Mia Birdsong
Inaugural Ascend Fellow of The Aspen Institute and Senior Fellow, Economic 

Mia is a pathfinder, community curator, and storyteller who steadily engages the

leadership and wisdom of people experiencing injustice to chart new visions of American

life. She has a gift for making visible and leveraging the brilliance of everyday people so

that our collective gifts reach larger spheres of influence, cultural and political change,

and create wellbeing for everyone. Mia’s approach marks a departure from traditional

institutionalized change work, which seeks solutions from select “experts,” people often

removed from the problems they’re charged to solve.


She plays an important role in pointing to people’s lived experiences to inform

institutional learning and transformation. In How We Show Up, her upcoming book about

how we make family and community, Mia charts swaths of community life and points us

toward the promise of our collective vitality. In her work on guaranteed income as Senior

Fellow of the Economic Security Project, she taps into the voices and visions of low-

income people to re-imagine the American social contract. The media and storytelling

fellowship she’s piloting through Chanel Black aims to change the story and the

storyteller when it comes to the lives of one of America’s most maligned protagonists:

unmarried Black mothers.


Previously, as founding Co-Director of Family Story, Mia lifted up a new national story

about what makes a good family. (More love, inclusion, and connection, less marriage,

biology, and law.) As Vice President of the Family Independence Initiative, she leveraged

the power of data and stories to illuminate and accelerate the initiative low-income

families take to improve their lives.


Believing that, taken collectively, we are the guides we most need, Mia has made an art out

of inviting people into rich explorations of how we map paths forward. Her New America

public dialogue series centering Black women as agents of change; her 2018 City, Arts &

Lectures interview with Janet Mock, her 2016 TED conversation with the founders of Black


Lives Matter; and her 2015 TED talk “The Story We Tell About Poverty Isn’t True” (viewed

over 1.7 million times) all draw targeted attention to the stories of people who are finding

their way into leadership roles despite myriad barriers, while also highlighting the vibrant

terrain of all marginalized people who are leading on the ground and solving for



Mia was an inaugural Ascend Fellow and faculty member with The Aspen Institute, a New

America California Fellow, and Advocate-in-Residence with University of Pennsylvania’s

School of Social Policy and Practice. She has been published widely and speaks at

conferences and universities across the country. Mia, a graduate of Oberlin College, stays

“apocalypse ready” by gardening, keeping bees and chickens, studying herbalism, and

occasionally practicing archery. Her children, partner, and chosen family are her home.

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