Our Staff

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Our Staff 2017-04-11T13:58:51+00:00
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Val Applewhite

Field Organizer, Southeast NC

Born in New York City, Val travelled the world during her Air Force Career. She retired at Pope AFB in 1999 after 20 years of honorable service. With a strong desire for positive outcomes in her community, she was motivated to seek a seat on the Fayetteville City Council and served three terms. The Air Force core value of “Service before Self” is the foundation of her life in public service. She is a member of various community organizations that focus on economic development, youth and veteran’s issues.

val@democracy-nc.org | 910-302-5951

Darlene Azarmi

Field Organizer, Western NC

Darlene grew up in Western North Carolina, which significantly shaped her political perspective. As a college student at UNC Wilmington, Darlene balanced her time working and volunteering for campus committees, student groups, and national organizations. Her activism, love for travel and consistent community involvement fueled her passion for organizing. She received a BA in Environmental Studies and started her organizing career at an environmental advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., Darlene then moved to Colorado, where she helped pass that state’s campaign-finance amendment. She continued good government work in Oregon, where she served as a campus organizer and petition office director for the Oregon Public Interest Research Group. Darlene currently lives in Asheville.

darlene@democracy-nc.org | 828-216-3430

Marcus Bass

Campaign Director

Marcus Bass joins Democracy North Carolina with over a decade of experience in organizing, training and leadership development. A native of Eastern NC, Marcus, attended North Carolina A&T State University where he led several grassroots efforts including Greensboro’s largest collegiate voter turnout while Student Body President. Marcus served as Campus Outreach Coordinator for Common Cause North Carolina working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) on ways to engage College Students in civic participation. Marcus most recently organized campaigns and supported educators in the south central portion of the state as Uniserv Director for the North Carolina Association of Educators, predominantly, in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties. Marcus serves on various state boards, has conducted trainings on advocacy and campaign development across the country. A 2005 North Carolina Teaching Fellow, Marcus is a former Educator and coach within the Clinton City School District.

marcus@democracy-nc.org | 919-908-7911

Leigh Bradley

Office Manager

Leigh holds a BSW from Indiana University and an MSW from UNC-Chapel Hill. She has been with the organization since 1996.

leigh@democracy-nc.org | 919-908-7910

Becky Carver

Development Director

Since moving to Durham in 1981, Becky has been a dedicated volunteer and activist, primarily around reproductive rights and other social justice issues. She has a B.S. from the University of Tennessee and M.S. from American University. Building on her special education and mental health experience, Becky has over twenty years in the nonprofit sector as Executive Director, Director of Development, Deputy Director, Project Director, and volunteer board member effectively promoting and advancing organizations’ missions and programs. She has worked at Wright School, The Alcohol/Drug Council of NC, Cornucopia Cancer Support Center, and Planned Parenthood. She understands the importance of making systemic changes to remedy the challenges we face in our communities and beyond and the need to work in coalition to achieve common goals.

becky@democracy-nc.org | 919-908-7912

Cheryl Ellis

Special Campaigns Coordinator

Cheryl is a proud alumna of the University of Virginia. As Organizing Director, she trains and leads Democracy NC’s Organizing Team and develops and oversees implementation of our organizing, base building and voter engagement work. Since moving to NC in 1986, Cheryl has worked in both the private and public sectors. Through her work in the public school system and human services for over 20 years, she saw the plight of those who were disenfranchised and many times forgotten and dedicated her career to standing for and with the least of these. In 2008, Cheryl was re-energized to engage politically in the health care reform movement because of her son’s personal experience of being denied coverage. She moved through the ranks of Organizing for America (now Action), starting as a volunteer and moving up to the position of State Coordinator. In that role, Cheryl led staff and volunteers across North Carolina into a new era for OFA as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working on multiple issues including health care, gun violence prevention, immigration reform, climate change, women’s rights, minimum wage and Medicaid expansion. Cheryl has also served as a volunteer peer counselor for The Women’s Center in Raleigh, a member and leader of Southern Wake Concerned Citizens and member of the NC Association of Educators.

