When people ask how I came to do my work, I often tell an amusing anecdote about volunteering to work on a newsletter published by students in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and being recruited to a new job while sitting on a purple couch. However, as with most things in life, the truth is more complex than that. I would say I came to this space by taking a chance, by following a desire and curiosity to find more, to do more to create change. I would also say my upbringing in Minnesota had an impact, teaching me to care deeply for others, to recognize the humanity in everyone, and to honor the beauty of living things.
I grew up believing in kindness and courage. I also grew up believing in books—in the magic of worlds that exist on something as thin and fragile as a piece of paper. I came to Emerson for higher education and changed my major several times. I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I will probably never be able to answer that question with a definitive response. When I think of why I do the work I do and how I came to do it, I think about the moments in my life where there has been uncertainty or pain. In those moments, I turned to books, to the solace and hope and power of words. I have deep gratitude for words to share stories and connect beyond the page. It is through writing that I found my place, and I admire those who use words in community with others to honor humanity and find joy.
Alayne Fiore is Director of Operations and Special Assistant to the Vice President for the Social Justice Center at Emerson College.
My journey to arrive here began with my search for a fulfilling feeling of community. While I engaged in meaningful work throughout my life as a student activist and volunteer, working in the nonprofit sector, and then leading Emerson students through alternative break experiences, I continued to find myself feeling like an outsider without a tether or roots. I craved a sense of belonging and community where I could embrace my full self while continuing to grow, learn, and struggle for liberation. The models I had to learn from at the time encouraged me to keep my activism and community engagement independent from the rest of my life in a framework of “work-life balance”—as if I could separate who I am from what I do and why. When I reached past the notion that social justice was something disembodied from myself, I was able to embrace solidarity, organizing, and community as my ways of being and moving in the world.
Several years ago, I began planting my roots here in Boston, finding my political home with groups and individuals fighting for racial justice, immigrant rights, abolition, disability justice, and LGBTQIA+ liberation. These relationships are now at the center of my work and my spirit. It is through these trusting, open friendships and comradeships that I found, embraced, and continue to discover my own nonbinary and queer identities, and grapple with and challenge my whiteness, non-disabled status, and US citizenship and the unearned privileges they afford me in this settler-colonial and capitalist society. This work has taught me curiosity, humility, self-awareness, and the importance of joy. I have embraced the fact that the more I learn, the more I know I don’t know.
Today, I seek liberation through a lived practice of radical solidarity that includes constant learning and growing, striving to embody my values, being accountable to my communities, showing up with my loved ones and comrades, creative practice, and reclaiming my own humanity. I approach my work with the belief that the fields of learning that will allow for social transformation are three-fold: learning in and with community culture and community-generated knowledge, challenging and expanding yourself through dialogue with people, and deep un-learning and personal transformation through self-reflection and praxis.
Solidarity is an ongoing practice that must be demonstrated through action and relationships. In that spirit, I invite you into community with me so that we may move together in solidarity toward justice, queer potentialities, and radical social transformation.
Ashley is Assistant Director of Community Engagement for the Elma Lewis Center in the Social Justice Center at Emerson College.
My first language and teacher was that of nature; the wide skies of Minnesota and Big Sky Country (Montana, the home of my grandparents), the flat sweeping horizon of Michigan corn & soy fields and freshwater lakes, and the crowded evergreen hills of Harold Parker State Forest. Growing up with chickens, sheep, honeybees, and gardens, I learned about sufficiency & abundance, how to listen deeply, and about the inevitability of change. I watched as the fruit trees that I planted in our front yard grew and bore fruit, and I learned about patience.
My second language and teacher was creativity- my mother’s oil paintings, my father’s darkroom photography, Maxine’s quilts and June’s handmade jewelry, summer afternoons at the Hatch Shell for live blues & folk music, countless hours in the kitchen filled with the warmth of family & the scent of spices. It was fashion design and slam poetry that gave me space to tell my story throughout my youth, to make sense of loss and uncertainty, dysphoria and hurt. It was creative practice that gave me a sense of possibility in healing, hope, and joy and which offered the affirmation that I had a story to tell.
In my first year of college I found language for justice, power, and liberation- language that my body had yearned for and which asked me to uncover new parts of myself and my lineages as I learned it. Relational community organizing and community work became my practices towards justice, and they wove together with my understandings of self, the world, and the power of the creative arts. It has been through weaving that I have become an abolitionist, a freedom dreamer, an artist, and an educator. I continue to grow and expand every day as I allow ritual, accountability, de-assimilation, embodiment, community, and the arts to continue to guide me and teach me.
