Depending on the nature of the engagement, Allies for Change draws in a number of resource providers, including the Ally Training Partners whose biographies are featured below. All Allies for Change engagements are negotiated by Melanie Morrison, Allies for Change founder and director.
Ally Training Partners
Doing Our Own Work Trainers
Melanie S. Morrison
Melanie S. Morrison is founder and Executive Director of Allies for Change. She is a seasoned anti-oppression educator, activist, and author with 25 years experience designing and facilitating transformational group process. Melanie is passionate about working with individuals and organizations to better understand the connections between systemic oppressions and to nurture collaborative action and authentic relationship across differences such as race, age, gender, abilities, and sexual orientation. She believes it is possible to grow ever more aware of the depth and complexity of injustice without surrendering our capacity for compassion, joy, and hope.
Melanie has provided training and consultation for a wide variety of educational and non-profit organizations including Michigan State University’s College of Education, Yale Divinity School, The Understanding Race Project of Washtenaw County, and Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. She worked with Shayla Griffin, Ph.D., to design and facilitate trainings for Creating Culturally Proficient Communities, a five-year initiative on racial and economic justice in Ypsilanti Community Schools.
Melanie has been a keynote speaker at national and regional conferences addressing issues of racial, disability, and sexual justice. She served as consultant to the United Church of Christ's Sacred Conversation on Race, a national initiative launched in April 2008. She co-founded Doing Our Own Work, an intensive anti-racism program for white people, and has led this program for 22 consecutive years. With Allies for Change colleagues, Melanie launched Building Alliances, Sustaining Inclusive Communities in 2013; a social justice institute that invites leaders in justice-based organizations to address the intersections of race, disability, and class.
Melanie is the author of three books including The Grace of Coming Home: Spirituality, Sexuality, and the Struggle for Justice and she has written numerous articles for American and Dutch newspapers, journals, and magazines. She is working on a new book entitled Murder On Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham.
Prior to founding Allies for Change, Melanie was Executive Director of The Leaven Center, a retreat and study center in Lyons, Michigan dedicated to nurturing the relationship between spirituality and social justice. As a United Church of Christ pastor, she served three congregations; two in Michigan and one in the Netherlands. She is adjunct faculty at Chicago Theological Seminary.
Melanie has a Masters of Divinity from Yale Divinity School and a Ph.D. from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands. She lives in Okemos, Michigan with her life partner, April Allison.
Julia Watts Belser
Julia Watts Belser is a rabbi, scholar, activist, and anti-oppression educator passionate about working for racial justice, disability justice, and queer liberation. Julia is an assistant professor of Jewish Studies at Georgetown University. In her teaching and scholarship, she brings classic Jewish texts to bear on pressing questions of our contemporary moment: from reimagining the way we approach gender, sexuality, and disability to galvanizing communities of relative privilege to resist with environmental justice, racism, and violence.
A strong supporter of the intersections between spirituality, scholarship, and social change, Julia received her Ph.D. in Jewish Studies from UC Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union, as well as rabbinic ordination from the Academy of Jewish Religion California. She is the author of Power, Ethics, and Ecology in Jewish Late Antiquity: Rabbinic Responses to Drought and Disaster (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Her writing has appeared in The AJS Review, The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Worldviews: Global Religion, Culture, and Ecology, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, and The Journal of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics, as well as a variety of popular venues: Tikkun Magazine, Midstream: A Journal of Jewish Thought, and Fireweed: A Feminist Quarterly.
Active in disability justice and global health organizing, Julia is the co-author of A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities (Hesperian Foundation, 2007), a grassroots guide designed to help women with disabilities organize in their local communities to challenge the root causes of poverty, gender violence, and disability discrimination. Developed in collaboration with disabled women in 42 countries, the book has been translated into 11 languages and is now used around the world. She serves as core faculty on the Summer Institute of Disability and Theology, and has recently written Jewish Values and Disability Rights, a Jewish community guide on disability rights that is forthcoming from the Jewish Funders Network.
Shayla R. Griffin
Shayla R. Griffin, PhD, MSW, is a graduate of Spelman College. She received her PhD from the joint program in Social Work and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor. Shayla’s work focuses on race, class, intergroup dialogue, and student/teacher relationships in high schools. Her dissertation, When the Black Kids Moved In: Racial Reproduction and the Promise of Intergroup Dialogue in an Exurban High School, was a two-year ethnographic study of race and class relations between students and teachers in an integrated Midwestern school.
