Zac Henson

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Faculty Owner

I am an educator, organizer, public organic intellectual, redneck, banjo player, and homespun gadfly. I was born in Birmingham in 1978, one year before the first black mayor, Richard Arrington, was elected. My first memories are of living in a neighborhood transitioning from a white, working class steel neighborhood to a poor, black neighborhood wracked by job loss and deindustrialization. Both of my grandfathers worked at US Steel and my father was the first in his family to graduate from college. Aided by Fordism, his family achieved the American Dream, moving from sharecropping to urban homeownership. I am a second generation Auburn grad. My first memories are of pulling for my beloved Auburn Tigers football team and Bo Jackson.

I am an adjunct professor in Government at the University of Alabama, Birmingham where I teach courses on the politics of nature and community development and activism. I use the liberation pedagogy of Paulo Freire as my primary teaching methods. It is problem-posing education designed to create a learning community. To me, organizing is a process of constant learning and facilitating the learning of others in a way that leads to implementable strategies for change. Theory is important, but it must be applicable to real life problems. Ultimately, we must teach a social change praxis that uplifts the oppressed and exploited and leads to shared freedom of all living beings.

In 2016, I founded The Cooperative New School for Urban Studies and Environmental Justice. Over the next year, we grew from four to nine faculty- and staff-owners. The institution will eventually be an accredited online college for activists, community organizers, and social entrepreneurs and is wholly owned by the faculty, students and staff. Democratically-owned and governed, this institution is the next generation of higher education. As part of my dissertation research, I co-founded Magic City Agriculture Project, a popular education and urban agricultural community development organization. During the four years that I was president, we aided a community-based organization in starting an urban farm, Southwest Birmingham Community Farm and we conducted numerous trainings often focusing on antiracism and the decolonial project. I resigned in 2015 to pursue projects that would support me financially and to allow space for black leadership.

PhD, University of California, Berkeley, 2013