Dolores Huerta launched the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 with Cesar Chavez. Her lobbying and negotiating talents were demonstrated in securing Aid For Dependent Families (“AFDC”) and disability insurance for farm workers in the State of California in 1963, an unparalleled feat of the times. She was also instrumental in the enactment of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. This was the first law of its kind in the United States, granting farm workers in California the right to collectively organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions. While directing the first National Boycott of California Table Grapes out of New York she came into contact with Gloria Steinem and the burgeoning feminist movement. Having found a supportive voice with other feminists, Dolores consciously began to challenge gender discrimination within the farm workers’ movement. Dolores continues to work tirelessly developing leaders and advocating for the working poor, women, and children. As founder and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, she travels across the country engaging in campaigns and influencing legislation that supports equality and defends civil rights. She often speaks to students and organizations about issues of social justice and public policy. In 2012 President Obama bestowed Dolores with her most prestigious award, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
Paola Mendoza was recently named one of Filmmaker Magazine 25 New Faces of Independent Film. Her narrative directorial debut, Entre Nos, had its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, where it was awarded Honorable Mention. Entre Nos went on to win over twenty awards at film festivals from around the world. Ms. Mendoza is in development for her second feature film A Paso de Mangles, which she will direct in Colombia. Most recently Mendoza directed a short documentary series for Refinery29 about immigration, which was executive produced by America Ferrera. Her short, Broken Tail Light, currently has over 14 million views on Youtube. Free Like the Birds, premiered at Tribeca Film Festival. Her documentary Z for Zendaya, staring Disney superstar Zendaya Coleman and her animated series, 11 Million Stories, about a dystopian future where mass deportation is law in the US were commissioned by Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation FWD.us. Mendoza is a two-time nominee for the NALIP Estel Awards, given to Latino filmmakers that show extraordinary promise in the field of directing. She is a Tribeca All Access, Independent Film Week and Fast Track alum. Ms. Mendoza’s novel, The Ones Who Don’t Stay, was published by Penguin Books in 2013.
Brittany Packnett is an unapologetic educator, organizer, activist, writer, speaker, and national leader in social justice. A former teacher, policy expert, and non-profit executive director, has committed her life and career to justice. She currently plays many roles, all focused on freedom.
Full time, Brittany serves as Teach For America’s Vice President of National Community Alliances, where she leads partnerships with communities of color and with them, is crafting the organization’s first civil rights and equity agenda. Beyond Teach For America, Brittany was a Ferguson protestor and continues in activism as, among other things, co-founder of Campaign Zero, a policy platform to end police violence.
In 2015, at the height of national crisis, Brittany was appointed to the Ferguson Commission and President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Today, she continues to advocate for urgent systemic change at critical decision making tables and through national and international media.
From New Zealand to London, across the United States, and at the White House, Brittany has travelled extensively to impart lessons of movement building, effective social impact, liberatory leadership, and empowerment for women and girls-especially those of color. Her popular TEDx talk, “It’s about time to value Women of Color in Leadership” exemplifies the passionate and personal storytelling she shares with audiences.
She has been named one TIME Magazine’s 12 New Faces of Black Leadership, LinkedIn’s Next Wave, received the Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership and shares the number 3 spot on Politico’s 2016 50 Most Influential list.
P. Kim Bui is the editor-at-large for NowThis News, focusing on original, social reporting and breaking news. Prior to NowThis, she was deputy managing editor for reported.ly, a digital media startup on the forefront of social journalism. She specializes in storytelling on the web and has spearheaded breaking news initiatives across digital, print and broadcast companies for local, national and global audiences. She’s also an instructor at the University of Southern California and co-founder of #wjchat, one of the longest running weekly Twitter chats for journalists.
