Meet The Participants
Cohort #7: Operating from a Racial Equity Lens
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. Her writing has been published in Newsweek and has been cited in Al Jazeera, Vox, LA Times, and Business Insider, among other media outlets globally. Lida 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.
Ibrahim Bazyan | Civic Genius
Based in Cleveland, Ibrahim Bazyan brings deep development and organizing experience, from managing political campaigns to building coalitions – always with an eye toward opening up new perspectives, sparking purpose-driven dialogues, and spurring ongoing action. In 2020, Ibrahim worked on Michael Bloomberg’s bid for president, where he organized his community around key issues like guns and healthcare. He is a graduate of Case Western Reserve University with a Master’s in Nonprofit Organizations and a Bachelor’s in Psychology, serves on the board of the Arora Foundation and the advisory board of Tomorrow’s Stars, and has consulted with many nonprofits through strategic initiatives.
Cheryl Graeve | National Institute for Civil Discourse
Cheryl Currently serves as the Director of National Programs for the Engaging Differences and
Golden Rule 2020 programs of the National Institute for Civil Discourse. These programs
are designed to engage everyday Americans in building bridges of understanding across
our divides and to strengthen our capacity to engage differences productively. She has
experience in democracy building, community organizing, issue campaign creation,
training and civic leadership development. She believes deeply in the power of grassroots
organizing to elevate the voice and power of we the people in our democracy. She’s had
the joy of working with passionate volunteer leaders in all 50 states as the Senior
Director of Field Support for the League of Women Voters of the United States.
Additionally, She’s worked with the AFL-CIO on an international anti-child labor campaign,
and from my home state of Minnesota, helped pass a state motor voter registration law,
and served constituents as a Field Representative for Congressman Gerry Sikorski.
Cathy Copeland |American Democracy Project
Cathy Copeland is the director of the American Democracy Project at AASCU. Prior to AASCU, Copeland taught for more than 15 years at various institutions of higher education, including James Madison University (JMU, Va.), the University of Alabama, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, Purdue Global, and Blue Ridge Community College (Va.). Most recently, as an instructor with JMU Xlabs, Copeland taught a series of transdisciplinary courses that encouraged students to use innovative research methods to tackle real-world problems such as the 2020 Census, human trafficking, the 2020 elections, and food insecurity. This work also included addressing local, state, and national diplomatic and defense issues through partnerships with the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S, State Department, and other government agencies. Copeland served as a 2019–2020 Civic Fellow for the Madison Center for Civic Engagement and graduated in 2018 from the University of Virginia’s Sorensen Institute Political Leaders Program. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis and a B.A. in biology from Hanover College.
Aman Patel | Grove | OneShared.World
Aman is currently a second-year computational neuroscience undergraduate at the University of Southern California. He is the founder of Grove, an aspirational civic technology project. He also runs two effective altruism groups, and is an arts and culture coordinator at OneShared.World.
His main goal is to take a systematic approach to tackling humanity’s greatest challenges and existential risks, and his interests lie in governance, emerging technology policy, philosophy, physics, and a Swedish sport called floorball.
He thinks humans can create an immensely beautiful future if we figure out how to organize ourselves well, and he’s excited to be a part of this endeavor.
Gerard Eisterhold | Contemplace.org + Eisterhold Associates Inc.
Since 1980, Mr. Eisterhold has been president, principal designer, and project director for Eisterhold Associates Inc. EAI is structured as a museum design firm with a commitment to cultural and civic interpretation. The company is structured to respond to the particulars of each project, and to bring diverse audiences to new understandings of their heritage and potential.
Out of the museum-design experience, two other efforts have evolved. One, ContemPlace.org, seeks to build on the principle and practices we have learned in the development of interpretive experiences, to the civic education space.
The other effort may not initially appear to be related, but it is: an exploration of diversity, as manifest through the cultivation of once-forgotten viticulture heritage of the Midwest. But that is another story for another day.
