To support community organizers, advocates, and activists working year-round in places traditionally under-resourced, excluded, and ignored.
To invest in hyperlocal efforts that create sustainable civic infrastructure, engage and educate voters, and build power for the underrepresented and disenfranchised.
To advocate for a more responsive and representative democracy that can deliver justice, equity, and opportunity for all.
In the fight to defend American democracy, frontline community organizers are our single most impactful asset. This theory of change defines Groundwork Project, an organization founded in 2021 by former Congressman Joe Kennedy III.
Conservative forces provide a compelling test case for our theory. Far outside of coastal centers and the American Midwest, they have invested, organized, and consistently base built across the Deep South, Appalachia and the Plains – largely unopposed for generations. Today, these investments are bearing fruit, as anti-democracy forces are using the awesome civic power they have accrued in these places to threaten bodily autonomy, public education, voting rights, climate action and democratic freedom for us all.
This moment demands a response, and an end to the unopposed resources regressive, anti-democratic and anti-equality forces have funneled into these regions.
Enter: Groundwork Project.
We show up in the real battlegrounds – where the fight isn't about one candidate or one election, but about the survival of our democracy and our truest ideals. With a focus on Appalachia, the Deep South, and the Plains, Groundwork Project is the sole national pro-democracy and social justice organization singularly focused on supporting frontline organizers on the most crucial fronts in this generation’s battle for civil rights, equality and democracy itself.
We do this by working with partners on the ground to resource local organizers; support statewide infrastructure, shift civic narratives; and develop local leaders.
What sets Groundwork apart is our commitment to organizers who are working in regions that have otherwise been ignored and overlooked. These advocates are essential architects of the base-building required to compete with anti-democracy power in our states. We have uniquely positioned ourselves to find the best organizers with the biggest impact and get them more resources to do the work that our country's future is, quite literally, depending on.
We believe the stakes of this work are not political, but deeply human. Facing the highest rates of poverty, incarceration, illness and oppression anywhere in the country, Groundwork’s regions live everyday with the dire consequences of our failure to protect justice and equity for all.
This lends unique urgency to the Groundwork mission.
Supporting Frontline Organizers
The anchor of Groundwork’s engagement model in our focus states is providing capital, community and capacity to local frontline organizers, creating a unique and powerful Groundwork Organizer Network. Through our flagship Organizer Grant Program, we deliver multi-year, unrestricted grants to the Network, as well as significant wraparound support for all of our Network partners, from trainings to 1:1 mentorship and other technical assistance.
Investing in Statewide Infrastructure
We take time to earn trust with the organizers, organizations and local leaders working in coalition to build lasting political infrastructure in our focus states. Through engagement with donor alliances, civic engagement tables, local talent pipelines and issue campaigns, we support efforts to sustainably grow progressive, pro-democracy power statewide. Using the robust relationships developed via the Groundwork Organizer Network, we help deploy collective grassroots organizing capacity towards long-term progress.
Shifting Civic Narratives
We challenge boom-and-bust civic spending and dismantle the false narrative that tough regions are not worth progressive investment, aggressively elevating the work of our state partners in front of our national networks and on our large digital platforms. Within our states, where anti-democracy voices can dominate public discourse, we utilize our digital assets and external communications vehicles to elevate pro-democracy voices and resource them to expand the reach of their voices.
Developing Local Leaders
We invest in the local leaders that change depends on, helping them build full-time organizing careers where they are challenged, cared for and compensated fairly. Pro-democracy work in Groundwork States is difficult, often dangerous work. We know that getting more resources, community and support to local leaders is essential to building the long term organizing capacity required to win. Through the Groundwork Organizer Network and The Organizing Accelerator, a first-of-its-kind partnership with the NAACP, Groundwork is training and mentoring the next generation of organizing leaders working on democracy’s frontlines.
