People & Partners
Deborah B. Warren
I spent my first 21 years in big cities - New York and Chicago. For graduate school I chose North Carolina, wanting to experience other regions of the country. I fully expected to move on. That was thirty-some years ago.
I learned most of what I know about the rural South from a four year stint as 'co-editor' of a rural weekly newspaper in NC. It was not a conventional publication. The county seat wanted their own newspaper and more than a hundred citizens raised $40,000. The first editor left after six months. I was part of a group of four young people asked to take this challenge on. We took it on and eventually everything else. Hanging out at the Ford dealership for ads, covering town board and school board meetings, begging the police chief for stories, taking pictures at high school football games and church homecoming celebrations, selling ads, selling ads...
Since then - or including 'then', my entire career has been spent doing community economic development. My work is driven by the need to build the capacity of grassroots organizations in low wealth communities to control their own economic destinies. I have done this through developing statewide and regional systems for training and technical support; advocating for public and private resources for these grassroots organizations; and helping to strengthen their governing boards.
I began working at SRDI in December 1994 - the organization's first staff person, bringing with me more than a decade's experience in building a CED (community economic development) infrastructure in North Carolina, working through the statewide legal services program. I've also worked for MDC, where I learned about rural development and employment programs across the country. A very brief stint in state government exposed me to the public sector way of working and thinking.
Academically, I have an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago (Phi Beta Kappa) and a Masters in Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
I consider myself a storyteller and a connector, a perspective gained mostly from living my entire life in the South. My family’s experiences living on small farms in NC, the necessity of the times to leave for bigger cities, and the questions of identity that arose as a result have shaped my personal and professional directions deeply. I approach my work at SRDI with this mindset, connecting the stories of yesterday’s rural South to present opportunities and resources.
Too often the individual experiences and voices of those who have been marginalized haven’t held significant weight in our communities. The experiences reflected in those lost voices lack vital influence over the allocation of resources, the creation of public policy, and the power to build sustainable futures in the towns that hold their histories. Those in small rural communities with limited resources particularly feel forced to compete rather than work for the well-being of all members of the community. The choice is reduced to survival over prosperity.
That reality drove my desire to join SRDI in October 2005 as Deputy Director. In this new role I seek to blend my experiences with philanthropy, leadership development, organizational development, anti-oppression/diversity theory, and power analysis into meaningful community development. I spend part of my time with the administrative team, helping to strengthen the internal processes that root our programs. I also work with the program team as a trainer, helping to further our network’s resources to generate and sustain “the vision, will, and resources” to create a “just, inclusive, and sustainable” rural South.
I’ve spent many years as a nonprofit consultant with OpenSource Leadership Strategies, as well as Executive Director of Public Allies NC, Associate Director of the Dispute Settlement Center of Orange County (NC), and as a program manager for Durham Companions, a mentoring program for court-involved youth. In all of my work I have sought to promote social justice with a balance of advocacy and bridge-building, facilitating the open discussion of the strong opinions of individuals toward meaningful mutual acknowledgement and forward motion. My involvement on the boards of the American Civil Liberties Union NC, Equality NC, and NC Gives reflects that value.
I’m a 1992 graduate of Duke University and completed the Duke University Certificate in Nonprofit Management in 2005. I’m also an alumnus of the 2003-2005 William C. Friday Fellows for Human Relations Program through the Wildacres Leadership Initiative.
Ajulo Othow Norma
Special Projects Director
I started work with SRDI in October 1998 as project manager for the Growing CDCs in the Rural South project, supported by the Ford Foundation. The Growing CDCs project sought to build the capacity of rural community development corporations and to strengthen supportive statewide trade associations of CDCs in Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. My work with SRDI has since expanded to include several projects: CDC work across the region; a program to engage youth in community development; and an emerging initiative to build the knowledge, tools and relationships necessary for rural leaders to responsibly say "no" to industries of last resort, and to make choices leading to more just, equitable and sustainable communities.
I also serve on the boards of the Highlander Center, the Fund for Southern Communities, and the National Resource Center on Prisons and Communities, as well as on the grants committee of the Changemakers Fund. I am a graduate of Hampton University and the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University, where I received my graduate degree in International Development and published The War on Health and Development in Sudan. My interests in development issues have taken me to Africa, the Caribbean, and the rural Southeastern United States.
Director of Philanthropic Programs
I was a co-chair of the working group that created SRDI. My constituency is the region's philanthropic sector, both traditional foundations and new forms of community-based grant makers. In the past, I have worked in both of these sectors. I was one of the founders and first director of the Fund for Southern Communities, one of the region's first community-based philanthropies.