Ian J Sole | Promise America Alliance
Ian Sole. Born and educated in England and Wales, Ian graduated with an Economics degree from the University of Aberystwyth, Wales. He has worked in top positions in marketing and sales with major companies in both England and the United States. These companies included Fisher Price Toys, Hamilton Beach Proctor-Silex, and American Woodmark Corporation where he helped grow the company to $1 billion in just 9 years. In 2006, he retired from corporate America, moved to Charlottesville, and established his own management consulting business, specializing in helping small businesses. He then moved to Oklahoma City in 2019. He has 4 children and 7 grandchildren. Ian is the Marketing Director of Promise America.
Dr. Janiece Mackey | Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism (YAASPA)
Dr. Janiece Mackey created an organization entitled Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism (YAASPA).YAASPA endeavors to build the self-efficacy of youth to reclaim academic, civic and career spaces through race conscious leadership and transformative organizing. Due to her converging interests in education and policy, she is an Equitable Futures Postdoctoral Research Fellow, co-edited a book entitled Black Girl Civics, has been an Ethnic Studies and Political Science Adjunct Faculty, and earned her PhD in Higher Education with a Public Policy and Curriculum and Instruction emphasis at the University of Denver. She desires to deepen, further develop, and expand “healing praxis” (hooks, 1994) for more youth and professionals of color within the public administration spaces. She believes that those who commit to transformational justice and racial equity must validate and innovate academic, career, and civic experiences that sustain, retain, and rejuvenate minoritized youth and young professionals. Learn more about YAASPA and Dr. Mackey's story.
Guy Burgess | Beyond Intractability
Guy Burgess, with his wife and partner, Heidi Burgess, co-directed the Conflict Information Consortium at the University of Colorado since its founding in 1988. Guy holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and has been working in the conflict resolution field, as a scholar, educator, and practitioner, since 1979. His primary interests involve the study and management of intractable conflicts and the dissemination of conflict resolution knowledge over the Internet. He co-created and co-directs CRInfo--the Conflict Resolution Information Source and the Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base Project (https://www.beyondintractability.org/). With Guy and Heidi's retirement from teaching and research positions at the University, the Consortium became a freestanding project which the Burgesses are still actively developing with the Moving Beyond Intractability series of online courses and blogs and the Constructive Conflict Initiative. The focus of all of these efforts has been on organizing and sharing information that can help us all help strengthen collaborative democratic institutions by improving our ability to handle the many difficult conflict problems that underlie the United States' dysfunctional hyperpolarization. The Burgesses have jointly edited and authored a number of books and articles on intractable conflict. More at https://www.beyondintractability.org/moos/ghburgess
Michael Maxsenti | Common Sense Party
Michael Maxsenti is a member of the founding leadership team for the Common Sense Party of California. Michael's previous work includes his co-founding in 2010 of Rebellious Truths, a non-profit focused on galvanizing, educating and engaging American youth in our political process. He was President of the Max Company, where he consulted on media and marketing while publishing three editions of a leading monthly Southern California tourist magazine for more than two decades. Michael’s previous executive positions spanned several industries that included private companies as well as nonprofits. His expertise covers every stage from start-up to rapid growth, crisis management to turnarounds, and to sustainable growth in new markets.
Ben Powell | The Franklin Project
Ben Powell is a social entrepreneur who loves to create and build things. In 2005 he founded Agora Partnerships, an entrepreneur support organization focused on accelerating the growth of small businesses across Latin America and the Carribean that are working to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Today Agora has over 1000 alumni impacting over 6 million lives in 21 countries. Ben is a pioneer in the movement to build a more inclusive and sustainable capitalism and co-founded the first impact investing fund in Latin America. He is a Draper Richards Kaplan Fellow, Ashoka Fellow, and a recipient of Columbia Business School’s social innovation award, Prior to founding Agora Ben worked in New York state politics, for the Executive Office of the President, and as an entrepreneur and journalist in Mexico. In addition to an MBA from Columbia, Ben received an MSFS with distinction from Georgetown where he helped co-found the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. Ben is also a co-founder of the DC Civic Innovation Council and the Franklin Project, both focused on increasing civic agency to solve collective challenges. Ben is a graduate of Haverford College, where he co-founded Tres Nacos Quesadillas Delivery and the Lighted Fools improv troupe. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and three children.
