Dedicated to equipping leaders of faith to live out self-care as a mandate for prophetic ministry.

Launched in 2013, The Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle is a fellowship program whose mission is to make the ordinary care of the bodies, minds and spirits of Black women a priority in their own lives — and within the social justice spaces where black women leaders disproportionately serve.

All of our work is steeped in the lived experience and intellectual expression of women of color.

  • What we do:
    The Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle equips Black women leaders, seeking to advance movements for justice within Black and Brown communities. Through a methodology that incorporates a spiritually grounded practice, fellows cultivate a greater sense of personal and communal wholeness and wellness.
  • Our Vision:
    The Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle exists to disrupt the narrative that has reduced self-care – especially for Black, female, poor, and queer bodies – as narcissism and indulgence. Our vision is a new story that declares self and other-loving with the potential to change individuals, communities, and the world.
  • What we mean by self-care for prophetic leadership:
    The Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle (STLC) is rooted in Audre Lorde's ground-breaking idea that caring for ourselves is a revolutionary act, and organized around the guiding mantra that "self-care is a mandate for prophetic leadership." The STLC converts these core values into a practical program for Black women leaders of faith and moral courage to use in their own lives and with the vulnerable communities they serve.

Meet the 2017 Cohort

Elle Hearns is a revolutionary organizer, freedom fighter, and strategy expert. Elle has spent a lifetime committed to making sure marginalized voices are centered and reflected in social justice movements. Elle is a highly-acclaimed public speaker, facilitator, trainer, and writer. She’s well-known for her work in mobilizing communities, rapid response, and campaign development. As an organizer, Elle spearheaded notable grassroots campaigns such as Trans Liberation Tuesday, More Than Marriage and digital campaigns most notably, Raise the Debate. She also served as a lead organizer of The Movement for Black Lives.

Elle currently is the organizing coordinator for the #BlackLivesMatter network where she’s been a strategic partner since its organizational inception. She previously served as the central region coordinator for the grassroots organization, GetEQUAL, and as the former creative director for TWOCC (Trans Women of Color Collective). Elle’s writings have been featured in TruthOut, The Huffington Post, and Ebony. Her remarkable work has been chronicled by several publications including Time, CNN, MTV, The New York Times, Alternet, Democracy Now, The Daily Dot, Fusion, Essence Magazine, and The Washington Post. Elle hails from Columbus, OH and currently lives in the nation’s capital, Washington, DC.

Toni-Michelle Williams is a community organizer and advocate for Black trans justice and liberation! She serves as the leadership development and programs coordinator for SNaP Co- The Solutions Not Punishment Coalition based in Atlanta, GA. She successfully launched the Trans Leadership Connection Internship Program (TLC) in the summer of 2015 and released “The Most Dangerous Thing Out Here is the Police,” a report that highlights the narratives of trans people on police abuse and profiling in Atlanta.

Williams has worked as a HIV/STD prevention specialist, serving Black trans women from Norfolk, VA to Atlanta, GA. She is a member of the National Black Justice Coalition’s 2015 inaugural cohort of 100 Black LGBTQ/SGL Emerging Leaders to Watch. And recently selected as a 2016 youth exchange participant for the Open Society and Soros Justice Foundation annual conference. Toni-Michelle is best known for her infectious smile, nurturing and loving spirit and dedication to Black women of trans experience.

Octavia Y. Lewis is an activist, advocate, mother, scholar, and wife. She is currently working on the formation of the Islan Nettles Community Project, a center focused on a holistic approach in healing and teaching sustainability within the transgender community.

Octavia graduated from the Audre Lorde Project Trans Justice School and is a sought after public speaker and facilitator. Octavia was the keynote speaker at the second annual Buffalo Trans Health conference; panelist at NYU’s Living Out Loud series for World AIDS Day, commencement speaker at HMI’s HSE graduation, panelist at Columbia University on gender and sexuality, facilitated workshops at the first, second, and third annual Newark LGBTQ Youth Summit, co-facilitator of JOG (Just One of the Girls) Intervention and co-developer of Common Voices (a harm reduction course for youth involved in commercial/survival sex work).  Lewis published an article in The Root,“I’M BLACK, I’M TRANS, I’M HIV-POSITIVE AND I’M OK”. She was featured on the cover of POZ Magazine March 2015 edition, elected as a board member of Positive Women’s Network, national advisory board member for the Center of Excellence in Transgender Healthcare, is a member of Positively Trans, and is becoming the foster mother of a 2-year-old named Ethan, whom she hopes to adopt.