Later, I was executive director of the Sapelo Foundation, a family foundation dedicated to social justice and community development in rural Georgia.
SRDI gives me the opportunity to be an advocate. From the beginning, my interest was in increasing the availability of philanthropic capital for rural activists who are creating new economic and political realities in their low-wealth communities. I believe in philanthropy as a community venture where all can give and everyone is a beneficiary. With this model, I believe philanthropy is possible anywhere and that it's practice will become increasingly democratic. Just as important, I believe that donors bring a full set of needs and expectations to the giving process. Philanthropy at its best nurtures donors by providing profound learning and deep connection to community.
Currently, the central question for my work is: How can the process of building philanthropy in rural communities be transformational - by crossing barriers of race and class, by fostering an optimistic vision for the rural future, and by slowly moving social justice work in the rural South to be more and more a process of consensus rather than confrontation?
Research and Policy Director
I am the research and policy director at the Southern Rural Development Initiative, where I have a diverse research portfolio around rural philanthropy, and federal community and economic development funding, as well as a broader policy advocacy agenda for sustainable rural development policy.
I grew up in Yorktown, Virginia when it was still rural. Living between the national battlefield and the lower Chesapeake Bay made for an idyllic childhood that alternated between reenacting the Revolutionary War and tramping about in nearby tidal marshes and creeks. I understand well that crabs are "beautiful swimmers" and the fine art of crab picking.
I acquired my bachelor's degree in Geography in a far different rural setting - Emory & Henry College, a small Methodist school in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. In addition to receiving a better education than I appreciated at the time, I also learned that growing burley tobacco is as knowledge-intensive as being in college, and considerably harder work. After wandering about for 4 years, I attended the University of Virginia where I earned an M.A. in regional and environmental planning in the School of Architecture. While there I worked with the Institute for Environmental Negotiation.
My entire professional career has centered on rural communities. I spent nearly ten years with the Virginia Water Project where I worked on rural water management and protection policy at the state and federal level. I participated in numerous multi-party environmental regulatory negotiations on pesticides, ground water management, coal mining impact mitigation, and regional water finance. I was the key author of a statistical portrait of rural Virginia, was active in Virginia's first effort to articulate a state rural development strategy, and was on the advisory board of the Rural Economic Analysis program at Virginia Tech.
In my non-work life I am the father of two young sons, and moonlight writing a book on the future of rural America. I was recently elected to the Board of Directors of the Community Development Society and look forward to helping build stronger partnerships between community development practitioners and academia.
Senior Program Associate
Chris Massenburg, joined SRDI in 2006 as our Senior Program Associate. He supports evaluation, communications, and event planning functions, as well as manages our office operations.
Also known as Dasan Ahanu, Chris brings experience as a public speaker, organizer, workshop facilitator, poet, spoken word performer, documentarian, and writer. He has been a featured performer for theatre, poetry, jazz, and other cultural events; worked as an organizer on many social justice issues; taught creative writing at many middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities; co-founded an organization that designs and implements anti-violence workshops and raises awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence; and works as a consultant with arts organizations in planning and presenting cultural arts events.
Chris was born and raised in Raleigh, NC. He is a graduate of Saint Agustine's College with a BS in Organizational Management.
I joined the SRDI staff as the Finance Director in February 2005. I have a Masters degree in Education and an MBA in Finance. I have fifteen years of non-profit and governmental financial management experience and several years experience in corporate finance.
Prior to coming to SRDI, I served as the Finance Director for the newly formed North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services, overseeing the creation of a multi-million dollar state program. I also have worked as the Finance Director for North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, Carolina Legal Assistance, and Farmworkers Legal Services.
I was born and grew up in New York City. I attended college and graduate school in Boston, MA and worked for several years in Boston after receiving my degrees. I moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1990 to be closer to family.
I am impressed with SRDI's commitment to the future of the rural South, and both the Board's and the staff's energy and dedication.
- Thomas Watson
SODI Project Leader
THOMAS WATSON is the first Project Leader of the Southern Organizational Development Initiative (SODI), joining the staff in 2006. He manages our collaborative effort to develop long-term organizational development, training, and support activities for rural nonprofits and consultants.
Thomas worked most recently as a Senior Program Consultant with the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, managing initiatives to build grassroots leaders and social enterprise. He also co-founded the Center for Participatory Change in Asheville NC, supporting grassroots groups in Western NC through organizing, capacity-building, network building, and small grants support. He served there as Co-Executive Director for five years.
