The Kairos Center Staff
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The Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis is the 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 Policy Director for the Kairos Center and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (PPC:NCMR). Her work focuses on developing an analysis of the conditions facing the 140 million poor and dispossessed people in the U.S. and how they are organizing in response to those conditions. In 2016-2017, she coordinated a series of poverty truth commissions organized with the Kairos Center’s network of community and grassroots organizations. With the PPC:NCMR, she has: co-authored and edited two seminal reports, in collaboration with the Institute for Policy Studies, The Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America (2018) and The Poor People’s Moral Budget: Everybody Has a Right to Live! (2019); coordinated multiple hearings on Capitol Hill, including a hearing on poverty in front of the House Budget Committee; held numerous workshops, seminars and trainings on the policy work of the PPC:NCMR, including a webinar series for the 40+ state-based campaigns of the PPC:NCMR; and developed and compiled oral and written testimonies from the Campaign for broader publication. In 2019, she organized two Kairos Center convenings: one on the right to water and a second on the role of militarism in our communities, bringing together a diverse group of community organizers, artists, cultural workers, clergy, and policy experts from nearly 20 states.
Originally from Chicago, Shailly has a background in law, economics and international development and has spent the past 15 years working with and for poor and dispossessed communities: as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Niger; as part of the legal team that successfully fought for the rights of Colombian waste pickers to continue in their livelihood; with the Poverty Initiative and its network of grassroots religious and community leaders; and today with the Kairos Center and the PPC:NCMR. 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. Charon has a B.A. from Mercyhurst College (2002) and a M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary (2007). 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 is Co-Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development at the Kairos Center, National Political Educator for the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, and Lecturer in Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary. She holds a PhD in Christian Social Ethics from Union Theological Seminary. Her dissertation, “‘Freedom Church of the Poor’: Martin Luther King Jr’s Vision for a Poor People’s Campaign and Its Lessons for Today,” lifts up King’s 1968 convening of a multi-racial leadership of the poor as a transforming force for moral and structural change that could end the enmeshed evils of racism, poverty, and war. Her work in theological ethics is biblically centered, rooted in the growing leadership of the poor who refuse the evils of today, and seeks new forms of religious leadership. She is frequently invited to teach the history of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign in academic, congregational, and community settings and has developed numerous bible studies, sermons and workshops on the social and economic crises of today and the biblical vision for their abolition.
Originally from Marietta, Georgia and raised in the United Methodist Church, Colleen has worked for twenty years at the intersection of religion and social transformation. She was the first religion and social justice major at Agnes Scott College, with a thesis on racial justice and liberative pedagogies. She was part of the inaugural year of the Interfaith Service House and worked as a tenant organizer in Chicago. Colleen has been part of the Kairos Center’s Poverty Initiative since 2004, including editing five books as the Publications Coordinator and supporting the development of a national network of religious leaders dedicated to a movement to end poverty as the Fellows Program Coordinator. She and John Wessel-McCoy have two children, Myles and Josephine.
John Wessel-McCoy is co-coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development 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.