I come to the Elma Lewis Center informed by all of these and with over a decade of experience working with young people in educational, community, and creative spaces. I believe deeply in the power of the creative arts to transform, and in the ways in which story and community open up spaces for justice. I am ever-rooted in my belief in abundance- that there is enough for all of us—and in change—that the collective story that we are telling is one that will lead us ever nearer to wholeness, to liberation in our lifetimes.
I identify as a biracial woman of color who was born and raised in beautiful Colorado. I’m a first-generation student and earned my degree from Colorado State University. Throughout my studies I have found my passion for understanding the complexities of how communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by power-based interpersonal violence. I am invested in supporting survivors of color who are navigating a patriarchal system that has been designed to work against survivors. I believe in having an intersectional approach to advocacy and have been providing confidential trauma-informed care to survivors of power-based interpersonal violence for over 5 years in various positions and settings within higher education. I am excited to bring my knowledge and warm energy to the Healing & Advocacy Collective as a confidential Survivor Advocate. Some of my interests include attending live music gatherings, going on road trips, and getting the chance to express my creative side by playing with clay and throwing on the wheel.
Courtney Kavanah is Survivor Counselor/Advocate with the Healing & Advocacy Collective in the Social Justice Center at Emerson College.
My experiencing and witnessing systemic inequities drive my commitment to anti-oppression and liberation work. I believe in the transformative power of communities coming together in the service of work that holds space with one another, reduces harm, creates material change, and fosters individual and collective liberation for people on the margins. I have been an advocate and prevention educator for over 15 years. I enjoy exploring, learning, reading, being in nature, walking with my dog Truman, and facilitating trauma-informed yoga. One of my favorite quotes is, “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” (Aboriginal Activists Group, Queensland, 1970’s).
Melanie is Director and Counselor/Advocate with the Healing & Advocacy Collective in the Social Justice Center at Emerson College.
I am originally from Los Angeles, but spent about eight years in rural Vermont before pursuing my Master of Science in Public Health Education at the University of South Florida in Tampa. During my time at Marlboro College, as a student and as a staff member, I learned about the ways in which narrative shapes the world around us and the culture we create on campus. My advocacy and health and sexuality education work are rooted in reshaping narratives around PBIV to be more trauma-responsive, medically accurate, and justice-oriented. My goal is to work with staff, faculty, and students to create a world where people can safely experience joy, pleasure, and belonging. I enjoy reading books and comics, watching movies and TV shows, and being in the air through rock climbing and circus aerials.
Robyn Manning-Samuels is Survivor Counselor/Advocate with the Healing & Advocacy Collective in the Social Justice Center at Emerson College.
I have been in awe of the power of stories and silences my entire life. I grew up in the Tijuana-San Diego border region. Among my first teachers were elders who, forced to flee violence in their countries, had recently arrived in the United States from Vietnam, the Philippines, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Mexico. In this little place on the planet where people work hard for the American Dream, we knew that everything would not automatically be okay. My childhood city has walls and armed officers surveilling a border. It also has miles of Pacific Ocean where sea life knows no borders. This can teach us to look up for another horizon, something organically life giving, to ask what is possible?
Our elders’ kitchen tables, the most joyful wise places I have experienced, taught me the responsibility of holding spaces to deeply listen. This listening is not just a matter of love — it is about survival. Here, I first learned that we make policies, practices and decisions based on stories we hear and share.
For thirty years, and in the last decade in Boston, I’ve been dedicated to what stories can do to disrupt structural violence. I worked as a human rights journalist in the Americas, Africa and Asia; an historian of legacies of slavery; faculty in history, Writing Studies and art; and in ongoing collaboration at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and with desplazadas and community leaders in Colombia.
In our world’s most powerful knowledge constructing spaces, people most impacted by violence rarely share stories in their own words for listeners they identifiy as important. I contributed to this silence by publishing stories that “spoke for” instead of by and with. This inspired my dedication to story circles in visual and performance art, music, written word and other forms, led by people with deep knowledge about humanity, resilience, healing and community. We hold space for radical listening -- building authentic relationships to co-create paths for social justice and liberation.
Tam (Tamera) Marko is Executive Director of the Elma Lewis Center in the Social Justice Center at Emerson College.