Meet The Participants
Emma Petty Addams | Mormon Women for Ethical Government
Emma Petty Addams serves as executive director for Mormon Women for Ethical Government. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in piano performance at Stanford University, she spent time in Boston and Silicon Valley working in contracts negotiation, corporate transactions and capitalization, and investor relations. In addition, she has built and run large piano studios in California, New Jersey, and now Omaha, Nebraska, where she currently resides with her husband and three sons. While seemingly unrelated, these previous career opportunities were excellent preparation for the fast paced yet methodical and collaborative nature of the work at MWEG. Every time an MWEG member writes an Op-ed, speaks out against injustice, or expresses her opinion peacefully on social media, Emma is grateful for the chance to help women contribute their part to the complex multi-voice symphony that is our democracy.
Lida Azim | America Indivisible
Lida Azim currently serves as a Program Manager for America Indivisible in Washington, D.C. She's originally from the Bay Area, California, where she discovered her passion for giving back to the Muslim and Afghan-American communities. Lida doubled majored at San Jose State University with a B.A. in Political Science and History and furthered her education at American University with an M.A. in International and Intercultural Communication. She hopes to continue to work towards a better space for understanding and acceptance for not only Muslims but those who are perceived to be Muslim.
Azor Cole | American Promise
Azor’s experience as a journalist fostered his skepticism towards concentrated power, and spurred his interest in campaign finance reform. His work has appeared in The Daily Orange, The Syracuse New Times, and Envirogorge. As the State Manager for American Promise, Azor manages the execution of state campaign strategy. He helps craft organizational messaging and builds relationships with legislators, partner organizations and local media figures to amplify grassroots action around state-specific strategic goals. Azor is a Syracuse University graduate.
Benjamin Singer | Show Me Integrity & Show Me Integrity Education Fund
Benjamin Singer is the Executive Director of Show Me Integrity and the Show Me Integrity Education Fund, Missouri's cross-partisan movement for a more effective, ethical government of, by, and for the people. His career has been built on working with conservatives, progressives, and independents to fulfill the shared promise of America. In 2018 he served as Communications Director for Clean Missouri, a cross-statewide ballot initiative of sweeping legislative reforms. It passed by a nearly 2-1 margin, with a strong coalition of endorsers across the political spectrum committed to cleaning up gerrymandering, lobbyist gifts, and more, including U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth. In 2016 Benj served MAYDAY.US--led by Lawrence Lessig, Mark McKinnon, and Zephyr Teachout--as National Campaign Director, overseeing cutting-edge digital mobilizations as well as hard-nosed, old-fashioned organizing on the ground across the United States that helped build support in Congress to a record level (at the time) for the Government by the People Act. His work has been featured in TV, radio, and newspaper outlets across the nation. www.ShowMeIntegrity.org
Denesha Snell | American Public Square
Denesha Snell is the Program Manager for American Public Square at Jewell. Denesha was born and raised in Kansas City, MO where she attended Kansas City Public Schools graduating from Paseo Academy of the Fine and Performing Arts! After graduating from Paseo Academy, she earned her undergraduate degree at Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, and a master’s degree in education from Rockhurst University.
In a career spanning 20 plus years, Denesha has enjoyed a range of positions including serving as the Public Information Officer for the Kansas City Missouri Health Department, and the Director of Programs for Show Me KC Schools. Throughout her career, Denesha has worked to publicly address issues including parent advocacy, cultural diversity, the root causes of health disparities, the economic impact of community health, fostering violence prevention efforts through communication, and improving organizational relationships with community and civic partners. Denesha has presented conference workshops for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Association of County and & City Health Officials (NACCHO), BikeWalkKC – Pedestrian and Cycling Advocates and Alpha Phi Sigma – Criminal Justice Honor Society.
In addition to her professional roles, Denesha takes pride in facilitating Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) courses in Kansas City. In this role, Denesha works with PLTI fellows to increase their capacity for advocacy, sharpening civic skills, strengthening their impact at home and in their neighborhood, and helping increase their knowledge of public policy to improve child and community outcomes.
In her spare time, Denesha is an avid swimmer and cyclist, and teaches water fitness classes in the community. Her most important role is mother to her two daughters!
Kristen Vonasek | Ballotpedia
Kristen Vonasek is the Director of Communications for Ballotpedia. Kristen joined the organization in 2013 to direct the state executives content project. She now works to promote and share Ballotpedia and its resources and grow their readership.You can find Kristen at home in Madison, or traveling in Malawi, with her husband, two girls, and dog, Uji.
