Speakers 2019

Panels are free to attend, but registration is required.

Day 1: Monday, September 9

Stephanie Farmer, associate professor of sociology, Roosevelt University
Stephanie Farmer is an associate professor of sociology and director of the sociology program at Roosevelt University. She holds a PhD in Sociology from Binghamton University, State University of New York. Her teaching and research focus on urban sociology, the political economy of infrastructure, public transit and public school finance, and social movements. Her current research examines the ways in which the Chicago Public Schools’ switch to a student-based budgeting system remakes place-based inequality in distressed and gentrifying neighborhoods.

Farmer has published her research in Environment and Planning A, Urban Affairs Review, Harvard International Review, Urban Studies, Journal of Urban Affairs and other journals. She also contributes to the 33rd Ward Working Families and United Working Families policy education projects.

Will Guzzardi, Democratic Illinois state representative, 39th district
Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) represents the 39th District in the Illinois House, serving the Logan Square, Portage Park, Belmont Cragin, Hermosa, and Avondale neighborhoods of Chicago. Currently in his third term, Guzzardi is chair of the new House Prescription Drug Affordability committee, and he is a founding co-chair of the new Illinois House Progressive Caucus.

In the legislature, Guzzardi has championed issues of pressing importance to working people and those in need. This session, he is advancing measures to end workplace discrimination; lower the cost of prescription drugs; make college affordable for every student; and curb abuses by the debt collection industry. And in February of this year, he passed historic legislation raising Illinois’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025.

Raised in North Carolina, Guzzardi graduated from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature in 2009. He has lived in the Logan Square neighborhood since that time. Prior to joining the General Assembly, he was an editor for Huffington Post Chicago and the head writer for admissions at the University of Chicago. He was also an active organizer in his community, joining with neighbors to fight school closures and advocate for an elected school board in Chicago.

Guzzardi’s successful outsider bid for elected office in 2014 — against one of Chicago’s most notorious political dynasties — is the subject of the recent short documentary, “The 39th.”

Erika N.L. Harold, 2018 Republican candidate for Illinois attorney general
Erika Harold was the 2018 Republican nominee for Illinois attorney general and earned nearly 200,000 more votes in the general election than any other Illinois Republican running for office in 2018. She is a litigator at Meyer Capel in Champaign, Illinois, and represents clients in disputes involving commercial contracts, shareholder agreements and trust administration. She also advises nonprofit clients regarding Constitutional issues and risk management.

Harold was crowned Miss America 2003 and promoted the community service platform Preventing Youth Violence and Bullying. Harold spoke to more than 100,000 students about the consequences of bullying and discussed peer-to-peer harassment on numerous television shows, including Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN Headline News and PBS’s Emmy award-winning teen series In the Mix. In recognition of her advocacy, Harold was named a Champion for Children by Fight Crime, Invest in Kids and received a leadership award from the National Center for Victims of Crime.

Harold used the scholarship money she won as Miss America to pay for her legal education at Harvard Law School, where she graduated in 2007. The Leading Lawyer Network has recognized Erika as an Emerging Lawyer in commercial litigation and civil rights/constitutional law. Harold serves on the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Equality and the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. She also serves on the national board of directors of Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest outreach to inmates and their families, where she advocates for criminal justice reform and engages in prison ministry.

Lamont J. Robinson Jr., Democratic Illinois state representative, 5th district
State Rep. Lamont J. Robinson Jr. is a lifelong Chicagoan who has dedicated his life to giving back to the city through public service and as a businessman, college professor and director of a youth mentorship. A resident of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, Rep. Robinson was elected in the November 2018 general election to represent the sprawling Illinois 5th House district that runs from Goethe Street on Chicago’s North Side to 80th Street on the South Side.

With an undergraduate degree in business marketing from Clark Atlanta University and an MBA from National Louis University, Rep. Robinson became a licensed insurance agent and owner of The Robinson & Caban Insurance Group. He also was a business professor at Harold Washington College and director of the Kappa Leadership Institute in Chicago, which provides guidance to young men and prepares them to go to college. He made history as the first out LGBTQ African American to be elected to the Illinois General Assembly.

“The 5th District is rich with potential,” Rep. Robinson said. “My work in Springfield and in the district focuses on social justice, community resources, education and public safety to make sure everyone has the opportunity to live to their full potential.”