cheryl@democracy-nc.org | 919-908-7931

Jennifer Frye

Director of Training

Jenn has been with Democracy North Carolina for over a decade. She started as a student organizer in 2003 and served on the board of directors before joining the staff in 2006. Before joining the Democracy NC team, Jenn worked in homelessness and gun violence prevention. She has a BA in Political Science and German from UNC Chapel Hill. Jenn is an alumnus of the Public Allies North Carolina leadership development program and is a fellow in the 2014-2016 class of the William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations. As the Director of Training, Jenn is responsible for developing and overseeing the implementation of Democracy North Carolina’s political education, skills building and leadership development strategies.

jenn@democracy-nc.org | 919-908-7915

Isela Gutiérrez

Associate Research Director

Isela got her start in social justice work as a student activist in 1997 and has been hooked ever since. She has over a decade of experience in advocacy-oriented nonprofits, beginning with her first job at the ACLU of Washington State in Seattle. Most recently before moving to North Carolina, Isela worked as an advocate for statewide juvenile justice policy reform at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition in Austin and to promote local drug policy reform at the Defender Association’s Racial Disparity Project in Seattle. She has a BA in History from Scripps College and a MSW from UNC-Chapel Hill.

isela@democracy-nc.org | 919-908-7918

Bob Hall

Executive Director

Bob has worked with grassroots groups across the South since 1970, collaborating on a variety of economic and social justice projects. He has served on numerous non-profit boards and governmental commissions, provided expert testimony in court cases, and consulted with officials in a dozen states on voting rights and campaign finance reform. He was the founding editor of Southern Exposure, the magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies, where he worked for 25 years. Honors include the MacArthur Fellow award, NC Press Association’s First Amendment Award, NC AARP’s Advocacy Friend of the Year Award, and NC NAACP’s Political Trailblazer Award. He has an MA from Columbia University.

sprc@mindspring.com | 919-908-7925

Quinton Harper

Field Director

Quinton Harper studied journalism and political science at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for his service and leadership in the National Black AIDS Mobilization Movement. As a political organizer and AIDS activist, Quinton has inspired and mobilized communities at the national, state and local level. Quinton considers himself to be cheerleader for justice, a visionary, an activist, an advocate and an organizer. As an AIDS activist, Quinton has been a leader in the fight to end AIDS in the Black community, and most recently worked as community organizer for the North Carolina AIDS Action Network. Quinton has done work in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and in the South. As a political organizer, Quinton served as communications director for a successful North Carolina state senate campaign (2008). In 2012, as an emerging leader in the fight for LGBT equality, Quinton worked as field organizer with the Durham, N.C., Coalition to Protect N.C. Families AGAINST Amendment One; and he helped pioneer an advocacy project with Blueprint NC. Quinton is a published journalist, has lived in Carrboro for six years, and sits on the Board of Directors for the local Orange Water and Sewer Authority. His heroes are the angelic troublemakers Bayard Rustin, Pauli Murray, and his late aunt, Minnie Harper. Quinton enjoys reading historical biographies, writing poetry, and playing with his dog, Nala. He is a self-described “foodie” and music junkie.

quinton@democracy-nc.org | 919-908-7919

Mel Hartsell

Field Organizer, Western Piedmont

Mel Hartsell is a native of the North Carolina Piedmont, born and raised in Concord. Mel received undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with the goal of working in communities and advocating around social justice issues. Mel is part of many advocacy organizations in the Piedmont and has been an educator, facilitator, and consultant around intersectionality. Mel currently lives in Charlotte.

