good food, being in QTPOC community, performing terrible karaoke, learning about her family history, reading anything by adrienne marie brown, and spending time by the ocean.”

Muhjah Shakir
Tuskegee, Alabama

Dr. Muhjah Shakir is the founding president and CEO of Nature’s Garden for Victory and Peace, Inc., (NGVP), a non-profit and aspiring 25 acre Community Land Trust located in a lush forest like environment in Tuskegee, Alabama USA.  The manifestation of the property was the result of a vision and was spirit led. The development of NGVP represents the culmination of many years of study, social justice activism, and a lifelong pursuit of spiritual growth.  Using the land and the philosophy of Nature Culture the aim of NGVP is to create a holistic, intentional, and transformative learning community for the health and healing of the people and the land. This is achieved through the Arts defined as any human activity or occupation performed with mindful imagination, beauty, and social responsibility.

In pursuit of fulfilling this vision, in May 2016 Dr. Shakir retired after 16 years of teaching as a full time professor of Occupational Therapy at Tuskegee University. Muhjah Shakir has a B.S. degree in Occupational Therapy from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan; a M.A. degree in Cultural Anthropology; and a PhD degree In Transformative Studies both from the California Institute of Integral Studies located in San Francisco, California.  Dr. Shakir is a certified massage therapist and Reiki master, and plans to develop an “occupationally-based” academy for the healing arts.

Dr. Shakir is a devoted mother, grandmother, and supportive friend.  In 2012 she was ‘enstooled’ as a Queen Mother under the auspices of the Institute for Whole Life Healing. She is well traveled having visited four continents and is deeply appreciative of world cultures and the beauty in its diversity. She lives a spirited and reflective life dedicated to the restoration of the land and her people.

Rafael Aponte
Freeville, New York

Rafael Aponte was born and raised in the South Bronx, NY, and holds over fifteen years of experience working as a community activist, advocate, and educator. After graduating from Farm School NYC’s certificate program in urban agriculture in 2011, he relocated to Tompkins County and established Rocky Acres Community Farm in Freeville, NY in 2013. Rocky Acres is a 10-acre farm that focuses on education and the sustainable production of local vegetables, eggs, and meat for low-resourced communities. It combines the knowledge and spirit of social justice with the transformative healing aspects of nature and agriculture to promote equity in both urban and rural food systems. In 2014, Rafael began working with the Youth Farm Project, bringing his experience in day-to-day farm operations and after-school education. He served as director of the Youth Farm Project from 2016-2018, where he worked alongside youth, staff, and farmers to bring his experience to programing dedicated to equity, food justice, and livestock production. He also spearheaded the Harvest Box program, an affordable farmshare to serve the needs of underserved residents of Tompkins County. Rafael works in various leadership roles in the Ithaca community; he currently serves on the Tompkins County Food Policy Council and is a working group member for Black Lives Matter Ithaca (BLMI).

Rosa Gonzalez
Salinas, California

Rosa González is a senior fellow at the Movement Strategy Center and the founder of Facilitating Power, a consultancy designed to cultivate the practice & pedagogy of a living democracy. She works with organizations, foundations, and collaborative initiatives to build the capacity for culturally rooted, collaborative leadership to advance whole systems solutions. She is dedicated to fundamental shifts towards health & balance at all levels from the personal to the structural. She wrote the Framework on Community-Driven Climate Resilience Planning, in collaboration with climate justice leaders from around the country, and is working to deepen collaboration between the public and private sectors at the local level through multiple city-based initiatives. She is currently working on her first book, in collaboration with NationBuilder titled: SEED, HARVEST, WEAVE Facilitative Leadership for a Living Democracy.

Sasha Forbes
Lauderhill, Florida

Sasha Forbes is a Senior Program Advocate on the Resilient Communities team in the Healthy People & Thriving Communities program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). She provides capacity-building and technical assistance to communities focused on people-centered community development with equity, justice and the environment at heart. She collaborates with community partners on issues such as affordable housing, especially in the face of displacement and gentrification, equitable transit and park-oriented development, and collaborative cross-sector engagement. Sasha currently works on the Strong, Prosperous and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC), a national initiative focused on influencing policies, practices and investments that center racial equity, build a culture of health, address current environmental challenges and prepare for climate change. Prior to joining NRDC, Sasha worked for Reconnecting America in Washington, DC where she focused on federal, state, and local policies to integrate land use, transportation, and housing. Sasha holds a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Florida. She is based in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Siwatu-Salama Ra
Detroit, Michigan

Siwatu-Salama Ra is a mother and organizer who was born and raised in Detroit. She grew up in the environmental justice movement, and is currently the co-director of East Michigan Environmental Action Council. In addition to her work locally and across the country, Siwatu represented Detroit and the United States at global social justice and climate justice events in France, Turkey, and Senegal. She also led youth organizing and media justice work including the Young Educators Alliance and Detroit Future Youth. On March 1st, 2018 Siwatu was incarcerated for defending herself, her mother, and daughter. At the time she was six and a half months pregnant was forced to give birth to her beautiful son during her imprisonment. After nearly nine months at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Siwatu was released in order to appeal her unjust conviction and reunited with her family. She continues to fight for her freedom as well as well as organize for environmental justice and a world without prisons. FreeSiwatu.org.