Shayla has extensive experience in dialogue facilitation, diversity training, and social justice education. She has worked with high school students, college students, and over 500 K-12 teachers around issues of race, class, gender, & sexual orientation. She has developed and facilitated student dialogue programs and social justice professional development trainings in over 15 school districts and charter schools in Southeastern, MI including Ann Arbor Public Schools, Ypsilanti Public Schools, Lincoln Consolidated Schools, Oakland County Schools, and Warren Consolidated Schools. She is currently director of Creating Culturally Proficient Communities, a five-year initiative on racial and economic justice in Ypsilanti Community Schools. In addition, she has consulted with a number of non-profit organizations around issues of social justice including Michigan Voice, the Center for Progressive Leadership, the Ruth Ellis Center, Building Partnerships USA, Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, and the Ford Foundation.
She has taught courses on race, social justice, and diversity at the University of Michigan for the Program on Intergroup Relations, the School of Social Work, and the Department of Anthropology. She has been the recipient of a number of research grants including the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the Andrew W. Woodrow Mellon Graduate Fellowship in Humanities. She is currently a post-doctoral research fellow with the Center for the Study of Black Youth in Context at the University of Michigan’s School of Education. She resides in Detroit, Michigan.
Rachel E. Harding
Rachel E. Harding is a historian, writer and consultant specializing in religious traditions of the Afro-Atlantic diaspora and the intersections of faith, culture and activism in contemporary social justice movements. She earned a PhD from the University of Colorado in 1997 and is author of numerous published essays and a book on Afro-Brazilian religion, A Refuge in Thunder: Candombléé and Alternative Spaces of Blackness (Indiana Univ. Press, 2000). In A Refuge of Thunder, she examines how enslaved Africans utilized candombléé to create spaces of refuge and resistance in 19th century Brazil.
Rachel is consulting writer for the Beloved Communities Initiative, a project which documents organizations around the country connecting compassionate social change with spirituality and ritual. She was a featured scholar and consultant for the PBS series "This Far By Faith" on African-American religion. She is also a poet and has published work in Callaloo, Chelsea, Feminist Studies, The International Review of African-American Art, Hambone, and in several anthologies.
In 1998, Rachel joined the staff of the Veterans of Hope Project – an interdisciplinary initiative on religion, healing, and participatory democracy, based at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado. From 2000 through 2004, she was executive director of the Project and is currently lead consultant. Rachel is also Assistant Professor of Indigenous Spiritual Traditions in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado Denver
She is currently preparing a manuscript – based on her mother's unfinished memoir – about southern African-American mysticism and the role of compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation in social justice activism. Rachel lives in Denver where she writes from her home.
Melinda Haus, M.S.W., is founding director of (Justice Moves. She was born into a family and community of activists that helped form the foundation for her life’s passion working for social justice. After acquiring a disability at the age of 15, she learned quickly about the oppression people with disabilities face and later went on to work at Michigan Protection and Advocacy Services, Inc. and Michigan Disability Rights Coalition.
Melinda has also been involved in many collaborations addressing injustice such as co-facilitating an institute on the intersections of race, class, and disability with Allies for Change and improving domestic and sexual violence services for people with disabilities and LGBTQIA individuals through the Partners Against Violence and Injustice in Michigan and the I Am for Survivors projects with the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Additionally, Melinda has experience working with the LBGTQIA community through her work at the Michigan State University LBGT Resource Center and serving on a national committee for the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce. As a white woman, Melinda is continuously examining white privilege and racial justice through educational opportunities, but most importantly through authentic relationships with people and communities of color; all of which have gifted her with personal growth, education, and a commitment to racial justice.
Rahnee K. Patrick
Rahnee K. Patrick is Director of Independent Living at Access Living in Chicago. She is a local and national leader in ADAPT, a disability justice organization that engages in nonviolent direct action to advocate for systemic and organizational change. As an anti-oppression educator, Rahnee specializes in leadership training for young adults and has been instrumental in mentoring a new generation of disability activists across the country.
In 2008, she was the recipient of the Paul Hearne Award of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD.) Since 2008, she has served on AAPD’s board of directors. A member of the direct action group ADAPT and Not Dead Yet, Rahnee is also a co-founder of Feminist Response in Disability Activism (FRIDA).
