The Kairos Center Staff

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Larry Cox has been working for peace, justice and human rights around the world for more than four decades. A graduate of Union Theological Seminary, he is serving as Co-Director of Kairos: The Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice. Cox served as Executive Director of Amnesty International USA from 2006 to 2011. In assuming leadership of AIUSA, Cox returned to the movement he had helped to develop over 14 years in a variety of positions. In 1976 he joined the organization as its first press officer. During the next nine years he established the AIUSA Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, served as Communication Director, and Deputy Executive Director. He was then appointed Deputy Secretary General at Amnesty International’s world headquarters in London. In 1990 Cox became the Executive Director of the Rainforest Foundation, an international organization working with indigenous peoples in the Brazilian Amazon to protect their rights and environment. In 1995 Cox began an 11-year term as Senior Program Officer for Human Rights at the Ford Foundation. He initiated new programs on international justice, economic, social and cultural rights, and human rights in the United States. As part of the latter work, he co- edited and co-wrote the report Close to Home: Case Studies of Human Rights Work in the US. In focusing on human rights in the United States Cox came full circle to work he did in his early years to advance peace and social justice. Active in the anti-Vietnam war movement he did organizing against the war as a GI at Ft. Campbell, KY in 1970-71. He later became News Director of the NY Pacifica Radio station, WBAI.


The Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis is the Co-Director of the Kairos Center and a Founder and the Coordinator of the Poverty Initiative. She has spent the past two decades organizing amongst the poor in the United States, working with and advising grassroots organizations with significant victories including the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Vermont Workers Center, Domestic Workers United, the United Workers Association, the National Union of the Homeless and the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. She has led hundreds of trainings, Bible studies, and leadership development workshops; spoken at dozens of conferences and keynote presentations across the US and globally; and published several articles and book chapters sharing her vision that poverty can be ended and that the poor can be agents of social change. Liz received her BA in Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania; her M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in 2004 where she was the first William Sloane Coffin Scholar; and her PhD from Union in New Testament and Christian Origins. She is the author of Always with Us?: What Jesus Really Said about the Poor (Eerdmans, 2017). Liz is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).


Willie Baptist is a formerly homeless father of three who came out of the Watts uprisings and the Black Student Movement. He has 50 years of experience educating and organizing amongst the poor and dispossessed including working as a lead organizer with the United Steelworkers, as an educator and organizer with the National Union of the Homeless and its educational arm, the Annie Smart Leadership Development Institute, as the Education Director of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union for 10 years, and as a lead organizer and educator for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, as well as many other networks. He is a Board member of the National Welfare Rights Union, the United Workers of Maryland, Picture the Homeless in New York and on the Advisory Committee for the Wildfire Project. Willie is the author of numerous books, articles, and pamphlets including Pedagogy of the Poor, A New and Unsettling Force: Re-Igniting Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign, It’s Not Enough to Be Angry, Lessons from the Poor Organizing the Poor: 5 Main Ingredients and the 6 Panther P’s. Willie presently serves as the Poverty Initiative Scholar-in-Residence and Co-Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development for the Kairos Center.


Shailly Gupta Barnes is the Truth Commissions Program Coordinator at the Kairos Center and tri-chair of the Souls of Poor Folk Audit Committee of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Originally from Chicago, Shailly has a background in law, economics and international development and has spent the past 13 years working with and for poor and marginalized communities in many capacities: as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural farming village in Niger; as part of the legal team that successfully fought for Colombian waste pickers’ rights in the Constitutional Court of Colombia; with the Poverty Initiative and its network of grassroots religious and community leaders; and today with the Kairos Center and its efforts towards building a new Poor People’s Campaign. Her understanding of justice, morality and liberation draws on her Hindu and Jain background and tradition, which have also been informed by her work and commitment over these years.

Shailly has a B.A. in Economics from the University of Chicago (1999), a J.D. from UCLA School of Law (2002), and an M.I.A. from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (2009). She has three children with Adam Barnes and lives in New York City.


