2017 Proctor Institute Great Preachers and Plenary Speakers Bios

DeMonte Alford 

DeMonte Alford (Tuesday Children and Justice Plenary Speaker) is a high school social studies teacher in the Guilford County Schools in Greensboro, NC. He previously worked for the Kay Hagan Campaign for Senate, as an on-air personality for Minority Voice Media in Greenville, NC, and as a Field Organizer for NextGen Climate in Winston-Salem, NC. His awards include being named a Golden Leaf Scholar and NC NAACP Youth and College Trailblazer. He is a graduate of East Carolina University.

   
     

Rev. Traci Blackmon 

Rev. Traci Blackmon (Wednesday Great Preacher) is the Executive Minister of Justice & Witness Ministries for The United Church of Christ (UCC) and Senior Pastor of Christ The King UCC in Florissant, Missouri. Initially ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Blackmon served in various ministry capacities for nine years, prior to becoming ordained in the UCC and installed as the first woman pastor at Christ The King UCC. Rev. Blackmon’s communal leadership and work in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, Missouri has gained her international recognition and appointment to the Ferguson Commission by Governor Jay Nixon and to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships for the White House by President Barack H. Obama. Rev. Blackmon co-authored the White Privilege curriculum for the UCC and toured the nation with other spiritual leaders proclaiming the need for a “Moral Revival” in this nation. Her accolades include The White House President’s Volunteer Service Award, the 2015 Ebony Magazine Power 100 and the NAACP - Rosa Parks Award. Rev. Blackmon holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Birmingham-Southern College and a Master of Divinity from Eden Theological Seminary.

   
     

Dr. America Bracho 

Dr. America Bracho (Tuesday Children and Justice Plenary Speaker) is the Executive Director of Latino Health Access, a center for health promotion and disease prevention located in Santa Ana, California. Created under her leadership to assist with the health needs of Latinos, Latino Health Access trains community health workers as leaders of wellness and change and facilitates empowerment using participatory approaches to community health education. In her native Venezuela, Dr. Bracho worked as a physician. In the U.S., she created the AIDS Projects for Latino Family Services in Detroit and has been a trainer, presenter and consultant for agencies including The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The National Council of La Raza, John Hopkins University, The U.S.-Mexico Border Association, and the Texas Department of Health. Dr. Bracho serves as a consultant for the Pan-American Health Organization. Previously, she hosted a daily radio talk show and wrote a local newspaper column. Dr. Bracho earned multiple degrees from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, including a medical degree from the Luis Razetti Medical School, and a Master’s degree in Public Health with a specialty in Health Education and Health Behavior.

   
     

Sister Simone Campbell 

Sister Simone Campbell (Tuesday Children and Justice Plenary Speaker) has served as Executive Director of NETWORK since 2004. She lobbies on issues that help “mend the gaps” in income and wealth in the U.S., focusing on how they disproportionately affect people of color and women, and is a noted speaker and educator on these issues. During the 2010 congressional debate about health care reform, she wrote the “nuns’ letter” supporting the reform bill and got 59 leaders of Catholic Sisters to sign on. Sister Campbell has led four cross-country “Nuns on the Bus” trips, focused on economic justice, comprehensive immigration reform, voter turnout, and bridging divides in politics and society. She is the author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community. Sister Simone has appeared on 60 Minutes, The Colbert Report and The Daily Show. Previously, she served as the Executive Director of JERICHO; general director of her religious community, the Sisters of Social Service; and founder and lead attorney for the Community Law Center in Oakland, California. Her accolades include a “Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award” and the “Defender of Democracy Award” from the international Parliamentarians for Global Action.

   
     

Tai A. Dixon 

Tai A. Dixon (Wednesday Children and Justice Plenary Moderator) is the National Director of State Office and Field Operations for the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). In this capacity, she manages CDF state office Executive Directors, national community organizing staff, CDF Beat the Odds® scholarship and leadership development program, and CDF Internship Program staff. She has dedicated her career to advocacy, social justice and developing others to become agents of change. Previously Ms. Dixon served on staff at Teach For America, as a civil litigator at Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann, LLP, and as a seventh and eighth grade English teacher in Houston, Texas. In 2014 Dixon was selected as one of the Network Journal’s 40 Under Forty Honorees in recognition of her leadership and accomplishments in her professional career and commitment to broader community advancement. Ms. Dixon serves on the advisory board and annual fellow selection committee of UNCF Walton Scholars Program, engaging HBCU students in pursuing careers in social justice. She holds a Bachelor degree from Spelman College, a Master of Arts degree in Education from the University of St. Thomas, and a Juris Doctorate from the Howard University School of Law.