Aspen has focused their career in digital communications and organizing at social justice nonprofit organizations. Before Groundwork Project, they worked as the Senior Strategist of Communications and Digital Organizing at Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates. Aspen has an MA in Women’s and Gender Studies from The Graduate Center at the City University of New York, as well as a BA in Cultural Anthropology and a BA in Gender & Activism from Indiana University of Indianapolis. In their free time, you can find them watching reality TV shows and cooking dinner with their wife, and hanging out with their two cats, Poopy and Turkey.
Charles Taylor is a graduate of Morehouse College and a member of Freedom Side, a national collective of social justice community organizers. He served as a State Organizer for the Mississippi Conference NAACP 2012 “This Is My Vote” campaign which registered 29,000+ African Americans to vote in Mississippi. Taylor was the Field Director and Campaign Coordinator for the Better Schools, Better Jobs (Initiative 42 in MS to fully fund education). Additionally, Taylor has consulted for One Voice, Inc. as a data manager, served as a Data Consultant with MS Votes, and worked as a community organizer for Energy Democracy. Taylor was the Data Director for Mike Espy for Senate Campaign in 2018 and for Jay Hughes for Lt. Governor of Mississippi in 2019.
Emily is a political strategist, storyteller, and team leader with a deep resume of communications experience across highly-contested federal races, state government, and Capitol Hill. From national prime-time addresses to viral digital moments, she specializes in developing simple, persuasive narratives that cut through the noise.
For the last ten years she has served as Joe Kennedy’s communications director and chief speechwriter. Emily is passionate about progressive policy reform and supporting women who want to run for office, overthrow the patriarchy…or just take a nap. She’s the oldest of three girls and loves the ocean, her two little kids, and Dolly Parton, probably in that order.
Joe Kennedy has dedicated his career to social and economic justice. A former Congressman, legal aid volunteer, and assistant district attorney, he founded Groundwork Project to address pervasive disparities in the American political system and to help ensure our democracy is more inclusive, representative, and fair.
Over four terms in the House of Representatives, Kennedy built an impressive legislative record around civil rights, health care, and economic policy, emerging as a national figure in some of our most pivotal political debates. From his headline-making fights for affordable health care and compassionate immigration policy to his legislative leadership on issues like mental health parity and transgender equality, he became one of the Trump Era’s most powerful voices for moral clarity.
In addition to Groundwork Project, Joe is the Managing Director at Citizens Energy, a non-profit company founded in 1979 to help low-income families meet their basic needs. At Citizens, Joe focuses on making renewable power more accessible to households historically priced out of green energy.
In December 2022, President Biden appointed Joe as the Special Envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs, where he focuses on the long-standing U.S. commitment to peace, prosperity, and stability throughout the region.
He also serves as a senior advisor at the Emerson Collective and on the boards of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Woodwell Climate Research Center, the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, and the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps.
Prior to serving in Congress, Kennedy was an Assistant District Attorney in Massachusetts. He attended Stanford University and Harvard Law School, where he was an active member of the Legal Aid Bureau, and spent two years in the United States Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. The grandson of former United States Attorney General Robert Kennedy and great-nephew of President John F. Kennedy and former Senator Ted Kennedy, he is married to Lauren Birchfield Kennedy, founder and CEO of Neighborhood Villages, a leading childcare advocacy group. They live in Newton, Massachusetts with their two young children, Eleanor and James.
“Focused on Leaving a Blueprint of LOVE for people and helping Create a Better Community.”
We are Better Together!
