Ramón Zepeda never expected to finish high school, much less graduate from college and become director for a program that uses theater to engage migrant farm workers in North Carolin,a and then share their stories with a broader audience.

But the Jalisco, Mexico, native and current program director for Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) has accomplished these goals and more. He will discuss his work at two Virginia Tech Community Voices events on Jan. 25.

Zepeda will participate in a free lunch-time interactive roundtable discussion at noon that day in Room F of the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown on Otey Street. A light lunch is available for $5, or attendees may bring their own.

At 7 p.m. he will present “Theater in the Fields,” which is about his SAF work with student interns and farm worker communities, also in Room F.

Both events are free and open to university students, faculty, staff, administrators, and to the general public.

Zepeda’s biography on the SAF website notes he was born in a farming community in Mexico. When he was 10, he and his family moved to Los Angeles to join other family members. They later moved to North Carolina, which he described as feeling more like his hometown and its surroundings than the Los Angeles neighborhood they left.

During his senior year at Hoke County High School, he participated in one of SAF’s youth programs. In an interview with the Fayetteville Observer newspaper, he said that experience changed his trajectory and thoughts about his future. Instead of dropping out to get a job and help support his family, he graduated, supported by his parents and mentors who urged him to stick with education.

During his studies at University of North Carolina-Pembroke, Zepeda was an SAF Into the Fields intern, where he was exposed to the struggles workers face when they try to organize for better working conditions, dignity, and respect on the job. After graduation he became a labor movement activist and union organizer, working on several campaigns for justice. A naturalized U.S. citizen, he joined SAF in 2011.

Zepeda will discuss community building and activism using theater as an educational tool and storytelling medium. According to the SAF website, the organization both performs skits and shows for farmworkers and facilitates theater workshops in farm-worker labor camps.

Community Voices is an interdisciplinary group of Virginia Tech graduate students and faculty, and community representatives interested in exploring innovative approaches to community building and engagement. The group, affiliated with the School of Public and International Affairs' Institute for Policy and Governance, organizes a series of public talks and roundtable discussions by leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors who share their insights and experiences helping communities shape their futures.

Graduate students also interview the speakers for Trustees Without Borders, a podcast produced by Institute Senior Fellow Andy Morikawa. The public presentations and interview recordings are archived on the Community Voices website.

If you are interested in purchasing lunch ($5) for the Jan. 25 roundtable at noon, please RSVP to Regina Naff by noon, Friday, Jan. 20, by email at regina50@vt.edu or phone at (540) 231-6775.

For more information, interview requests, or if you need accommodations for the public presentation, please contact Morikawa at andymorikawa@vt.edu or (540) 230-1492.