Dr. Julianne Malveaux, founder and president, Economic Education
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a labor economist, noted author and colorful commentator. Described by Cornel West as “the most iconoclastic public intellectual in the country,” she has long been recognized for her insightful observations on the economic impact of race, culture and gender.

Currently, Malveaux is president of PUSH Excel, the educational branch of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. She is the founder and president of Economic Education, a 501(c)(3) organization focused on the connection between personal finance and economic policy education. Her popular writing has been published in USA Today, Essence, Ms. and others. She has appeared widely as a commentator on major networks including CNN, BET and PBS.

As president of Bennett College, Malveaux was the architect of innovative transformation at America’s oldest historically black college for women. Under her leadership, Bennett College received a 10-year reaffirmation of its accreditation, improved existing facilities and embarked on a $21 million capital improvements program.

Malveaux serves on the boards of the Economic Policy Institute and The Black Doctoral Network. She received her BA and MA in economics from Boston College and a PhD in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ralph Martire, executive director, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability
Ralph Martire is the executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA), a bipartisan 501(c)(3) think tank that promotes opportunity for all, regardless of race, ethnicity or income. He also serves as the Arthur Rubloff Endowed Professor of Public Policy at Roosevelt University.

CTBA is committed to ensuring that workforce, education, fiscal, economic and budget policies are fair and just at the state, federal and local levels. During his time at CTBA, Martire has helped obtain numerous legislative successes, including passage of the evidence-based model of education funding in FY2018, a state Earned Income Tax Credit, and creation of a bipartisan legislative task force to integrate workforce and economic development policies.

In 2018, Martire was appointed to serve on the legislatively established Professional Review Panel, charged with monitoring the implementation of Illinois’ new evidence-based school funding formula. He was also appointed to the transition team of Governor J.B. Pritzker. He is a regular columnist on education, fiscal and economic policy for the State Journal-Register, the Daily Herald and The News-Gazette.

Martire received his BA in history with highest honors from Indiana University and his JD from the University of Michigan.

Day 2: Tuesday, September 10

Presented by the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy and the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago.

Vaughn Bryant, director, Communities Partnering 4 Peace
As director of Communities Partnering 4 Peace at Metropolitan Family Services, Vaughn Bryant coordinates a cross-agency effort between community-based organizations to deliver a comprehensive community outreach and engagement model with the goal of reducing gun violence in nine of the highest-risk neighborhoods.

Before joining Metropolitan Family Services, Bryant spent four years as the chief program officer for the Chicago Park District. He was responsible for its largest department, Community Recreation. Bryant joined the Park District after working on the Violence Prevention Initiative as a deputy officer at Chicago Public Schools (CPS). His primary responsibility was creating Safe Passage, a community effort to ensure students’ safe travel to and from school.

Prior to his work at CPS, Bryant served as a manager in player development for the National Football League. In Bryant’s early career, he spent four years at Stanford University where he worked in athletic administration, undergraduate advising and psychological services for faculty and staff. A recent graduate of Leadership Greater Chicago, he serves on the National Advisory Board of the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University as well as various committees with the Chicago Community Trust. He is also a board member for the Positive Coaching Alliance – Chicago.

Bryant holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Stanford University and a master’s degree in marital and family therapy from Northwestern University.

Miguel Cambray, director of employment, READI Chicago
Miguel Cambray joined Heartland Alliance in August 2017 as director of employment for READI Chicago. In this role, he manages the development and implementation of career pathways for project community partners and program participants.

Over the last 15 years, Cambray has held various positions within community-based nonprofit organizations and in higher education. Most recently, he was the director for TRIO Education Opportunity Center at National Louis University, working with several schools and organizations on the Southwest Side of Chicago that provide access to opportunities for higher education.

Previously, he served as the director of multicultural student services at Lewis University and the founding director for the Latino Resource Center at Northeastern Illinois University. He has worked on special policy groups with the Illinois African American and Latino Higher Education Alliance (IALHEA) and Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education (ILACHE).

Cambray holds a bachelor’s degree in law and justice studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Northeastern Illinois University. He is pursuing his doctorate in community psychology at National Louis University.

Ernest Cato III, 15th district commander, Chicago Police Department
Ernest Cato III has been employed by the Chicago Police Department for 29 years. He currently serves as the district commander of the 15th District, which covers the Austin community. His position as commander has included the creation and implementation of multiple groundbreaking programs such as the creation of the Austin Response Team and collaborative efforts with numerous community organizations. During his administration, he has developed a multifaceted approach to combat crime that has caused the 15th District to see a significant reduction in violent crimes, including reductions in shootings and homicides.

