Emerge Tennessee announces 2018 spring class of 28 trainees from across the state

  • Nov 6, 2017
  • Allison Abney

November 6, 2017

Contact: Kristal Knight, Executive Director of Emerge Tennessee
Kristal@EmergeTN.org | (615) 482-7206

Emerge Tennessee announces 2018 spring class of 28 trainees from across the state
Diverse group of Democratic women gearing up to run for office

Nashville, Tenn. –  Twenty-eight women from across the state have been selected as members of Emerge Tennessee’s 2018 Spring Cohort, its second training class. Emerge Tennessee is considered an essential step for Democratic women who want to run for public office in the state. It is the only in-depth, six-month training program that provides Democratic women with 70 hours of comprehensive knowledge they need to achieve their political aspirations. Emerge Tennessee training sessions are held one weekend a month in an alternating Tennessee city. The upcoming class will begin on Nov. 18, 2017 in Chattanooga and graduate on April 8, 2018 in Nashville.

Nationally, the Emerge America network had a 70% win rate in 2016 and has won 80% of races across the county where alumna have been on the ballot in 2017.

“Emerge Tennessee traveled from Mountain City to Memphis this summer speaking to women about running for office and having their voice represented in local, state and federal government,” said Kristal Knight, Executive Director of Emerge Tennessee. “This new class shows there are a lot of Democratic women, from all across Tennessee, in rural and urban communities that are interested in running for office but want to learn more about the process and hone their skills. We are excited about our next class and look forward to seeing their names on ballots across the state.”

Emerge Tennessee, founded in 2016 as the 22nd state affiliate of Emerge America, graduated twenty-four women from their inaugural class July 8, 2017.

Martesha Johnson, one of Emerge Tennessee’s inaugural class members and current candidate for Davidson County Public Defender, highlights the value of the program, “Emerge Tennessee provided me with the confidence and practical skills I needed to launch my campaign.  The program allowed me to build upon the skills I had and improve in areas where I was weak.  The state-based network has also provided me with a sisterhood of other women like me who are running for office.”

Johnson isn’t the only woman running for office from our inaugural class. Across the state Emerge Tennessee has four alumna currently running for office. Two alumna have been appointed to local boards in their respective cities and one alumna was elected to the Shelby County Executive Committee. 

Emerge Tennessee is proud to announce the 28 women in the Spring 2018 class:

Lauren Johnson, Johnson City: Sustainability Manager at Eastman, Johnson is the co-founder of the Tri-Cities chapter of Engineers Without Borders.  Johnson has served on the Johnson City Housing and Community Development Advisory Board for the past two years and is an executive member of the Washington County Democratic Party.  She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Deborah Harley-McClaskey, Johnson City: Associate Professor of Academic and Leadership Programs at East Tennessee State University, Harley-McClaskey holds a PhD from East Tennessee State University.  She is active in her community having served as a board or task force leader for Create Appalachia, the Girl Scouts, Coalition for Kids, Second Harvest Food Bank, Johnson City Senior Center, Chamber of Commerce, Johnson City/Washington County Community Youth Leadership Program, and Tennessee Campus Compact.


Amy Alford, Seymour: Lecturer for the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Alford holds a PhD from Mississippi State University, is an ecologist and has devoted much of her career to the enhancement of environmental benefits. She is active in the Sevier County Democratic Party, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and the Fisheries Conservation Laboratory at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

Jackie Clay Dubose, Knoxville: Executive Director of the Free Medical Clinic of Oak Ridge, Dubose formerly worked for the city of Knoxville as a program and project manager.  Dubose has received numerous awards, including Knoxville’s 2015 40 under 40, the Health Care Hero Award from the Tennessee Health Care Campaign, a Research Achievement Award from the National Association of Black Social Workers and a Change Agent Award from the NAACP.  She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Indya Kincannon, Knoxville: A civil servant for the City of Knoxville, Kincannon is a former Knox County Board of Education member, previously serving as Chair of the School Board. She taught history, writing, Spanish and drama at an international school in Slovenia and previously served as a budget analyst in Arizona Legislature.  She volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and serves on several boards that include Project Grad Knoxville, Great Schools Partnership and the Empowerment Zone Advisory Council.  She is a graduate of Haverford College and Princeton University.

