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Think Tank Biographies

Think Tank Biographies

Think Tank 2013 - Keynote Speakers and Presenters

Sonia SanchezSonia Sanchez,

Poet. Mother. Professor, National and International lecturer on Black Culture and Literature, Women’s Liberation, Peace and Racial Justice

Sonia Sanchez is the author of over 16 books including HomecomingWe a BaddDDD People, Love Poems, I’ve Been a Woman, A Sound Investment and Other Stories, Homegirls and Handgrenades, Under a Soprano Sky, Wounded in the House of a Friend (Beacon Press, 1995), Does Your House Have Lions? (Beacon Press, 1997), Like the Singing Coming off the Drums (Beacon Press, 1998), Shake Loose My Skin (Beacon Press, 1999), and most recently, Morning Haiku(Beacon Press, 2010). In addition to being a contributing editor to Black Scholar and The Journal of African Studies, she has edited an anthology, We Be Word Sorcerers: 25 Stories by Black Americans. BMA: The Sonia Sanchez Literary Review is the first African American Journal that discusses the work of Sonia Sanchez and the Black Arts Movement. 

A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts, the Lucretia Mott Award for 1984, the Outstanding Arts Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, she is a winner of the 1985 American Book Award for Homegirls and Handgrenades, the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Humanities for 1988, the Peace and Freedom Award from Women International League for Peace and Freedom (W.I.L.P.F.) for 1989, a PEW Fellowship in the Arts for 1992-1993 and the recipient of Langston Hughes Poetry Award for 1999. Does Your House Have Lions? was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is the Poetry Society of America’s 2001 Robert Frost Medalist and a Ford Freedom Scholar from the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Her poetry also appeared in the movie Love Jones. 

Sonia Sanchez has lectured at over 500 universities and colleges in the United States and has traveled extensively, reading her poetry in Africa, Cuba, England, the Caribbean, Australia, Europe, Nicaragua, the People’s Republic of China, Norway, and Canada. She was the first Presidential Fellow at Temple University and she held the Laura Carnell Chair in English at Temple University. She is the recipient of the Harper Lee Award, 2004, Alabama Distinguished Writer, and the National Visionary Leadership Award for 2006. She is the recipient of the 2005 Leeway Foundation Transformational Award. Currently, Sonia Sanchez is one of 20 African American women featured in “Freedom Sisters,” an interactive exhibition created by the Cincinnati Museum Center and Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition and she was the recipient of the Robert Creeley award in March of 2009.

Jasiri XJasiri X

- Poet, Musician, and Activist

Jasiri X's Hip-Hop resume includes performances with Wu-Tang Clan, Redman, Xzibit, Foxy Brown, and Kool Keith. He has been featured on Pittsburgh's local radio stations WAMO106.7FM, 96.1 KISS FM, WPTS 92.1FM and KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, New Pittsburgh Courier, InPgh Magazine, The City Paper and the national magazine Playback. He has held television appearances on "On Q", "The Lynne Hayes Freeland Show" and "Underground Hip-Hop Video Magazine", and has performed in many shows throughout the United States. Jasiri has also tried his hand in promotions with the groundbreaking event, "The Cypher", which for the first time brought a Hip-Hop format to the "Strip District" in Pittsburgh. This event, though held in the month of January and on a week night, was an overwhelming success bringing upwards of one thousand people to witness live performances, a DJ contest, and a Hip-Hop fashion show. Jasiri also has gained admiration in the Spoken Word genre. In his very first Poetry Slam hosted by legendary rap artist KRS-ONE he reached the finals. He has performed at various "Open Mic" venues and was recently honored by the United States Federal Executive Board for a piece which paid homage to the one hundredth year anniversary of The Souls of Black Folks. He has performed with Def Poetry Jam and continues to perform spoken word on a regular basis.