Rahnee graduated in 1996 from Indiana University at South Bend, where she co-founded Students Together Active and Respected (STAAR), a group of students with disabilities. Shortly after graduating, she became involved in the independent living and disability rights movements, primarily through ADAPT. In 2007, the Governor appointed her to the Illinois State Advisory Council on the Education of Children with Disabilities.
Rahnee is an award-winning writer whose short stories have been published and aired on radio. She is the oldest of four children, the daughter of a Thai immigrant mother and a European American father. She and her husband Mike Ervin celebrated their sixth anniversary in 2012.
Dionardo Pizaña is the diversity and personnel specialist for Michigan State University Extension. He has 19 years experience developing, teaching, and facilitating diversity education programs through Michigan State University Extension, Adrian College, and Siena Heights University. He is a nationally-recognized, highly sought-after multicultural consultant, speaker and trainer.
Dionardo has been active in grass-roots community organizations for years, working to bring scholars and speakers to local schools, developing and presenting powerful community educational events, and working with local projects that provide multicultural childrens’ books and training in elementary schools.. He has received numerous awards that recognize his life-long commitment to social justice, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award in Michigan’s Lenawee County.
Dionardo’s work as an activist and educator is grounded in his conviction that deep and lasting institutional change requires an equally strong commitment to nurturing authentic relationships across difference. He believes that authenticity is far more than mere friendship or working affiliation. It is based on trust, honesty, risk-taking, mutual responsibility, humility, and acceptance that tension in relationships is a necessary component that leads to growth.
With colleagues at Michigan State University Extension, Dionardo will be leading a groundbreaking cultural competency series in 2008-2009 entitled Developing Multicultural Competencies from the Inside Out: Skills for Lifelong Learning.
As a lifelong learner around issues related to social justice and change, Dionardo has participated in foundational learning opportunities such as cultural bridges, VISIONS training, Opening Doors and The People’s Institute. His ongoing commitment to issues of social justice continues a legacy of community and social justice work inspired by his parents and grandparents. He lives with his wife Denise in Tecumseh, MI and is deeply connected to his daughter Kristina, his son Carlos, his daughter-in-law Kim, and his three grandchildren, Aiyana, Joaquin and Mateo.
Monique Savage, MSW, has been the director of the Counseling Services at Adrian College for the past 23 years. She has taught classes in the Sociology department and the History department. Monique has 25 years of experience developing, lecturing and presenting multicultural and diversity programs throughout the country. She specializes in issues that impact African American women and is much sought after as a speaker.
She was born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised on a small farm in rural Western Michigan. Monique attended Olivet College where she earned a BA degree and received her MSW from the University of Michigan. She has worked for the Adrian Training School (then the Girl’s Training School) and the State of California Department of Social Services. She has partnered with Michigan State University Extension diversity training team for the past 10 years and is a frequent presenter at the Leaven Center in Lyons, Michigan, a place that promotes issues of peace and justice. She co-founded the Woodson /Wheatley children’s reading program and the Christ Temple Children’s writing club.
She has been the recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award award, the Hispanic Heritage award, the Phenomenal Woman award, and the NAACP Humanitarian Award.
Allyson S. Bolt
Allyson S. Bolt is a social worker, educator, and advocate for social justice. She has extensive experience working with survivors of domestic violence and with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities, both in Grand Rapids and in Lansing. She currently works with people who are homeless, providing case management, employment seeking assistance, and group facilitation for people experiencing loss and trauma.
Allyson furthered her work in social justice advocacy at The Leaven Center, an organization committed to nurturing the relationship between spirituality and social justice. It was in her work there that she realized the urgent and critical work of continuous examination of her own privilege and that this work must be done from a place of love, hope, and patience. She believes that if we stay stuck, afraid, or silent, we contribute to the oppression. In her spheres of influence, Allyson is committed to uprooting the evils of racism and all forms of oppression. She has a Masters in Social Work from Michigan State University and currently resides in East Lansing, Michigan.
Hillary Keeney has been facilitating dialogue and transformative group process on issues of oppression and social justice for ten years. She has worked in the nonprofit field in the areas of violence against women and youth leadership development, including serving as Program Manager/Director of Training at Public Allies Los Angeles from 2005-2007. Since 2004 Hillary has been a member of the leadership team of AWARE-L.A. (Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere-Los Angeles), where she co-developed AWARE-L.A.’s workshop series on Radical White Community/Radical White Identity, and was one of the lead facilitators of its Summer Institute in 2009. Attending Doing Our Work at Leaven in 2001 was Hillary’s first introduction to white anti-racist dialogue spaces, and this experience solidified her commitment to racial justice work.
