Steering Committee

Joyce Johnson’s community activism and leadership began as a high school student and NAACP youth member in Richmond, VA during the 1960s struggle for civil rights and open accommodations. She deepened her involvement at Duke University, where she was founding co-chair of the Duke Afro-American Society; a leader in the movement for relevant education; and an advocate for non-academic, campus employees. Johnson was actively engaged in the Durham community with a variety of civil rights initiatives, worker justice struggles, tutoring projects, and local church activities.

A former business professor and transportation research director at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro for 27 years, Johnson was instrumental in the university’s designation and funding as a national transportation center of excellence in research and training by the US Department of Transportation.  Her former community service includes Co-Chair of the Greensboro Bond Referendum Campaign that resulted in the City of Greensboro’s expanded funding for public transportation, public parks, and community housing development. She has also served on the Governor’s Transportation 2000 Study Committee, chairperson of the Greensboro Transit Authority, member of the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Commission, member of the Guilford County Health Board, member of the Community Foundation of Greensboro, and member of the Executive Committee of the Greensboro NAACP.

Documentary film, “Red November, Black November” premiers in Greensboro on March 1, 1981 (photo courtesy of John Rottet, News & Observer, Raleigh, NC) L. to R. Joyce Johnson, Dale Sampson, Sally Bermanzohn, Paul Bermanzohn, Marty Nathan, with daughter Leah, Nelson Johnson, Signe Waller, Sally Alvarez (film producer/director)

Currently, Johnson serves as a co-chair of the National Council of Elders, which includes leaders of social justice movements of the 20th century.  She is also a member of the Kellogg Foundation’s national team of Racial Healing Practitioners and a Community Fellow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s CoLab.  Johnson is the Labor Chair of the North Carolina NAACP’s State Executive Committee and a State Co-Chair for Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

Johnson spends most of her time serving as the Co-Executive Director of the Beloved Community Center of Greensboro, a community organizing, leadership development, research, and advocacy entity.  Johnson, her husband, and others established the pace-setting Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Process. Influenced by international models such as the South African process, this initiative encourages broad community dialogue, truth-telling, understanding, and healing throughout Greensboro in pursuit of economic, racial, and social justice and equity.  

Archbishop Desmond Tutu encourages Greensboro to engage a truth and reconciliation process (front row l. to r., Mayor Carolyn Allen, Archbishop Tutu, Joyce and Rev. Nelson Johnson)

Currently immersed in the implementation phase of that work, entitled “Our Democratic Mission,” Johnson and her husband, the Reverend Nelson Johnson, have received numerous awards for their innovative and inclusive approach to community-building, including the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World Award, the National Faith and Politics Institute’s St. Joseph Day Award, the Encore Career’s Purpose Prize, the North Carolina A&T State University’s Human Rights Award, the Greensboro NAACP Leadership Award, and the NC NAACP President’s Award, bestowed by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II. The Johnsons have two adult daughters, Akua Johnson Matherson and Ayo Samori Johnson, as well as two grandchildren, Alise Jamill Matherson and Nelson Josiah Johnson.

The Reverend Nelson N. Johnson is the Founding Pastor Emeritus at Faith Community Church in Greensboro, NC.  He is also the Co-Executive Director of the Beloved Community Center of Greensboro, organized in 1991 to carry out the dream of the 20th century prophet, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He currently serves on the N.C. Steering Committee and National Executive Committee of the New Poor People’s Campaign, co-chaired by Bishop Dr. William Barber, II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis.  Rev. Johnson is also a member of the North Carolina Forward Together Moral Monday Movement, the Beloved Organizing, Training and Healing Institute, Democracy Greensboro, the Greensboro Pulpit Forum, the Healing Practitioners Team of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Mel King Community Fellows of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Rev. Johnson has been active in the movement for social and economic justice since high school in the late 1950’s.  He served as a local and national student leader in the 1960-70s, including Vice President of the SGA at A&T State University and National Convener of the Student Organization for Black Unity (SOBU).  While a student leader, he played the leading role in forming the Greensboro Association of Poor People (GAPP) in 1967, a groundbreaking local poor people’s movement, and worked closely with the Greensboro NAACP, local clergy, and other groups on voter registration, redevelopment, housing, education, open public accommodations, worker justice campaigns, and African Liberation support initiatives.  

Nov. 3, 1979, and injured Nelson Johnson is arrested at the scene of the massacre, Morningside Homes, while making a speech.