As President of LYRICS Inc. (Leading Young Rappers in Career Success), Jasiri successfully navigates communication with today's youth via speaking (and teaching to adults) the language of Hip Hop and showing the pros and cons of this growing phenomenon. His accomplishments as a spoken word artist and an emcee have added to his credibility and have made him an expert on the genre. He is a member of the Nation of Islam and the Millions More Movement of Southwestern Pennsylvania which meets monthly to address nine specific plagues of our society. He is also a founding member of One HOOD, a group comprised of strong black men determined to heal the wounds of the community with a proactive approach. Members of One Hood have been in the forefront of justice walking side by side most recently with Ms. Pamela Lawton as she demands accountability from the Pittsburgh Police Department in conjunction with her seven year old daughter being threatened with death by a member of police force.

Jasiri X is currently working on his first CD with the legendary Grand Arkitech of X-Clan, Paradise Gray. The CD titled, "I Got that X" was released on October 16, 2007. He is also featured on the new tribute to Tupac Shakur that will be released soon on Universal/AMG/Thug Life Army Records called "In the Shadow of an Icon". When asked what motivates him to proudly and effectively wear all of these hats he states, "Striving to live up to the example of the Honorable Minster Louis Farrakhan."

Maytha AlhassenMaytha Alhassen

Activist and Student for Arab and African Affairs

May received her BA in Political Sciences and Arabic and Islamic Studies, as well as a MA from Columbia University in Socio-Cultural Anthropology in 2008. While at Columbia, May worked as a research assistant for Dr. Manning Marable's Malcolm X Project and facilitated creative literacy workshops with incarcerated youth at Rikers Island as a Blackout Arts Collective member and the Lyrics on Lockdown (LOL) campaign. Additionally, as a member, she helped organize a Hip Hop Film Festival in the prison's high school and wrote an introduction to One Mic, an anthology of incarcerated students art and poetry.

Although enrolled in a doctoral program, May finds it of the greatest importance to bridge her worlds of activism, social justice, community organizing, academia and the arts. May regularly tours with the play production about American Muslim stories "Hijabi Monologues" as a performer, and co-hosts a show on Arabic television station, ART, called "What's Happening." Her research interests focus around the racialization of Muslims in America, the interplay of race and ethnicity in the Muslim American experience, the history of Arab American racial categorization, Black-American, Muslim, and Arab Muslim relations-in particular, points of solidarity and points of tension, "whiteness" in Muslim America, and Malcolm X's relationship with Islamic, Arab and African leaders.

H.L.T. QuanH.L.T. Quan

Associate Professor, Justice and Social Inquiry, School of Social Transformation, Arizona State University

H. L. T. Quan (Ph.D. University of California-Santa Barbara) is an associate professor of Justice and Social Inquiry and an Affiliate Faculty in African/African American Studies, Asian Pacific American Studies and Women's and Gender Studies. She is a political theorist and an award winning documentary filmmaker. Her research centers on race, gender and radical thought. Professor Quan's monograph, Growth Against Democracy: Savage Developmentalism in the Modern World(Lexington Books, 2012) is a radical critique of modern development thinking and programs, including neoliberalism and corporate globalization. Her current book project focuses on ungovernability, anarchy and tools for democratic living. She is also conducting research on the historical and political development of Black capitalism in the United States, with Darryl T. Thomas (Penn State University). Her writings can be found in Social Identities, Race & Class, Meridians, Signs, and the edited volume, Race & Human Rights (ed. Curtis Stokes). She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on social/cultural theories; theoretical perspectives on justice; justice and utopias, community research; race, gender and consciousness; wealth and poverty; social protests; and Black movements in America.

As a documentary filmmaker, Professor Quan is a co-founder and member of QUAD Productions, a not for profit production company that produces media for progressive community organizations and activists. Through QUAD and in collaboration with C. A. Griffith (Associate Professor, School of Theatre & Film), she has co-directed, co-produced, and co-edited more than half a dozen short and feature length socially relevant documentaries. They recently completed AMERICA'S HOME (2011: 67 min), a visually stunning and haunting film about gentrification, displacement and popular resistance in San Juan, Puerto Rico. MOUNTAINS THAT TAKE WING--Angela Davis & Yuri Kochiyama: A Conversation on Life, Struggles & Liberation, (2009: 97 min, Women Make Movies) is an award winning film featuring conversations, spanning over 13 years, between Angela Davis, an internationally acclaimed activist and philosopher and Yuri Kochiyama, an 86 year old community activist and a former confidant of Malcolm X. The film showcases two extraordinary women who found themselves in the midst of some of the most important social movements of the 20th century. Professor Quan also has worked on radio and access television public affairs programs for more than 15 years.