Kayla Harris | Ballotpedia
Kayla Harris is a Senior Communications Associate for Ballotpedia. Kayla Harris joined the staff in 2014. She helps with Ballotpedia's email products, social media, outreach, and webinars. Kayla was raised in Boise, Idaho, and holds a master's degree in Economics from Utah State University. Kayla loves to travel, hike, camp, and fish with her two dogs, and bike around downtown Salt Lake City.
Lisa D.T. Rice | Unite America
Lisa D. T. Rice is an independent political strategist, passionate about democracy reform and political innovation. Lisa joined the Unite America board of directors in 2017 and chairs the organization’s Endorsement Committee. With extensive political management experience as a political action committee (PAC) director in the corporate and trade association sectors, Lisa is a Federal campaign finance expert.
Lisa is an influential advocate for multiple causes, including policy reform in cancer care, women’s leadership and empowerment, and political reform. Lisa is the president of the Newcomb Alumnae Association board of directors, representing 30,000 women undergraduates of Newcomb College and Tulane University globally.
Lisa also serves on the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) board of directors.
Lisa holds a S.M. degree in Management from the MIT Sloan School and a B.A. degree from Newcomb College. A native Washingtonian, she lives in the District of Columbia. Find Lisa on Twitter: @LisaDTRice
Linus Embe | Association for Community Awareness (ASCOA)
Linus AYANGWOH Embe is a social worker by profession and a community development advocate. He has over 10 years of experience in non-profit organizations, and is the founder and chief executive officer of the Association for Community Awareness (ASCOA), an International NGO with headquarters in Buea, Cameroon. ASCOA is a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting in building self-reliance for underserved communities. Linus is responsible for the administration and execution of the objectives, vision and mission of ASCOA.
Linus is also the co-founder and CEO of Global Waste Cleaning Network (GWCN), an international Non-Profit Organization, that coordinates environmental and energy organizations.
At early age, Linus experienced a lot of setbacks and grew up in a community where people could not boast of daily meals, education, and health facility. He is very proud to have overcome the entire setbacks he encountered along his way. All these gave him the passion and zeal to demonstrate love to under-served communities.
Due to his tremendous effort toward HIV infected persons, Linus was nominated in early 2014 as an organizing committee member of the International Conference on stigma, based at Howard University Washington DC by Dr. Sohail Rana, the conference Director.
Linus has been able to attend many national and international events and with his driven force, ASCOA has become one of the leading non-profits with ECOSOC status.
Galen Nishioka | Concerned Citizens | The Academy of Art University, San Francisco | Member of the Directors Guild of America (DGA)
Galen is a photographer and filmmaker that was recently laid off from his position as the Sound Stage Manager at Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He is also a member, Assistant Director, and Second Unit Director for the Directors Guild of America (DGA).
He shoots natural landscapes and portraits. His films are environmental and human interest. When he is not shooting he is climbing, hiking, fishing, or camping in the Sierras.
Allison Koelzer | American Public Square at Jewell
Allison Koelzer is the Student Initiative Coordinator at American Public Square at Jewell (APS), nonprofit, nonpartisan in Kansas City, Missouri.
In her role at APS, Allison develops and teaches civil discourse curriculum at the college and high school levels of the APS Student Initiative. APS’ Student Initiative is designed to empower student voice and build agency in students through a project-based learning experience where students have the opportunity to create APS style programs on topics important to students and their communities.
