SONG: Organizing rooted in community, celebration, and love

Each month, The Rootwise Hub supports and celebrates a social change organization that is disrupting, making history right now, and paving the way for a more inclusive future. 

This month, we recognize, SONG (Southerners on New Ground), a social justice, advocacy, and capacity building organization serving and supporting queer, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the southern United States through community organizing for economic and racial justice. SONG is a champion of inclusivity and intersectional movement work with a commitment to restoring a way of being that recognizes our collective humanity and dependence on Earth. The organization truly reflects value-driven, collective leadership empowering marginalized communities across the Southern states. And, their goal is liberation.

A trailblazing organization that is changing the landscape of the Southern United states with advocacy, compassion, and clear vision, SONG centers their leadership and organizing around “the shared interest of women, LGBTQIA people, people of color, and immigrants who chronically experience racism, economic injustice, transmisogyny, ableism, immigration, incarceration, and other intersecting oppressions”. Since 1993, SONG has been known for its organizing and training work across issues of race, class, gender, culture and sexuality with both LGBTQIA people and allies. SONG was born out of the understanding of the interconnectedness of oppressions and the need for multi-racial and inclusive organizing efforts. They’ve worked to develop sustainable advocacy and organizing strategies that are “strong enough to combat the Southern-specific strategy of the Right to divide and conquer Southern oppressed communities using the tools of rural isolation, Right-wing Christian infrastructure, racism, environmental degradation, and economic oppression.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the realities for us all. We have suffered grief, loss, and the devastating impact of a pandemic that doesn’t seem to have an end. SONG has adapted to the reality that COVID-19 has brought to their communities. They exemplify what it meant to be transformative leaders, embracing change and becoming even bolder in their demands for liberation. SONG has always been grounded in activism, based in community, supporting in relationships, and guided by the spirits, lives, and experiences of those who came before them. And through the pandemic, they have stayed close to these roots. They relied on each other and the importance of collective resistance and power building. 

As a membership-based organization, SONG develops leaders united together in the struggle for dignity and justice for all people. SONG recognizes oppression is born of isolation and understands the importance of connection and a shared worldview in the pursuit of liberation. In addition to leadership development training and regular convenings, SONG also identifies and carries out community organizing projects and campaigns. Notably, for the past three years, SONG has been securing the release of mothers and caregivers across the South through their  “Black Mama’s Bail Out” campaign. SONG’s efforts are helping to move the needle on a large national push and collaboration with other organizations to end bail, pretrial detention, and mass incarceration.

SONG is not just an organization that fights against white supremacist capitalistic ideologies embedded in our society, but they fight for the future that they want to see. They fight for the futures of our wildest dreams and the future that we deserve. As one of SONG’s core values shares, “Our work is about transformation to a just, fair and liberated society that meets the needs of its people. SONG chooses to organize around longing, desire, and hope before anger and fear. Sometimes we are angry and heart broken, but our work comes forth from a place of celebration and love for our communities.”

SONG’s community building and organizing work over the last year was led and championed by leaders, Aesha Rasheed and Wendi Moore-O’Neal. Relying on the lineage of great leadership, Aesha and Wendi opened themselves to being transformed by their movement work with the shared vision of “liberation in our lifetime”.  They committed to cultivating a team and an organization that cares about the whole–the fullness of each person’s humanity. As freedom fighters and weavers of space, Aesha and Wendi strive to build strength, resiliency, and sustainability in SONG through connecting and empowering people who are “doing the work to make life better for us all”.

Despite the most challenging conditions, this landscape brought SONG’s activism to the forefront. People were hungry for their advocacy and leadership. Their membership doubled over the last year and has expanded to include new campaigns and chapters across the south. They responded to the need for increased skill in political work in political and grassroots organizing and capacity building across communities. 

In their 2020 reflection Video, SONG reminds us that now is the time to choose team justice. Our fight is not done. Our fight is not over. We need organizers and passionate people for change. Now more than ever. To donate to SONG and become a member, visit their website at

A portion of profits from The Rootwise Hub go towards making a financial contribution to the organization we spotlight each month. We select the organization or movement that we support each month from nominations that members of our community make. To nominate a social change organization, click here.

Humble Kindness: An Interview with Dr. Aaron Shapiro

Each month, we spotlight the work of a member of The Rootwise Hub community. Below we share reflections from Dr. Aaron Shapiro on their leadership practice. We honor the courage, service, and resilience that Aaron and their colleagues in the Bronx, NY have shown the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read on, be inspired!

