Boston Neighborhood Fellows 2021-2023

The two-year fellowship recognizes and empowers Greater Boston's changemakers

In memory of Thomas Ruffen

The Boston Foundation and our staff join all those in the city who mourn the death of Thomas Ruffen, who was killed Friday morning, September 1, in Jackson Square. As a 2021-2023 Boston Neighborhood Fellow, he was a beloved part of a tight-knit family of community leaders, and someone we were proud to know and partner with. While it is hard to comprehend his loss, we remember him for his leadership, partnership, vision, warmth, kindness and courage. We will miss him dearly.

The Boston Foundation is pleased to introduce the 2021-2023 class of Boston Neighborhood Fellows. To learn more about the program and its history, please visit the main Boston Neighborhood Fellows page.

Allie Rojas (she/her)

Community Organizer, La Comunidad

Headshot of Allie Rojas.

Allie Rojas is a queer undocumented community organizer, activist and currently the Program Coordinator for Student Multicultural Affairs where she advises over 30 multicultural organizations along with overseeing the Immigrant Student Program at UMass Boston.

Allie moved from Georgia to Boston in 2013 recognizing that her opportunities were limited in a red state after being denied a full-ride scholarship because of her legal status. She is dedicated to serving other students and helping bridge the gap between college access and undocumented students.


Athena Vaughn (she/her)

Co-Founder & Director, Transgender Resistance MA

Athena Vaughn headshot

Athena has been a leading figure in the LGTBQ community for over fifteen years. Driven by her faith and her lived experience as a black, trans-woman, Athena is committed to fighting for the rights and dignity of Transgender & Gender Non-Binary people everywhere. Athena began her work in social justice at Boston Glass and AIDS Action. Currently, she is the Trans Health Navigator at Fenway Health Institute advocating for greater health care access for transgender individuals. She also works as the Assistant Director at Transgender Emergency Fund, and is a Co-Founder and Executive Director at Trans Resistance MA, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting for the rights of transgender communities in Massachusetts.

Athena is passionate about creating safe spaces for other members of the LGBTQ+ community, often doing so by organizing local ballrooms for trans and queer individuals to express their full selves. She is also an ordained Minister at Community Tabernacle of Deliverance in Lynn. Athena thanks her loving grandmother for reconnecting her to her faith, and for guiding, supporting, and pushing her to live on her own terms.  

James Mackey (he/him)

Founder, #StuckOnReplay

James Mackey headshot, black and white

James Mackey is a proud husband and father, the creator of Dffrnt Kloth clothing brand, a social philanthropist, and a Radical Revolutionist who’s committed to fighting against systems and individuals that continue to perpetuate, disenfranchise, and oppress Black people through laws, policies, and practices. His dedication to empowering and positively impacting people in his community via YouthBuild led to him being featured on NBC Nightly News in the summer of 2016. In February of 2019, Mackey was also featured on Fox 25 News Boston’s special Black History Month Series, “Boston Black History: Inspiring Our Future” as one of four millennials on the front lines of today's Civil Rights Movement.

Over the past fifteen years, Mackey has helped local, state and federal agencies advocate and win appropriations, earmarks, and line-items, coupled with pushing policy makers to allocate resources and opportunities to Black communities across the country. Mackey has a lifelong commitment towards mobilizing his people by elevating their voices, uplifting their community, and reclaiming their independence socially, politically, and economically, by any means necessary.

Kevin Lam (he/they)

Organizing Director, Asian American Resource Workshop

Kevin Lam (he/they) is a queer Lao and Vietnamese community organizer developing and supporting the leadership of Asian American folks in the fight for social transformation. He currently serves as the Organizing Director with the Asian American Resource Workshop (AARW), a pan-Asian community based organization in Boston fighting on issues of displacement. With AARW, Kevin is leading immigration and deportation organizing efforts, in particular, building out AARW's community defense team to stand and fight against Southeast Asian deportations. He currently serves as a co-coordinator for a national campaign fighting to end Southeast Asian deportations housed under the Southeast Asian Freedom Network (SEAFN).

