Meet the Staff
Kendra R. Johnson, Executive Director (she/her)
Kendra R. Johnson joined Equality North Carolina in May 2018. She is a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, where she previously worked to advance fairness and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as the State Director for the Human Rights Campaign. In her work to promote equity, Kendra has focused on building a better, more equitable South that is strengthened by diversity, safe schools, inclusive institutions and welcoming communities.
Kendra has been a lifelong volunteer and activist, including founding the first lesbian/bi-sexual support group at Spelman College in the 90s and volunteering communications services for Brazil’s first historically black college. She currently serves as the Board Chair for Southerners on New Ground (SONG), the largest grassroots LGBTQ organization in the South.
She previously worked in bi-lingual communications in Brazil for 14 years as a writer, editor and translator at that country’s top financial newspapers, Gazeta Mercantil and Valor Economico. Kendra is a proud graduate of Spelman College and holds a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Since returning to the nonprofit sector, Kendra has served as the Interim Executive Director of Women’s Project and the Lead In-Person Assister Guide at Better Community Development during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
Eshe Hamme, Chief Operating Officer (she/her)
Eshe joins Equality NC from California where she was the Director of Philanthropy for UC Berkeley School of Public Health. While at UC Berkeley, Eshe directed strategy around maternal and child healthcare, human trafficking, and food insecurity. Prior to her role at UC Berkeley, Eshe served as a Corporate Responsibility Manager for Silicon Valley Community Foundation where she managed a portfolio of corporate advised funds for various Fortune 500 companies and provided strategic guidance while implementing grant programs, employee engagement programs, and global giving strategies.
Before moving to California, Eshe began her nonprofit career as the Events Coordinator for Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina. A proud Durham native and Spelman College Alumna, Eshe loves cheering for her beloved Duke Blue Devils and Durham Bulls and can often be found at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
Ames Simmons, Policy Director (he/him)
Ames Simmons is a queer trans man serving as Equality NC’s Policy Director. He provides vision and strategic direction for Equality NC’s policy and advocacy agenda with the North Carolina General Assembly and the state’s executive branch and administrative agencies. He also works with local governments and federal policymakers to achieve Equality NC’s mission of health, equity and safety for all LGBTQ North Carolinians. His work is rooted in community-based efforts prioritizing anti-violence, anti-oppression and transgender justice.
James Michael Nichols, Director of Communications (he/him)
James joined Equality NC in October 2018 after five years of running HuffPost Queer Voices in New York City. A Raleigh native, he returned to the South with a commitment to help transform the culture of his home state and elevate the voices of marginalized folks and creative types living and working all across North Carolina. James is responsible for shaping the voice of ENC and oversees all internal and external communications for the organization. Outside of ENC he is involved in the arts community of the Triangle and writes for Indy Week, as well as NBC, NewNowNext and other national media outlets.
T. Shawn Long, Controller (he/him)
T. Shawn Long joined the Equality NC staff in August 2006 as administrative coordinator and later became Director of Operations. He now works as Controller, handling the financial accounts, processing donations and bills, submitting quarterly and annual financial reports, serving as office manager and handling general questions and requests, and helping maintain the member database and coordinate event registration.
In 2012 he was part of the ACLU's legal case to gain second-parent adoption for NC same-sex couples, which was formally amended in 2013 to include marriage equality in order to challenge North Carolina’s Amendment One, which prevented same-sex couples from marrying. The case was settled in October 2014 when a judge ruled the marriage ban unconstitutional. He and his husband Craig have been together for 25 years and have one teenage son, Isaiah.
Mandy Carter, Voter Engagement Strategist (she/her)
Mandy Carter has spent over 50 years organizing for the LGBTQ community. She is a co-founder of Southerners On New Ground, which serves and supports the LGBTQ community with a special focus on the southern United States. In addition, she co-founded the National Black Justice Coalition, which advocates for the unique challenges and needs of the African American LGBTQ community. During the 2008 presidential campaign, she served as a national co-chair of the Obama LGBT Pride grassroots infrastructure, and she has sat on multiple boards and advisory committees for LGBTQ and social justice organizations. Mandy was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, which focused on recognizing and celebrating women around the world who contributed to peace.
Rebby Kern, Education Policy Coordinator (they/them)
Rebby Kern is a nonbinary person of color working to create more inclusive climates for LGBTQ youth and young adults. Rebby has worked for LGBTQ youth focused organizations serving youth nationwide and locally in the Charlotte region. Rebby oversees the Rural Youth Empowerment Fellowship creating platforms for youth organizing in rural areas to create change and progress for their communities. Rebby is a statewide and nationally certified trainer for K-12 school staff and youth-serving professionals offering best practices and policy guidance to garner inclusive climates in schools for youth.
Kathryn Vandegrift, Triangle Civic Engagement Coordinator (she/hers)
Currently a resident of Raleigh, Kathryn is a local advocate with a passion for community-focused social justice. She is a veteran of numerous field campaigns to elect progressive, pro-justice public officials, including the 2016 presidential campaign and the 2018 primary race for NC Rep. Allison Dahle. She currently serves as president of a partisan LGBTQ+ community organization in Wake County, a role through which she advocates using the lens of queer equity in local decision making. She is a proud graduate of North Carolina's public schools and of NC State University.
Ash Love, Triad Civic Engagement Coordinator (she/they)
Ash Love is a community strategist, faith-rooted organizer, author and former Director of Faith Organizing for The Freedom Center for Social Justice. She is also pursuing her second Masters at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. Ash holds a Bachelors from Slippery Rock University and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh with a concentration in community organizing and social action. She is a proud Philadelphia native but now calls Salisbury, NC, home.
Ash has dedicated a lifetime commitment to working at the intersection of art, faith and justice. Most recently, she is the author of a poetry book called, "Liberated: Poems and Musings for the Journey." Her last ten years have been committed to concentrating on organizational development and strategy, with emphasis on macro social work best practices, youth advocacy, political organizing, faith-based organizing, art as a tool for justice and devising social action models for nonprofits. She’s served on various boards, strategy teams, political campaigns and committees.
Jamie Hildreth, Charlotte Civic Engagement Coordinator (he/him)
Jamie Hildreth is from Wadesboro, NC and moved to Charlotte to study Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In Charlotte, Jamie has worked with many partner and allied organizations of Equality NC, such as MeckPAC, where he was Chairman of the Board, Charlotte Pride as the VIP coordinator and Latin American Coalition as an executive assistant. Jamie believes in finding the intersection of each community in order to build a system of equity that lifts all tides. Jamie plans to bring his political training from Organizing for America and the Democratic Congressional and Senatorial Campaign Committees to build a robust grassroots civic engagement team within Charlotte.