Sudha Nandagopal
Seattle, Washington

Sudha Nandagopal is a connector, organizer, facilitator, strategist, and community powerbuilder working at the intersection of environmental, racial, and social justice issues. Sudha focuses on democratizing systems of power and shifting power outward to those who are most-affected by issues of inequity and injustice. Sudha co-created and led the City of Seattle’s Equity & Environment Initiative where she developed processes for collaborative governance to center the experiences of those most affected by environmental challenges. She facilitated a robust community-centered process with communities of color, immigrants, and refugees to create the first-in-the-nation Equity & Environment Agenda.

Sudha’s career in strategic communications, government, climate change work and electoral politics has built her expertise in applying racial equity frameworks to decision-making, especially as it relates to long term systems change, leadership, democracy-building, culture-shift, and changing the narrative. Sudha is a founding board member of OneAmerica Votes, a political organization that builds power for immigrant and refugee communities, elects people of color to office, and strengthens democracy and she has helped elect several progressive women of color to office. Grist.org recognized Sudha as one of “50 visionaries who will lead us to a more sustainable future.” Sudha recently began a new role as CEO of Social Venture Partners International, a global philanthropic network.

Tannia Esparza
Corrales, New Mexico

Tannia Esparza is a Queer Xicana raised in Santa Barbara, CA, who is proud to come from an immigrant family of brave women and grateful to have found home in the high desert of New Mexico. Tannia has been growing alongside justice movements for over 15 years working at the intersections of reproductive, gender and racial justice, and LGBTQ liberation. Most recently, Tannia completed a six year tenure as Executive Director at Young Women Untied, a New Mexico based reproductive justice organization led by women and people of color. Her writing can be found in TheTurnLeft.org Latina Magazine, NBC News, New Mexico’s Greenfire Times, and the Malpais Review. She enjoys the lessons found in simple everyday life rituals, and is currently trying her best to align all the parts of herself to her sacred purpose.

Viviana Graciela Rennella
Oakland, California

Viviana Graciela Rennella has more than twenty-five years of experience leading social justice organizations. She has focused on development, globalization, and transnational migration with Global Exchange, World Bridges, and Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action. Viviana migrated with her family from Argentina as political refugees. In launching several of these organizations, she honed expertise in organizational development and leadership training, which she has focused on as a consultant and coach with Wave Walker Consulting. Most recently, Viviana directs Windcall Institute, strengthening the resilience and long-term sustainability of organizers nationwide. Currently based in Oakland, CA, Viviana is passionate about ways for people and organizations to transform the spaces where they live and work into healthy and balanced environments that result in greater resiliency and movements that are truly transformative.

Yvette McDonnell

Yvette McDonnell, is an educator with over 17 years experience working in various areas of Student Affairs, in Higher Education.  Most recently Yvette has served as Dean of Community at Sterling College. Over the years, Yvette has developed a unique way to approach the conversation regarding equity, access, privilege and inclusion that allows for self-reflection, community building and trust to be established even before speaking about race, class, religion and/or  gender. “I have taught comprehensive cultural sensitivity/inclusive awareness classes and workshops that approaches the conversation of diversity, multiculturalism and inclusivity in a safe manner. This allows participants to dive deep, look within and be more productive as change agents, not only in their respective working system settings but as human beings in general”.

Most recently, Yvette worked with the Institute of Justice and New Hampshire State Representatives to get hair braiding deregulated in New Hampshire. The bill was passed into law during the summer of 2017. “Working on this social action endeavor has given the opportunity for many women of the African Diaspora (who tend to dominate this profession), to earn an a living for themselves and their families, without having to spend countless hours and sometimes up to $20,000 a year to obtain unnecessary cosmetology licensing”.

“My life’s work is to plant seeds and bring attention to hard to discuss topics, as it relates to marginalized people in our society. In the same breath, I want to help others see the connections we have with each other and our symbiotic relationship to the environment. I may not be able to sit in the shade of the tree that I planted, but I sit in the shade, under the tree that was planted for me and that is why my sense of responsibility is so strong to do the work that I do”.

Currently, Yvette is working on a decolonized curriculum for homeschoolers that focuses on the narrative of Black Americans in the United States.