Archive-Past Speakers

2020 Speakers

Yusef Salaam

headshot- Yusef Salaam

In 1989 when Yusef Salaam was 15 years old, he was accused and convicted of attacking and raping a woman who was jogging in New York City's Central Park. Salaam was one of five teenagers wrongly convicted of the crime; they collectively became known as the Central Park Five.

In 2002, after the Central Park Five spent between seven and 13 years of their lives behind bars, their sentences were overturned. A convicted murderer and rapist serving a life sentence confessed. The unidentified DNA in the Central Park Jogger case was matched with its owner, and the Central Park Five were fully exonerated.

In 2012, documentarian Ken Burns and his daughter, Sarah Burns, released the award-winning film "The Central Park Five," which detailed the case against Salaam and the others. Ava DuVernay, acclaimed director, brought the story to Netflix in 2019 in "When They See Us."

Salaam has traveled all around the United States and the Caribbean to deliver influential lectures and facilitate insightful conversations as he continues to touch lives and raise important questions about race and class, the failings of the U.S. criminal justice system, legal protections for vulnerable juveniles and fundamental human rights.

Cedric Taylor

headshot- Cedric Taylor

Cedric Taylor, associate professor of sociology at Central Michigan University, is the writer, director and co-producer of "Nor Any Drop to Drink: The Flint Water Crisis." The 2018 award-winning documentary has been screened nationally and internationally.

Taylor is a public sociologist who employs film, visual media and storytelling to engage the wider community in conversations around racism and social justice. Born in Jamaica, Taylor is president of the Michigan Sociological Association. His teaching and research focus on racism and inequality, racial health disparities, immigrant health, and visual sociology.

Taylor presented a workshop prior to his keynote address that focused on the basics of how to plan, film, edit and upload films to YouTube and share them using social networks, using mobile phones with widely available computer software. Participants learned the realities/challenges of documenting social justice issues, particularly with regard to marginalized communities.

2019 Speakers

David Stovall

headshot: David Stovall

David Stovall is a professor of African American studies and criminology, law and justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Stovall studies the influence of race in urban education, community development, and housing. His work investigates the significance of race in the quality of schools located in communities that are changing both racially and economically. He is the author of Born out of Struggle!: Critical Race Theory, School Creation, and the Politics of Interruption, and a co-author of two other books, numerous articles and book chapters.

Stovall works with community organizations and schools to develop curriculum that address issues of equity and justice. His work led him to become a member of the design team for the Greater Lawndale/Little Village School of Social Justice High School, which opened in 2005. He is also involved with the Peoples Education Movement, a collection of teachers, community members, students and professors in Chicago, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area who engage in collaborative community projects centered in creating relevant curriculum. 


Shannon Cohen

headshot Shannon Cohen

Shannon Cohen, ’99 and ’11, is the founder and principal of Shannon Cohen, Inc., a boutique firm specializing in providing emotional health strategies to leaders and difference makers. Cohen has designed and led leadership sessions for Amway, City of Grand Rapids, Mercantile Bank, United Way, Kids’ Food Basket, and many more organizations and corporations. She is a W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Network Fellow, and is the co-founder of Sisters Who Lead, a talent and wellness affinity group for women of color.

Cohen will speak Wednesday, January 23, at 4:30 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center, Grand River Room. The presentation is free and open to the public.

The author of Tough Skin, Soft Heart: A Leadership Guide for Growing Stronger, Better, and Wiser, Cohen earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations, and a master’s degree in public administration from Grand Valley.

2018 Speakers

April Reign

headshot: April Reign

April Reign, creator of the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, is an attorney and writer who lives in Washington, D.C. In 2015, she sent a tweet critical of the 88th Academy Awards ceremony and lack of people of color nominated in major acting and directing categories. Her #OscarsSoWhite tweet went viral and was a catalyst for a social media movement and caused the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to change its membership policies and voting rules.