Prior to this most recent promotion, Cato served as the tactical lieutenant where he oversaw the multiple tactical teams that work out of the 15th District. Throughout his career, he has worked in many capacities, including helping to develop the Gang Violence Reduction Strategy as a sergeant, working as a tactical sergeant, working as a homicide detective predominantly on the West Side of Chicago and serving as a supervisor of investigations for the Office of Inspector General of the City of Chicago. He currently continues to serve as a member of the Chicago Police Honor Guard.

Commander Cato is the recipient of numerous awards including the Superintendent Award of Merit, the Chicago Police Leadership Award, eight department commendations, two unit meritorious awards, a Problem-Solving Award and a Joint Operations Award. He holds a master’s degree in public safety administration from Lewis University.

Ric Estrada, chief executive officer, Metropolitan Family Services
Ric Estrada is CEO of Metropolitan Family Services. Founded in 1857, Metropolitan is one of Illinois’ largest and best-respected human services agencies. Since joining Metropolitan in 2011, Estrada has helped the agency more than double in revenue and families served.

Estrada has nearly three decades of leadership experience in human services, philanthropy and government. He previously served as first deputy commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services. Before that, he served as executive director of Erie Neighborhood House, where he founded the Erie Elementary Charter School. His extensive civic and community involvement includes serving as a Trustee of the University of Illinois and board chair of the Woods Fund, as well as a member of numerous boards. He is also a fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Leadership Greater Chicago. For three consecutive years, Crain’s Chicago Business has named Estrada to its list of “Who’s Who in Chicago Business.” He is a recipient of the American Marshall Memorial Fellowship, the City Club of Chicago John A. McDermott Award for Distinguished Social Leadership and the University of Illinois at Chicago City Partner Award.

Estrada’s educational background is grounded in social services and business, including an MBA from the University of Illinois at Chicago, an MA in Social Service Policy and Administration from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, and a BS in Psychology from Loyola University of Chicago.

Teny Gross, founder and executive director, the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago
Teny Oded Gross is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago. He relocated to Chicago from Providence, Rhode Island, where he was the executive director of the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, a pioneering organization that teaches the principles and practices of nonviolence locally, nationally and internationally.

Gross is the recipient of the Institute for Global Leadership Alumni Award from Tufts University, where he earned his BFA. He received an MTS degree and a fellowship in Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management from Harvard Business School. Earlier Gross had been a program coordinator for the Ella J. Baker House Youth Focused Community Initiative, a participant in the National Ten-Point Coalition and a senior streetworker for the City of Boston. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Force and later worked to build peace inside Palestine, often at great peril to himself.

Gross serves as an adviser to The National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College and has advised many cities in the United States and abroad.

Sheerine Alemzadeh, cofounder, Healing to Action
As the cofounder and codirector of Healing to Action, Sheerine Alemzadeh collaborates with worker leaders to address gender-based violence in low-wage workplaces across Chicago. Her career has focused on building bridges between social movements, applying intersectional approaches to human rights activism, and promoting shared leadership as a path to sustained social progress. Led by the voices of workers and survivors, she writes, educates, teaches and organizes to create stable economic futures for people of all genders.

Bethany Barratt, professor of political science, Roosevelt University
Bethany Barratt is a professor of political science at Roosevelt University. She serves as the director of the International Studies major and the Joseph Loundy Human Rights Project, which draws and applies comparative lessons between community partners in Chicago and cities abroad in order to make measurable gains for human rights and social and environmental justice in urban settings.

Barratt has conducted archival and field research in Yellowstone National Park, Central Asia, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. She is the author of Human Rights and Foreign Aid: For Love or Money (Routledge, 2007), The Politics of Harry Potter (Palgrave McMillan, 2012), editor of Human Rights Since 9/11: A Sourcebook (Open Society Foundation, 2013), and coeditor of Public Opinion and War: Lessons from Iraq (Potomac, 2012). She has also authored articles on environmental politics and justice, conservation policy, human rights, foreign aid, counterterrorism and United States, British, Canadian and Australian foreign policy. Her current research focuses on environmental justice, transformational pedagogy, the politics and policy of wilderness conservation and public land stewardship, and the human rights of older persons.

