February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate African American history, culture, and the exceptional figures whose heroic efforts ensure a better life for future generations. Our great selection of speakers educate, inspire, and ignite important conversations about the past, present, and future of race in America.
History in Context
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s powerful writing combines reportage, historical analysis, and personal narrative to address some of America’s most complex and challenging issues pertaining to culture and identity. Called “essential, like water or air,” by A.O. Scott of The New York Times, his 2015 book, Between the World and Me, was a #1 New York Times bestseller and winner of the National Book Award and the NAACP Image Award. His most recent book, We Were Eight Years in Power, is a collection of his essays on the Obama presidency and its aftermath. He addresses audiences across the country on urgent cultural topics, including discriminatory housing policies, mass incarceration, deleterious interpretations of history, and his personal experiences growing up as an African American male in the United States.
National Book Award winner Dr. Ibram X. Kendi discusses how political, economic, and cultural self-interests cultivate racist policies, which in turn create racist ideas which become ingrained into the fabric of our nation. Kendi, author of the New York Times-bestselling book Stamped From the Beginning, gives sharp, informative, and hopeful lectures that serve as a strong platform for any institution’s discussions on racial discrimination. His highly-anticipated next book, How To Be An Antiracist (August 2019) is an original approach towards dismantling racist structures by changing the ways we think about ourselves and each other.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and National Humanities Medal recipient Isabel Wilkerson is the author of The Warmth of Other Suns, the New York Times bestseller that tells the true story of three people who made the decision of their lives during the Great Migration. She is an exceptional speaker who uses these fascinating real-life stories to illuminate a vital moment in American History and to open up larger conversations about social justice and immigration.
Give your audiences the chance to interact with a living legend of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1957, Carlotta Walls LaNier was the youngest of the famed “Little Rock Nine” who integrated Central High School. LaNier motivates audiences with her personal story of perseverance and strength during this pivotal moment in history.
Leaders in Social Justice
Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, is one of the country’s most visionary legal thinkers and social justice advocates. A MacArthur fellow and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), Stevenson is a founding leader of the movement against mass incarceration in the US. EJI recently opened the the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, America’s first memorial to victims of lynching. To accompany the memorial, EJI also opened the Legacy Museum, which will explore slavery, lynching, segregation, and mass incarceration in America, all in the hopes that by confronting the devastating and deadly realities of America’s racial past, we can find a way forward.
At sixteen, A Question of Freedom author Reginald Dwayne Betts participated in a carjacking and landed a nine-year prison sentence. In his lectures, Betts shares his transformative tale from prisoner to scholar, poet, and Yale Law student, to national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice. He uses his experiences to speak to important issues surrounding the American criminal justice system, as well as the impact of mass incarceration on American society.
After serving nineteen years in prison, Shaka Senghor transformed his life to become a leading voice in criminal justice reform. His TED Talk has been viewed more than 1.4 million times and his stirring lectures inspire audiences across the nation. Lawyer and social justice advocate Bryan Stevenson has said: “Shaka Senghor’s terrific and inspiring [story] affirms that we are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
Zachary R. Wood is known for his dynamic perspective on free speech, race, and dissenting opinions. An activist for free speech and a firm believer that civil debate is a crucial part of one’s education, he recently testified before the United States Senate on the necessity of ensuring that college campuses allow for a variety of viewpoints. Wood makes the case that in a divided time, it is more important than ever for people of all backgrounds to interact. Drawing on his experiences to assess the true state of anti-racist activism, Wood presents the resounding successes and opportunities for improvement of these movements and provides a blueprint for audiences wishing to productively discuss race going forward.
A social psychologist at Stanford University and a recipient of the 2014 MacArthur “genius” grant, Dr. Jennifer L. Eberhardt studies the consequences of the psychological association between race and crime. Dr. Eberhardt believes the problems associated with race are ones we have created, but they are also ones we can solve. Taking audiences behind the scenes of her research, she draws from state-of-the-art technology, innovative experiments, and meticulous data to uncover how implicit bias shapes our visual perception, attention, memory, and behavior.
A fierce advocate for change since her teenage years, June Eric-Udorie is now one of the most prominent voices on feminism, social justice, and equality. The editor of Can We All Be Feminists?, a collection of essays exploring the nuances of identity and the capacity of the modern feminist movement to both empower and exclude, Eric-Udorie is unafraid to challenge her audiences to confront difficult truths and to make their own contributions towards the fight for justice and a more equal future. Her accessible, informative, and inspiring talks encourage feminists to help turn the movement into an intersectional cause that fights for true equality while celebrating our differences.
Porter Braswell is the CEO and cofounder of Jopwell, the leading career advancement platform for Black, Latinx, and Native American students and professionals. A diversity expert, Braswell advises over 100 of America’s leading companies on how to achieve a more representative workplace, while also creating professional opportunities for Jopwell’s community.
Groundbreaking Literary Voices
Colson Whitehead has established himself as one of the most versatile and innovative writers in contemporary literature. His latest novel, The Underground Railroad, is a shattering meditation on the United States’ complicated political and racial history that won both the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His next book, The Nickel Boys (July 2019), takes readers into the brutal realities of juvenile reform schools through the eyes of two boys in the Jim Crow south. A riveting speaker, Whitehead has given talks at universities and libraries across the country about his novel and the complexities of revisiting and writing about slavery today.
After winning the 2014 National Book Award for her New York Times-bestselling adolescent memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson went on to publish the adult novel Another Brooklyn, which was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award in Fiction. Woodson is a four-time Newbery Honor winner, a recipient of the NAACP Image Award, was named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation, and most recently was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. In stirring lectures she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow, her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement, and the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child.
Emily Bernard is a professor at the University of Vermont and the author of Black is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine, a gorgeous collection of autobiographical essays that address her experience of blackness in fearless, deeply personal prose. In her talks, Bernard discusses her evolution as a storyteller, as well as the role of the college classroom and of personal relationships across racial lines in the larger project of racial understanding.