In the aftermath of the war and genocide in Southeast Asia, "The American War", Kevin's family resettled in Poughkeepsie, NY where he was born and raised. His family's and community's histories and narratives are what grounds Kevin in his approach to community organizing. While organizing to dismantle systemic oppression and structural violence inflicting harm on our communities, during this past period, Kevin has been exploring their love for food and cooking, and its relationship to movement building.

Lilly Marcelin (she/her)

Founder & Executive Director, Resilient Sisterhood Project

Lilly Marcelin is a community activist and organizer who has dedicated her life to racial and social justice. Ms. Marcelin has worked on a broad range of issues, from gender-based violence and human trafficking to health and socioeconomic disparities and women’s reproductive health and rights.

She is the Founder and Executive Director of the Resilient Sisterhood Project (RSP), whose mission is to empower women and young adults of African descent and inform them of the common reproductive diseases that disproportionately affect them. Ms. Marcelin strongly prefers to work in partnership with - rather than on behalf of - Black women in order to address deeply rooted systemic racism.

Marlene Cerritos-Rivas (she/her)

Health Equity Program Manager at Partners in Health

Marlene Cerritos-Rivas is a health equity advocate and a community organizer at heart. She was born in El Salvador and at the age of nine moved to Massachusetts with her family. She joined the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM) in 2012 after discovering the lack of educational options for undocumented students. Her passion for ensuring every person has access to quality health care led her to a career in public health with a special focus on racial equity.

Her goal is to serve the undocumented immigrant community, using data to properly shift funding mechanisms and tackle structural barriers. Marlene has a special interest in measuring and evaluating systemic change with a gender and racial lens. Marlene currently works as a Health Equity Program Manager for Partners in Health and coordinates Mujeres Victoriosas, a grassroot group of immigrant women advocating for changes in education and health with a focus on leadership development and empowerment.

Martin Henson (he/him)

Founder, BMEN Foundation

Martin is a speaker, trainer, activist, and organizer who has spent the last ten years advocating for Black lives, addressing the systemic issues that affect Black and marginalized groups through both conventional and unconventional avenues. Martin uses his training as a mental health counselor to add nuance to the way we support the livelihood of Black people.

Martin has engaged thousands of people around prison abolition, fighting white supremacy, and supporting Black communities through seminars, training and curriculum development, community events, rallies, and activism. His nonprofit (BMEN Foundation) builds support networks for Black men while addressing stigma related to mental health, masculinity, LGBTQ inclusivity, racism, and sexual assault.

Mea Johnson (she/they)

Community Organizer & worker/owner at Olio Culinary Collective

Mea Johnson has been a community and cultural organizer in the Boston area for over 17 years. She has worked with parents and families, fighting for better access to quality and accessible childcare; with transit riders, fighting for a more affordable and equitable public transit system; with cultural leaders in the Black community, fighting for more police accountability; and with the Indigenous community, fighting for land sovereignty both locally and nationally.

Pi Fong (they/them)

LGTBQ Community Advocate & Customer Support Specialist Girl Scouts MA

Pi Fong is a social justice advocate focusing on racial justice and LGBTQ organizing. They are currently a Customer Support Specialist with Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts and serve as the curriculum development lead for Lift Your Voice, a program series that supports Girl Scouts in becoming anti-racist advocates. They volunteer as a leader of a Girl Scout troop of 30 girls.

Since 2016, they have served as a steering committee member of the Queer Asian Pacific-Islander Alliance, providing cultural and social support for LGBTQ Asian Pacific-Islander communities in Greater Boston. During the "Yes on 3" campaign for transgender public accommodations protections, Pi served as the Regional Field Director for Worcester and Western Massachusetts.