Please visit Professor Quan's production website for more information about her and her media related work. 

Lisa BrockLisa Brock

Academic Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.

Dr. Lisa Brock is the Academic Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. Her articles on Africa and the African Diaspora have appeared in dozens of academic journals and as book chapters. Her text, Between Race and Empire: African-Americans and Cubans Before the Cuban Revolution, was co-edited with University of Havana Professor Digna Castaneda in 1998; her latest project is a comparative study of Afro-descended peoples in the United States and Cuba. Lisa is also on the editorial collective of the Radical History Review and on the Board of the Putter Davis Scholarship Fund.

Lisa has been an activist all her life, from fighting for girl’s rights and black rights in her native Cincinnati, Ohio area and against police violence and judicial misconduct in Washington D.C, to becoming a leader in the anti-apartheid movement in Chicago, Illinois. She lived in Mozambique as a Fulbright Scholar in the 1980s and successfully merged her academic interest with southern African Social Justice Struggles. In the mid 2000s, she worked with others to found the Chicago Anti-Apartheid Movement Collection (archives) at Columbia College Chicago and led the effort to endow an international travel scholarship at CCC. She herself successfully developed study abroad programs in South Africa and Cuba.

Lisa has maintained strong ties with many of her former students and has just begun a unique networking/leadership matrix to continue peer-to-peer and cross-generational mentoring. As an historian and activist, Lisa is an internationalist who views history as a way to enter contemporary discussions about race, class, gender, and global inequalities, and has for over twenty years been an active Public Intellectual. Lisa attended Oberlin College and earned her B.A. from Howard University. She earned her Ph.D. in African History from Northwestern University.

Dan BergerDan Berger

Scholar, Author, Activist, and Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies

Dan Berger is the editor of The Hidden 1970s: Histories of Radicalism (Rutgers University Press, 2010), author of Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity (AK Press, 2006), and coeditor of Letters From Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out (Nation Books, 2005). His most recent book is Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing During the Civil Rights Era, (University of North Carolina Press, 2014). He is an assistant professor of comparative ethnic studies at the University of Washington at Bothell.

Berger earned his master's degree, Ph.D., and a certificate in Africana Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. His dissertation, "'We Are the Revolutionaries': Visibility, Protest, and Racial Formation in 1970s Prison Radicalism," examined the ways black and Puerto Rican prisoners understood race and created antiracist social movements targeting their confinement. For this research, he was awarded a Mellon Dissertation Fellow through the Council on Library and Information Resources, as well as a graduate fellowship in the Penn Program on Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism. From 2010 through 2012, he was the George Gerbner Postdoctoral Fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication. In 2011-2012, he was an associate fellow in the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis.

The grandson of Holocaust survivors, Berger is a longtime social justice activist. His writings on prisons, political prisoners, race, media, social movements, and other subjects have been published in scholarly journals, popular magazines, and online forums, including the International Journal of Communication, Left Turn, The Nation, Punishment & Society, the Philadelphia Inquirer, SOULS, Transforming Anthropology, WireTap, and Z, among elsewhere. He serves on the editorial board of The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics, and Culture. Berger is also a founding member of Decarcerate PA.

Donte HilliardDonte Hilliard

Assistant Dean and Director, Multicultural Student Center

Donte (D. Nebi) Hilliard is a native of E. Saint Louis Illinois. He holds a BS degree in Psychology from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff; a MA in African American Studies from The Ohio State University, and a MA in Religious Studies from Chicago Theological Seminary. His teaching and research interests revolve around issues of culture, power, identity and literacy including the exploration of: Social Justice Education, Humanism, Africana Religions/Spiritualities, Rhetorical and Cultural Criticism, African American Social and Artistic Movements, Reclaiming Spirituality/Religion for Queer People of Color and Black Intellectual History. He is also a interfaith & Humanist Minister, Performance Artist and Reiki Practitioner. Currently he serves as an Asst. Dean of Students the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he directs the Multicultural Student Center and is Co-founder and Chair of the Institute for Justice Education & Transformation.