Reign now has a social media following of more than 100,000, and is listed among the top 15 accounts on #BlackTwitter by the National Journal. She regularly appears at academic institutions, entertainment networks and studios to speak about diversity and inclusion. As part of a collaborative effort among Grand Valley, Grand Rapids Community College and Davenport University, Reign also will give presentations at GRCC, Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids and Davenport's campus during her two-day stay in West Michigan.

Visit Reign's website.

Bree Newsome

headshot: Bree Newsome

Bree Newsome is a filmmaker and artist who was in the national spotlight in 2015 when the climbed a flagpole in Columbia, South Carolina — the state's capital — to lower its Confederate flag. Her action came shortly after the mass shooting of nine African American parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. She was arrested along with another activist and soon #FreeBree was a Twitter trend and $100,000 raised for her $3,000 jail fine.

Her actions stirred the political pot in many communities. The Confederate flag was permanently removed from the statehouse by then-Gov. Nikki Haley and discussion moved across the country considering flags and monuments.

Newsome lives in North Carolina and works as an artist and community organizer. She earned the 2016 NAACP Image Award and was named to the Ebony 100, recognizing her commitment to civil rights.

Visit Newsome's website.

2017 Speakers

Kevin Powell

Kevin Powell headshot

Kevin Powell is an author, humanitarian and president of BK Nation, a national organization based in New York City (the BK stands for “Building Knowledge”) centered on grassroots activism, pop culture, technology, and social media to spark projects and campaigns.

He has written 12 books, the newest is "The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood."

As a public speaker, Powell travels globally. On behalf of the U.S. State Department, he toured Japan lecturing on the relevance of Dr. Martin Luther King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech in the 21st century. He also visited Wales in the United Kingdom for a series of lectures and workshops on the 100th birthday of 20th century poet Dylan Thomas. Learn more about Powell here.

Kimberlé Crenshaw

Kimberlé Crenshaw headshot

Kimberlé Crenshaw is an award-winning professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law school. She is an expert in civil rights, Black feminist legal theory, and race and the law.

Crenshaw coined two terms — critical race theory and intersectionality — that have proved foundational in many areas of study. A specialist on race and gender equality, she has facilitated workshops for human rights activists in Brazil and in India, and for constitutional court judges in South Africa. Her groundbreaking work on intersectionality has traveled globally and was influential in the drafting of the equality clause in the South African Constitution.

Follow her on Twitter here.

2016 Speakers




Touré is well-known for his social commentary. He is a former NBC contributor and former MSNBC co-host of "The Cycle." A contributing editor to "Rolling Stone" and other publications, he is the author of several books, including "Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? What It Means to Be Black Now."

Learn more by visiting his website, here.

Patrisse Cullors

Patrisse Cullors

Patrisse Cullors

Patrisse Cullors is a Los Angeles-based social activist who, with two other people, started the movement #BlackLivesMatter in 2013, taking their inspiration from the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. As the truth and reinvestment campaign director for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Cullors works to build the response capacity of communities that are affected by violence.

Learn more on Cullors' website, here.

2015 Speakers

Sybrina Fulton

Sybrina Fulton

Sybrina Fulton

Since the 2012 shooting death of her son, a 17-year-old high school student, Sybrina Fulton has dedicated her life to transforming family tragedy into social change. Fulton and Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin, established the Trayvon Martin Foundation, to raise awareness of how violent crime impacts families of victims, and to support and advocate for those families.

Fulton inspires audiences to educate their children about civil rights, and she has added her voice to others who speak out against violence toward children and the need for safer communities. Fulton earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Florida Memorial University and worked for the Miami-Dade County Housing Development Agency for more than two decades.

Visit the Trayvon Martin Foundation here.

Marc Lamont Hill

Marc Lamont Hill

Marc Lamont Hill

Marc Lamont Hill, author and activist, is a journalist who is frequently tapped by top news organizations for his views on everything from sexuality to politics to religion. He is a regular commentator for CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel. Hill also writes a column for the Philadelphia Daily News.