Allison graduated from Park University in May of 2020 with degrees in Communication Studies and Political Science.
In addition to her role at APS, Allison passionately volunteers as a facilitator and organizer for two collegiate Model United Nations Conferences.
Hassan Ghiassi | Aristotle's Cafe - Discussions that Matter
Hassan Ghiassi is the Founder of Aristotle's Cafe and has worked for over a decade to design a format that brings people together to have discussions that matter. He's made a major impact with over 300 facilitators trained globally, over 1,000 facilitated discussions in person and virtually, and he's even had the chance to sit down with over 10,000 people to talk about some of life's most important subjects.
Becca Kearl | Living Room Conversations
Becca Kearl is a Managing Partner at Living Room Conversations. Her career in dialogue began after working with victims/survivors of domestic violence. She was troubled by the high incidence rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in Utah and realized the importance of community awareness around critical social issues. She is a founding member of the Utah Dialogue Practice Network and incorporates dialogue and conversation into all her nonprofit work, most notably as Founder and Director of CourtWatch, a Utah based courtroom monitoring initiative where data collection on cases dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault is amplified by regular community conversations around those issues.
At Living Room Conversations, Becca has designed and led healthy dialogue practices in high schools, universities, civic organizations, faith communities, as well as in her own family and community at large. She creates tools, training, and customized resources empowering communities across the county to connect through conversation. At her core, she believes that as we understand the issues that face us, we can come together as a community to support those affected. When she's not doing non-profit work, she is fully engaged in the non-profit venture of raising 5 kids with her husband Jamey in Provo, Utah.
Michele L. Watley | Shirley's Kitchen Cabinet
Michele L. Watley is an industry-recognized practitioner with more than 15 years of experience as a political strategist and communications specialist. She is the founder of Shirley's Kitchen Cabinet, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to amplifying the voices and power of Black women through education and advocacy. Shirley's KC works to wield the collective power of Black women, provide training, and position Black women for seats at decision-making tables.
Michele is also the Founder and President of The Griot Group, a political engagement, and public relations firm. She has developed a broad political, government, and private-sector network, serving in senior-level roles on candidate and issue campaigns at every level of government. Serving as a national political director for Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016, Chris Koster's race for Missouri governor, the Missouri statewide minimum wage ballot initiative, and the general obligation bond for the City of Kansas City are just a few of the campaigns where she contributed to major wins.
In 2017 she was honored by the American Association of Political Consultants with the 40 under 40 award and was named a rising star in politics by Campaign & Elections. Michele is the first Black and the first woman to be honored with both national awards in the same year. Michele holds a Masters of Science in Organizational Development and a Bachelor in Communications from Avila University in Kansas City, MO. She completed course work in Public International Law and World Politics at Leiden University in The Hague, Netherlands.