Kenneth Allen - Kenneth Allen Foundation for Entrepreneurship
Kenneth “Biznessman” Allen, founder of the Kenneth Allen Foundation for Entrepreneurship, Inc. (KAFFE, Inc.) CEO of K.S. Consultants and Managing Editor of Prominent Magazine which he co-owns with Entrepreneurial Icons Farrah Gray and Bill Mays. Allen was born and raised in an impoverished neighborhood in Gary, Ind. Growing up in a single parent household, Kenneth defied national statistics for Black males and graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School at age 17.
Allen’s love for entrepreneurship began early. At 12, he started his first business venture, K.S. Candies, in his grandfather’s garage. Operating for more than six years, K.S. Candies ranked 79 out of 100 youth businesses in the nation according to Young Biz, Inc. By 15, Allen was sharing his love for entrepreneurship with others as a Certified Entrepreneur Instructor. He is Young Biz’s youngest certified instructor in the country.
As a successful entrepreneur and motivational speaker, Allen’s vision for KAFFE, Inc. is to promote philanthropy and success by sharing the entrepreneurial spirit through an alternative program for economically disadvantaged youth. To date, he has shared his entrepreneurial expertise with school children in West Africa and all over North America.
Allen is a man who not only “talks the talk” – he walks the walk. He diligently serves his community by annually giving over 2000 volunteer hours to such organizations like: Indiana Black Expo (IBE), as the, IBE Youth Entrepreneurship Seminar chair, Prince Hall Masons/Shiners, Indianapolis Urban League Young Professionals, Vice Chair of the Indiana Commission on the Social Status Black Males and the First Baptist Church. In addition to that he still finds time to care for his grandfather Charles who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
Allen is the youngest person to ever be employed by the Indiana House of Representatives. At 18, he was hired as a page coordinator for the 112 and 113 General Assembly. He worked in the Indiana State government for 2 years. Then went on to the Federal Government for three years.
Allen has received hundreds of awards such as Who’s Who Among Youth Leaders, the One Church One School Student of the Year, National’s Dean’s List, Indiana Black Expo Entrepreneur of the Year and McDonalds just recently recognized him as a “Living History Maker”. He counts among his proudest accomplishments, December 4, which was proclaimed by Indianapolis Mayor as “Kenneth Allen Day” for his outstanding leadership and success as an entrepreneur.
Matt Byrne | AllSides
Matt is passionate about improving democratic decision making through authentic engagement and civic dialogue. He has a background working with non-partisan public policy think tanks, multi-partisan media projects, and various non-profits in the bridge building movement. Matt has a B.A. in Political Science from Hamline University and an M.A. in Liberal Studies from the University of Minnesota where he researched deliberation design.
Kimberly Clinch - American Promise
Kimberly grew up in Minnesota, where she got involved in local campaigns from a young age. In college, she became passionate about agricultural issues and the rights of small, independent farmers. She co-founded a student group that worked with campus dining halls to buy more food from small, local farms. While working on these issues, Kimberly saw firsthand how Big Money controls politicians and prevents common-sense policies. In the 2018 midterm elections, Kimberly volunteered for a campaign in Texas that refused money from all PACs and fundraised solely through individual donations. While pursuing these political interests, Kimberly also obtained her BA in math and physics from Northwestern University, contributed to award-winning research with NASA and the National Weather Service, traveled around the world, and worked in finance. She is excited to now be fighting full time for the country she loves!
Drisana Hughes - Civics Unplugged
Drisana Hughes is the Senior Program Manager of Civics Unplugged, a social enterprise and digitally-powered community committed to empowering the leaders of Generation Z to build the future of American democracy. At CU she leads the recruitment, training, and oversight of civics program implementation for over 200 gifted High School students. In addition to CU, she is a Co-Founder of Percapita Group, a diversified financial institution focused on underbanked and underserved communities. Prior to CU and Percapita Group she worked with multiple different organizations in the Democracy Reform space and financial services. Drisana is very passionate about the intersection between the public and private sectors and how leaders in both spaces can work together to create meaningful social impact. She got her BA in Political Science, with a concentration in American Politics, from the University of Pennsylvania.
