Our training team brings years of experience in founding and directing grassroots projects of various sorts, including community-based organizations, citywide networks, training institutes, human rights projects, journals and more.  All of the trainers have worked extensively with young people as a central part of our work, and we share a commitment to supporting the efforts of young people in creating change.


Keisha Farmer-Smith has partnered with organizations dedicated to supporting safe space for youth, intergenerational knowledge building and youth-led social action for the past 12 years. Her interest in this work stems from a passionate belief that young people hold the energy, creativity, talent and intelligence to create positive change in their communities, schools, homes and lives.  Keisha enjoys working with youth in Education, Child Welfare and Youth Development fields. She is a founding board member of the Chicago Freedom School and a former board member at Women and Girls Collective Action Network. For six years, she served as Manager of the Girl World Programs at Alternatives Inc., an asset based, female-specific, youth development program that partners with young women and girls aged 10 to 19 in leadership development, community awareness, service and social change work.  Recently a graduate of University of Illinois at Chicago College of Urban Planning & Public Affairs, Keisha’s doctoral research involves use of feminist standpoint and asset-based theories in community work with girls and women.


Mariame Kaba is an educator, organizer, and writer who lives in Chicago.  Her work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex and supporting youth leadership development.  Mariame was the program officer for education and youth development at the Steans Family Foundation from 2004-2009.  She has been a consultant helping organizations to develop their evaluation capacity. Mariame is a published author, curriculum developer, and has served on numerous nonprofit board.  She is currently the founding director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with the long-term goal of eradicating youth incarceration.


Alex Poeter is the Director of Training & Organizing at the Chicago Freedom School, which he helped co-found.  Alex was the founder and Executive Director of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC), a multi-issue grassroots organization serving Chicago’s Southwest side. Prior to the founding of BPNC, Alex founded Blocks Together, a multi-issue grassroots organization located on Chicago’s Westside, where he served as Executive Director. Both organizations have won the award for best organization in Chicago, sponsored by five of Chicago’s main foundations.  Alex has also trained dozens of groups across the country as a national trainer for the National Training & Information Center / National People’s Action.  In 2000, Alex was one of the national Do Something Brick Award winners.


imi rashid is a certified public accountant dedicated to serving individuals, groups and communities that are actively in the business of creating change through art, grassroots organizing, social justice activism and anti-oppression work. imi seeks to promote financial sustainability and integrity within individuals and groups by understanding and respecting the work that they do while offering friendly, helpful and easy to understand advice in a safe and comfortable environment.


Melissa is a consultant working with nonprofit organizations, and serves as the lead coordinator of this project.  She has a wealth of experience in founding and directing a variety of projects and organizations.  She was the founding Executive Director of the Women & Girls Collective Action Network.  She has co-founded projects included the Columbia Journal of Gender & Law; the Chicago Freedom School; the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls & Young Women, which she currently coordinates; and Chicago Youth United.  She served as co-Director of Blocks Together, and is a founding advisory board member of Project NIA.  She has written several reports featuring the work of new and emerging organizations, including At a Crossroads: Youth Organizing in the Midwest (for the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing); Communities Engaged in Resisting Violence (co-authored with Ann Russo) and the Status of Girls in Illinois Report (co-authored with Mariame Kaba & Michelle VanNatta).