Shia Levitt | Internews InterActive/Digital Citizen
Shia Levitt has reported public radio feature stories and breaking news for local, national and international radio outlets including Marketplace, NPR and KQED. Her international reporting has brought her to Asia, Africa and the Middle East to cover labor/economics, health/environment and other topics. Here in the US, Shia has reported on national issues from gun control to wildfires to healthcare. She has also produced for television, including daily segments on campaign finance reform from the 2012 Democratic and Republican National Conventions and live studio productions for Link TV's 2000 election coverage. In addition to her own reporting, Shia has taught radio journalism at Mills College in Oakland, California and at CUNY Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, New York. She has also taught radio to young people for UNICEF in Haiti, for WNYC’s Radio Rookies program in New York, and in the Bay Area for a teen environmental journalism program. Central to her approach is the conviction that quality journalism – and access to information from diverse and varied sources – is essential to the functioning of a democracy. www.shialevitt.com
Elizabeth Crews | Participatory Budgeting Project & Democracy Beyond Elections
Elizabeth Crews leads Democracy Beyond Elections, the Participatory Budgeting Project’s (PBP) national collaborative coalition focused on expanding participatory democracy practices in the United States. While at PBP, Elizabeth facilitated the largest student-led participatory budgeting process in the country as well as the first student-led participatory policy making process. In 2013, she founded and led UnifiEd, a public education advocacy organization in Tennessee focused on improving public education by expanding public participation in the school system through campaigns focused on school integration and more equitable funding. She is the founder of Mockingbird Strategies, where she leveraged over a decade of experience in nonprofit management, political campaigns, advocacy and organizing. For 10 years,she consulted with candidates and elected officials, nonprofits, and foundations on political organizing and progressive advocacy campaigns, and participatory practices and civic engagement strategies in the U.S. South. LinkedIn Website
Shannon Wheatley Hartman | Interactivity Foundation
I am a publicly engaged scholar and practitioner of deliberative democracy with over ten years of experience working in the field of dialogue and deliberation. I manage multi-year community discussion projects, create discussion materials, organize and facilitate community conversations. As the Director of Education at the Interactivity Foundation, I also shape our pedagogical approach to student-led and student-facilitated classrooms, develop learning materials, and help to lead our communication efforts. I am currently developing a program in Collaborative Discussion which will result in an open-access toolkit and a certification program for participants. My background is in higher education with a focus in critical international relations, postcolonial politics, and political theory. I was a faculty member at ASU and have taught more recently at College Unbound, Haverford College, Kansas State University, and Drexel University. I am currently located outside of Philadelphia but I call many places home ranging from Bardstown, KY to San Luis Potosi, Mexico. I met my husband, Eric, while studying Quichwa in Ecuador. We have 3 young daughters and try to balance home life with helping to create a more just world through connection, communication, and collaboration.
Eric Bronner | Show Me Integrity & Veterans for Political Innovations (VPI)
Eric is an attorney, U.S. Navy veteran and, for the past two years, he has been a volunteer leader with Missouri's premier, fiercely cross-partisan democracy reform organization, Show Me Integrity. This ground-level experience in the reform space has led Eric to launch a new, nationwide veterans service organization (a soon-to-be 501(c)(19)), called "Veterans for Political Innovation" (VPI). VPI will be a fiercely cross-partisan veterans community, educating and inspiring veterans to actively engage in the fast-growing, NONpartisan political innovation movement. Veterans in this "political innovation community" will serve alongside local partner organizations: advocating for and implementing political innovations, empowering successful reform campaigns and rebuilding trust in our democracy and our Republic!
A deep desire for unity and real, systematic change is in Eric’s DNA. His late grandfather, the eccentric soapmaker, Dr. Emanuel Bronner, dedicated his life to “uniting spaceship earth!” Eric believes the best way to grow unity in our communities (and put “United” back in the USA) is through cross-partisan movements and NONpartisan political innovations. We need a "political reformation" to restore ethical, equitable and effective government of, by and for the people because, as Dr. Bronner said, “we are all-one or none!"
Rev. Gregory E. Kendrick, Jr. | Cory-Glenville Community Center
Rev. Gregory E. Kendrick, Jr. is a native of Chicago, IL and currently lives and is in ministry in the greater Cleveland area. He is a graduate of Denison University with a B.A. in Religion and a graduate of Methodist Theological School in Ohio with a Master of Divinity (M.Div.). He has been a United Methodist pastor for nearly 10 years having previously served congregations in Columbus, OH. Currently he is Interim Pastor of Cory UMC and Pastor of Connections at Church of the Saviour. He also serves as the Executive Director of the Cory-Glenville Community Center. Rev. Kendrick is the father of two children - Caleb, 6, and Charis, 4.
Zoë Jenkins | Civics Unplugged.