   
     

Rev. Damien Durr 

Rev. Damien Durr (Tuesday Great Preacher and Thursday Children and Justice Plenary Speaker) currently serves as the Executive Pastor of Community Development at Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, Rev. Durr worked with the Children’s Defense Fund Nashville Organizing Team which focuses on dismantling the Cradle to Prison Pipeline® by combating zero tolerance school discipline policies and practices. A minister, educator, and teacher, Rev. Durr inspires, galvanizes, and promotes hope across the country from churches to barber shops to public schools. As a Presidential Scholar at American Baptist College and Kelly Miller Smith Fellow at Vanderbilt Divinity School, he helped facilitate various initiatives and discussions involving childhood education, juvenile justice, the prison industrial complex, Black Church Studies, and cultural criticism. He also served in the Metro Nashville School System as a social and emotional specialist and mentor to multiple African American boys. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Rev. Durr holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from American Baptist College and a Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School.

   
     

Marian Wright Edelman 

The President of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), Mrs. Edelman has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life. Under her leadership, the Washington-based CDF has become the nation's strongest voice for children and families. She began her career in the mid-1960s when, as the first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, she directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1968, she moved to Washington, D.C. as counsel for the Poor People's March that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began organizing before his death. Mrs. Edelman founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm and the parent body of the Children's Defense Fund. For two years she directed the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University and in 1973 began CDF. Mrs. Edelman has received many awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, and a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship. In 2000 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings, which include: The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours, Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors, and I'm Your Child, God: Prayers for Our Children. A graduate of Spelman College, Mrs. Edelman holds a law degree from Yale University. She is married to Peter Edelman, a professor at Georgetown Law School. They have three sons, Joshua, Jonah, and Ezra; two granddaughters, Ellika and Zoe; and two grandsons, Elijah and Levi.

   
     

Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald 

Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald (Tuesday Children and Justice Plenary Moderator) is Director of the CDF’s Southern Regional Office (CDF-SRO), and the Regional Administrator for the Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative for Economic & Social Justice (SRBWI). SRBWI operates in 77 counties across the Black Belts of Alabama, Southwest Georgia and Delta Mississippi. CDF-SRO also serves as the lead for the W.K. Kellogg funded Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK) Initiative. Previously she worked for the Southeastern Public Education Program of the American Friends Service Committee, the Children's Foundation, and the Southern Regional Council. She was former Congressman Mike Espy's District Director, worked on the Clinton for President Campaign in 1992, and in the Department of Agriculture. She is a member of the Mississippi Head Start Association board, the Mississippi Children's Museum board, the advisory committee for the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, and the State Children's Welfare Coalition and the Global Women's Action Network for Children. She also received honorary membership to Pi Alpha Alpha, the National Honor Society for Public Affairs & Administration from Mississippi State University. Ms. Fitzgerald holds a B.A. in sociology from Tougaloo College.

   
     

Rev. Willie Dwayne Francois, III 

Rev. Willie Dwayne Francois, III (Monday Great Preacher) is the Senior Pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church of Pleasantville, New Jersey. Previously, he served at First Corinthian Baptist Church (FCBC) in Harlem and Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church of Houston, as a member of the Young Preachers’ Leadership Team of the Academy of Preachers, the director of the Young Ministers’ Corner of the African American Lectionary, and as a research assistant for Dr. Jonathan L. Walton — a civil rights scholar for the imaging of the King Paper collection through the Martin Luther King Center. Rev. Francois holds an adjunct position in the African American Studies program at the University of Houston and has published various articles and sermons. He is a founding fellow of Emerging Millennials Leadership Alliance — a movement committed to dismantling the racialized prison industrial complex in America — and co-chairs the Theological Working Group of the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality. Rev. Francois earned a Bachelor of Arts in History and Religion from Morehouse College, and holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, where he was awarded the Hopkins Shareholders Award — the school’s highest academic recognition.

   
     

The Rev. Dr. Frederick Hayes 

The Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III (Closing Great Preacher) is the Senior Pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and has served the community since 1983, working with local leaders to fight domestic violence and poverty. Dr. Haynes organized a Faith Summit on Poverty and works nationwide to fight predatory lending. He has been a frequent White House guest to address issues from the state of the economy to voting and civil rights, and was applauded by President Barack Obama for starting the THR!VE Intern and Leadership Program. Dr. Haynes is a radio host, author of Healing Our Broken Village and Soul Fitness, chair of the board of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, and board member of the Conference of National Black Churches, the National Action Network, and Paul Quinn College. Dr. Haynes’ honors include the Ebony Magazine’s 2012 Power 100 List, the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame, and an invitation to give remarks at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service at Washington National Cathedral. Dr. Haynes earned a Bachelor of Arts in Religion and English from Bishop College, a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and his Doctorate in Ministry from the Graduate Theological Foundation.