J’Shawna Smith-Hayes is an Oklahoma native that has worked in Oil & Gas for over 15 years, and 12 of those years have been in management. Over the past 2.5 years, before getting more involved in being an advocate in the community, she also served as Chief Financial Officer at All Nations Champions Church. J’Shawna is focused on bettering the community and giving back through her non-profit called The H.O.P.E Foundation (Helping Others Persevere in Excellence), founded in 2022. The H.O.P.E Foundation aims to enhance the community, supporting our youth, providing clean laundry, meals, scholarships, and education to our less fortunate and rural communities. The H.O.P.E Scholarship Fund was birthed out of wanting to provide resources to high school students that want to attend college or a trade school but may not have the resources to do so, which will be awarded each year to a high school senior that is in a rural community. The H.O.P.E Foundation, in 2022 launched a campaign in the state of Oklahoma, called Vote For Change, alongside co-founder Julius Jones and the Julius Jones Institute. VFC’s purpose and focus is voter engagement, education and registration in our local communities, high schools, and colleges. J’Shawna is also an entrepreneur creating her own dry cleaning & laundry pickup and delivery service, Pure Dry Cleaning & Laundry, established in 1999. Her business and non-profit have had the opportunity to establish partnership with Socks of Love & Laundry Love of Oklahoma over the past two years. Raising money and providing free laundry 3 times a year for families in need. In 2022, collectively J’Shawna was able to raise over $15,000 toward scholarships, free laundry, free food, and sponsorship to help with the vision and mission of each organization. Also partnering with the Julius Jones Institute & the Julius Jones Coalition in the endeavor of bringing about change in our state. She also serves as the Voting Coordinator for the Julius Jones Coalition.
Specializing in business management, J’Shawna can use that experience not only in the corporate world or the board room, but also in her non-profit, community and within her own business. By focusing on the community, using the skills she has acquired, not only in ministry, but she has also been able to put her master’s degree, in business management, earned at Southern Nazarene University to good use. J’Shawna may spend her days working relentless hours at being an entrepreneur, mom, grandmother, advocate, sister, friend, and community organizer, but it’s the love that she has for her sons, the people, and the desire of wanting a better way of life for so
many, that gets her up in the morning. When J’Shawna is not working and giving back she enjoys traveling, shooting basketball, thrifting and spending time with family and friends. She is an ambassador for 988 Oklahoma, Oklahoma’s new Mental Health Lifeline and an influencer for Goodwill Oklahoma.
Her hope and desire are to inspire others to simply go and do the same. Lend a hand where a hand is needed, show love where love is needed and give hope where hope is needed.
Julia provides political fundraising strategy to candidates and elected officials who are building districtwide, statewide, and nationwide reputations as they seek to become the next generation of inspiring and dedicated public servants.
Julia has experience advising and leading fundraising teams for nonprofits, political committees, several members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, as well as U.S. Senate and House campaigns across the country. In 2012, Julia directed record-breaking fundraising efforts for Congressman Joe Kennedy III’s successful campaign for Congress, and continued to envision and execute Rep. Kennedy’s fundraising strategy through five election cycles. Julia also served as a part of the fundraising team for Forward Majority, an organization focused on flipping state legislatures in states with Republican trifectas, with the goal of dismantling the systematic disenfranchisement of Democrats through gerrymandering and voter suppression.
Julia is passionate about leveling the playing field to enable women to run for and win elected office. She helped spearhead the creation of a powerful political giving group in Massachusetts, which supports women candidates and elected officials, and educates women donors on the importance and impact of their political giving.
Matt is an experienced political organizer from Massachusetts who has executed a diverse array of voter engagement campaigns at the local, state, and federal level. Last cycle he worked on Joe Kennedy’s campaign for the U.S. Senate as well as for the Democratic nominee for Governor in Montana. Matt grew up in Scituate, Mass., loves to sail and can usually be found spending time with his (very large) extended family.
In 2020, Tracey returned to Georgia to lead her third statewide election as State Director for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and then continued on as the senior advisor for the Democratic Party of Georgia’s Senate Runoff Coordinated Campaign for Senators Ossoff and Warnock. Tracey has experience working on campaigns at all levels including five national presidential races and has campaigned in seventeen states from New Hampshire to Mississippi. Tracey started organizing as a volunteer in Boston, Massachusetts and would eventually become the first African American to manage a coordinated campaign in Massachusetts. Tracey grew up in Syracuse, New York.