Rev. Johnson has served as both vice president and president of the Greensboro Pulpit Forum, as a Convener for the Southern Faith, Labor and Community Coalition, and as a  member of the Coordinating Committee of the National Council of Elders, made up of leaders of defining social justice movements of the 20th Century.  He is a former National Chairperson of the Chicago-based Interfaith Worker Justice and past Chairperson of the Gulf Coast Commission on Reconstruction Equity, established in response to the devastation from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  He also served on the U.S. Justice Department’s Public Review Board for the UNITE-HERE Labor Union and the Ethics Committee of the Service Employees’ International Labor Union (SEIU).

Rev. Johnson has been recognized for his work from various quarters, including the prestigious Ford Foundation Leadership for a Changing World Award, the Washington, DC-based Institute for Faith and Politics Award, the Purpose Prize Award, the 2012 Human Rights Medal bestowed by North Carolina A&T State University.  Together with his wife, he received the 2017 NC NAACP President’s Award from Bishop Dr. William Barber.

A wounded Nelson Johnson (front center) flanked by widows (l. to r.) Dale Sampson and Signe Waller, in Signe’s home, holding press conference on Nov. 5, 1979.

Guided by his multiple emphases of faith, equity, justice, diversity and democracy, Rev. Johnson is actively building relationships with and providing leadership among faith groups, organized labor, and community organizations in Greensboro and the South.  Two of the most significant initiatives he has been involved with in Greensboro have been the successful K-Mart labor struggle in the late 1990’s and the historic Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Process, modeled after the South African initiative.  This innovative, community-based endeavor, supported by the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others, was crafted to address unresolved matters of truth, justice, reconciliation, and healing in the aftermath of the Greensboro Massacre carried out by Klan and Nazis on November 3, 1979. Other initiatives have included the Smithfield Workers struggle, the ongoing efforts of “Fight for 15” by fast food workers locally and nationally, and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) to institute fair working conditions for immigrants and farm laborers.

Rev. Johnson is a native of Halifax County, NC.  He received a baccalaureate degree in political science from North Carolina A&T State University and a Master of Divinity Degree from the School of Theology at Virginia Union University.  He also received an honorary doctoral degree from the Apex Theological Seminary. Rev. Johnson is married to Joyce Hobson Johnson, and they have two adult daughters, Akua Johnson Matherson, a university administrator, and Ayo Samori Johnson, a registered nurse and certified recreational therapist.  Rev. & Mrs. Johnson are also proud grandparents.

Dr. Mike Nathan and Marty, wedding day, 1978

Marty Nathan, MD is a family physician at a low income Latino clinic in North Springfield, MA, where she directs a pathbreaking effort, the Cliniquita Fund, to provide comprehensive health care to undocumented workers in the city. She founded and directs the Markham-Nathan Fund for Social Justice in honor of her late husband, Mike Nathan, and her activist friends, George and Arky Markham. The MNF grants to grassroots social justice and peace organizations in Western Massachusetts. For many years she was executive director of the Greensboro Justice Fund, Inc. which used the proceeds of the judgment in the Greensboro Civil Rights Suit as seed money to fund anti-racist and labor grassroots work in the South.

Marty is an organizer, speaker and writer on issues of climate and environmental justice. She lives with her husband, Elliot Fratkin, in Northampton, MA. She has three grown children and two grandchildren.

Jim & Signe Waller, Chicago by lake, 1977

Signe Waller Foxworth was born Signie Barbara Burke in Brooklyn, New York, on July 14, 1938. She graduated from Brooklyn College in 1960 with Honors in Philosophy and received a doctorate in Philosophy of Science from Columbia University in 1969. Signe’s political commitments were forged in the tumultuous era of the 1960s and 1970s. By the time she moved to Greensboro, NC, in 1971, with her first husband and two small children, she was committed to a life of political activism toward ending racism, ending wars, and working for social justice.

Nov. 11, 1979, hundreds of CWP members and supporters pay homage to the five organizers killed on Nov. 3, amid a city-declared state of emergency that brought troops and armored vehicles to Greensboro. (Jim Waller’s widow, Signe, front right)

In January 1978, Signe, now divorced, married Jim Waller, a pediatrician who abandoned a medical career to work in a textile factory, where he fought against racism and rose to become a union leader. Signe was widowed in the Greensboro Massacre of November 3, 1979. Afterward, she participated in the struggle for justice stemming from the massacre, including as a board member in the Greensboro Justice Fund and as a Local Task Force member in the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project. Active on various social, economic, and educational fronts, Signe spent many years as a philosophy teacher in colleges and universities, was Research Director of a quasi-governmental social development agency established during the war on poverty, owned and operated a certified organic vegetable farm and community supported agriculture project, and has written many non-fiction articles for periodicals. Her book about the Greensboro Massacre, “Love and Revolution,” was published in 2002.

