Distinguished Democrats: Josh Ferguson

Josh Ferguson

Political Consultant & Kent Dems Field Director

Josh is a proud trans woman. She shared, “How you look at me says more about you than what it says about me. I take a great deal of pride in giving people practice in challenging their assumptions.”

Growing up in a household that kept playing West Wing over and over, she thought that being like some of the actors was a job she actually could do and aspired to work in politics, even if it was behind the scenes. 

Pursuing a degree in Economics at Valparaiso University in Indiana, she was inspired by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s impact on the queer community. 

After Josh graduated, jobs were hard to come by, so she volunteered to do data work for Bryan Berghoef, who was running for office. Every day, Josh would ask for a summer job to be his Campaign Manager. Bryan eventually hired her, because he said nobody wanted the job more than she did. 

Josh said the deep introspection she had to go through, pulling from her internal strengths, helped shape who she was as an authentic person. She said, “The more open and honest you are with people, they respond because they can tell that I have a clear sense of who I am and what I want to do.”

From August, 2021 until November, 2022, she served as a Field Organizer for Governor Whitmer’s campaign. She said, “It was illuminating to work for a massive statewide apparatus versus a local campaign. In the end, all you really have is what you have between your ears.”

In April, 2023, Josh was hired to do consulting work for 270 Strategies to keep an eye on renewable energy in Michigan and to help with its implementation across the state. She has a flexible schedule which allows her to be active in the Kent Dems as a Field Director, where she builds out teams of people to engage neighborhoods in one-to-one conversations. 

Josh says, “In order to cut through divisiveness, we need to get to know each other better. Nothing beats a five minute conversation. No one human can win an election by themselves. It comes down to one collective coalition versus another collective coalition. It is really important to keep the focus on the coalition and having genuine deep conversations. Strong coalitions build strong communities.” 

Josh sees herself as a “trouble maker because I inherently throw people off balance. People make assumptions and by discovering that they were wrong sets people back. Assumptions are rarely challenged on the news or social media, so I take a great deal of pride giving people practice in throwing off their assumptions. Ultimately, it makes the world more wholesome. I am hopeful that through the power of authentic conversations, humans will have the ability to work together better.”

Distinguished Democrats: Kathi Harris

Kathi Harris
Executive Director, PROACTIVE Project
Executive Committee Member, Kent County Democratic Party 
By Terry Gates

Kathi’s entire 60 years can be summed up in one word: BUSY!

Kathi’s life journey is a remarkable testament to her unwavering commitment to service and community engagement. From her formative years imbued with values of compassion and communal responsibility, Kathi’s upbringing within the nurturing environment of family, and faith, and her mother’s active involvement instilled in her the ethos of giving back and treating others with kindness and respect.

Throughout her life, Kathi has embraced active participation in various facets of society, excluding sports, and instead, finding fulfillment in academic pursuits and community initiatives. After graduating from Grand Rapids Central High School at the young age of 16 in the class of 1980, Kathi seamlessly transitioned into college life while maintaining her fervent engagement with student activities and community endeavors.

However, it was her career path at General Motors and her membership in the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 730 that truly defined her trajectory. Immersing herself in union activities from the outset, Kathi’s rise was swift and groundbreaking. In 1989, she shattered barriers by becoming the first elected female and the sole African American female to hold the position of District Committee Person of the Bargaining Unit at Local 730. Throughout her leadership journey within the union, Kathi remained steadfast in her commitment to amplifying the voices of her fellow members and addressing their needs.

Recognizing the power of collective action, Kathi assumed pivotal roles within the union, including Chair of the Local Union Civil Rights Committee and later Chair of the UAW Region 1D Civil Rights Committee, where she tirelessly championed the rights and interests of the working class.

Beyond her union responsibilities, Kathi felt a deep sense of obligation to the broader community. In 2000, she spearheaded the formation of PROACTIVE, a non-profit coalition dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for underserved communities by fostering leadership, education, and employment opportunities. Kathi understood the importance of mobilizing low-voter turnout communities of color through non-partisan initiatives, recognizing their voices as integral to the democratic process.

Her advocacy extended to nurturing future leaders as an advisor for the NAACP Youth and as a college tour coordinator, where she imparted upon them the significance of civic engagement and advocacy.

Even today, Kathi continues her advocacy work, particularly within the homeless community and the county jail, where she educates individuals on the importance of voting and its impact on their daily lives. Her dedication to democracy and community upliftment remains unwavering. She continues to do the work to help others because of her son, Zachary, and 8-year-old grandson, Zaiden. Kathi often says that she would “hate for them to be out in the community and no one is there to help them”.  