Hill serves as distinguished professor of African American studies at Morehouse College. He is a founding board member of My5th, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating young people about their legal rights; Hill also works with the ACLU Drug Reform Project. He earned a doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

He is the author of “Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life: Hip-Hop Pedagogy and the Politics of Identity” and “The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black life in America,” in addition to editing several other books.

Visit his website here.

2014 Speakers

Chuck D

Chuck D

Chuck D

Chuck D (Carlton Douglas Ridenhour) and Public Enemy redefined the world of hip hop and rap with the release of their first album, "Yo! Bum Rush The Show," in 1987.

Since that time, Public Enemy has released 13 albums, with songs that articulated the issues African Americans and others faced. Long considered among the most influential music groups, Public Enemy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

Now the host of Air America's On the Real/Off the Record, Chuck D conducts interviews with national political and music figures.

He is a national spokesperson for Rock the Vote, and active in the National Urban League, Americans for the Arts Council and National Alliance for African-American Athletes.

Chuck D has been featured and/or interviewed in more than 50 documentaries on music, technology, politics, and race; he has appeared in numerous public service announcements for national peace and the Partnership for a Drug Free America. In 2006, he hosted ESPN's "Ali Raps" about the poetry and politics of Muhammad Ali.

Follow him on Twitter @MrChuckD.

Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson is an award-winning journalist, social activist, political commentator and author.

Currently, Johnson is a regular contributor to MSNBC and the executive editor of He is also the weekly commentator on the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show, tackling issues on politics, entertainment and social policy. He chairs the Jeff Johnson Institute for Urban Development, an institution committed to recruiting and developing 80,000 African American male teachers.

He has worked for Black Entertainment Television, served as an advisor for the NCAAP's youth and college division, and worked as vice president of Russell Simmons Hip Hop Summit Action Network. He serves on the boards of the National Urban Fellows and the HBCU Hall of Fame Foundation. Click here to learn more.

2013 Speakers

Judge Glenda A. Hatchett

Judge Glenda A. Hatchett is known in the legal community for her groundbreaking courtroom style. She is also respected for her work with children and considered a leader in the justice system.

Hatchett serves as national spokesperson for Court Appointed Special Advocates, a non-profit volunteer organization that trains volunteers to represent abused and neglected children and help them navigate the court system.

She urges viewers of her syndicated TV show, "Judge Hatchett," to become mentors to at-risk youth in their communities. Hatchett is also the author of Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say, based on her experiences in the courtroom and as a mother of two boys.

Hatchett graduated from Emory University School of Law, served a clerkship in the U.S. Federal Courts, then spent a decade working for Delta Air Lines in a dual role in the legal and public relations departments. She then served as chief presiding judge of the Fulton County, Georgia Juvenile Court.

Glenda Hachett

Glenda Hachett

Hatchett serves on the board of directors for the Atlanta Falcons and the Hospital Corporation of America, a Fortune 500 company that is the nation's leading provider of health care services. She was named Woman of the Year by the national organization 100 Black Men of America, and one of the 10 Women of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of America.


Majora Carter

Majora Carter is the host of the Peabody Award-winning radio series "The Promised Land," which airs on National Public Radio.

Carter travels the U.S. to introduce her radio audience to passionate people who are changing their communities with innovative projects.

She founded Sustainable South Bronx in 2001 when few were talking about sustainability, and even less people were talking about it in places like the South Bronx.

By 2003, Carter coined the term "Green The Ghetto," as she pioneered one of the nations first urban green-collar job training and placement systems, and spearheaded legislation that fueled demand for those jobs.

Carter's 2006 TED Talk was one of six presentations to launch that groundbreaking website.

Since 2008, her consulting company, MCG has developed strategies for climate adaptation, urban revitalization, and leadership development for businesses, foundations, and economically under-performing communities.

She has a long list of awards and honorary degrees, including a MacArthur genius Fellowship. More information is online at


Majora Carter

Majora Carter