Organizing for Action

A conversation with local community organizers

On November 11, 2022, three local community organizers joined the Duke Service-Learning team to share their work and experiences as community organizers within the Durham community.  The panel session was moderated by Dr. Joan Clifford, Program Director of Duke Service-Learning.  Panelists included Kathy Thelemaque of Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods), Maria Luisa Solis Guzman of Luma Consulting, and Tabitha Blackwell of Book Harvest Durham.  Questions included:

  • How did you get started as a community organizer? Share your story  
  • Strategies for working with community.  Talk about what you do and how you do it. 
  • What role can university students have in your respective organizations in a meaningful and impactful manner? 
  • What Knowledge/Skills/Dispositions are necessary for community organizers and organizing? How does being an insider from the community (belonging to the community) impact your effectiveness? Who gets categorized as insider/outsider and why? 
  • How would you describe the relationship between Duke and Durham? Do you consider different strategies or change approaches depending on who is involved in your effort? 
  • How can we continue to disrupt privilege, challenging English-dominance and Western-centered knowledge, communication, and leadership to ensure that individuals are no longer marginalized based on national origin, ethnic identification and language? How can we increase access to services and solutions? 



Ketty Thelemaque

Durham CAN

Ketty Lynne Thelemaque was born in Chicago, IL to parents Majeur and Jeanine Thelemaque.  Ketty is first generation, US born, as her parents emigrated from Haiti.  Her Haitian/American background has been the catalyst that has guided her career path. Being a daughter of parents who risked everything to give their children and extended family greater opportunities, is the foundation she stands on. It is this heritage that has fueled her desire to work towards justice for all. 

Ketty is the proud parent of one daughter, Camille A Thelemaque-Bearden.  Being a single parent has also informed her commitment to helping others with access to all services.  However, she also understands that it is her responsibility to be an example and that you are not defined by your circumstances.   

She is an ardent advocate for youth. Although she has spent 15 years in corporate positions of employment, she answered the call to education and taught high school for 16 years.  She is a graduate of North Carolina Central University and proudly proclaims she is a NCCU Eagle.  She spent 12 years in the classroom as an English teacher before being a Teaching and Learning Coach for Durham Public Schools. Her passion for solution finding for students has led her to pursue a Graduate degree from North Carolina State University. Her focus is on finding ways to engage the community and identify how systematic processes and policies affect those furthest from justice. 

Ketty’s faith has been her source of strength. She is a proud member of the Abundant Hope Christian Church where she leads their Praise Dance Ministry. She is a member of the Impact Praise Team and Christian Education Department.  Through her work at her church, she became active in the work of Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods).  She has actively worked in organizing through CAN for over 10 years.  She was a Strategy Team member, Co-Chair and most recently Lead Organizer.  Her desire is always to help improve life and community for those who are often discriminated against because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and/or socio-economic status. 


Maria Luisa Solis Guzman

Maria Luisa

Luma Consulting LLC

Maria Luisa Solis Guzman is the Co-Founder of Luma Consulting LLC, she is a community member, mother, community organizer and leader who advocates for the participation and inclusion of vulnerable communities in Durham. She has worked as liaison with city and state entities for 12 years in multiple roles: as Community Outreach Specialist, Advisory Board Member, Researcher, Recruitment Coordinator, and community partner. In one or more of these capacities, she has worked with Duke University’s Local Access to Coordinated Health Care program (LATCH), Salud Estrés y Resiliencia (SER), and the Duke Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Community Engaged Research Initiative (CERI). She has also worked with local organizations, El Centro Hispano and El Futuro. For the City of Durham, she has worked with the Neighborhood Improvement Services (NIS), the Office On Youth (OOY), City of Durham-General Department Service, Mc Adams, Perkins & Will with the Rail Trail Project and Durham City-planning Department, and is now serving as a Commissioner on the Human Relations Committee. Most recently, she is working with Duke University’s Snowball Study: Duke Respondent-Driven Sampling for respiratory Disease Surveillance and Thriving in Transition project. She has earned the trust of project leaders and of the Latinx community, making her an extremely effective advocate.


Tabitha Blackwell


Book Harvest Durham

Tabitha joined the Book Harvest staff in May 2022. In her role as Executive Director of Book Harvest Durham, she oversees all of Book Harvest’s operations and programming in Durham, with a focus on program excellence, scaling the reach and scope of existing programs in Durham, and piloting new and innovative initiatives that provide books and literacy supports to Durham’s children and families.

This is a new chapter in the long story of Tabitha’s leadership at Book Harvest. From 2016 – 2021, she served on the Book Harvest Board of Directors and held the role of Board Chair for four years. During her tenure as Board Chair, the organization’s reach, staff, and budget all grew significantly, laying the groundwork for the organization’s ambitious second decade.

Prior to her role as Book Harvest Durham’s Executive Director, Tabitha served as the Director of Networks and Programs of Funders Together To End Homelessness from 2018-2022. Her work helped to coordinate a national network of funders in their efforts to provide strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness, including the creation of policies and systems that center people with lived experience, addressing underlying causes like structural and racial inequities.

Previously, Blackwell held staff leadership positions at several national organizations where her focus was on programmatic and capacity-building efforts to more effectively serve youth, families, and communities. These included First Book, where she helped to build paths out of poverty for children through educational equity, including the provision of new books and learning resources; Reading Partners, where she worked to mobilize communities to provide students with the proven reading supports they need to read on grade level by fourth grade; and KABOOM!, where she collaborated with partners to create child-centered, community-driven play spaces for all children.

Blackwell resides in Durham, North Carolina, where she is the parent of a rising kindergartener. “I am thrilled to continue my journey with this organization I love, as Book Harvest Durham’s Executive Director. I have had the honor of working for over 15 years in the areas of literacy, book access, and education. This work is more than a passion; it is my life’s purpose.”