Liz Joyner - The Village Square
Liz Joyner is the Founder & CEO of the Village Square, a nonprofit dedicated to reviving civic connections across divisions inside American communities. Named by retired U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe as one of eight organizations to support if you're concerned about the deepening partisan divide, The Village Square was the recipient of the 2015 Statewide Impact Award from Leadership Florida - recognizing an organization that has created a body of work that can impact Florida as a whole. Liz has a Masters Degree in Social Work, conceptualizing the Village Square after her experience working in politics convinced her that the way we work out our disagreements in today's public square is fundamentally flawed. She was named by USA Today as "extraordinary American who is making our nation a better place," nominated by Leadership Tallahassee as Leader of the Year, named by the Tallahassee Democrat as one of "25 Women You Need to Know" in 2015, by the Girls Scouts as a "Woman of Distinction" and was honored by United Church Women as a Woman of Peace. David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values called Joyner "likely the best organizer working in this area today."
Heidi J. Kim
Heidi J. Kim is an educator and Episcopalian living in Minneapolis, MN. She served as the Staff Officer for Racial Reconciliation for The Episcopal Church for five years, listening and learning with Episcopalians and Anglicans throughout the church. Heidi’s experience in church-wide ministry as well as in higher and secondary education has focused on the stories of the survivors and disrupters of oppression and marginalization, as well as the struggles of well-intentioned people to speak about volatile issues without endangering relationships with family, friends, and community. She holds a deep commitment to working with curious, diligent, and passionate people of faith to maintain stronger and more faithful communities.
Brian Rubin - The Harwood Institute
Colleagues have described Brian Rubin as someone who “has a high energy level and a thirst for hard work and service to others”. He is constantly looking for opportunities to bring people together to create something better. His work has supported faith-based, civic and education organizations.
After nearly 20 years serving organizations as a professional fundraiser, Brian made a leap which was prompted by his desire to be in a better position to shift the status quo. He realized how much we, as a society, fail to address the difficulties in being extraordinary in organizations driven by specialization and uniformity. He wants to help leaders and organizations thrive by designing environments that ignite imagination and self-expression, and enable meaningful human connection and collaboration.
This past fall, Brian joined Harwood Institute as a Studio Associate. In his role, he helps the institute advance new ideas for strengthening communities and society in a rapidly changing world.
Brian, currently, serves on the board of the Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund. With the support of the Fund, Brian organized the ‘Seat at the Table’ initiative, an effort to create circles of relationships and a space to discuss issues that matter most to Prince George’s County residents, including shifting the narrative about Black majority communities and building more equitable civic participation.
A graduate of Northwestern University where he played football, Brian is a New Jersey native. He now lives in Bowie, MD with his wife and two sons.
Dorian Spears - Momentum Nonprofit Partners
Dorian Spears firmly believes that the solutions and brilliance to solve community challenges exist within residents who have been pushed to the margins in communities affected by poverty, institutional racism, and disinvestment. Her professional experience has spanned over 19 years serving the community in various capacities in the nonprofit, government, and economic development sectors. As a community based thought leader, Dorian employs current knowledge and acumen while making a meaningful impact on organizational mission, vision, and values.
Paul Swearengin - Nonpartisan Evangelical
In his career, Paul has served as a sportscaster/talk show host, business owner, health care business developer and is a founder of a church. Paul believes God has more for people than just inviting them to sit together in seats on a Sunday. When true virtues of Christ are in action in a city and region, that city will be a better place for its citizens to live. Paul encourages all followers of Christ to put these beliefs into action for the welfare of their city, state, region and the world.
Breon Wells - The Daniel Initiative
Breon Wells is a thought leader, public speaker, strategist, business owner, and faith leader. As a military dependent, he was born in Spain, and would grow up predominantly in the European continent, to include Turkey, Germany, and England. As a result of this privilege, Breon developed a global perspective on social justice issues at an early age, a mindset that informs his work to this very day.
As a former Congressional Aide, Breon understands the importance of diversity and inclusion at the highest levels of institutions of power. This experience inspired Breon to found The Daniel Initiative (TDI), a government relations and strategic communications firm that specifically services traditionally underrepresented and underserved populations in public policy spaces. Breon works with non-profit organizations and corporations to develop public policy and advocacy programs. He also serves as a public policy advisor to politicians, civil rights leaders, influencers, business executives, and faith leaders in the US and in Europe. Policy areas of expertise include: Criminal Justice Reform, Voting Rights, Foreign Relations, Cyber Security, and National Security. In 2017, Breon became an Advisor to the National Commission for Voter Justice. Inspired by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Senior, this Commission of twenty-five national leaders has conducted hearings across the nation, studying voter suppression, voter engagement, and voter turnout.