Thomas grew up in rural Appalachia and prior to becoming an organizer, worked in factories, as a welder, in hotel management, and banking. He received his Master of Social Work from the UNC-Chapel Hill where he completed internships with Grassroots Leadership and the Highlander Center. He received a BS in Business Management from Guilford College in Greensboro, NC.
Justin Maxson (President)
Justin is the President of MACED in Berea, Kentucky. He also worked as Executive Director of the Progressive Technology Project in Washington DC and is a board member of the Center for Rural Strategies.
Bernie Mazyck (Vice President)
SC Association of CDCs
Bernie is the first President of the SC Association of Community Development Corporations. A life long resident of Summerville, S.C, he serves on the Advisory Board of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta and is a board member of the Historic Charleston Foundation, College of Charleston Foundation and Charleston Southern University Alumni Association.
Sandra Mikush (Secretary)
Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation
Sandra is Assistant Director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she has worked for the last twelve years. She leads the foundation's critical work in building organizational capacity.
Dan Broun (Treasurer)
Regional Technology Strategies
Dan is currently a consultant with Regional Technology Strategies. He was formerly Development Director at the NC Minority Support Center in Durham, NC, and has worked for Self Help.
Joe is Vice President for Civic Engagement at PolicyLink – a national “public policy action and advocacy organization” with a focus on equity and strong organized communities. Joe spent the prior seven years as the Program Executive for Neighborhood and Community Development at the San Francisco Foundation.
Quitman County Development Organization
Robert just completed his first legislative session as a Mississippi State Senator. CEO of the Quitman County Development Organization, he helped found the Quitman/Tri-County Federal Credit Union and was a Kellogg Fellow in the foundation's National Leadership Program.
Community Shares of TN
Emily hails from Knoxville and is a board and executive committee member of Community Shares of Tennessee. She has spent most of her career in fund raising. Emily now works for the Southeast office of the National Parks Conservation Association.
Keith is Senior Vice President for External Affairs at Self Help in Durham, mostly focusing on combating predatory lending. Keith spent 21 years with NC Mutual Insurance Company, the nation's oldest and largest Black life insurance company.
Ray Williams (Vice President)
Enterprise Corporation of the Delta
Ray is Senior Program Manager at Enterprise Corporation of the Delta (ECD) in Jackson MS. With two decades of experience in lending, Ray focuses on health care lending and strengthening small community loan funds.
Georgia Black United Fund
Alvin is a long-time community activist in Atlanta, former City employee and a board member of the Georgia Black United Fund.
New Jersey Public Policy Research Institute
Roland is Executive Director of the New Jersey Public Policy Research Institute based at Rutgers University. He is a long-time friend of community economic development, and previously held management and program positions with SEEDCO and The Ford Foundation.
National Rural Funders Collaborative
Tracey offers a range of training, leadership development and evaluation experience, currently serving as Director of Learning and Evaluation with the National Rural Funders Collaborative. She is the former Director of Technical Assistance and Training for long-time SRDI stakeholder, the South Carolina Association of CDCs.
Black Belt Community Foundation
Felicia is Executive Director of the Black Belt Community Foundation in Selma, Alabama, which harnesses and delivers philanthropic resources for six rural Alabama counties. Felicia is no stranger to the complex economic issues facing rural communities: she is former Executive Director of the Sumter County Industrial Development Authority.
Paul E. Castelloe, Jr.
Center for Participatory Change
Paul co-founded and is now Program Coordinator for the Center for Participatory Change in Asheville, NC, a non-profit that disseminates participatory change as a practice model in community organizing and development. Paul brings to his board role at SRDI a wealth of experience working with rural grassroots organizations, organizing people around critical issues, and evaluation planning.
Andrew is founding director of Duke Law’s Community Enterprise Clinic, where he provides law students with training in and exposure to affordable housing, job creation and community revitalization projects. Among his prior experience is his work as Co-Director of the NC Justice and Community Development Center, a leading advocacy organization for the state's low income communities. For two years, Andrew worked for SRDI, managing our community reinvestment project.
As a result of our recently completed Strategic Planning process, we are making the shift from a membership organization to one relying on a set of Stakeholders and Partners.
We're still working it out-but key points are clear:
- Primarily local, Stakeholders are community leaders, activists and practitioners working with SRDI on specific Transforming Communities projects. They cross lines of race, class and age. Our relationship with stakeholders is transparent and SRDI is accountable to them for specific components of work.
- The majority of SRDI's strategic Partners will be working at the national, regional or state level. The role of SRDI is to link their critical knowledge, connections and resources into mutually beneficial relationships with activists and leaders on the ground.