Thank you to the leadership and facilitators:

CoThinkk is hosting a leadership program that is meant to amplify innovative projects/initiatives of community leaders through strengthening effective “Alliance-Building & Collaboration.” This leadership series is meant to create a safe space to support collaboration, peer coaching, and shared learning opportunities.

  • Former Grassroots Community Organizer, ED of SC Fair Share
  • Former Advisor to the President of the United States on ACA
  • Former Member of the South Carolina House of Representatives
  • Hip Hop Activist and Historian
  • op 50 Progressive Activists Changing America (Huffington Post)
  • Conducted more than 10,000 hours of leadership development training
  • Certified Leadership Speaker, Trainer & Coach with John Maxwell Team
  • Certified Diversity Healthcare Management Expert

Nicole Townsend
Email Nicole

Nicole grew up in rural Missouri. “My family moved to Missouri in the 40s because of the land, my grandfather was a sharecropper. We grew up growing our own food and really having this appreciation and love for the land,” she explained. It was also how her family made money, by selling produce they grew, helping others take care of their land, and teaching people about the land.


  • Nicole moved to Asheville 11 years ago when she started high school.
  • Prior to working at Dogwood Alliance, Nicole worked in youth development as an Education Director at The Cindy Platt Boys & Girls Club in Transylvania County.
  • Part of Nicole’s work as an Education Director was working with kids on gardening and healthy habits. The organization produces 1000-2000 pounds of fresh produce every summer, which they share with the kids while teaching them how to grow their own food.
  • She also coordinated a youth program, teaching kids about water quality and policy as it relates to climate change and environmental sustainability.
  • Executive Director, Blueprint NC
  • Experience in leadership development, campaign planning, coalition building and community organization 20+ years of experience focused on civic campaigns to raise the minimum wage, publicly fund judicial elections and implement voter registration on the same day
  • Chairman of the Board and founding member of the Fertile Ground Food Cooperative in southeast Raleigh.
  • Awards: Youth Organizing Institute, Women Advance, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations.

Tracey Greene-Washington

  • Founder of CoThinkk
  • Director of special initiatives at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust
  • Program Officer for the economic development of the community at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and was instrumental in creating a strategy to address the state’s racial and gender wealth gap in North Carolina
  • Program Officer and Director of Learning and Evaluation for the Collaborator of Rural National Founders for eight years, focusing on systemic change initiatives in rural communities of color.
  • Director of technical assistance and training for the Association of Community Development Corporations of South Carolina, where she provided support to more than 45 community development corporations throughout the state
  • Incredible changemaker and human!

Lauren Rayburn

  • She has a passion for service and research.
  • Enjoy serving as a resource and supporting visionaries move ideas into action steps.
  • She loves to find creative ways to take advantage of grants and other resources (such as networks!) To create a greater impact on the achievement of objectives.
  • She moved to WNC 4 years ago to start Rayburn Farm with her husband and son; serves as a part-time farm accountant + financial analyst / planner.
  • Professional training in environmental sciences; He currently works as an environmental planner with the USDA Rural Development.
  • Founder and lead consultant for Tepeyac Consulting
  • She is originally from Chicago where she began her political education trying to celebrate the Mexican, Irish and Puerto Rican cultures that so influenced her life
  • Marisol earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Loyola University Chicago and her Master in Social Work (MSW) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work
  • She served as the Advocacy Director for El Pueblo, a NC statewide advocacy organization that worked on public policy issues at the local, state, and national levels. She was a steering committee member of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform National Strategy Council (2007); and led statewide efforts to organize mass demonstrations for immigrant justice in 2006 and 2007
  • Marisol believes that transformative practice comes through constant self-examination, compassionate conflict, and visionary action by both individuals and communities.

Jada Monica Drew 

Visit Jada’s Website 

  • Jada Monica Drew has over 10 years of successful and impactful leadership and diversity development. Recognized as a United Nations DPINGO speaker and featured in Made in Greensboro, her leadership and diversity background in higher education and with a national equity organization includes transforming companies towards greater effectiveness, efficiency, and equity. Now a consultant with Social Designs Consulting, who serves as a catalyst for growth, her clients include several organizations in the private, public, and non-profit sectors.

  • Jada has supported the implementation of the Diversity Plan, campus-wide Understanding Racism training, and leading the formation of the Black Alumni Advisory Board at Guilford College. She has also worked to cultivate resource groups with Leadership for Educational Equity while serving as a Director of Diversity Equity & Inclusion. In collaboration with national educators, Jada directs the international Youth Action Project of the White Privilege Conference.