After living in the mid-west for 15 years, Signe returned to Greensboro in 2003. Three years later, she married Bob Foxworth. The two share a life rich in community service and social justice activism.

Sally Alvarez is a filmmaker, labor educator, cultural activist, and labor history professor recently retired from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. She was the director and producer of the film “Red November, Black November” in 1981, which dealt with the Greensboro Massacre.. She subsequently ran a public access television studio in Atlanta Georgia and earned graduate degrees in communications and American Studies. She taught Southern labor history and ran labor education programs at Cornell. She retired in 2019.

Lucy Wagner Lewis is a native North Carolinian.  She has been a rank-and-file labor organizer, worked in non-profits, local government, and retired in 2016 from UNC-Chapel Hill where she worked with 2,000 undergraduates on social justice issues; she continues her work as a community activist.  Lucy was a board member of the Greensboro Justice Fund and a member of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission National Advisory Committee. She is a board member of the Highlander Research and Education Center and is working with HREC to relaunch the Greensboro Justice Fund Fellowships at Highlander.  Lucy has a daughter, Jennifer, and three grandchildren.

Rosalyn Woodward Pelles is a veteran of the civil rights and workers rights movements.  She has a long history of social justice activism that spans five decades, beginning with her work as a teenager in the Congress of Racial Equality.

Ms. Pelles is currently the Vice President of Repairers of the Breach, a nonpartisan organization that seeks to build a progressive agenda and movement rooted in the moral values of justice, fairness, and the common good.    She is also serving as the Senior Strategic Advisor and national manger of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival.

She is the former Executive Director of the North Carolina NAACP. While at the North Carolina NAACP she also served as a senior strategist and advisor to North Carolina’s Moral Monday/Forward Together Movement, during the pivotal and historic year when Moral Mondays erupted in the state capitol of Raleigh, spread across the state, and inspired the nation.

Prior to this, Ms. Pelles was the Director of the Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Department at the national American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).  She also served as the Executive Director of the Union Community Fund, a national labor charity created to provide funding for social and economic justice organizations. Ms. Pelles was also the Executive Director of the National Rainbow Coalition and Special Assistant to Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

Over the years, Rosalyn Pelles has been advocate and organizer.  She was a National Representative for the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) and Executive Director of the National Education Association Staff Organization (NEASO).  Early in her career in North Carolina, Ms. Pelles organized hospital and textile workers and against the hatred and racist violence of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Party.

Ms. Pelles served on the Board of Directors of the Highlander Research and Education Center, where she was the Board Chair, and on the national board of Interfaith Worker Justice.

Rosalyn Pelles was named one of the country’s outstanding African American women labor leaders by the Institute for Policy Studies in the And Still I Rise: Black Women Labor Leaders Initiative. She was also the recipient of the Life Time Achievement Award from the Working Class Studies Association.

Ms. Pelles has been a lecturer and workshop leader across the United States, Canada, Tanzania and Uganda.

Ms. Pelles received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from North Carolina Central University and a Juris Doctor Degree from Howard University School of Law.

Lewis Pitts, who lives in Greensboro, is an activist, civil rights lawyer who worked around the South for over 40 years.  He was one of the trial attorneys in the Greensboro Massacre federal civil rights case in 1985.  He retired and resigned from the NC Bar in 2014 because he feels the Bar has failed in it’s ethical obligation to seek justice and equality – and instead become a servant to corporate power and profit. Yet, he actively encourages anyone to become a Peoples Lawyer fighting to build, protect, and serve the Movements for fundamental social change.  He also continues to volunteer with the Beloved Community Center in Greensboro fighting for police accountability and open, transparent, self-government.     

During his career he focused on racial justice, environmental justice, rights for children, and realization of a self-governing democracy.

Liz Wildermann has lived in Durham and worked at Duke Medical Center for the last 40 years, 25 of which were in research in breast cancer.  She was at the Anti-Klan Rally in Greensboro  in 1979 and has been active in various struggles over the last 4 decades, including the Duke Grievance Committee. She is now semi-retired. She has a son, Cesar Nathan (named for Cesar Cauce and Mike Nathan) and a daughter, Kelly.

Jill Elam Williams serves as the coordinator for the Greensboro Massacre: Lessons for Today initiative. She was the executive director of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission and from there went to serve as the program officer at the Andrus Family Fund where she supported community organizing and reconciliation efforts around the United States, including the Maine Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission and others. Subsequently she served as the coordinator for leadership initiatives at the Center for Social Inclusion and as a consultant for the International Center for Transitional Justice. After having her first child, she and her husband moved back to Jill’s hometown in the Appalachian Mountains where she is now supporting a variety of truth seeking and social justice initiatives through her consulting business Wide Angle Strategies.