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Building coalitions starts with seeing the humanity in others. Our issues aren’t really partisan—we can lift our voices together.

Author of From the Hood to the Holler | Founder of Hood to the Holler | Kentucky State Director of Faith Based & Community Initiatives

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Building strong coalitions may seem difficult—but there’s a playbook, says Charles Booker. Bringing people together to fight for a common cause starts with recognizing the humanity in others while standing firm in your own identity: “You find those common themes. You create a space of trust. And then you get to work.” Charles grew up in one of Kentucky’s poorest ZIP codes, and became the youngest Black legislator for that state in nearly 90 years. His dynamic run for U.S. Senate brought people together across all neighborhoods—from the majority Black “hood” to the majority white “holler”—and was “defined by his willingness to walk across that racial divide” (The New York Times). He went on to found Hood to the Holler: a people-centered organization that focuses on building coalitions to strengthen democracy. In talks, he draws from his career to show us how to lead diverse groups against all odds.

Charles Booker is a rising leader in our nation, and an inspiration to me and all those who get to know his story and vision.—Senator Cory Booker, first Black senator from New Jersey

Charles Booker has dedicated his life to public service—the kind of public service that bridges divides and brings people together, “lifting up the voices of those in the forgotten places.” He has fought for equity and justice in every level of government. As a legislator in the Kentucky House of Representatives, he championed voting rights, racial justice, lower prescription drug prices, human rights, and much more.

His grassroots, people-powered run for U.S. Senate made him the first Black Kentuckian to receive a major party nomination for the office. His campaign was marked by the belief that everyone’s voice could be heard: he would walk into “hollers” (poor, mostly white communities in Appalachia), and show them how much they had in common with the Black people in the “hoods” of Kentucky. He approached questions of equity and racial justice without tearing anyone down while refusing to compromise: “naming what’s in the room, so that we can build together.”

Charles’s memoir, From the Hood to the Holler, charts his powerful campaign for Senate and his rise to national prominence. Both a personal account and a spirited call to action, it tells the story of his journey from growing up in one of Kentucky’s poorest zip codes, where his electricity was sometimes cut off and his mother went hungry so her son could eat, to building coalitions across the urban/rural and racial divides and championing justice at high levels of state government. His memoir was turned into the award-winning documentary of the same name.

Through his organization, Hood to the Holler, Charles continues to act for voting rights and racial justice, train leaders, and facilitate community advocacy. He currently leads organizing and coalition efforts as Kentucky State Director of Faith Based & Community Initiatives in the office of the Governor. He previously served as Director of Fish and Wildlife, as well as a state legislator in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Speech Topics

Activism & Humanitarianism
From the Hood to the HollerA Playbook for Building Coalitions and Fighting for Justice

In a time where so much of our life seems to be defined by division, how do we come together and fight for a better future? No one is better positioned to answer this question than Charles Booker, whose dynamic run for U.S. Senate was marked by his unique ability to step across divides. Throughout his campaign, he built a coalition of people across all backgrounds by recognizing their shared dreams and humanity.

As the founder of Hood to the Holler, a people-centered organization focused on strengthening democracy and ending injustice, Charles has spent his career developing community leadership and bringing people together. He draws from his experience to show you how to build a team of diverse people for a common goal, how to communicate shared dreams and create a space of vulnerability, and how to mobilize action around this trust. “My hope is to inspire people to believe that we can still do great things,” he says.

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Leadership from the MarginsLifting Your Voice, No Matter Who You Are

Making change as a leader may seem out of reach, but Charles Booker says that anyone can make themselves heard in the decision-making arena. Charles was the youngest Black legislator in Kentucky in almost 90 years and has consistently been one of only a few people of color in his department. His experience taught him how anyone, from any background, can become a leader and defy all odds to make the changes they want to see.

In this talk, Charles draws from his experience at all levels of government, as well as the leadership training he does with his organization Hood to the Holler. He shows how you can work your way into the room and lift your voice (and the voices of those like you) to connect with others and create change—even with people you think are too different from you. “I want people to find renewed hope that change is still possible,” he says.

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