   
     

The Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner 

Dr. Eileen W. Lindner (Tuesday Bible/Theological Study Teacher), Proctor Theologian-in-Residence, is the senior pastor of The Presbyterian Church at Tenafly in New Jersey. She previously served pastorates in Illinois, New York and New Jersey. Additionally, Dr. Lindner was an overseas mission associate for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Egypt and Lebanon assigned to the Middle East Council of Churches, served the Carter White House in the area of child welfare policy, and has taught at the nation’s leading seminaries. As Deputy General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA for many years, her duties included a variety of national and international ministries including child advocacy, research studies and planning. Dr. Lindner was the Editor of the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches and authored Thus Far on the Way: Toward a Theology of Child Advocacy, When Churches Mind the Children and numerous articles and publications. A graduate of Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania, she holds Masters degrees from Aurora University (counseling psychology), McCormick Theological Seminary (theology), and the Ph.D. degree from Union Theological Seminary, New York. She has also done post-doctoral work at the University of Edinburgh and Harvard.

   
     

The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III 

The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III (Morning Devotions Preacher) , Proctor Co-Pastor-in-Residence, is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois. He is the former pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia. Dr. Moss’ many honors include the 2016 NAACP Chairman’s Award and delivering the Yale University Lyman Beecher Lectures in 2014. His books include Redemption in a Red Light District, The Gospel Re-Mix: How to Reach the Hip-Hop Generation, Preach! The Power and Purpose Behind Our Praise (coauthored with his father), The Gospel According to the Wiz and Other Sermons from Cinema, and Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair based on his Lyman Beecher Lectures. His sermons, articles and poetry have appeared in numerous publications. Dr. Moss is an ordained minister in the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the United Church of Christ, carrying dual standing in both denominations. Dr. Moss received his Bachelor of Arts in religion and philosophy from Morehouse College, a Master of Divinity from Yale University where he was awarded the FTE Benjamin Elijah Mays Scholarship in Religion and the Yale University Magee Fellowship, and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University.

   
     

The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. 

The Rev. Dr. Moss, Jr. (Morning Devotions Preacher), Proctor Co-Pastor-in-Residence, is the Pastor Emeritus of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Previously, he served as co-pastor with Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. For over 50 years, Dr. Moss has been directly involved in the civil rights movement as a religious leader and community activist, espousing the nonviolent approach for affecting social and political change. Moss’ many honors include four honorary doctorates and a citation in 2000 from the Howard University College of Medicine. He has served as chairman of the Board of Trustees of Morehouse College, is a life member of the NAACP and served as a consultant to former President Jimmy Carter. In 2004, he was the Lyman Beecher Lecturer for Yale University Divinity School. He is the co-author, with his son, of Preach! The Power and Purpose Behind Our Praise. Dr. Moss has been selected twice by Ebony magazine as one of “America’s 15 Greatest Black Preachers” and listed as one of 30 people who have defined Cleveland in the last 30 years. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College, his Master of Divinity from Morehouse School of Religion/ITC, and his Doctor of Ministry from the United Theological Seminary.

   
     

Brittany Packnett 

Brittany Packnett (Wednesday Children and Justice Plenary Speaker) is the Vice-President of National and Community Alliances for Teach for America. She has been an elementary school teacher, legislative staffer, education policy advocate, and executive director of Teach For America-St. Louis (TFA-STL). Under her leadership TFA-STL launched a local institute, increased fundraising and diversity, and invested in culturally responsive pedagogy for the 20,000 students in corps member and alumni classrooms. Catalyzed by the death of Michael Brown, Ms. Packnett is a Ferguson protestor and served on President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force and the Ferguson Commission, helping to bring protestor voices to policy change in the wake of Ferguson. In 2015, she helped launch Campaign Zero, a comprehensive policy platform to end police violence. Ms. Packnett was named one of TIME’s 12 New Faces of Black Leadership, and to The Root and Ebony 100 lists. She also shares the 2015 Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership with fellow activist DeRay Mckesson. She is an alumna of Washington University in St. Louis and American University.

   
     

The Rev. Dr. Luke Powery 

The Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery (Thursday Great Preacher) is the Dean of Duke University Chapel and Associate Professor of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School. Previously, he served as the Perry and Georgia Engle Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary. Ordained by the Progressive National Baptist Convention, he has served in churches throughout Switzerland, Canada and the United States; authored Spirit Speech: Lament and Celebration in Preaching and Dem Dry Bones: Preaching, Death, and Hope; co-authored an introductory textbook on preaching; and is working on two devotional books. Dr. Powery served on the executive lectionary team for The African-American Lectionary and is the recipient of numerous scholastic fellowships and awards. In 2008, the African-American Pulpit named him one of 20 outstanding black ministers under the age of 40 who are helping shape the future direction of the church. In 2014, he was inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Collegium of Scholars at Morehouse College for his ethical and spiritual leadership. Rev. Dr. Powery holds a Bachelor of Arts in music from Stanford University, a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Theology from Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto.