Born in Guerrero, Mexico, Oliver Merino moved to rural North Carolina at the age of ten with his family. A graduate of Central Piedmont Community College and Johnson C. Smith University, where he studied African American history, Oliver has worked with and advocated for immigrant communities across the country. As program coordinator at Levine Museum of the New South, he works on developing collaboration with the Latino community and designing programming to reach diverse audiences. Oliver is member of Comunidad Colectiva and board member of the Latin American Coalition.
Zun Lee is a Toronto based artist. He was born and raised in Germany and has also lived in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Chicago. Lee has been globally recognized as one of the top emerging visual storytellers to watch. His focus on the importance of quotidian Black life has led to publications in the New York Times, Slate, Wall Street Journal, TIME, The New Yorker, Huffington Post, MSNBC, Washington Post, Forbes, and Hyperallergic. For his project Father Figure, Lee embedded himself for several years in various African American families to document intimate moments of everyday family life. In the fall of 2014, Lee worked on repeated assignments in Ferguson, Missouri, where he engaged the local community to produce a more nuanced narrative of resistance. His latest project Fade Resistance examines a gap in the recent history of Black visual representation through an archive of over 3,500 found Polaroids of African American families.
Damian Woetzel is director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program, which under his leadership aims to further the value of the arts in society, focusing on education, social justice, economics, and diplomacy. He has created events and programs furthering this work in venues varying from the National Performing Arts Center in Beijing, to the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, the home of Shakespeare in the Park. In addition to his role at the Institute, Woetzel is a producer and director of dance and music performances, including the artistic directorship of the Vail International Dance Festival, where he presents dance performances and commissions. Woetzel was a Principal Dancer at New York City Ballet from 1989 until his retirement from the stage in 2008. At NYCB, he danced virtually the entire leading male dancer repertory, and had works created for him by, among others, Jerome Robbins, Eliot Feld, Twyla Tharp, Susan Stroman, and Christopher Wheeldon. Woetzel also frequently performed as a guest star with companies including the Kirov Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, and starred in numerous television broadcasts and as the Cavalier in the Time Warner movie version of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Woetzel has also choreographed a number of ballets for NYCB and other companies.
For Nadia Sasso, the connection to the African Diaspora has always been strong. Born in America to parents who emigrated from Sierra Leone, Sasso is a leader in establishing social and entrepreneurial connections across cultures and fostering civic responsibility. In 2010, she co-founded Yehri Wi Cry (YWC), an organization that distributes birthing kits in Sierra Leone to increase the successful delivery rates for women. Now, she is a fashion consultant and the new media strategist for Royal Dynamite. Sasso’s belief that innovation is inspired by collaboration derives from her first hand experiences as she spearheaded the corporate social responsibility initiative at Royal Dynamite that gives back to those in need. For every t-shirt purchased, the company donates an educational care package to children around the world. The initiative has touched more than 300 organizations in countries across the globe. Named by Katie Couric as being amongst the “Next Generation of Female Leaders,” Sasso also received the Young African Committed to Excellence Award by Face2Face Africa magazine. She is the 2013 recipient of the Posse Foundation’s Ainslie Alumni Achievement Award where she was honored for her commitment to social responsibility and her ability to inspire others. Sasso has a dual bachelor’s degree in English and Sociology from Bucknell University and a master’s degree in American Studies with a certification in Documentary Film from Lehigh University. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Africana Studies with a minor in Film Studies from Cornell University.