  • In addition to her extensive leadership and diversity experience, Jada is a certified True Colors International and a certified Intercultural Development Inventory trainer. She also serves as a co-chair of the Other Voices Greensboro Chamber of Commerce Program and is a board member of both ArtsGreensboro and American Friends Service Committee.

  • She is the author of Revolutionize Now: Creative Leadership & Action for Social Change and More Than Enough: Step Into the Next Level of You. When she’s taking a break from speaking, training, and traveling, Jada enjoys moments spent with family, eating savory meals, and laughing uncontrollably.  Connect with her @jadamonicadrew

Contact Emelia at 

Emelia Cowans-Taylor, Communications Strategist, supports partners one-on-one with writing, messaging, and editing support, media relations, coaching, and strategic communications planning through a shared narrative frame. Her 20-year career in communications includes 10 years as a broadcast journalist in several news markets throughout the Midwest and the Southeast and 12 years as the Assistant Communications Director for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is in downtown Raleigh. She holds degrees in Communications and African-American studies from Indiana University and a Masters of Strategic Communications from American University in Washington, D.C.

Welcome 2017-2018 Leadership Cohort!

Abel Gonzalez Bueno

Abel Gonzalez Bueno is a Hñähñu indigenous immigrant from el Valle del Mezquital, in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico.  He has lived in North Carolina for fourteen years, where he lives with his wife, their three children and extended family in the Emma community.  He is dedicated passing on the Hñähñu language to honor the legacy of his grandmother.

Julio Tordoya

My name is Julio Tordoya; I was born in Peru where I studied education and graphic design. In 2006 I moved to Charlotte NC to teach Spanish in an Elementary School. After finished my work with these beautiful children, I decided to start dedicating my time and energy to live my passion: “creating images.” As a result of that adventure, along with my team in the last seven years, we’ve created thousands of pictures of Latino events where people are celebrating the joy of life.

Starting 2014 I began showing more of the hardworking spirit of the Latino community living in Western North Carolina;  showcasing their contribution to our society and there willingness to find a better future for their children. Along with that,  we are also  producing media content in Spanish that helps our Latino community be informed about opportunities from different organizations and government agencies while empowering young leaders among us to be the voice of the community.

Evelyn Alarcon

After recently arriving to the United States, El Centro was for me, it was my first  opportunity to reconnect with my community in an unknown country. As an English as a second language student, El Centro, gave me the  chance to feel closer to my roots and identity. Four hours a week of classes signified not only learning more about the country I just moved to, but also learning more about myself and the needs of the immigrant community that El Centro serves. Impressed by the work of the organization, I began to observe and get more involved. Finally in 2002, El Centro gave me the opportunity to work as an administrative assistant, young and without experience, they believed in me. I remember well, that after several weeks of working at El Centro, my first desk and computer arrived that someone had donated. They were so old, but at the same so valuable to me, because they signified the beginning of journey that has transformed my life like so many others who have arrived here like myself, to an unknown country. The nonprofit sector is a sector that responds to the needs of social justice, inclusion and creates stronger movements that transforms lives.

I have a six-year old daugher, her name is Jocelyn. I also have two step-children- Cody (12) and Angeline (15).


Gloria Maria LLanser Murray

Founder of Gentle Mothering Our first mission is to support Latina women to feel empowered, honored, and heard throughout the process of birth, thereby creating stronger relationships in the family. Yet, our mission also includes empowering women by offering them a fulfilling trade of becoming a Doula in their community. This increases their confidence and self-esteem, as well as provides them with a financially viable skill. Owner of Sacred Soul Birthing; Helps mothers and their partners have a meaningful pregnancy and positive birth experience through education and compassionate support before, during and after childbirth. Childbirth Educator, Birth & Postpartum Doula, Placenta specialist, Baby loss and family advisor & Maternal Mental Health support. My certifications, inspires confidence in my skills; my gentle, compassionate and open presence creates the Sacred Partnership we enter together. Also I have a wealth of training and experience to draw on from having studied with many teachers of different healing techniques. These include: New Paradigm Multi-Dimensional Transformation, (a hands on healing system) appropriate use of flower essences, essential oils and homeopathic remedies. My extensive and varied background allows me to provide women and their families a broad range of physical, emotional, and educational support, offered with an open mind, loving hands, and calm presence.

Aisha Adams

Aisha Adams is the blogger behind Her written work has appeared in publications like The Asheville Citizen Times, The Asheville Grit, and The Final Call. Aisha has a BA in English with a concentration in creative writing from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). She also holds a Masters in Post-Secondary and Adult Education. Aisha is also a 2016 My Home, My Voice Fellow. Aisha is the author of Vegan Curious and the mastermind behind Aisha Adams Media.