Zoë Jenkins is a 17-year-old education equity and justice advocate from Lexington, KY. She is the founder and Executive Producer of Get Schooled podcast with the Student Voice Team, an organization elevating Kentucky students as partners in education research, policymaking, and advocacy. Zoë is an inaugural fellow with Civics Unplugged and now serves as the Chair of the Civics 2030 Steering Committee and works on partnerships with the YMCA, Schmidt Futures and Rhodes Trust. As a part of CU's Civics 2030 Campaign, Zoë founded DICCE, an organization that creates accessible programming and training on diversity, inclusion, anti-racism, and equity for Generation Z. When Zoë is not making a mess in the kitchen baking, you can find her playing the piano, going on a run, or doodling.
Bruce Bond | Common Ground Committee
Bruce Bond is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Common Ground Committee, (CGC), a non-profit with a singular focus on bringing light, not heat, to public discourse. By demonstrating how important people of opposing views can find agreement without compromising core values and providing guides and tools that empower people to do the same, CGC aims to inspire and motivate the public and political leaders to find common ground and reduce incivility and polarization for a stronger nation. Forum panelists have included such notables as John Kerry and Condoleezza Rice, Barney Frank and Larry Kudlow, and Michael Steele and Donna Brazile exploring issues ranging from taxes to race to American foreign policy.
Prior to full-time dedication to Common Ground Committee, Mr. Bond established a reputation as an accomplished business leader. He spent 20 years at Gartner, the highly-respected IT research and advisory firm. For 10 years, he was a member of Gartner’s Executive Management Team that ran the research business for the firm across five continents. Prior to assuming management positions, he was one of Gartner’s most respected and in-demand IT industry analysts. His early career was spent in technical, service and management roles in tech start-ups.
Mr. Bond serves on the Board of Trustees for Principia College in Elsah, Illinois and the Principia School in St. Louis, Missouri.
He is a graduate of Princeton University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Politics and was a national class cross-country runner.
He and his family reside in Somers, New York.
Meisha Lerato-Robinson | I Am, We Are & Unite
Meisha Lerato Robinson is a soulpreneur committed to generating innovative and impactful changes in organizations and communities. With more than fifteen years of brand management and marketing strategy experience, she transitioned out of her career and into a life of social impact. Meisha Lerato is the Founder and Chief Executive of Hope of I Am, We Are (IAWA), a US and South Africa registered non-profit, dedicated to empowering youth across Africa and her diaspora with the tools to confidently own their futures. Her experiences mentoring inner-city youth in the United States and working with youth while volunteering with the Peace Corps in Benin and South Africa, inspired her to start IAWA. She realized youth across the African Diaspora were brimming with potential, but many lacked the support and resources to fulfill their dreams.
She is also a Community Engagement Manager at UNITE, a growing collaborative of Americans from all walks of life, dedicated to addressing universal challenges that can only be solved together. Meisha Lerato aspires to use her work and her walk to help heal the wounds that separate Africans and African Diasporans. She received a Masters of Business Administration in Marketing from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Lillian Barkes | Listen to Our Future
Lillian is a 3rd grade teacher in Indianapolis and a co-founder of Listen To Our Future, a grassroots community organization located in Indianapolis, IN. Their mission is to equip and empower youth to make long lasting changes in their communities through education, community empowerment, and social action.
They have established partnerships with various schools and organizations in the community to provide tutoring, chapters, and mentoring. The organization's main objectives are to center youth voices, increase academic achievement, and provide youth a safe place to express themselves and work collaboratively. listentoourfuture.com Lillian is a graduate from IUPUI with a degree in Elementary Education, a dual license in reading, and concentration in math and science. She has been involved with youth work for the past six years on the near eastside of Indianapolis and received the Excellence in Summer Service Award. She has carried her passion for helping youth thrive into her professional career as an educator. Lillian is also a member of CERG- Community Engaged Research Group with IUPUI to help develop, support, and sustain community engaged research; community based participatory research; and creative activity at IUPUI.
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 - Biden Campaign
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 Lea | Red Dot Foundation Global
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.