Desirée Venn Frederic is a Sierra Leonean born writer and installation artist of Geeche and Maroon ancestry. Her work pulls heavily from her transnational experiences and understandings. The artist and thought leader explores identity, ownership and contemporary ideas in aesthetics. As the founder of Nomad Yard, a globally minded vintage shop in Washington, D.C., Venn Frederic creates a playground for those who love culture, history and rare antiques steeped in stories. She uses her work to negotiate multiple strata of marginalization being both undocumented and an aboriginal indigenous woman. She is an interior designer creating experiential spaces and interiors. She is a community organizer and founding member of Artist Union DC, with a keen interest in cultural studies and artistic expression. She is particularly interested in the ways in which fashion, visual culture and critical theory inform, shape and encourage discourses surrounding the socio-economic, political and cultural. Venn Frederic has shared her creative interests as an exhibiting artist with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center drawing parallels of her own personal immigration detention in 2013 to the criminalization of human existence throughout history. She holds degrees in Fashion Merchandising, Business Management and a certificate in Community Advocacy and is fluent in French and Krio. As a speaker, she has engaged TED Talks as well as audiences at University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, The National Endowment for the Arts National Maker Faire, Ted Talks, Made in DC Maker Summit, General Assembly, and Creative World’s Creative Economy Summit. As an ambassador with Define American, the activist shares her personal journey to expand the narrative of immigrants. She exists via the internet sphere simply as @xoDVF. She is a mentor to 2 college aged creative entrepreneurs and loves vintage kimonos.
Jonathan is an undocumented Afro-Latino from Panama and was raised in Maryland. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology with honors from Goucher College and is the co-founder of the UndocuBlack Network, a group advocating for undocumented African, Caribbean and Afro-Latinx folks through policy, story-sharing and community building.
Jonathan served as the Administrator of the Governor’s Commissions on Hispanic and Caribbean Affairs for the Governor of Maryland. There he served as a public policy and outreach liaison between the Latino and Caribbean immigrant communities and the Governor. He was one of the leading voices in crafting the Governor’s response to the humanitarian crisis with Central American children fleeing violence, he was one of the key members planning and executing the policy rollout of the Governor’s executive order severing the state’s relationship with ICE and continued to mentor immigrant youth around the state.
In 2010-2012, Jonathan joined several immigrant youth with Casa de Maryland, the state’s largest immigrant advocacy organization to lobby and advocate for the passage of the Maryland Dream Act both through the Maryland General Assembly and at the ballot box during the referendum campaign. At the same time, he joined a joint campaign with the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization at the time, Equality Maryland, to advocate for an intersectional understanding of undocumented LGBT folks affected by both the Dream Act and Marriage Equality – both upheld successfully that November.
Jonathan is a big believer in creating unique paths and pursuing nontraditional options. He spends a lot of time thinking about how to make the world a better place, how to have more authentic, meaningful relationships and how to travel for free.
Will Jenkins is a graduate of Winthrop University with a dual major in Business Management and Integrated Marketing Communications. Residing in Charlotte, NC, Jenkins works as a creative to produce various photographic and film projects. Going by his alias SimplisticPhobia, he navigates the creative world with a business mind frame.
Executive Producer Vasant Patel has a diverse background in careers spanning from engineering to the arts. After receiving his degree in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan Tech University, Vasant spent over 40 years in roles including Design Engineer, Financial Advisor, and Career Consultant. In 1989, he founded the career-consulting firm CPResume, which within 3 years, expanded to four branches becoming the largest in the Carolinas.
In his semi-retired life, Vasant serves as the Founder and President of social club Life Is Great (LIG), which means to live a happy and meaningful life by maintaining a positive attitude toward life. He is also the Writer and Producer of the upcoming untitled romantic comedy… and his children and all their friends refer to him as “Yoda”.
Kalia Abiade is the Director of Programs at Pillars, a social investment fund that advances social justice by amplifying the voices and talents of American Muslims. In this role she oversees the community infrastructure program, managing grantee relationships and the annual grant cycle, and provides leadership for emerging Pillars initiatives. Prior to joining Pillars, Kalia led work at the Center for New Community to equip and mobilize grassroots organizations and national coalitions to challenge organized nativism and racism in public discourse and policy. Kalia has more than 15 years of journalism experience, is a contributor at In These Times, and taught high school students in rural Southwest Virginia with the Upward Bound program. Her analysis has been cited in the Washington Post, The Nation, NPR, Public Radio International, and USA Today, among other outlets. She lives with her husband and their three children in Chicago.