Tell us a bit about yourself and your current work for social change.

My name is Aaron. I use he and they pronouns. I am currently completing the final year of my Primary Care Social Internal Medicine residency in the Bronx, NY.

My work for social change largely focuses on providing quality health care to people historically and currently marginalized by and abused by our systemically capitalist, classist, and racist health care system. I got a Master’s in Public Health in Leadership and Management focused on Quality Improvement and later my Evidence-based Design Accreditation and Certification. I am interested in being able to create structures that can provide quality, kind, and welcoming care to patients who are too often not provided safe and humane health care. My clinical work focuses on providing primary care for people struggling with substance use disorders, people struggling with chronic pain, sex workers, people of transgender experience, and people in and out of incarcerated settings.

In six words, how would you describe your experience as a leader in the past 18 months.

Upstream, isolating, collaborative, inspiring, gratifying, relieving.

In your life and work so far, what has been your most transformative leadership lesson? How did you learn it?

Most of my life I reluctantly identified as an anxious micro-manager. After a failed speaking engagement and observing multiple amazingly empowering leaders, I’ve become much more intentional about instilling ownership and trusting autonomy in the people I work with. While I’ll likely never be able to fully unlearn my anxiety, I’ve been so much happier and also a much more effective (and tolerable) leader through this frameshift. I’ve been inspired by focusing less on me egocentrically teaching and steering, but instead focusing more on facilitating others’ ideas and engagement. And there are few things I find more fulfilling than colleagues owning certain aspects of projects, moving those components forward independently, and seeing strong roots for sustainability take shape in my absence.

What is your current commitment or sense of purpose in your leadership practice?

I’ve really been working on grounding my leadership practice in humble kindness. Especially working in a “hot-spot” hospital through the height of COVID, the concept of, “be kind because you don’t know what someone else is going through,” has been such an unforgivingly salient mantra for me. I’ve done – and continue to do – a lot of work to minimize the ego in my leadership. I’m working on honing a leadership practice that creates safe spaces for people to voice their ideas for improvement and turning those spaces into ones of excited inspiration where we can workshop those ideas into action.

What advice do you have for others about how and when to use their voice to make change?

I feel it’s important to constantly use our voices to catalyze necessary change. But I think it’s important to remember that using our voices doesn’t mean shouting at full volume at all times. My voice is often used simply as a tool of active listening. It’s used to object in the moment when a superior says something offensive. I also try to be intentional about using my voice to amplify others’ as well as actively silence my voice to create space for others to be heard. I’ve found that as a white man, that last iteration of my voice has more often than not been the most important iteration.

How do you take care of yourself?

My first retreat with Perry and her colleagues was over a decade ago. I have gone to “refresher” workshops, and I’ve been meeting with a spiritual director/coach trained by Still Harbor regularly for about four years now. I depend a lot on my community and chosen family for support and fun. I try my hardest to prioritize physical activity and getting out into nature. I’ve gotten slowly better at identifying things I cannot change and being at peace with that. I am intentional about working in places that I respect and whose mission I trust to drive me forward.

What are you working to imagine, create, and build through your leadership?

One of the reasons I love Quality Improvement Sciences so much is because the discipline essentially says, “We know what to do, but are we doing it? Are we doing it well? And if not, how do we do better?” And the answers to that last question are more often than not known by the people already working on those issues. We simply inherit a culture of expectations that become obstacles to actuating our work in ways we know can be done better. Maybe we feel we’re stepping on someone else’s toes. Maybe we feel like our supervisor isn’t open to suggestions. Maybe we’re already too overworked and underpaid to have the energy to take anything else on. My leadership practice is about identifying and minimizing those barriers to people living and working with fulfillment and purpose. I want to support people around me in feeling like they’re able to do everything they can to make the world a better place. Seeing so many others light up with excitement and purpose is personally inspiring to me.

We know that you have bunny friend, can you tell us about them?

WHAT IS THE WORD LIMIT!?!?!? My bunny friend is Pinecone. He’s a one-year-old Holland Lop. He is literally the fluffiest living creature to ever live on Earth. I got him during COVID times, and he has been a lifesaver for me. He loves snuggles, fresh hay, and big carpets to zoom on. Yes his picture is the background of my phone, and yes I threw a super extra bunny themed first birthday party for him.

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