Barratt earned her PhD and MA from the University of California and her BA in Political Science/History from Duke University. She is active in several scholarly associations including as president of the human rights section of the American Political Science Association and a member of the International Studies Association.

Ben Wikler, chair, Wisconsin Democratic Party
Ben Wikler has played a leadership role in some of the most critical political fights of recent years—from the successful battle to save the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, to the defense of Dreamers, immigrants, and refugees, to the rise of the Blue Wave of 2018. Ben was raised in Madison, Wisconsin, where he now lives with his wife, Beth, and their three children.

Day 3: Wednesday, September 11

Kelly Clements, Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations
Kelly T. Clements joined the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as deputy high commissioner on July 6, 2015. She has been closely involved with refugee and displacement issues throughout her three-decade career. Before joining UNHCR, Clements was a member of the Senior Executive Service, serving as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration where she was responsible for humanitarian issues in Asia and the Middle East and global policy and budget.

In 2014, she was acting deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. From 1993 to 1996, Clements served at the U.S. Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva on a Foreign Service appointment. She was special assistant to the undersecretary of state for global affairs in 1997–98. Clements served as a senior emergency officer for Europe, the Newly Independent States, and the Americas, and later as Balkans assistance coordinator; she was deployed to Albania in 1999. Clements holds a BA in International Studies and an MA in Urban Affairs from Virginia Tech.

David Daley, author of Ratf**ked and senior fellow, FairVote
David Daley is the author of the national bestseller Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn't Count and the forthcoming Unrigged: How Americans Fought Back and Reinvented Democracy (both W.W. Norton/Liveright). His journalism on voting rights, gerrymandering and democracy issues has appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Slate, the Guardian and the New Republic.

Daley is a senior fellow at FairVote, the former editor in chief of Salon, and has been a media and politics fellow at Boston College, Wesleyan University and the University of Georgia.

David Faris, associate professor of political science, Roosevelt University
David Faris is an associate professor of political science at Roosevelt and the author of It’s Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. His scholarly work focuses on electoral institutions, party politics and foreign policy.

A regular columnist at The Week, Faris is a frequent guest on The Ben Joravsky Show and BradCast with Brad Friedman. He also hosts his own political podcast, Electing to Drink. Faris is currently working on a new book for Melville House Publishing, called The Kids Are All Left: How Young Voters Will End Polarization and Unify America.

Ami Gandhi, director of voting rights and civic empowerment, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights
Ami Gandhi is an attorney and the director of voting rights and civic empowerment at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. She works to reduce barriers to voting and improve civic participation, especially in communities of color and low-income communities.

Gandhi has led statewide voter protection and partnered with community members in the criminal justice system to expand voter access. She advocated for communities of color during Illinois redistricting and advised local election boards on implementing the country’s first Hindi ballots. Gandhi previously served as the executive director of the South Asian American Policy & Research Institute. 

Day 4: Thursday, September 12

Can corporations and foundations respond effectively to communities striving for the American Dream?

Registration for the lunch is required.

Bettina Chang, editorial director, City Bureau
Bettina Chang is cofounder and editorial director at City Bureau, where she works with Civic Reporting Fellows to create more equitable, impactful local news. She was previously executive digital editor at Chicago magazine, and edited at DNAinfo Chicago and Pacific Standard. She loves musicals and hates sea cucumbers.

Cecile Marie De Mello, executive director, Teamwork Englewood
Cecile De Mello is a community organizer, urban planner and policy maker with over 15 years of experience. She has been at the forefront of Chicago Public Schools reform efforts, leading legislative and policy change to better protect students and plan for educational success.

For ten years, De Mello was the co-executive director of Blocks Together, a community organizing and development organization on Chicago’s West Side. She created citywide practice change in economic development, school reform, policy accountability and violence prevention. De Mello was also the community engagement specialist for Whole Foods Market, where she developed job training programming, community health education and innovative strategies for retail-centered community development.

De Mello is a wife, mother of three and proud Englewood resident. She holds master’s degrees in not-for-profit management and urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is also a co-owner of SoulBoricua, which specializes in Afro-Latino menu and products and healthy eating education.

Caroline McCoy, program officer, communities' program, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
Caroline McCoy is a program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, where she leads the Communities program’s health and wellness funding strategy and a place-based initiative in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. She also manages relationships with corporate partners to help them achieve impact in their local communities. Her professional interests include advancing racial equity in philanthropy and supporting community-driven strategies that influence services, systems and practices.