Taz Ahmed is an electoral organizer by trade, who has mobilized thousands of Asian American & Pacific Islanders to the polls in over seventeen different languages in the past fifteen years at various non-profit organizations, starting with founding South Asian American Voting Youth in 2004. She currently is a Campaign Strategist at the Asian American new media organizing group 18MillionRising.
In 2016, Taz was honored as a White House Champion of Change for Asian American and Pacific Islander Art and Storytelling. She is cohost of The #GoodMuslimBadMuslim Podcast that has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Wired, and Buzzfeed as well as live shows recorded at South by Southwest and the White House. An avid essayist, she had a monthly column called Radical Love, was a blogger for Sepia Mutiny, has written for Truthout, The Aerogram, The Nation, Left Turn Magazine, and more. She is published in the anthology Good Girls Marry Doctors (2016) poetry collection Coiled Serpent (2016) and anthology Love, Inshallah (2012). Taz curates Desi music at Mishthi Music where she co-produced Beats for Bangladesh and she annually makes #MuslimVDay Cards. Her artwork was featured in the shows Sharia Revoiced (2015), in Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s “H-1B” (2015), and Rebel Legacy: Activist Art from South Asian California (2014).
Moises Serrano is an openly queer and undocumented activist and storyteller. Since coming out as undocumented in 2010 in Yadkin County, NC, he has relentlessly pursued equality through the sharing of his narrative. His mission was to de-criminalize and humanize the issue of immigration while advocating for relief to migrant communities. Moises quickly became one of the most requested speakers in the state of North Carolina. Described as a “consummate orator,” his advocacy has led him to lead a Tedx talk in Greensboro and being named a notable Latino of the triad. Moises’ story has been filmed in the feature length documentary, ‘Forbidden: Undocumented & Queer in Rural America.” The triple award winning film is currently touring film festivals and community screenings. Moises is at present an undergraduate student studying Public Policy at Sarah Lawrence College.
Tiffany Rhynard has created over 60 works for stage and screen, and her choreography, dance films, and documentaries have been presented nationwide and internationally. Her dance for the camera pieces have screened at film festivals such as the Dancing for the Camera at the American Dance Festival and at ScreenDance Miami where she won First Prize for her film Invisible Queens. Her documentaries focus on social justice issues and her first doc Little House in the Big House won best documentary at the Central Illinois Feminist Film Festival. Her most recent documentary Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America premiered at Outfest summer 2016 where it received the Freedom Award for promoting justice and equality in the LGBTQ community. Forbidden was also awarded the first ever Social Justice Film Award from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Rhynard is currently in post-production for Black Stains, a docu-dance film collaboration with choreographer Trent D. Williams, Jr. that addresses the dynamics of black male identity in the 21st century.
Cristina Morales is originally from Mexico City, Mexico, and graduated with a degree from the Faculty of Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She arrived in the United States in 1997, and has lived in Durham, N.C. for the past 20 years. She began attending the Hispanic Center in 2005 as part of the Entre Amigos Group as a volunteer. In 2015, she started work as a program coordinator of a group of transgendered women. Though her work is filled with challenges, Morales works to improve the lives of the transgender community every day.
Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls is a national faith leader and social justice activist who has focused the majority of her work in the Southeastern United States fighting oppression and discrimination. She is the Founder and Co-Director of The Freedom Center for Social Justice (FCSJ). Founded in 2009, they work intersectionally through their programs that support the trans community, people of color, people of low wealth, youth and sexual minorities. She and her team have helped build bridges between groups like the NC NAACP, local unions, millennials, radical activists, LGBTQ organizations and communities of faith.
Bishop Rawls is the architect of the FCSJ Do No Harm Campaign, which provides safe space for faith leaders to discuss challenging justice issues like marriage, equal protection for LGBTQ citizens and other current issues impacting communities of faith. Bishop Rawls is cofounder of the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice and the National Trans Religious Cohort which provides training and support to trans and gender-variant seminary and religious studies students. The organizations’ Transgender Faith and Action Network (TFAAN) provides critical information that ranges from healthcare and employment opportunities to research and community support for those often left isolated.
