Petra Foundation Fellows

The Petra Foundation was established to sustain the trajectory of Petra Tölle Shattuck’s life by honoring the people she most admired—unsung local heroes who are fighting injustices and working to make the world more equitable and just.  There are 100 courageous, inspiring Petra Fellows.

In 2015, when the Petra Foundation celebrated its 25th anniversary, it ceased operations and forged a partnership with the Center for Community Change.

Community Change is unique in its building a multi-issue movement with diverse leadership, focused on systemic change, national in scope but deeply grounded in grassroots communities. Petra Shattuck saw others as but one voice in a chorus of those willing to stand up against injustice. By forging the links between Petra Fellows and other leaders at the Center for Community Change, the chorus gets louder, the force against injustice gets stronger, the movement grows.

  • Cecilia Rodriguez

    Cecilia Rodriguez

    Fellowship Date: 1990

    Founder of La Mujer Obrera; recognized for her support to and advocacy for minority women in the garment industry of southwest Texas.

    You can read more about Cecilia Rodriguez here.

    Quote

    I ask you to remember always the women of Mexico, to fight for their right to be safe and secure and to live in a country where the Zapatista demands for democracy, liberty, and justice are a reality.

  • Elena Rodriguez

    Elena Rodriguez

    Fellowship Date: 2001

    President of Mujeres Unidas and coordinator of farmworker outreach for Terry Reilly Health Services, Elena works to secure preventive medicine, reproductive health care and children’s medical insurance for Idaho Latinas and their families.

    You can read more about Elena Rodriguez here.

    Quote

    Two young, pregnant Mexican migrant workers were required to obtain parental consent for an abortion, but the only relative they had in Idaho was their older sister who was married to the coyote who had raped them.

  • Mayseng Saetern

    Mayseng Saetern

    Fellowship Date: 1995

    Founder and counselor at the Asian Women’s’ Center; recognized for her public commitment to advancing the rights of immigrant women and for bringing attention to issues of domestic violence within the community.

    You can read more about Mayseng Saetern here.

    Quote

    We have to make people aware that violence against anybody is a crime and will not be tolerated. Not everybody understands that yet.

  • Victoria Sammartino

    Victoria Sammartino

    Fellowship Date: 2012

    Sammartino works to heal, and to change punitive policies for, 14- to 21-year olds who have experienced abuse or neglect, have gone on to commit acts of delinquency and are thus caught up in both the child welfare and juvenile justice bureaucracies.

    You can read more about Victoria Sammartino here.

    Quote

    I have simply chosen to love the beautiful, resilient children I have had the unique privilege to work with more than I hate the systems that fail to do right by them.

  • Eva Sanjurjo

    Eva Sanjurjo

    Fellowship Date: 2006

    Founder of Greening for Breathing, Sanjurjo has led her low-income community’s long struggle against environmental degradation and for safe streets, green spaces and green jobs.

    You can read more about Eva Sanjurjo here.

    Quote

    Eventually in Hunts Point we are going to have an awning over us. And that awning is the trees.

  • Tim Schermerhorn

    Tim Schermerhorn

    Fellowship Date: 1999

    Founder of New Directions, a rank and file reform group with the Transport Workers Union Local 100; builder of alliances with other labor action groups and progressive organizations.

    You can read more about Tim Schermerhorn here.

    Quote

    Eventually in Hunts Point we are going to have an awning over us. And that awning is the trees.

  • Kenneth Serapio Hunter

    Kenneth Serapio Hunter

    Fellowship Date: 1990

    Pediatric surgeon; recognized for his service to fellow Miskito Indians in the villages and refugee camps of Nicaragua and Honduras.

    You can read more about Kenneth Serapio Hunter here.

    Quote

    Where I live is an isolated and distant region. My people, the Miskitos, have their own language and culture. When I was growing up, there were no services to help those who were sick. I became a doctor so I could improve the life and health of my people.

  • Claudia Smith

    Claudia Smith

    Fellowship Date: 2000

    Founder and Border Projects Director of California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation; resourceful advocate in the United States and Mexico for the human rights of migrants endangered by harsh border control policies.

    You can read more about Claudia Smith here.