Kathi’s guiding principle, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person,” epitomizes her proactive approach to effecting change. Through her unwavering dedication and leadership, Kathi serves as a beacon of inspiration, underscoring the transformative power of individual commitment to service and community upliftment.

Distinguished Democrats: Gary Stark

Gary describes himself as “a concerned citizen with lots of experience, doing what he can in the time he has, to work towards what he believes in.”

As a retired professor of German History at GVSU, he can’t help but think about what can happen in America if people are not vigilant and involved in upholding democracy. His advice to young leaders new to the Kent Dems is: “Become involved. There are a whole range of things people can do to bring about change, especially on the local level. Everyone can be doing more; should be doing more.”

Gary decided to become involved himself after attending the 2017 Women’s March on the Mall in D.C., right after Trump got elected. He was impressed with how Katie Fahey, the organizer for Voters Not Politicians (VNP), took an idea to end statewide gerrymandering to reality. He enjoyed using his skills as a presenter for VNP to promote a cause he believed in. Using Katie as an example, Gary said, “You are more powerful than you think you are.”

When Gary decided to check out the Kent Dems, others took note of his leadership abilities and persuaded him to be the Chair in 2017. It was a steep learning curve for him to learn the culture, get to know the members and figure out how things are done. He is proud that along with Jeff Winston, they were able to secure the new headquarters which has made a huge difference. 

During the 2020 elections while he was Chair, the eyes of the nation and the world were on Kent County as one of five “bellwether” counties in the country. Gary said it was “kind of fun” to be dealing with the media and doing telephone interviews from all around the world as Kent County Dems came through and turned the county Blue for the first time in a long time. 

After the election, Gary decided to step down from being the Chair on a high note and reduce stress associated with the job. In 2022, he agreed to chair the 3rd Congressional District and helped to get Hillary Scholten re-elected. He enjoys working with other county parties and to see how well the Kent Dems are doing compared to others in the District. 

Gary is currently the First Vice-Chair, Chair of the Endorsement Committee, Chair of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, and serves on the Fundraising Committee. He also serves on the MI Voter Protection Hotline trouble-shooting voter issues. He enjoys being behind the scenes as a facilitator and helping to get critical infrastructures in place.  

Gary is motivated by a desire for fairness, a sense of justice, and an empathy for people who have been discriminated against. His advice to others is “to pay attention to what is going on in the world. Take on responsibility. Be someone others can count on. Step up and do what needs to be done.”

Distinguished Democrats: Hon. Lupe Ramos-Montigny

Hon. Lupe Ramos-Montigny
Educator, Democratic Party Leader, Community Organizer

Anyone who has ever crossed paths with Lupe Ramos-Montigny would undoubtedly tell you she is a force to be reckoned with. Certainly, she is nothing but a ball of gusto, vim and vigor even now after decades of dedication as an educator, mentor, politico, and community organizer.

“There’s no book that says you have to like Ramos-Montigny,” Lupe once told Tom Rademacher, a long-time reporter and columnist for The Grand Rapids Press, with a laugh. “I just believe in doing good work, and hoping others join in. My motto? Do not allow anyone or anything to get in the way of progress.

From picking Michigan cherries and tomatoes as a migrant worker’s child to earning numerous degrees and teaching 36 years with GRPS, Lupe has been guided by a singular focus on cultivating herself, building up those around her, and never letting “no” stop her.

After retiring from teaching, W. Paul Mayhue recruited her to join Kent County Democrats as a professional. When asked what she wanted to do, Lupe responded that she wanted to go to Democratic National Conventions.

Countless of conventions later, she is noted as the organizing force behind the Michigan Democratic Hispanic/Latino Caucus, which she also chaired. In 2002, she also became the first Latina to serve as Kent County Democratic Party Chair and later, in 2003, the first Hispanic Vice-Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party.

She was elected to the Michigan State Board of Education for eight years, and she continues to chair the community-based Committee to Honor Cesar E. Chavez since its inception in 2000.

As a leader, Lupe has found she could help lots of people at all levels. And she urges everyone: “Attend meetings. Get involved. Understand how things work and meet key leaders. There are many opportunities to be a leader. We always have to move forward.”

It’s that indomitable spirit that caused GVSU to name the “Si Se Puede” “Yes, I Can!” Legacy Scholarship after her in 2015. This past November, she was recognized as an engaged and inspiring individual at the “16 Over 60 Gala.”

“If I believe in something, I will work hard,” Lupe said. “I never say I can’t do something. Right now, I can.”

Click here to read more of Lupe’s story by Terry Gates.