In 2000, Bishop Rawls founded Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte and in April 2008, was consecrated as one of the first women Bishops in the Los Angeles-based Unity Fellowship Church Movement’s history. In 2014 she founded Sacred Souls Community Church, a diverse congregation of progressive Christians in Charlotte that have joined the United Church of Christ. Bishop Rawls has also been a reviewer for the Journal of African-American Studies and is published in Black Sexualities: Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies (released 2010), Sojourners, SAGE and other printed and electronic publications. She has been a guest speaker at Duke University School of Divinity, Union Theological Seminary, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Rochester Colgate Crozer Divinity School, and various other colleges and universities in the South. Bishop Rawls is a graduate of Duke University and is continuing her post-graduate work at Episcopal Divinity School in Boston, MA. She sat on the Governing Board of the North Carolina Council of Churches for two terms and currently serves on the board of the Family Equality Council and works closely with other local and national leaders and organizations to create a more just world.
Jose Antonio Vargas is a journalist and filmmaker, and serves as the CEO of Define American and #EmergingUS. Jose was part of The Washington Post team that won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting for coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting. Vargas revealed his undocumented immigration status in an article in The New York Times Magazine. He went on to produce and direct his autobiographical documentary, Documented, broadcasted by CNN, and later directed MTV’s White People.
Responsible for oversight of Define American’s video content production. In her previous work, she was an Assistant Editor at MeetingHouse Productions and Tommie Copper Productions, a Senior Production Assistant at Zero Point Zero Productions, a Coordinating Producer at Hot Air Productions and a Senior Associate Producer & Casting lead for the Emmy-Nominated MTV special “White People.” Shauna has been leading production at #EmergingUS, the production arm of Define American, for the past two years. She holds of Bachelors of Arts from Oberlin College. As a storyteller, she’s dedicated to exploring the complexity of our American identity.
Ronnie Cho is the Vice President of Public Affairs at MTV. A former White House aide to President Obama, Cho is now running for the New York City Council District 2 seat.
Raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Ian Nelson began his career at an early age as a singer, dancer and actor. His screen debut came in a featured role in the blockbuster Lionsgate film The Hunger Games. He then starred in indie Medeas directed by Andrea Pallaoro which premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Ian next played a recurring arc as the young Derek Hale in the hit MTV television series Teen Wolf. Soon thereafter, in 2014, he played Vincent D’Onofrio’s son in David Dobkin’s feature The Judge for Warner Bros. starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, followed by Relativity’s The Best of Me with James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan. Ian kept up the momentum by booking the lead in Universal/ Blumhouse’s 2015 thriller The Boy Next Door opposite Jennifer Lopez. In the TV realm, his guest star credits include CBS’s Criminal Minds, TNT’s Legends, IFC’s Comedy Bang Bang, and most recently Law & Order: SVU on NBC. He also appeared as a lead last fall in Fullscreen’s The Deleted directed by Brett Easton Ellis. Most recently Ian was seen in films Like Me opposite Addison Timlin, which premiered at SXSW in March and Freak Show with Bette Midler that debuted in February at the Berlin Film Festival. Next up, Ian will be seen in Camp opposite Joey King and produced by James Franco. He just wrap shooting on a lead role in Seeso’s There’s Johnny comedy series, directed by David Gordon Green and produced by Paul Reiser.
Marcus Ellsworth writes for MTV News Politics, where he covers social justice news and activism. Every week, he highlights upcoming events supporting various causes through the MTV News Social Justice Forecast. He is also a spoken word artist and activist for the Black and LGBTQ communities in Chattanooga, TN.