    Quote

    If the government wants to seal the entire border, it has every right to do so. What it cannot do as an alternative–even in the national security context–is continue to channel economic migrants to their death.

  • Sheldon Smith

    Sheldon Smith

    Fellowship Date: 2012

    Inspired at 20 by the birth of his daughter, Smith founded The Dovetail Project, an intensive peer-to-peer program where young fathers without role models learn how to build family and community.

    You can read more about Sheldon Smith here.

    Quote

    To be an effective father, you have to be present in your child’s life, and to be present, you have to work collectively with your community on issues that will affect your child’s future.

  • Linda Stout

    Linda Stout

    Fellowship Date: 1990

    Founder and Director of the Piedmont Peace Project; recognized for creating a model multi-racial movement dedicated to organizing, educating, and empowering North Carolina’s poor.

    You can read more about Linda Stout here.

    Quote

    My own struggle to find my own voice helped me realize the importance of creating new ways of organizing that are empowering to, and inclusive of, everyone.

  • Carrie Thomas

    Carrie Thomas

    Fellowship Date: 2003

    Carrie Thomas, founding director of the Smithville Neighborhood Freedom Center, courageously confronted the racist power structure of her small town and, by raising her voice, helped the entire African-American community find theirs.

    You can read more about Carrie Thomas here.

    Quote

    I was just fed up with all the racism. Someone had to speak up, why not me?

  • JT Thompson

    JT Thompson

    Fellowship Date: 2009

    Founding director of Resurrection After Exoneration, Thompson runs the only reentry, transitional housing and resource center for men who were wrongly convicted and exonerated.

    You can read more about JT Thompson here.

    Quote

    Our revenge on the system that wrongly imprisoned us and destroyed our lives will be to empower leaders for change in post-Katrina Louisiana.

  • Joan Timeche

    Joan Timeche

    Fellowship Date: 1989

    Former Director of the Hopi Department of Education and current Program Director for the Center for American Indian Economic Development in Arizona; recognized for fostering educational and economic opportunities for Native Americans while preserving their cultural and spiritual life.

    You can read more about Joan Timeche here.

    Quote

    The Hopi reservation is always home, forever, even to Hopis who have never lived there.

  • Curt L. Tofteland

    Curt L. Tofteland

    Fellowship Date: 2007

    Curt L. Tofteland, Producing Artistic Director of Kentucky Shakespeare Festival and founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky, directs the longest-running Shakespeare theater company contained within the walls of a medium-security adult male prison.

    You can read more about Curt L. Tofteland here. Click here for his Full Bio and here for Facebook.

    Quote

    I have been studying how I may compare / this prison where I live unto the world: / and for because the world is populous / and here is not a creature but myself, / I cannot do it; yet I’ll hammer it out… / I wasted time, and now doth time waste me…

  • Ken Toole

    Ken Toole

    Fellowship Date: 2001

    Co-founder and program director of the Montana Human Rights Network, Ken works with citizens across the state to resist the bigotry of white supremacist and other hate groups and to defend the sovereignty of Native Americans.

    You can read more about Ken Toole here.

    Quote

    There are people in Montana with bullet holes in the sides of their houses because of honest disagreements with their neighbors…We cannot give a wink and a nod to those who feel they have a right to intimidate their political opponents.

  • Natalicía Tracy

    Natalicía Tracy

    Fellowship Date: 2013

    Executive Director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center; recognized for her advocacy for immigrant women and low-wage workers.

    You can read more about Natalicía Tracy here.

  • Sissy Trinh

    Sissy Trinh

    Fellowship Date: 2015

    A visionary organizer in Chinatown, one of the poorest neighborhoods in this diverse city, Sissy uses innovative strategies to build political power and drive policy change.

    You can read more about Sissy Trinh here.

  • Tom Tso

    Tom Tso

    Fellowship Date: 1991

    Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation; recognized for his efforts to integrate traditional Navajo law and Anglo-American legal processes.

    You can read more about Tom Tso here.

    Quote

    A strong and independent judiciary is absolutely necessary to provide justice to the Navajo People.

  • John Cole Vodicka

    John Cole Vodicka

    Fellowship Date: 1999

    Founder of the Prison and Jail Project; courageous advocate of prisoners in southwest Georgia; activist against racism and abuse within the criminal justice system.

