Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson and Reverend Allyn Maxfield-Steele
Standing together at the helm of the Highlander Research & Education Center. Working in the heart of Tennessee for the causes of justice, equality, and sustainability.
Featured lessonA Legacy of Combating Rural Poverty
Woodard Henderson, a self-proclaimed working-class Affrilachian (Black Appalachian), was born and raised in southeast Tennessee. She has been a Highlander board member since 2012 and co-executive director since 2017. All along, she has been an activist on issues of mountaintop removal mining and environmental racism, with a focus in central and southern Appalachia, and an active participant in the Movement for Black Lives. Community organizing is a central aspect of her work—she is a former staff member of the Chicago Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee History Project and a past member of the United Students Against Sweatshops, the largest anti-sweatshop community group in the U.S. and Canada.
Rev. Maxfield-Steele is an ordained minister and has served congregations in Juneau, Alaska, and Nashville and Springfield, Tennessee. In his pastoral work, he has looked at such issues as radical pastoral care, institutional transformation, toxic white masculinities, and liberation-driven ministry, especially as they affect rural and small-town communities. And in his vast experience as an educator and organizer, he has supported front-line struggles in Nashville, and throughout the South and Appalachia, as well as solidarity struggles with Thai people’s movements. He was raised in Texas, Germany, and North Carolina and joined Highlander’s board in 2011.
Together, Woodard Henderson and Maxfield-Steele ensure that Highlander serves as a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building. They strive to build on a legacy that began when the center was founded in 1932—from the early days with the Montgomery bus boycott to today, with issues ranging from democratic participation to economic justice, for youth, immigrants, and the underserved.
“Young people are rising to meet the moment and looking for ways to engage 21st-century realities. We carry a responsibility to join with their righteous anger and continue to identify opportunities for collective long-term strategy building.”
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