In 2012, he served as the Vice President of Public Policy at Faith Link Inc., a National organization that equips faith communities to increase civic engagement and public policy education. In this capacity, he had oversight of FLI's policy research and development.
Breon is the cohost of Leverage: Politics, Power, & Influence. This podcast provides advocates, activists, and influencers with the strategic insights necessary to reshape political and social realities. Breon is a motivational speaker and the author of The K-Gene: Principles For Attaining Your Destiny. He frequently speaks at conferences on the topics of privilege, public policy formation, criminal justice reform, diversity and inclusion, race relations, faith and politics, and activism. He sees the merging of activism and public policy engagement as his contribution to furthering civil and human rights.
Jillian Youngblood - Common Ground Solutions
Jillian Youngblood is the executive director of Common Ground Solutions, a non-profit, non-partisan organization working to increase civic engagement; improve the quality of political discourse; and convene Americans around reforms to depolarize our system. She has more than 15 years of experience in communications, politics, and government, with a focus on democracy reform, public health, education policy. As an aide to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, she was a lead staffer for the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, and worked on issues related to health care, urban planning, and the arts. Previously, she managed New York City’s federal and state legislative portfolios on public health under the Bloomberg administration. She also led communications for an education technology start-up, where she authored a report on predatory higher ed lead generation, contributed to a book on educational entrepreneurship published by Harvard Education Press, and was a frequent speaker on college admissions and learning disabilities.
Jeanelle Austin | Racial Agency Initiative
Jeanelle Austin is a seasoned advocate for racial justice and public speaker. After working over 10 years in higher education, in October 2019, she launched Racial Agency Initiative LLC to help individuals and organizations leverage their agency for racial justice within their scope of influence. This work brings her joy. Jeanelle currently resides in Austin, Texas. She enjoys music, traveling, trying new foods, and spending quality time with friends and family.
Tyler Fisher | Unite America
Tyler brings a diverse background to his jack-of-all-trades role at Unite America. Past experience includes time on campaigns, at think tanks, and leading grassroots organizations. He has degrees in government and economics from George Mason University.
Alison Goldsworthy | The Depolarization Project
Ali has spent more than 20 years active in politics and campaigning. A former Deputy Chair of the Liberal Democrat party in the UK she led a team that built a supporter base of millions of consumers, and ran her own public affairs agency. Ali is Vice Chair of the grant giving Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. After attending High School in the UK and Southern Indiana, Ali gained her undergraduate degree from the University of Bath and Charles University in Prague. In 2017 she was a Sloan Fellow at Stanford receiving the $20,000 Francis and Arjay Miller Prize for Social Innovation alongside her Masters. A frequent media pundit, Ali has written for the Telegraph, Independent, New Statesman and Financial Times. She has won numerous awards for her work including NGO Campaign of the Year, Integrated Campaign of the Year and been named one of PR Week’s 29 under 29.
Shamichael Hallman | Reimagining The Civic Commons
I'm passionate about connecting people and combating social isolation. I am currently working on the Reimagining the Civic Commons Project; a three-year, national initiative with projects in five U.S. cities that seek to revitalize and connect civic assets. A collaboration of national foundations and a network of local partners, the initiative is working toward four main goals: civic engagement, socioeconomic mixing, environmental sustainability and value creation. In Memphis, the project is focused on a four-block area downtown known as The Fourth Bluff, which includes Cossitt Library, Mississippi River Park, and Memphis Park. The aim of the project is to build a sense of community that brings people of all backgrounds back into public life as stewards and advocates shaping their city’s future.
Prior to this, much of my work was focused on the intersection of faith and technology. In 2013, I became a co-organizer for a faith-based hackathon called Code for the Kingdom. As a part of this movement I helped organize the largest faith-inspired hackathon which occurred in 15 cities across the globe. This work enabled him to travel to Nairobi, Kenya to work with a group of Christian technologists to help combat corruption in 2015. Last year I wrote a book entitled Hacked: How a Christian Hackathon is Shifting Traditional Engagement Models and Creating an Ecosystem for Life-Transforming Technology.