Hillary’s commitment to social justice and spiritual practice were born at the same moment, when at 17 years old her father, brother, and maternal grandmother died together in a car accident. This resulted in a profound shift in her relationship to life, and eventually led her to practice Buddhism at the Zen Center of Los Angeles where she is currently a member. As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Hillary’s relationship to social justice work was transformed when she travelled with a group of students to South Africa with her professor, Nesha Haniff, to conduct HIV/AIDS health education rooted in the pedagogical approach of Paulo Freire. This experience, combined with a recent return to the Women’s Studies classroom as adjunct faculty at California State University in Long Beach, sparked Hillary’s passion for creating pedagogy that transforms oppression, invites creativity, and affirms our inherent humanity.
Hillary received her BA in Women’s Studies and Masters of Social Work from the University of Michigan. Currently a doctoral candidate in Transformative Inquiry at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), Hillary conducts research on engaged Buddhism and the relationship between Zen and transformative pedagogy. She is a Frederick P. Lenz Fellow in Buddhist Studies and American Culture and Values at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.
Emily Joye McGaughy
Emily Joye is a Masters candidate at the University of Southern California's School of Social Work. She is an alumna of The Pacific School of Religion and Catawba College. She was ordained to pastoral ministry in 2010 and served as Associate Pastor of First Congregational Church of Battle Creek from 2010-2015. She works part time for Allies for Change and White Men as Full Diversity Partners.
Her work as a facilitator, counselor, chaplain and pastor have convinced her that the beliefs and behaviors that most threaten us as individuals, cultures, society and species can be changed--but only with a lot of intentional unlearning and relearning, relentless honesty, relational and communal accountability and intimacy, compassion, forgiveness, and most importantly, love.
Emily Joye grew up in the east side suburbs of Los Angeles, California. Raised by progressive parents, Emily Joye was encouraged early on to take racial realities in the United States seriously. But it wasn't until she came into an awareness of systemic racism in general and white privilege in particular that the work of anti-racism became a matter of personal, not just conceptual, investment. Today she believes that the only hope for global peace and repentance/healing of the American Soul is in the struggle for racial justice.
EJ is part of a blended, multiracial, multigenerational, queer family that continues to blow her mind and heart wide open. She loves collage, painting, cooking, deep ecology, writing and dancing.
Karen Pace is a program developer, educator and facilitator with Michigan State University Extension and her work is grounded in social and economic justice and change. She has worked as part of talented and diverse teams for more than 20 years to create efforts that address root causes of complex issues at the personal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural levels. She and her colleagues have provided hundreds of impactful programs and processes for thousands of people across the United States and her work has extended to youth and family agencies, schools, universities, juvenile justice organizations, faith-based communities, businesses, foundations, state and federal agencies and other groups.
As a white woman, Karen believes that a pathway to deep change is a lifelong process of learning and action focused on addressing white privilege, racial healing and racial equity – as well as the intersections and complexities of identities and forms of oppression across gender, class, disabilities, sexual orientation and other differences.
Karen’s expertise and experiences also include addressing issues of bullying, bias and harassment, building authentic relationships and partnerships across differences, and creating safe and inclusive environments that support the healthy development of children, youth, adults, organizations and communities. She is a published author, her print and video curriculum materials are used by a wide variety of organizations across the country and she has received numerous individual and team awards for her work.
Karen is grateful to the activists and teachers who have come before her and on whose shoulders she stands – as well as to the mentors and friends who continue to challenge and support her process of learning, growth and development. Karen’s life-work is centered in love, hope and healing as she works in “fiercely loving ways” to dismantle all forms of oppression at the personal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural levels. While she possesses extensive knowledge and experiences around issues of oppression, she sees herself as a committed and passionate learner who facilitates dialogue and discussion in powerful and transformative ways. She brings to this work great strength and powerfulness balanced with great openness and humility. Karen is honored to be part of the team of gifted educators and facilitators who comprise Allies for Change.
Chris Paige is an organizer, educator, and writer who is particularly concerned with race, gender, and sexuality within the context of faith communities. She was on the staff of the award-winning progressive, ecumenical Christian magazine The Other Side from 1994 to 2003, including several years as publisher. Chris has been involved in organizing around issues of sexuality, gender, and racial identity for more than 10 years.