Prior to joining to the McCormick Foundation, McCoy was an associate director at Arabella Advisors, where she supported family and individual clients to build and implement grant-making strategies across several issues. Previously, she worked at the Ounce of Prevention Fund, where she worked on advocacy efforts to improve services for young children in Illinois. She holds a BA in political science with a minor in African American studies from the University of Illinois and an MS in public service management from DePaul University.

Clarita Santos, executive director of community health initiatives, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois
Clarita Santos is the executive director of community health initiatives at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL). In this role, she oversees BCBSIL’s statewide community engagement, including the launch of the Blue Door Neighborhood Center, the company’s first community-based health and wellness center. For more than ten years, she has led the allocation of grant funding to BCBSIL’s community partners to help improve access to care, population health and health equity among the uninsured and under-insured in Illinois.

Santos has been honored with several awards for her work including the Breaking Barriers Award by the Chicago Foundation for Women’s Asian American Leadership Council. She was also recognized as one of Diversity MBA magazine’s Top 100 Under 50 Executive and Emerging Leaders for 2015.

Santos received her MPH in Health Policy and Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her BS in Biology from the College of Charleston.

Laron Taylor, director of the Blue Door Neighborhood Center, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois
Laron Taylor joined Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) in 2018 as director of the Blue Door Neighborhood Center. In this role, he provides strategic direction for BCBSIL’s first-ever neighborhood-based health and wellness center. Taylor and his team ensure the effective delivery of programs, services and community outreach efforts to positively impact the health of residents on Chicago’s South Side.

Taylor has more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, including work in permanent supportive housing, HIV prevention and behavioral health. Throughout his career, Taylor has worked with advocacy organizations to ensure that all people, regardless of socioeconomic status, have access to quality housing and health care. He is committed to addressing social determinants of health and removing barriers to care.

Taylor received a BA in English literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also earned an MPA from DePaul University and an MBA from Dominican University.

Imbolo Mbue, author of Behold the Dreamers
Imbolo Mbue is the author of the New York Times bestseller Behold the Dreamers, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the Blue Metropolis Words to Change Award, and was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. Named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times and the Washington Post and a Best Book of the Year by close to a dozen publications, the novel has been translated into 12 languages, adapted into an opera, is about to become a stage play, and was recently optioned for a movie.

A native of the seaside town of Limbe, Cameroon and a graduate of Rutgers and Columbia universities, Mbue currently lives in New York City.

Melissa Conyears-Ervin, treasurer of the City of Chicago
Sponsored by: Huntington Bank

Melissa Conyears-Ervin was elected City Treasurer for the City of Chicago in 2019. She believes in the promise of opportunity and the strength of families to effectively address the needs of our communities. Through hard work and determination, Conyears Ervin became the first in her family to graduate from college and earned an MBA from Roosevelt University. She has more than 15 years of experience serving the community in the insurance industry as a manager for Allstate and CS Insurance Strategies.

As the former state representative for the 10th district, Conyears-Ervin sponsored the improved Illinois education funding formula that directed over $221 million in additional funding to Chicago Public Schools. She was also the chief sponsor of bipartisan legislation that protected funding for child care assistance, a service that allows many working parents to stay in the workforce.

As City Treasurer, Conyears-Ervin plans to focus her private-sector and financial training on ways to bring development into Chicago’s neighborhoods. Chicago’s billions of dollars of municipal deposits should be leveraged to help Chicago communities grow at the same rate, regardless of their zip code. She believes Chicago’s investments should observe a triple bottom line, ensuring city money isn’t used to harm the environment or working families.

Justin Shea, Visiting assistant professor of finance, Heller College of Business
Justin is a visiting assistant professor of finance at Roosevelt University. He is also a part time instructor and TA at the University of Chicago Graham School Master of Science in Analytics program. In addition, he is a quantitative finance consultant with various clients including a Chicago-based derivatives exchange.

Prior to current endeavors in education, Justin had a full career in the commodity futures trading industry and investment-related consulting. During this experience, he discovered the R statistical programming language to more accurately model portfolios of futures and options trading strategies.

Justin serves the R Statistical Programming community as the lead organizer of the Chicago R User Group, one of the largest and most diverse R statistical programming user groups in the world. He is also a committee member of the annual R in Finance conference and a Google Summer of Code mentor for open source finance projects using R. He is also a proud alumnus of Roosevelt University.