Ivan Douglas Hicks | The Grindery
Ivan Douglas Hicks currently serves as the Senior Minister of the historic First Baptist Church North Indianapolis. This inner-city social service hub has served the Near Northwest Area of Indianapolis as a place of resource and hope for 135 years. Dr. Hicks is a serial social entrepreneur who established:
- The Morehouse College Mentoring Program
- The Northwest Vision Development Center (aka The Vision Center), whose client portfolio includes
- Wells Fargo Bank, State Farm Insurance and Sapelo Island cultural & Revitalization Society
- The Grindery, focused on entrepreneurs starting and sustaining strong businesses (a program of The Vision Center)
- The Ministerium gathers faith community members around relief of the poor, vanguarding the causes of women and children
Dr. Hicks is a Fully-Affiliated Professor, a full-time Senior Minister, speaker, facilitator and consultant. His expertise ranges on topics from Cultural Theology and Post-Modern Advocacy to Entrepreneurship and Leadership Development. He is fully integrated in empowerment issues for sustained change.
Kofi Kenyatta | The Family Independence Initiative
Kofi Kenyatta launched the Family Independence Initiative-Detroit demonstration project in 2014 and currently serves as the FII-Detroit Site Director. Kofi has 10 + years of non-profit leadership experience. His professional tenure includes positions with various non-profit organizations focused on economic empowerment, family development, housing access, and related quality of life issues. Prior to joining the Family Independence Initiative, he served as Director of Compliance and lead facilitator for The 180 Program. Previously, Kofi has worked as a political consultant on national, state, and local campaigns. Kofi is a graduate of Hampton University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Management.
Suzanne Goodney Lea joined the Interactivity Foundation as a full-time Fellow in May 2009. Prior to that she was an Assistant Professor and Chair of Trinity College’s Criminal Justice Program in Washington, D.C. From 2005 to 2007, she was an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Gallaudet University. Suzanne is a first-generation college student who has had a long-standing relationship with college access programs such as Upward Bound/TRIO, McNair Scholars, and College Bound. She has a B.A. in sociology and in history from the University of Michigan, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology, with a minor in criminal justice, from Indiana University. Suzanne’s academic research explored criminology-related public policy, particularly as it corresponds to the intersection of race and crime, the etiology of violent behavior, and the definition and measurement of crime. She is a member of the American Sociological Association, the Academy of Behavioral Profiling, the American Society of Criminology, and the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP).
Suzanne’s involvement with IF began in 2006 when she attended the Foundation’s first Summer Institute. In February 2008, she became the Foundation’s Educational Coordinator on a part-time basis, helping the Foundation to further develop and coordinate its various faculty and curriculum development activities. Suzanne has a strong commitment to developing and promoting teaching methodologies that can help the academy to effectively serve a much wider and more diverse range of students. As a full-time Fellow, she continues to coordinate the Foundation’s educational initiatives.
Suzanne lives in Columbia, MD, with her husband Andrew, their infant son Marcus, and their two dogs, Jack and Clyde. Andrew works as a test engineer for International Space Station components at the NASA-Goddard facility. The family enjoys hiking, offbeat beers and wines, dining out with friends, and cooking interesting meals at home.
Justine Lee | Make America Dinner Again
Justine Lee is the co-creator of Make America Dinner Again, and as head of partnerships, has developed relationships and worked collaboratively with media and organizations to bring civil dialogue to more people. Her appearances at SXSW and on NPR, The Glenn Beck Show, and BBC to discuss and model MADA have led to thousands of dinner sign-ups, interest in all 50 states, and the creation of chapters in 10 cities. In addition to MADA, Lee consults independent podcast teams on their marketing and audience development strategy. Lee is also a writer and audio storyteller herself; she's most interested in reporting stories about marginalized communities and guiding folks on how to design inclusive experiences. Her work has appeared in Fast Company, Core77, Business Insider, Narrative.ly, and KALW. Lee lives and works in NYC.
Maria Yuan | Issue Voter
Maria Yuan is passionate about fixing significant, systemic problems by leveraging creativity and determination to achieve world-changing results and impact. As the Founder of IssueVoter, Maria‘s mission is to enable equity by giving everyone a voice in our representative democracy. Maria’s writing has appeared in Real Clear Politics, The Hill, and Huffington Post, and she has spoken at conferences, companies, and universities across the U.S. on civic engagement, technology, and democracy.
Maria’s political experience includes passing a bill as a constituent, working for a Representative, and managing and winning one of the most targeted races in Iowa – an open seat in a swing district. Maria’s professional experience includes investment banking, strategy, corporate development, recruiting, social enterprise, and consulting. She currently serves on the Keep Families Giving Foundation Advisory Board and has served on the boards of Gibney Dance, The University of Texas Co-Op, and Friends of the Children New York.
Maria earned degrees from The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania and The University of Texas at Austin.