Sarah Horsley

by Lia

MKI Affiliation:

MKI Instructor




Rising Sun Consulting


Sarah Horsley’s experience with community organizing goes back to her childhood. Both of her parents influenced her towards organizing through their own experience, with her mom helping to start the first ever women’s studies program at UMass Boston and her dad organizing with the Civil Rights movement in Boston. She started organizing in high school and college, helping to mobilize around gender justice and later intersectionality with racial justice. She then embarked on her professional career, holding a position at a small Oakland-based grassroots organization, and later serving as Fenway CDC’s Director of Organizing. Finally, starting in 2013, Sarah started Rising Sun Consulting, where she partners with organizations like the Mel King Institute to provide coaching and training. She teaches the Community Organizing 101 and 102 series with her co-trainer and fellow organizer, Melinda Vega. She has also served as an Associate Lecturer in the Sociology Department at UMass Boston since 2008.

Sarah got started teaching at MKI through the community planning training series. Community planning can be considered as part of the larger umbrella of community organizing, since it includes topics such as stakeholder and leadership engagement, community perspective on the planning process, and community member education and mobilization. 

More recently, Sarah has focused on providing community organizing 101 and 102 trainings for MKI. These two trainings focus specifically on laying community organizing principles down in a framework and then building on that framework to enact greater community change. In Sarah’s opinion, organizing is critical to doing equitable community development work. In her words, “community organizing can help to identify the needs and capacities of a community so that the community development work its focused on what the community really needs. Second, organizing helps to nurture those key relationships and trust and helps build people’s collective power, which is needed to move projects and other goals forward.”

Sarah’s favorite part about being an MKI instructor is interacting with the students. Sarah feels that participating in these trainings is “so often a peer interactive process, so the instructors are learning from the participants and they are learning from each other.”

Sarah developed the Organizing and Engagement Core Skills Toolkit, in partnership with the Mel King Institute and NeighborWorks America. This toolkit is intended to be a comprehensive set of educational tools and resources for organizers to progress their professional development within the field. Organizers and community engagement staff helped create these materials through a survey, focus groups, and an eight-month long cohort which piloted the toolkit.

When asked what she wants others to know about the toolkit, her response was:
“The toolkit is meant for organizers to assess their own skills and knowledge level and then figure out next steps to move forward with their professional development. In other words, it’s a tool to empower, not to evaluate. We want people to use it actively and adapt it to their needs.”

For Sarah, community organizing is not just about the vision for a more just future. In her words, “for me, it’s always been that feeling of solidarity and community that is impossible to describe. It is not just about building power toward that goal of the world we want, but it is also that we’re supporting each other along the way.” She would like the Organizing and Engagement Core Skills Toolkit to be used widely by organizers in pursuit of professional development goals and furthering the field of community organizing.