New Leadership – Fall 2019

After 47 years as one of the country’s most important training institutes for progressive organizing, we are proud to announce the next phase of our journey: New co-directors, Jay Travis and Eric Zachary. Both bring deep experience in building power in disenfranchised communities and organizing to win. Jay has been a trainer with the Midwest Academy for the past five years. Eric and Jay have worked together in dynamic partnership for a number of years.

As Jay and Eric come on board, they look forward to continuing our emphasis on strategic organizing and power-building with our current partners as well as forging new relationships; fighting structural, racial, gender, environmental and economic injustice; developing new training sessions that address current needs of the movement; and constructing new strategies to support progressive organizing around the country. 

They bring a wealth of experience in neighborhood, city and national organizing, developing and implementing training programs, racial justice organizing, strategic planning, labor-community partnerships and work with low and middle-income communities.

Communities that have been most impacted by structural racism and economic injustice – including Black, Brown, and immigrant communities, LGBTQ communities, youth and women – are at the forefront of building and wielding power. They helped drive effective community and labor alliances that led the resistance and won living wages, fought successful battles to protect public education and elected accountable political representation.

The current upsurge of racist and anti-immigrant activity, rising economic inequality, and threats to the foundations of our democracy and planet calls for strengthening all of our collective efforts for a more just society. We look forward to continuing to partner with you to explore new strategies, build bigger coalitions, and strengthen the movements that will lead to a better future.

We want to thank our outgoing Executive Director, Judy Hertz, as she steps down, for her many contributions to the Midwest Academy and building the movement for social justice. She will remain on staff half-time to do training, trainer-training, and revisions of training materials, in support of the new co-directors.

Please join us in welcoming Jay and Eric, and thanking Judy — and you can help us formally celebrate this transition on October 17th at our annual Academy Awards (Washington, DC – get your tickets here, or consider sponsorship or ad space (info here)).

Heather Booth

Board Chair





“For over two decades I’ve worked with Eric to develop new models of community labor partnership fighting for educational and racial justice. We’ve taken the successful work we did in New York City to other cities across the country and nationally. Eric’s leadership has been central to all of this and he will surely be missed at the AFT.  In this moment in history, we need cutting edge strategies to build power for a more just society. I look forward to working with the Midwest Academy under Eric & Jay’s leadership as we build a stronger progressive movement together.”
-Randi Weingarten
President of the American Federation of Teachers

“Jay Travis and Eric Zachary were key allies in setting the foundation for the historic LA teachers’ strike.  As seasoned campaign strategists, they were both visionary and operational in helping us build a solid foundation for a labor and community alliance.  Their guidance helped our coalition building on several fronts, including strategic campaign planning, research, communications, and grassroots organizing.  We are excited that their experience and talents will help to usher in a new generation of organizers and activists.”
-Alex Caputo-Pearl & Rudy Gonsalves
President of United Teachers Los Angeles
 & Director of Reclaim Our Schools LA and LAANE Education Campaign

“The Midwest Academy’s trainings and resources have fueled and sustained social justice efforts for decades.  I can’t imagine two individuals who are better-equipped to lead the Academy forward than Eric Zachary and Jay Travis, both of whom are highly effective organizers, campaigners, institution-builders and trainers.  I look forward to seeing how their shared imagination, expertise and networks, coupled with the Midwest Academy’s time-tested methodologies, will benefit all of us in the community organizing sector in new and exciting ways.”
-Oona Chatterjee
Director of Organizing and Capacity Building for the Center for Popular Democracy

“The Midwest Academy has a long history of equipping organizers with the tools to build power to win transformative change.  I am thrilled to know that Jay Travis and Eric Zachary, two brilliant organizers with a solid track record of making change are leading the organization going forward.  Sign us up!”
-Jitu Brown
National Director of the Journey for Justice Alliance

“I’ve known and worked with Jay Travis and Eric Zachary for many years and both are extremely experienced organizers, thoughtful communicators and organizational leaders deeply devoted to the growth, development and well-being of the their colleagues and the communities they serve. But most importantly, both Jay and Eric have a demonstrated commitment to issues of social justice. I look forward to seeing the contributions their leadership will bring to the already rich history of the Midwest Academy.”
-Richard Gray
Deputy Director of School Change and Community Engagement Programs (Metro Center – NYU)



Jay Travis’ Bio

Jay’s commitment to racial justice and democracy at the grassroots level has led her to play leadership roles in building local and national organizing alliances for education justice, youth employment, affordable housing, and political independence. At age 28, she became one of the youngest executive directors of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), one of Chicago’s oldest black-led intergenerational grassroots organizations.Jay Travis has worked to highlight the intersection between gentrification and education issues, and played a vital role in building community and labor alliances fighting to protect public education and against mass school closings impacting black and brown students at the local, state and national level. Jay has also worked as a program officer at progressive foundations such as the Woods Fund of Chicago and the Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing. As a founding member of the People United for Action PAC, Jay supports efforts to build infrastructure to support independent candidates and policies to address the needs of low-income and working families. Jay has been a trainer with the Midwest Academy over the past five years.

Eric Zachary’s Bio

Eric’s career has included deep experience in both community and union organizing, and has been distinguished by starting and directing new projects and alliances in the struggle for social justice. These have included developing a comprehensive leadership training program for neighborhood and parent leaders, serving as the founding director of the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, and most recently establishing a new community engagement infrastructure at the American Federation of Teachers.  In this last position, he has helped to establish community-labor alliances fighting for educational and racial justice in a dozen cities, as well as the national Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. Working with a wide range of community, labor, university and faith-based allies at the neighborhood, city and national levels, all of these efforts have included a participatory and democratic culture at their heart, along with a deep commitment to racial, economic and gender diversity and justice. A life-long resident of Brooklyn, Eric is a product of both public housing and public education from kindergarten through his doctorate.