Melissa Harris-Perry is the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University. There she is the Executive Director of the Pro Humanitate Institute and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center. Melissa is Editor-at-Large at ELLE.com. She hosted the award winning television show “Melissa Harris-Perry” from 2012-2016 on weekend mornings on MSNBC. She is the author of the award-winning Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, and Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. Harris-Perry received her B.A. degree in English from Wake Forest University and her Ph.D. degree in political science from Duke University. She also studied theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Harris-Perry previously served on the faculty of the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and Tulane University.
Cristela Alonzo made TV history by being the first Latina to create, produce and star in a network TV sitcom, “Cristela,” an achievement which caps a whirlwind year. She released “Some of the Hits,” her first stand-up CD through Comedy Central, was a viewer favorite as a featured guest host on ABC’s “The View” and made her feature film debut in the hit Angry Birds movie. She is also thrilled to release her first hour stand-up special “Lower Classy” on Netflix. She’s performed at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, the Bonnaroo Music Festival and is a favorite at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal. She also taped “The Half Hour,” her first half-hour special in Boston, which premiered in June 2013 on Comedy Central. Also, fun fact: Cristela performed in numerous theater productions ranging from West Side Story to the other two shows that have a Latina role (can you tell I’m writing this in third-person?). Cristela is based in LA and when not on tour, can be found performing at various clubs around town, including her home club, the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, CA.
April Reign practiced law for nearly twenty years, honing her talent for public speaking and persuasive writing, but it wasn’t until she walked away from her legal practice that she found her true passion. Now, as Managing Editor of Broadway Black, Reign is able to capitalize on her strengths and pursue her calling, using her voice to spark dialogue and explore issues of race, politics and culture. As the Creator of the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, April Reign challenges the lack of representation of marginalized communities in Hollywood and beyond. Reign sustains a movement that has resulted in the most systemic change ever seen in the over 80-year history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. April Reign owned her opportunity, the results of which are reverberating throughout the entertainment industry. Reign is an influential and sought-after digital media presence, having built an organic following of over 70,000 worldwide. April Reign now travels the country speaking at academic institutions and consulting with organizations regarding issues of diversity and inclusion.
Lorraine Ali is television critic of the Los Angeles Times. Previously, she was a senior writer for the Calendar section where she covered culture at large, entertainment and American Muslim issues. Ali is an award-winning journalist and Los Angeles native who has written in publications ranging from the New York Times to Rolling Stone and GQ. She was formerly The Times’ music editor and before that, a senior writer and music critic with Newsweek magazine.
Kashif Shaikh is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Pillars. He founded Pillars in 2011, with a group of philanthropists, and has helped grow the organization into a leading voice for American Muslims in both the philanthropic sector and broader society at large. Prior to launching Pillars, Kashif was a Program Officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.In this role, Kashif managed dynamic charitable partnerships with the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls and other corporate entities, overseeing $5M in annual grantmaking. Kashif’s career began at the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, where he developed key strategies to engage the organization’s largest corporate partners. Originally from Cincinnati, OH, Kashif holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Ohio State University and a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University.
Nico Santos stars as Mateo, Jonah’s competition as the other new employee at Cloud 9, on NBC’s hit comedy Superstore. Santos was born and raised in the Philippines and has assimilated into American culture rather quickly by living in California by way of Portland, Oregon. He started doing stand-up in San Francisco. In just a short amount of time, he became a popular fixture in the Bay Area comedy scene with his acute observations and quirky characters. Charming audiences with his sarcastic wit and outrageous sensibility, Santos has that rare ability to be crass and snarky while at the same time remaining completely likable. Santos has written for E! Network’s Fashion Police and appeared on screen on Showtime’s “Pride Comedy Jam,” as well as the series Ground Floor, Mulaney and 2 Broke Girls. He was also a regular panelist on Chelsea Lately. Santos made his film debut in Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and most recently filmed The Clapper, co-starring Ed Helms, Tracy Morgan and Amanda Seyfried.