    You can read more about John Cole Vodicka here.

    Quote

    Surely we can at least be present for prisoners in ways that recognize their humanity. I truly believe that simple acts of kindness and concern–when multiplied many times over–will reduce this cinderblock and razor wire to rubble. And all of us who are captives will one day be free.

  • Hollis Watkins

    Hollis Watkins

    Fellowship Date: 1999

    Co-founder and President of Southern Echo, Inc., a grass-roots organization fostering positive social change across Mississippi; dedicated community organizer in the struggle for racial justice.

    You can read more about Hollis Watkins here.

    Quote

    Young people are less dependent on the past, have the least fear of change and the best potential for creating a broad vision of a fair and just society. Their participation is essential if the struggle to empower African-Americans in Mississippi is to be successful.

  • Peggy White Wellknown Buffalo

    Peggy White Wellknown Buffalo

    Fellowship Date: 2009

    Founding director of Community Change Pole on the Crow reservation in Montana, White works to provide children with the traditional values and contemporary skills necessary to insure a sustainable future for the Crow people.

    You can read more about Peggy White Wellknown Buffalo here.

    Quote

    Traditional ways can be interwoven with modern ways to make our children strong and secure a just future for the Crow People.

  • Gina Womack

    Gina Womack

    Fellowship Date: 2006

    Founder and co-director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, Womack has built a statewide organization that is reforming one of America’s most racist and brutal criminal systems.

    You can read more about Gina Womack here.

    Quote

    Prisons do not buy us the public safety we all crave. Prisons take money from the very resources–education, housing, healthcare, economic development–that would reduce the crime rate.

  • Paul Wright

    Paul Wright

    Fellowship Date: 2005

    Skilled jailhouse lawyer and courageous investigative reporter, Wright founded Prison Legal News, a nationally recognized monthly published from behind bars for 13 years, and continues to hold hostile prison bureaucracies to account by exposing incompetence and inhumane conditions, brutality and racism.

    You can read more about Paul Wright here. Click here for his Full Bio and here for Facebook.

    Quote

    For too many of the 2.3 million prisoners in this country, imprisonment is a daily ordeal of sexual assault, beatings, brutality, sensory deprivation, isolation from family and children, financial exploitation and exile to rural areas far from home.

  • Rachel Yoder

    Rachel Yoder

    Fellowship Date: 1995

    Founding member of Parents for Quality Education with Integration; recognized for her advocacy for racial justice in the public schools of Ft. Wayne.

    You can read more about Rachel Yoder here.

    Quote

    Why should some children have so much and others so little?

  • Leonard Zeskind

    Leonard Zeskind

    Fellowship Date: 1992

    Researcher, writer, and monitor; recognized for his efforts to increase awareness of hate groups and white supremacist activity in Europe and America.

    You can read more about Leonard Zeskind here.

    Quote

    My work scares people and some people think I’m crazy to do it. I don’t deal with white supremacy in the abstract. I deal with it as it really exists.

  • Aaron Zimmerman

    Aaron Zimmerman

    Fellowship Date: 2005

    Founding director of New York Writers Coalition, one of the largest community-based creative writing programs in the country, Zimmerman encourages and finds audiences for the work of new writers, from disadvantaged children and teens at risk, to adults who were homeless, incarcerated or survivors of the World Trade Center.

    You can read more about Aaron Zimmerman here.

    Quote

    In such challenging times it’s easy to ask, why is creative writing important? I believe that telling stories and having them heard is a basic human need. When people who have been silenced have an opportunity to use and strengthen their voice, there’s no telling what’s possible.

  • ACTUAL - AIDS Children Teaching Us About Love

    ACTUAL - AIDS Children Teaching Us About Love

    Fellowship Date: 1998

    Advocates within hospitals and communities for the improved treatment of pediatric AIDS patients; providers of vital family-to-family outreach.

    You can read more about ACTUAL – AIDS Children Teaching Us About Love here.

    Quote

    There are a lot of people out there who don’t know who to turn to. They are afraid of rejection. They are looking for people who will accept them the way they are and they need people like us.