mel@democracy-nc.org | 980-230-8961

Jen Jones

Director of Communications and Digital Strategy

Jen Jones became part of the social justice movement in the South when she joined the staff of Equality NC in 2011 as the organization’s first-ever Communications Director. A native of rural Eastern North Carolina, Jen received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a law degree from North Carolina Central University. Jen played a key role in the campaign against Amendment One as the Communications lead for the Coalition to Protect All NC Families and the award-winning RACE TO THE BALLOT campaign, a voter education effort that led her to run across North Carolina to build momentum against the state’s constitutional ban on the freedom to marry. Her digital activism would go on to propel Equality NC to the second-most followed state equality group in the nation, engaging tens of thousands of supporters online daily. Honors include the ACLU of NC’s Sharon Thompson Award for extraordinary efforts toward advancing equal rights for LGBT persons, the Blueprint NC Trailblazer Award, Qnotes Carolinas Statewide LGBT Leader of the Year (Female) Award, Equality Federation Awards for fundraising and media coverage, and the LGBT Center of Raleigh’s Community Impact Award. Prior to joining Democracy NC, Jen was a consultant working with a variety of state organizations, including League of Women Voters of North Carolina, NARAL Pro Choice NC, and North Carolina AIDS Action Network. Find Jen on Twitter at @thatjenjones.

jenjones@democracy-nc.org | 919-908-7920

Amanda Matson

Engagement Editor

Amanda began her time at Democracy NC as a fellow in the fall of 2014, joining staff in 2016. Her background is in using community-based research to advocate around social justice issues. Her work previous to joining the Democracy NC team was using digital storytelling to advocate with women experiencing homelessness for greater access to transportation resources. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Mount Union (in Ohio) and her graduate work in Community Psychology at NC State University. Amanda currently uses her background in research and digital advocacy to work at the intersection of the communications and research teams at Democracy NC.

amandamatson@democracy-nc.org | 919-908-7920

Meta Nzongola

Development Assistant

Originally from the DC/Maryland area, Meta moved to North Carolina in 2008. She has a background in filmmaking with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Film and Video from Savannah College of Art and Design. Her passion for social justice and civil rights led her to work for over four years with the North Carolina NAACP. She is currently enrolled in Wake Technical Community College studying Data Analytics. In her spare time, Meta is active volunteering in her community.

meta@democracy-nc.org | 919-908-7932

Tanaya Suddreth

Volunteer & Administrative Coordinator

Tanaya Suddreth joins the Democracy NC team as a transplant from Greensboro, NC. Raised in Morganton, NC, Tanaya moved to the Triad to study at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she earned both a BS in Public Health Education and a Master’s of Public Affairs with a concentration in Nonprofit Management. Tanaya is driven by her passion for helping others and has a strong commitment to public service and social justice. With just over 10 years of work experience, she brings a wealth of knowledge to Democracy NC, specifically in the areas of fundraising, program management and facilitation, and volunteer management. She has worked with organizations including the National Conference for Community and Justice of the Piedmont Triad and the United Way of Greater Greensboro. Tanaya is also becoming actively involved in the Triangle community where she currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) Triangle NC.

tanaya@democracy-nc.org | 919-908-7914

Linda Sutton

Field Organizer, Central Piedmont

Linda has been active in the Winston-Salem community since the early 70’s, working as a union organizer and Special Voter Registration Commissioner. She co-founded the Winston-Salem Voting Rights Coalition, a grassroots organization of non-profit, nonpartisan community groups that has registered thousands of voters and engaged them in electoral reforms such as early voting, same day registration and campaign finance reform. In 2008 she received the Urban League’s Community Leader of the Year Award. Linda is based in Winston-Salem and also works in Forsyth, Guilford, Davie and surrounding counties.

linda@democracy-nc.org | 336-870-2168

Marques Thompson

Field Organizer, Northeast NC

Marques was raised in Eastern North Carolina and has been volunteering to serve the community from his youth onward. Volunteering, advocating, organizing, and serving on issues as diverse as religion, education, workers rights, social justice and civil rights, Marques has ties with organizations and leaders throughout the region.

marques@democracy-nc.org | 252-508-9575