Matthew CregorMatthew Cregor

Assistant Counsel of the Education Practice, NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Matt Cregor joined the LDF staff full-time in July 2010 after serving as a consultant for LDF’s “Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline” initiative. Matt provides support for community-led efforts to improve school discipline and is working to integrate these efforts with the national push to reform the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (last reauthorized as the “No Child Left Behind Act”).

Matt coordinates the federal advocacy of the Dignity in Schools Campaign – a national coalition of parents, students, educators and civil rights organizations working to reframe the school discipline debate from one that favors reliance on zero tolerance policies to one that respects the human right to a quality education. In this role, Matt works with Campaign members to engage Congress and the administration in support of disciplinary policies and practices that improve the learning environment and keep students engaged and in school.

Prior to LDF, Matt worked on district-, state-, and federal-level discipline reform efforts as a staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama.

Kali N. GrossKali N. Gross

Associate Professor, African American Women’s History, - Activism educating black women in prison

Kali Gross is an associate professor of African American women’s history at the University of Texas. She is the author of Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910 (2006), which received the John Hope Franklin Center Manuscript Prize and the Association of Black Women Historians’ Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize. She is currently working on her second book, A Ghastly Find: Mary Hannah Tabbs and the Case of the Disembodied Torso, Philadelphia 1887.

Pauline LipmanPauline Lipman

Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Activist 

 Pauline Lipman is professor of Educational Policy Studies and Director of the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Her teaching, research, and activism grow out of her commitment to social justice and liberation. Her interdisciplinary research focuses on race and class inequality in education, globalization, and political economy of urban education, particularly the inter-relationship of education policy, urban restructuring, and the politics of race.

Pauline is the author of numerous journal articles, book chapters, and policy reports. Her newest book, The New Political Economy of Urban Education: Neoliberalism, Race, and the Right to the City (Routledge, 2011), argues that education is integral to neoliberal economic and spatial urban restructuring and its class and race inequalities and exclusions as well as to the potential for a new, radically democratic economic and political social order. Her previous book, High Stakes Education and Race, Class and Power in School Restructuring, received American Education Studies Association, Critics Choice Awards. In 2011, she received the American Education Research Association Distinguished Contribution to Social Contexts in Education Research, Lifetime Achievement Award.

Pauline is on the coordinating committee of Teachers for Social Justice – Chicago and is active in coalitions of teachers and community organizations. She is a co-director of the Data and Democracy Project and has co-led various collaborations with community organizations to produce policy reports that bring to light educational injustices. She is a frequent contributor to community forums of parents and teachers in Chicago and nationally.

Scherhera A. ShearerScherhera A. Shearer

Advocate, Board Chairperson, Proud Parent

Scherhera A. Shearer was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan and attended and graduated from the Detroit Public School District. Raised with two parents that were very active with the labor organizations at their place of employment, advocacy was inherent in her blood. Scherhera moved to Cleveland in 1994 and almost immediately became active with the parent groups in the Cleveland Schools, believing that she could have a positive impact on the parents of the students in the school where her children attended. She later became a secretary for the district and in that role she was very helpful to the students and the parents to ensure that they knew what was available to them.

Scherhera serves as the Board Chairperson of Common Good Ohio an organization fighting for the economic justice for the people of Ohio. Common Good Ohio, has worked with parents and community members to help facilitate the Investment School process within CMSD. She is also a parent and grandparent of former and present Cleveland Metropolitan School students. She is a school secretary delegate for SEIU District 1199, where she holds a seat on the Executive Board.