Portsha Franklin (she/her)

Senior Director, College and Career Success, West End Boys & Girls Club

Portsha P. Franklin currently serves as the Senior Director of College and Career Success at the West End House Boys and Girls Club. She values helping young people work towards their college and career goals and find meaningful academic and professional pathways to support themselves and their families. Portsha has worked in higher education for almost ten years, and she has experience in grant writing and grants management. In addition to managing her church’s community grants program, Portsha serves as the Scholarship Chair for the Boston Alumni Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Her work and service to her community has always focused on the advancement of young people of color.

She is a proud HBCU graduate of Bethune-Cookman University (BS, Accounting) and also holds degrees from Belhaven University (Master’s, Public Administration) and Boston University (Master’s, Higher Education). Portsha enjoys reading mystery novels, cooking, and traveling. Portsha resides in Roxbury with her husband, Art Gordon, and their daughter, Jaxyn.

Queen-Cheyenne (she/her)

Founder, FTP Boston Collective

Queen-Cheyenne is an organizer and educator based in Greater Boston. With a degree in sociology with a concentration in youth and community from Suffolk University, her work centers around frameworks of restorative justice, popular education, Islamic Liberation theology, and Marxist theory.

She is a founding and active member of FTP Boston Collective, Cambridge Community For Us, By Us, and the Lowell Mass Action Collective. Queen-Cheyenne co-founded a mutual aid fund in Boston for Black and Brown youth attending and organizing protests, and more community aid funds in Cambridge and in Lowell. 

Raquel Halsey (she/her)

Executive Director, North American Indian Center of Boston 

Raquel Halsey joined the Board of Directors for the North American Indian Center of Boston in 2015. During her time on the Board, she worked to strengthen NAICOB’s education initiatives, deepen partnerships with universities and agencies, and worked with staff to improve the outcomes and experiences of clients.

Since August 2016, she has served as NAICOB's Executive Director. Before moving to Boston, she worked with children and families in the District of Columbia and Maryland during her time with CASA for Children of DC and with Standards Work.

Thomas Ruffen (he/him)

Founder, MA Creating Community Power Association 

Thomas Ruffen has worked as a network leader and Union Capitalist lead coordinator at Union Capital Boston for about six years, and is one of UCB’S founding members. With resources and support from UCB, Thomas has engaged members in their community in a variety of ways. He founded Massachusetts Creating Community Power Association, an organization that aims to promote widespread civic engagement by building young leaders, bringing opportunities for direct involvement in political dialogue and change, and contributing to the movement towards an anti-racist community through demonstration, education, and conversation.

Tre-Andre Valentine (he/they)

Executive Director, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition

Tre’Andre Valentine (he/they) is an immigrant of mixed ancestry from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. They have over 10 years of experience in the anti-violence movement and DEI work specializing in LGBTQ+ inclusion through an anti-oppression framework. Tre’Andre serves on the board of Trans Resistance and the Y2Y Network. He is currently the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and a member of the Mental Health and Medical Advisory Group for Gender Spectrum. Tre'Andre is the 2021 Lavendar Rhino Award Honoree.

Yara Liceaga-Rojas (she/her)

Poet/writer, Educator 

Yara Liceaga-Rojas is a mother, poet/writer, artist, and consultant in the art sector, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a 2021 Letras Boricuas Fellow, 2021-2023 Boston Neighborhood Fellow, and a 2019 Brother Thomas Fellow. Her work and art projects have been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Flamboyán Foundation, Mass Cultural Council, Cambridge Arts, NEFA, Boston Center for the Arts, The Boston Foundation, Kindle Projects, Midas Collaborative, Assets for Artists, the MGCC, Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, and The City of Boston.

She has curated or led the projects Poetry is Busy; Acentos espesos/Thick Accents; El Despojo Project; and her latest, Encarnar/Embody. Yara is also the author of 4 poetry books and one of creative non-fiction. Most of her work focuses on the visibility of marginalized subjects.