Rebecca Saldivar, Knoxville: A Farmer’s Market Manager for the Knox County Parks and Recreation, Saldivar is also an entrepreneur who owns her own food truck, Tootsie Foods. A healthy food advocate, she is a committee member of the Knox County Food Policy Council.  She is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University.

Deborah Hollbrook, Pleasant Hill: An ordained chaplain with the United Church of Christ and former newspaper editor, Hollbrook now dedicates herself to her Pleasant Hill community, where she serves as the President of the Indivisible Group of Crossville.  She is also the president of the US Chapter of Action of Christians Against Torture and has been active in developing a prison ministry at her church.  She attended Vassar College and the University of Wisconsin.

Anne Ferrell Quillen, Crossville: a licensed attorney, Quillen is a former Tennessee Valley Authority employee with over 21 years with the Office of the Inspector General.  She formerly served on the Metropolitan Planning Commission for Knoxville and is currently active with the Indivisible Crossville chapter. She received her Juris Doctor from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and also received degrees from the University of South Carolina and Appalachian State University.

Melinda Bone, Chattanooga: A physical therapist professional, Bone is the current manager of BFS Facility Services, LLC.  She is active with youth activities in the Chattanooga area, where she is a Girl Scout Cadette Troop Leader and a mentor at Woodmore Elementary School.  She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Kyra Howell, Signal Mountain: Attorney with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C., Howell is a former U.S. Senate legislative assistant.  She is the Vice Chair of the Signal Mountain Centennial Committee, an adult volunteer with Girl Scouts USA and a member of the Signal Mountain Lions Club.  She received her Juris Doctorate from the Fordham University School of Law and is a graduate of Manhattanville College.

Rosabelle Gorman, Chattanooga: A Chattanooga area realtor, Gorman has also been a business owner of a local wine bar.  She is a board member of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, North Shore Council and has volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Humane Educational Society.  As someone who cares about her man, Gorman has been active with the Hamilton County Democratic Party.  She is a graduate of Bryan College.

Lori Clemons, Thompson Station: Clinical/Translational Research Coordinator with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Clemons is a certified clinical research professional.  She is involved with the Williamson County Democratic Party.  Lori is a graduate of the University of Alabama in Huntsville with degrees in psychology and experimental psychology.

Ellen Forrester, Nashville: Assistant Public Defender for Metro Nashville Public Defender, Forrester graduated from Tulane University with her Juris Doctorate.  She is an active member with the Daughters of the American Revolution, Gideon’s Promise and the Lawyers Association for Women-Marion Griffin Chapter.  She is also a graduate of Lipscomb University and American University Washington College of Law.

Gicola Lane, Nashville: Nashville Bail Reform Advocate with Just City, Lane is active in Metro Nashville within the criminal justice arena.  She volunteers with Participatory Defense and has been active with the Martha O’Bryan Center, Oasis Center, Hands on Nashville and the Explore Community School.  She is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University.

Jenny Charles, Nashville: Assistant District Attorney in the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office, Charles is a member of the Nashville Bar Association, Junior League of Nashville, Women’s Political Collaborative and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.  She previously worked for the Davidson County Public Defender’s Office and the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office and has enjoyed other volunteer activities where she can share her legal expertise.  She received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Memphis Law School and is a graduate of Belmont University.

Leah Dupree, Nashville: Attorney with the State of Tennessee in the Department of General Services, Dupree received her Juris Doctorate from Indiana University.  She is a member of several professional organizations that include, the American Bar Association, the TN chapter for American Society for Public Administration, The Links, NAACP, Women In Numbers and a C.O.R. E. volunteer, to name a few.  She is also a graduate of Tennessee State University and Valparaiso University.

Jolie Grace Wareham, Nashville:  A music industry professional, Wareham has been active in Democratic politics since high school. She reestablished the current chapter of the Rhodes College Democrats, previously served as Secretary of the Shelby County Democratic Party Reorganization Ad Hoc Committee, and served as Vice President of the College Democrats of Tennessee. Currently, she serves as Secretary of the Tennessee Young Democrats and volunteers with the Davidson County Democratic Party. She is a graduate of Rhodes College.