Damian Calvert

Movement-Builder Organizer, and ReEntry Advocate

Damian Calvert was born and raised in Akron, Ohio and has made Cleveland his home for the past three years. He is currently pursing his B.S in Non-Profit Administration from Cleveland State University. In addition to pursuing his current degree, Damian holds a number of collegiate level program certificates in Business, Hospitality, and Retail Administration from Ashland University. Damian is currently a Movement Builder Organizer for Stand Up for Ohio (Ohio Organizing Collaborative). In this capacity, he identifies and develops community members who want to lift their voices around economic and social justice issues, and teach those leaders how to isolate an issue-cut out of a problem and make it actionable; encourages and facilitates leadership development through story of self creation/reclaiming their narratives; and, organizes trainings which all lay the foundation for sustainable movement building.

As a dedicated, focused and resilient advocate and activist, Damian can relate to the struggles of those less fortunate members of our society. Damian’s story of self-narrative is drawn from his 18 & 1/2 years of true life experience while serving time in prison. While some may shy away from revealing this fact about their life, Damian highlights it as a lesson learned for those in or on the cusp of facing the same fate. During his time incarcerated, Damian founded and was the inaugural president of the prison’s NAACP chapter; became a certified American Red Cross instructor; served as Management Director of the Junior Chamber of Commerce; facilitated various educational workshops; mentored at-risk adolescents who came into the facility from surrounding counties through the Heart-to-Heart Program; and, most notably, wrote, proposed and received authorization to facilitate the Reentry Premier Program which helped men prepare for successful transition back into their respective communities. Damian believes that we all tell stories in the way we live our lives… and that these stories can serve as tools to connect, to heal, and transmit our truths in ways that add dignity and value to ourselves and our communities.

Alexis Crosby

Student Advocate and Activist

Alexis Crosby is a recent graduate from Case Western Reserve University. A Cleveland native, she grew up in the Glenville neighborhood and graduated from Glenville High School. During her undergraduate career, she tutored and mentored through the Project Step-Up Program, and had experiences with local community organizations including Breakthrough Charter Schools. Alexis was also a participant in the Social Justice Institute’s Power Up! Platform.

Emeline Liu

Emeline Liu

President of CWRU's New Abolitionist Association

Emeline Liu is currently a third year student, studying systems and control engineering, with a strong interest in social justice. She is also president of the New Abolitionist Association, which is a student group dedicated to dismantling the cradle to prison pipeline.





Shakyra DiazShakyra Diaz

Policy Director for ACLU of Ohio

Shakyra Diaz works on public policy campaigns, legislative advocacy, coalition building initiatives, and impact programming. During her time at the ACLU she has worked on initiatives that have successfully reversed long-standing racially disparate practices that have resulted in sentencing reform. Diaz develops impact policy campaigns that give voice to constitutional concerns around the state. Diaz has worked on efforts that examine hip-hop as a form of political activism, reproductive health care access for Latinas, ineffective gang initiatives, failed and biased drug law policies, selective enforcement, youth and police relations, the school-to-prison pipeline, anti-immigrant policies, sentencing reform, juvenile shackling in courts, seclusion and restraints in schools, and voting rights for currently and formerly incarcerated people.

Diaz has co-authored or contributed to several ACLU of Ohio publications dealing with youth rights, immigrant rights, juvenile justice, racial justice, prison privatization, drug law reform, and criminal justice reform. Some of those reports, include Reform Cannot Wait: A Comprehensive Examination of the Cost of Incarceration in Ohio from 1991-2010, Prisons for Profit: A Look at Private Prisons, Overcharging, Overlooking, Overspending: Cuyahoga County’s Costly War on Drugs, Evaluating Juvenile Justice In Ohio: A Report Card, and Your Health and The Law: A Guide for Teens.

Prior to joining the ACLU, Diaz served as both project director Youth Opportunities Unlimited and education specialist for Case Western Reserve University’s Upward Bound Program preparing high school students for college.

Diaz frequently provides commentary to members of the media on ACLU issues ranging from criminal/juvenile justice, selective enforcement, drug law reform to healthcare access for teens. She is also a member of The New Jim Crow Speakers Bureau. Diaz received her Bachelor of Arts from Case Western Reserve University in Communication Sciences and Sociology with a concentration on social inequity.

To learn more about social justice initiatives at Case Western Reserve and how you can be involved, contact the Social Justice Institute at 216.368.2515 or

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