Lewis holds an associate’s in general studies from Atlanta Metropolitan College, a bachelor’s in business administration/marketing from Georgia Gwinnett College, a master’s in public administration/health services management, and is a doctoral candidate in public policy and administration at Walden University. She remains rooted in community issues that plague the transgender community through mentorship of other young transgender youth to one day take her place in the fight for equality. She is focused on her professional development through scholarly practice and engagement with industry leaders who are willing to not only address the disparities of the disenfranchised and impoverished, but are willing to allow them a space to create solutions toward sustainability.

Dee Dee Chamblee is a seasoned grassroots organizer and spiritual leader for the trans community. She founded LaGender, Inc., an organization created to empower the trans-community. During her tenure as executive director, she was  a vital resource for service providers on how to treat trans people and understand their unique issues when it comes to HIV/AIDS, mental health, homelessness, wrongful incarceration, spiritual counseling and she created the first transgender ministry at Tabernacle Baptist Church.

Micky Bradford, a non-binary trans Black woman, is a performer-organizer. She is an Army brat, born in Germany and raised in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Georgia. Her interests are mainly in Southern history of trans and gender non-conforming people of color, their spiritual practices and building an army of voguing drag performer-organizers. She co-founded and currently curates the “Southern Fried Queer Pride” festival. Currently, she is the regional organizer” for the Transgender Law Center collaboration with Southerners on New Ground (SONG).

Raquel Willis is a digital publisher, writer, journalist and activist based in Oakland, CA. She recently became the communications associate for the Transgender Law Center. Originally from Augusta, GA, Raquel graduated from the University of Georgia with a in journalism in 2013 and has not stopped writing. Since graduation, she’s worked in media through newspapers and online publications. Raquel is also a freelance blogger for Her writing has been featured in The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Autostraddle, Medium’s Cuepoint, and ForHarriet.  Raquel really wants to use her voice and talents to inspire and uplift marginalized individuals, particularly trans women of color. Racquel is currently working on a collection of essays about her experiences and intersectionality.

Valerie Spencer has worked in behavioral health focusing on the health disparities of transgender persons and others within LGBT communities for over two decades (that’s 20 years, folks). Over time she has worked with the federal government, health departments, universities, conferences and community based organizations around the country. Ranging from capacity building training, national advocacy consultation, and of course, those key note addresses she is famous for. The directive she gives herself is simple: to make the complex comprehensive. She co-starred in the 2004 V-Day production of “The Vagina Monologues”, featuring an all trans-women cast and the accompanying documentary, “Beautiful Daughters”, which aired on LOGO and Showtime networks.

She attends Agape Spiritual Center where she continues to study science of mind and other spiritual approaches. Valerie has received numerous awards including the California Legislative LGBT caucus resolution recognizing her as a leader for LGBT social justice. She is the founder/director of Holistic Empowerment Institute, which addresses empowerment on a holistic basis for LGBT communities. Valerie earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Antioch University and completed her master’s in social work from California State University- Long Beach. But most of all, she is the daughter of Luella Gilmore, affectionately known as “LuLu”.

Aria Sa’id is the program director at the St. James Infirmary, whose mission is to provide free, compassionate, and nonjudgmental healthcare and social services for sex workers (current or former) of all genders and sexual orientations while preventing occupational illnesses and injuries through a comprehensive continuum of services.

Monica Cross, a transgender scholar-activist, serves as an associate minister at Tapestry Ministries, Disciples of Christ, Christian Church in Berkeley, CA. Monica received a master’s in divinity from Pacific School of Religion in 2012 and a master’s in religious leadership for social change from Starr King School of Ministry in 2014.

Her journey with the holy has led her from the citadels of conservatism to the liberal bastions of enlightenment and queer realities. Monica is a board member of The Community Collaborative Planning Council of Alameda and Contra-Costa County for policy and allocation of funding in the San Francisco Bay Area around HIV/AIDS; the founder of Global Prayer Network: a Different Imagination for a Just and Sustainable Humanity. She is the author of “Reflections of a Prophet Without Honor”, a book of reflections which emerged from her life as a transgender woman facing oppression in relationship with God and a blog, The Transgender Scholar.

While being a native of Southern California, Rev. Monica Cross currently makes her home in Richmond, CA.