Having come out as a lesbian in 1994, Chris has been involved in LGBT faith-based organizing and education for more than a decade. With her partner, Beth Stroud, Chris spent several years (2003-2005) weathering a nationally publicized church trial and judicial process, which resulted in the loss of Beth's ordination credentials.
In 1999, Chris founded TransFaith Online to share in one place the few resources she could find at that time regarding the experience of faith from a transgender perspective. TransFaith was relaunched in late 2007 and now contains links to hundreds of resources on the internet.
Despite being raised in a liberal-minded, white household, Chris experienced an awakening in 2000 (at an LGBT Christian event, called WOW2000), making her aware of the on-going dynamics of racism among progressives. Chris has written about that experience and continues to work to educate others. She is a certified trainer in the Doing Our Own Work seminar, which is designed for anti-racist white people. Chris's experience as a foster-parent also informs her understanding of racism and systemic oppression.
In addition to her continuing work as an educator, Chris also works as a freelance consultant (www.ready-set-go.biz) to various small businesses and non-profit organizations with particular emphasis on website development.
Lois McCullen Parr
Lois McCullen Parr believes that the spiritual work of understanding how all life is connected begins with compassion and ends with justice; she is committed to social justice by the grounding of her faith. As a writer, pastor, and activist, Lois has written about and worked for justice at the intersections of faith, race, class, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, and labor.
A graduate of Otterbein College and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Lois has additional training in mediation, community organizing, and group dialogue. An Ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church, she has served congregations and worked as an activist for justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. Lois currently serves as Regional Organizer for Reconciling Ministries Network, mobilizing United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform the Church and world into the full expression of God’s inclusive love; in that role, she is also a trainer for “Building An Inclusive Church.”
Lois found her life changed by participation in Doing Our Own Work, and continues to grow and learn into living with an anti-racist identity as a white person. Lois believes that examining the ways in which racism harms white people -- and speaking the truth about systems of power, privilege, and oppression -- is critical to our nation’s need for race reparations. In addition to training with Allies for Change, Lois facilitates in Ypsilanti Community Schools with Dr. Shayla Griffin for “Creating Culturally Proficient Communities,” a five-year educator project on racial and economic justice.
Diane S. Schmitz
Diane S. Schmitz, is an educator, minister, and writer with over 20 years of experience designing and leading transformational group processes. Her primary focus is working with predominantly white communities to increase the awareness and knowledge needed to be effective partners with communities of color in dismantling racism.
Diane has 17 years of experience in higher education, serving as a director in Student Development at Seattle University, with focus areas in management, equity and inclusion work, support for marginalized students, university leadership, and teaching graduate-level social justice courses in an adjunct capacity. She is an experienced designer, presenter and facilitator of webinars, seminars, workshops, trainings and conference presentations on multiple topics.
As an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, Diane has a specialized ministry in racial justice that has included leading workshops, retreats, and co-facilitating training for churches seeking to become anti-racist, multicultural communities. She helps church communities to gain insight about how being socialized in a "white racial frame" has created attitudes and beliefs that shape the church and society and daily produce harmful impacts on communities of color. She believes the connection between spirituality and justice is a vital one to nurture.
Diane has a Masters of Divinity and an Ed.D. in Leadership from Seattle University. Her dissertation examined Whiteness in Jesuit Higher Education. She currently lives, works, and travels with her partner, Bill, in a 21-foot travel trailer which provides the opportunity to focus full-time on racial justice work. She blogs about spirituality, justice and living and working on the road at sophiasongs.com. Her home base is Seattle, Washington.
Diane believes every day provides an opportunity to dismantle some of her internalized white dominance through staying awake, practicing humility, taking personal responsibility for her learning and being accountable to communities of color. Her work for social justice is motivated by a deep belief in the capacity for change in individuals, organizations, and communities.
Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom designs and facilitates engaging learning environments for young people and adults. He currently works as the director of programs at Experience Institute, a Chicago-based organization that develops experiential learning programs for college students and working professionals that combine the best of study abroad and co-op programs.
Aaron has come to understand that racism is present everywhere and, while it does not oppress white people, it does damage to them by making them complicit in the oppression of people of color. He sees working with people of color to dismantle white supremacy as therefore critically important as a way back to his own humanity.
He received his bachelors degree in social sciences from the University of Michigan in 1995, where he created an individualized concentration to study issues of social justice and the role of education in social change. He returned to University of Michigan for his masters of arts in education and secondary teaching certification in 2000. He lives in Chicago.
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