Hey, it’s Jeremy Evans, Development and Communications Coordinator at NEC, writing about my colleague Kierra Sims as part of NEC’s #MakingWaves staff series. Support the people who make our work possible by making a gift today!
Kierra’s journey to becoming an organizer began as a student, when she saw the impact her college and wealthy establishments in her hometown had on rural, working class communities. She was door knocking, doing one on ones, and forming a collective analysis with peers “before I knew organizing was a thing.” One year later, in 2008, a mentor recommended she attend Highlander Center’s Seeds of Fire Camp, a weeklong camp for Southern and Appalachian youth-led groups organizing for social change.
Young people have proven to have the most radical, imaginative ideas for new systems. Did you know that NEC resources these ideas through our Youth and Frontline Regranting Program?
While at Seeds of Fire, Kierra travelled to eastern Kentucky, with other participants, to witness the devastation reaped by mountaintop-removal coal mining with their own eyes. “We heard sirens as our vans approached. There were people on walkie talkies trying to get rid of us. I couldn’t believe they [coal companies] were blowing up whole mountain tops.” It was also at this camp that young people from Miami, Charlotte, Raleigh, and New Orleans shared their stories about organizing against school pushout, stop and frisk, and immigration police. By the end, Kierra had experienced many “ah ha” moments – most of which led to her recognizing the systems of oppression that exist. “That trip taught me that oppression was systemic, happening to all of us, and that I wasn’t alone in this fight,” she said.
In 2014, Kierra returned to Highlander, this time as a staff member of the Education Team. In her new role, she co-led Seeds of Fire Camp and the Appalachian Transition Fellowship. Highlander, and the organizers she encountered while working there, proved to Kierra that popular education and cultural organizing are effective and righteous ways to empower the people most affected to organize and take action. “At Highlander, I learned about collective liberation and how working class people, across race, need to come together for any high level change to happen.”
Sometimes it takes witnessing shared struggle to fully understand the importance of solidarity and collective liberation. As a member of The Majority, NEC recognizes that movements for justice must work together to protect our people, build economic and political power, and liberate this nation from systemic exploitation, hatred, and white supremacy.
After three years at Highlander, she made the difficult decision to “leave chosen family,” to recharge and try something new. She joined the staff of IHP Human Rights Study Abroad Program, traveling to Nepal, Jordan and Chile. Through this program, she learned about international models of solidarity economics that centered human rights and sustainable solutions.
"Who’s doing this in the US?” was her first question when she came back home. That’s when she found NEC. “In this moment of great resistance, I find hope and healing in creating solutions and having ownership over what’s next. Creating intentional spaces to share solutions is important for scaling practices and creating a culture of self-determination – NEC has the network, members, and the capacity to do that.”
NEC anchors Beautiful Solutions, an interactive platform that compiles that most promising and contagious strategies for building a just, democratic and sustainable world.
“The new economy isn’t new – people have been practicing these models for a while,” Kierra emphasizes. “Our job is to name it and recognize it, so that those efforts can be connected and scaled.”