Jay Travis, Co-Executive Director

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.

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Eric Zachary, Co-Executive Director

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.

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Judy Hertz   Judy Hertz, Executive Director Emeritus

Judy served as Director of Special Projects at the Midwest Academy from 1999- 2010, lead the organization as Executive Director from 2011-2019, and is currently focusing on training (leading, updating curriculum, and training the trainers). She serves as a trainer at our core workshops, Organizing for Social Change and Supervising Organizers, and consults with a variety of organizations, from neighborhood organizations to state and national groups.

Prior to joining the Academy, Judy worked as a community organizer in Chicago for 20 years. She began with an institution-based organization on the southwest side, and then served for ten years as executive director of Rogers Park Tenants Committee, Chicago’s largest and most powerful neighborhood-based tenants’ rights organization. During her time there, she helped lead campaign to pass the Chicago Tenants’ Bill of Rights, which dramatically transformed renters’ rights in Chicago, and helped launch the Lead Elimination Action Drive, which improved Chicago’s response to lead paint poisoning. She guided the organization through a transition into a multi-issue organization, changing its name to Rogers Park Community Action Network (RPCAN).

Following her work with RPCAN, Judy spent two years working on Organizing and Family Issues, conducting leadership training in a feminist organizing model with low-income Hispanic mothers. Judy was a member of the founding board of the National Organizers Alliance, a professional association for progressive community, issue, and labor organizers. She was also a founder and member of the Board of the NOA Retirement Pension Plan, a multiple employer pension plan for community organizers.

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  Kaylee Tock, Administrative Director

Kaylee started in the world of nonprofits as an intern for the Chicago Artists’ Coalition during her time at Bennington College.  From there, she dabbled in both the music industry and the world of women’s fashion.  Her meandering path eventually led to Midwest Academy, where she is able to put her skills to use in a place she feels 100% fulfilled and morally aligned (how refreshing!).  She is thrilled to be part of such a strong group with such a vital mission, and is the person to holler at if you’ve attended a training and found the pastry selection unacceptable.

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Steve Max, Associate Director Emeritus