Charon Hribar is the Director of Cultural Strategies at the Kairos Center. She also serves as the co-coordinator of Theomusicology and Movement Arts for the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Over the past 15 years, Charon has been dedicated to the work of political education, leadership development, and integrating the use of arts and culture for movement building with community and religious leaders across the country. Believing that music is a powerful tool for social change, Charon is a vocalist who uses and teaches the art of protest music to embody the connections of culture, art, and history and promote collective action. She received her Ph.D. in Religion and Society from Drew University where she also served as the coordinator of Drew University’s PREP (Partnership for Religion and Education in Prisons) Program at Northern State Prison in Newark, NJ. Charon is a trainer with Beyond the Choir, a collective working with social justice organizations to craft resonant messaging, plan strategic campaigns, and mobilize larger bases of support.

Originally from Aliquippa, PA (a small steel town 30 minutes north of Pittsburgh), her passion for justice and liberation grew from a family rooted in the values of Catholic Social Teaching and strong labor unions. As a liberation theologian and ethicist, Charon is interested in exploring the capacity of Christian social ethics to re-imagine a radical response to systemic racism, a growing disparity of wealth and poverty, militarism, and ecological devastation today.


Adam Barnes, PhD is the coordinator of the Rights and Religions program at the Kairos Center. Born in St. Louis, MO and raised in Colorado, he has lived in New York since 2006 and worked at the Poverty Initiative/Kairos Center since 2007. In 2016 he completed a PhD in Comparative Theology at Union Theological Seminary. His dissertation investigates the liberative theology and spirituality emerging from anti-poverty struggles in the US and in a Sufi-Muslim community in West Africa. He received a BA in philosophy from the University of Chicago, and a Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary. He is the father of three amazing children and married to Shailly Barnes.


Colleen Wessel-McCoy has been involved with the Poverty Initiative since 2004 and currently works as Co-Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development, with Willie Baptist. Originally from Marietta, Georgia, Colleen received her undergraduate degree in religion and social justice from Agnes Scott College. She was part of the inaugural year of the Interfaith Service House and worked for several years as a tenant organizer in Chicago. She and John Wessel-McCoy have two children, Myles and Josephine. She has a MDiv from Union Theological Seminary and is currently a PhD candidate in Christian Social Ethics working on a dissertation on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision for the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 and its lessons for building a social movement to end poverty today.


John Wessel-McCoy is the Poor People’s Campaign Program Organizer at the Kairos Center. He develops relationships with grassroots community, religious, and labor leaders nationwide. In addition, he researches and develops curriculum focused on history, particularly focused on lessons from the abolitionist movement. He has worked as a union organizer with parking attendants, childcare providers, and home healthcare workers in addition to doing community organizing with homeless and low income residents in Chicago. He earned an MA in 2009 from Union Theological Seminary and was awarded the Charles Augustus Briggs Award, given to graduates who demonstrated “qualities of conscience, commitment, and courage as exemplified in the life and work of Charles Augustus Briggs.” He grew up Roman Catholic and continues to identify with the social justice and liberative social teachings in his tradition. John is a proud father. He is originally from Decatur, Illinois.


Nicholas Laccetti is the Communications Coordinator for the Kairos Center. He began his work at the Kairos Center as a Poverty Initiative fellow with the field education program at Union in 2013. He is a New York-based writer and theologian whose writings have appeared in publications such as Killing the Buddha, Patheos, Religion Dispatches, and the 2014 anthology Queer Christianities: Lived Religion in Transgressive Forms (NYU Press). Nic holds an M.A. in Medieval Studies from Fordham University and an M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary, where he focused on the intersections between popular religion, culture, aesthetics, and social movements. He was born in Queens, New York and grew up on Long Island.


Heather West serves part time as the Kairos Center’s Finance Manager, keeping track of the organization’s budgets, revenue, expenses and payroll. Heather grew up in Michigan and has been involved in a variety of movement organizations throughout the years. In 1997 she worked for the Grassroots Leadership Development Program in Lorain, Ohio and soon became the Program Director for Organize! Ohio, a statewide organizing network. From 2000-2007 she served as the Director of the Deaf & Deaf Blind Committee on Human Rights in Northeast Ohio, fighting for the basic human rights to housing, healthcare, living wage jobs and communication. Over the past 18 years, Heather has also been involved in numerous national anti-poverty organizing efforts including the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, the University of the Poor, and a variety of national marches, summits, bus tours and leadership schools. Heather’s primary paid work is currently as a Sign Language Interpreter. In 2011 Heather moved to New York City to work more closely with the Poverty Initiative where she has participated in numerous strategic dialogues, intensive studies and several organizing tours. She currently serves on the University of the Poor Web Team.