Juan Escalante, digital campaigns manager, fwd.us
With much foresight to the oncoming political violence, Juan Escalante’s parents fled Venezuela, with Juan and his two brothers in tow, for the United States in 2000. In 2006, an immigration attorney mishandled the Escalante family’s case, and they lost their immigration status.  

By the time President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, Escalante had graduated from Florida State University with a political science degree and had helped spearhead some of the digital tactics that are currently used across the Dreamer movement. Thanks to DACA, Escalante was able to return to FSU for a master’s degree in public administration and continue his immigration work as a digital advocate.   

A coffee enthusiast and firm proponent of pineapple on pizza, Escalante has had his work covered and published in a wide range of publications including The New York Times, USA Today, Univision and CNN. He currently serves as the digital campaigns manager at FWD.us, a DC-based organization focused on immigration and criminal justice reform, and writes a biweekly column for the HuffPost. 

Imbolo Mbue, author of Behold the Dreamers
Imbolo Mbue is the author of the New York Times bestseller Behold the Dreamers, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the Blue Metropolis Words to Change Award, and was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. Named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times and the Washington Post and a Best Book of the Year by close to a dozen publications, the novel has been translated into 12 languages, adapted into an opera, is about to become a stage play, and was recently optioned for a movie.

A native of the seaside town of Limbe, Cameroon and a graduate of Rutgers and Columbia universities, Mbue currently lives in New York City.

Mony Ruiz-Velasco, executive director, West Suburban Action Project
Mony Ruiz-Velasco is an immigration lawyer, organizer and executive director of PASO – West Suburban Action Project. She works to combine legal and organizing efforts to advocate on behalf of immigrant rights and social justice. Before joining PASO, Ruiz-Velasco worked at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) for nearly thirteen years, where she became the legal director. For more than 20 years, she has provided legal services, representation and counsel to thousands of immigrants and their families, focusing on women, LGBTQ immigrants, survivors of crimes and other vulnerable populations.  

Ruiz-Velasco actively organizes and collaborates with community leaders regionally and nationally on anti-deportation and anti-criminalization campaigns. She advises and assists legislators and their staff regarding policy and legislation at the federal, state and local levels. Her work includes the Violence Against Women Act, the Illinois Trust Act, RISE Act, VOICES Act and previous efforts on immigration reform. She is the board president at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and a board member at NIJC.  

In 1999, Ruiz-Velasco graduated from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio. She grew up in Mexico and South Texas. She is queer, the daughter of Mexican immigrants and the proud mother of three children.

Ray Suarez, senior correspondent, NPR
In September 2017, veteran journalist Ray Suarez began an appointment as the McCloy Visiting Professor of American Studies at Amherst College. He was most recently the host of Al Jazeera America’s daily news program, Inside Story. The program covered a wide array of national and international news stories, from the rise of Donald Trump to long-term unemployment to the Russian seizure of the Crimean peninsula.

Before coming to Al Jazeera America, Suarez spent 14 years at The PBS NewsHour, where he rose to become chief national correspondent. During his years at The NewsHour, Suarez reported from the floor of seven party political conventions, the devastating Haitian earthquake, the 2006 Mexico elections and the H1N1 virus pandemic in Mexico. Suarez previously served as the Washington-based host of NPR’s Talk of the Nation. During his time as host, the audience more than tripled in size. The New York Times called Suarez the “thinking man’s talk show host” and “a national resource.”

Suarez holds a BA in African history from New York University, an MA in social sciences from the University of Chicago, and 14 honorary doctorates.

Day 5: Friday, September 13

Dr. Charles H.F. Davis III, director of research and chief strategy officer, USC Race and Equity Center, University of Southern California
Dr. Charles H.F. Davis III is an educator and creator dedicated to the love, laughter and liberation of everyday Black people. At the University of Southern California, Dr. Davis teaches and conducts research focused on systemic oppression and organized resistance. He also serves as chief strategy officer for the USC Race and Equity Center, an interdisciplinary research organization that examines racial inequities in order to create interventions for achieving racial justice.

He recently published Student Activism, Politics, and Campus Climate in Higher Education, and is the author of the forthcoming book Freedom Is on the Way, which visually chronicles the history and analyzes the political impact of the Florida-based organization The Dream Defenders.

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