Juan Manuel Diaz 

Hello! I have lived in this country for two and a half years. I’m an economist and a musician who always has been involved in social projects. In Asheville I have worked with different type of students. As an In Home Educator I work with pregnant women, infants and toddlers. As a volunteer of the M.A.N.O.S. program I work with teenagers. Finally, as a teacher for the Spanish version of the HISET test I work with adult people. I’d like to help people from my community to promote not just tolerance but acceptation.

JaNesha Slaughter

Word on the Street, Youth Co-Coordinator

JaNesha Slaughter believes organized communities, informed by history and driven by love, will be the solutions we are all seeking. Working as youth coordinator for Word on the Street, she sees art and youth power as a means of leaping over walls built by race, gender, class, and more. She also spends her time as an assistant organizer for DemocracyNC, fighting against political systems that fail to uplift the voices of those they claim to protect and represent. She is  a recent graduate of UNC Asheville with a degree in political science and a minor in history. Her previous work has included Black Lives Matter activism, a storytelling project around the Asheville housing crisis, and fundraising for radical causes. As the product of loving communities and hard-earned knowledge, JaNesha believes that so long as we fight together, we will win.


Paula Swepson Avery

Paula Swepson Avery is a part of a long line of rural activist, she is a 3rd generation resident of Marion, NC who cares deeply for her community. Paula has over 25 years experience in the manufacturing sector and community development. She is most recently the recipient of the 2017 CoThinkk Leadership Award. She currently serves as the Coordinator of the West Marion Community Forum supporting community members on collaboration and developing local solutions to issues related to healthy eating and active living, affordable childcare,county-wide transportation, affordable housing and youth empowerment. Paula and her four sisters were raised by a very strong, loving mother after her father passed away. She has four children, two girls and two boys and 18 grandchildren. Paula loves life, making people smile, making a difference in her community, attending church and spending time with family and friends. She tries to live by the words of a gospel song, “If I can help somebody along the way then my living will not be in vain.”

Phyllis Utley

YTL Education Advocate. Lover of dark bing cherries, sparkles, rainbows and waterfalls. Grateful for my Ancestors

Delia Jovel Dubón

From El Salvador, Community worker and instructor at El Centro of Henderson County

Movement has always been one of my main sources of motivation. Feeling stuck, immobile without being able to discover new things is something that makes me feel frustrated and sad. I associate the movement with traveling, meeting new people, thinking, imagining, learning and live new adventures. The blessing of being mom has made me reimagine my life and prolong the opportunity to continue moving.  Valentina’s birth was as a second life, with more challenges but full of melodies and shiny colors. I have always enjoyed to study and life continues to give that chance. I love also to teach and have the opportunity to listen and share experiences. In this chapter of my life, I am interested in creating and building networks or tribes that help me grow and evolve positively. A pleasure to meet you and I hope that we will build together great ideas and great actions.

Daniel Suber

Daniel Suber is a UNCA student that loves biology and sociology, which is his major. He works toward improvement for communities around him by focusing on volunteering and working with community groups and youth groups that are already doing so. He loves to see potential realized in himself and others and is usually looking for that, in one way or another.   He especially appreciates the support that he has had along the way through friends, family, community members, teachers, mentors, and more.  Every person, every lesson, and every experience has shown him something.  He has a lot to learn and is thankful for every opportunity.




Tony Shivers

My name is Tony Shivers. I was born and raised in Asheville and attended Asheville High School. I am determined to lead, encourage, and inspire many people that I encounter. All conference baseball player who tried out for the Atlanta Braves with a dynamic story. Later served 7 years in prisoned and while there changed his life for the better by mentoring at-risk youth and adults and building a foundation of lifeskill. Developing ways for youth to excel through advocacy, one-on-one mentoring, and life coaching. Also participating in facilitating after school program and practicing mindfulness with the awareness of listening to each other.

Yozet Estrada

I was born in Cuernavaca Morelos, Mexico in 1991. I studied at the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos School of Arts, majoring in visual arts, focusing on photography and animation. Also, I studied at the School of Arts and Drawing “Oscar Alférez for two years.” After arriving in North Carolina, I joined the JMPro TV team, where I continue working as an editor, cameraman, and photographer

Yvette Jives

Magaly Urdiales

I began my career as a teacher in 1995 and worked in that profession with much passion for 11 years. In my professional years, I started organizing communities in 1998, while continuing my teaching career. I organized farm workers in the northern part of Peru to promote economic development through agriculture and literacy. At the moment, I work with the WNC Workers’ Center.

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