Kimi Abernathy, Nashville: An independent educational consultant, Abernathy has worked in the education area for over 20 years.  Since 2001 Abernathy has been involved in the Azerbaijan Adoption Group, an organization that works with Azerbaijani orphans.  She has previously been active on the Shelbyville-Bedford County Child Development Center and the Foster Care Review Board.  She is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University.

Sheronda Green, Brownsville: A District 3 Haywood County Commissioner, Green is an assistant office manager with Golden Circle Insurance Agency and has previously held several executive and leadership roles with the YMCA of Jackson and the Haywood County branch.  She is a graduate of Tennessee State University. 

Ashley Forjet, Oakland: Registered Nurse with Methodist Lebonher Healthcare, Forjet is an active member of the American Nurses Association and Tennessee Nurses Association.  She is passionate about healthcare and has worked with the Fayette County Democratic Party helping to develop policy positions around healthcare.  She is a graduate of Christian Brothers University. 

Civil Miller-Watkins, Rossville: A trained social worker and former human resource director, Miller-Watkins has been active in her local community volunteering with the Fayette County Democratic Party, Sommerville-Fayette NAACP branch and the Democratic Women of Fayette County.  She graduated from the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Tami Sawyer, Memphis: A former 2016 TN House candidate, Sawyer is the Director of Diversity and Cultural Competence with Teach for America Memphis.  A self-described activist, Sawyer has been involved with many social justice causes around the Memphis region and has been recognized by several organizations for her work.  She holds memberships with the NAACP of Memphis, The Links Incorporated, Planned Parenthood and the Memphis Grassroots Organizations Coalitions.  She is the recipient of the 2016 Memphis Business Journal ‘5 Women to Watch.’ She is a graduate of the University of Memphis. 

Amber Huett-Garcia, Memphis: Director of Development for Teach for America Memphis, Huett-Garcia is a former policy and budget analyst for state Illinois government.  She is currently the National Chairwoman of the Obesity Action Coalition and has served on the board for the past six years.  She is a passionate about her work within the education sector and her advocacy around obesity.  She is a graduate of Bradley University and University of Illinois Springfield.

Katrina Robinson Lee, Memphis: Founder/Director of The Healthcare Institute, Lee is an entrepreneur who founded this postsecondary healthcare vocational school and wrote a federal grant to secure $1.6M in funding for the school’s program costs and community education.  A registered nurse by trade, Lee is a member of the National League of Nurses, is a member of the 2017 Leadership Memphis class, Memphis Urban League and is a past recipient of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce Crossroads Magazine Top 10 Young Memphians.  She is a graduate of the University of Memphis, Union University Germantown and Western Governors University.

Danielle Schonbaum, Memphis: Manager for Continuous Improvement and Evaluation and the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce, Schonbaum is active with the Women’s Foundation of Greater Memphis and the Memphis in May organization. She has several years of grant and program management.  She graduated from the University of Memphis and Northwestern University.

Linda Nettles Harris, Memphis: Owner of Nettles Harris Law Firm and Dispute Resolution Services, PLLC, Harris has been active within the legal community of Memphis for years.  She is a 2015 recipient of the Global Directory of Who’s Who Top Lawyer, a 2013 Memphis Area Legal Service Access to Justice Award and several U.S. Department of Justice awards that include Justice Special Achievement Award and Distinguished Service Award to name a few.  She received her Juris Doctorate and bachelor’s degrees from the University of Memphis.

Grace Weil, Memphis: Director of Development for Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, Weil is a former AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with Hope House.  A Memphis Flyer 20 under 30 honoree this year Weil has been active around Memphis with the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Memphis, Junior League and the Shelby County Democratic Party and the Shelby County Young Democrats. She is a graduate of Rhodes College and the University of Notre Dame.

Tosha Downey, Memphis: Director of Advocacy and Community Voice for the Memphis Education Fund, Downey has been heavily involved in the education and legal arenas for years.  She is an active member of local boards and organizations that serve children and families.  She received her Juris Doctorate from the University of North Carolina School of Law and is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University and the University of Michigan.


Emerge Tennessee, founded in 2016, is the premier campaign-training program for Democratic women in the state. The Emerge program inspires women to run, and hones their skills to win. Our goal is clear: to increase the number of Democratic women in all levels of public office. Emerge Tennessee is an affiliate of Emerge America, a national organization operating in 17 states. To learn more, visit: https://emerge.ngpvanhost.com/tennessee