   
     

Wendy Puriefoy 

Wendy Puriefoy(Thursday Children and Justice Plenary Moderator) is the former Director of Education at the Barr Foundation where she led efforts to break the links between zip code and school achievement in Boston and former President of Public Education Network serving from 1991-2012. Deeply involved in school reform since the 1970s, she began by serving as a Special Monitor of the court-ordered desegregation plan for Boston’s public schools. Previously, she served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of The Boston Foundation, a community foundation with an endowment of over $750 million. She serves on the boards of the Children’s Defense Fund, Independent Sector, Demos, Hasbro Children’s Foundation, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, the Milton Hershey School, and the National Center for Family Philanthropy. She received a Bachelor of Arts from William Smith College and holds Master of Arts degrees in African American studies, American studies and American colonial history, all from Boston University.

   
     

Dr. Patrick B. Reyes 

Dr. Patrick B. Reyes (Wednesday Children and Justice Plenary Speaker) is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for Doctoral Initiatives at the Forum for Theological Exploration, and a Latinx practical theologian, educator, administrator and institutional strategist. At the Forum for Theological Exploration, he supports scholars of color and works with institutional leaders on a number of inclusive excellence initiatives. Dr. Reyes helps communities, organizations and individuals excavate their stories to create strategies and practices that promote thriving. He is the author of the book, Nobody Cries When We Die: God, Community, and Surviving to Adulthood. He previously served as the assistant dean for Academic Affairs and as the director of the Center of Community Engagement at Trinity Lutheran College, and as the director of communications at Tools for Decision Group. He has over 15 years of experience working with gang-affiliated, farmworker and religious communities on compassion and spiritual practices for healing and founded two groups that foster community and decolonize religious and spiritual traditions. Dr. Reyes holds a Ph.D. and Master of Arts from Claremont School of Theology, a Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology and a Bachelor of Arts from California State University, Sacramento.

   
     

E’darrius Smith 

E'darrius Smith (Thursday Children and Justice Plenary Speaker) is a native Nashvillian and recent graduate of Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School (May 2016). E’darrius has been a member of the Children’s Defense Fund Nashville team for the last three years. He is an artist, philosopher and activist. E’darrius has presented his art work around the cradle/school to prison pipeline throughout the city of Nashville and at high schools, colleges, universities and churches throughout the country.

   
     

The Rev. Dr. Luther E. Smith, Jr. 

The Rev. Dr. Luther E. Smith, Jr. (Tuesday Children and Justice Plenary Speaker) is Professor Emeritus of Church and Community, Candler School of Theology of Emory University. Dr. Smith speaks and has written extensively on issues of church and society, congregational renewal, Christian spirituality, and the thought of Howard Thurman. He is a cofounder of the Interfaith Children’s Movement that educates, mobilizes, and networks faith communities in being advocates for children in Georgia. Dr. Smith is the Coordinator of the “Pan-Methodist Campaign for Children in Poverty,” and also serves on the board “L’Arche USA” to assist its mission with persons with intellectual disabilities. He is an ordained minister of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

   
     

Dr. Terrell Strayhorn 

Dr. Terrell Strayhorn (Thursday Children and Justice Plenary Speaker) is Professor and Founder/CEO of Do Good Work Educational Consulting LLC. Most recently, he was on the faculty at The Ohio State University, where he also served as Director of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise (CHEE) and Founding Director of the Center for IDEAS within the College of Education and Human Ecology. He is author of 10 books including College Students’ Sense of Belonging: A Key to Educational Success for All Students, over 60 book chapters, and other publications. His active research agenda focuses on education, including student access and achievement; issues of race, equity and diversity; impact of college on students; and student learning and development. Known for using the hashtag #DoGoodWork, he was named one of the country’s top diversity scholars by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education in 2011, one of Business First’s “Top 40 under 40,” one of the “Top 20 to Know in Education,” and became the youngest full professor in Ohio State’s history. He received a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia (UVA), a Master of Education in educational policy from UVA’s Curry School of Education, and a Ph.D. in higher education from Virginia Tech.

   
     

Dr. Mark Lewis Taylor 

Dr. Mark Lewis Taylor (Wednesday Children and Justice Plenary Speaker) is the Princeton Theological Seminary Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Theology and Culture where his regular teaching duties focus on the theologies of Paul Tillich and Gustavo Gutierrez, with full courses on White racism as theological challenge, feminist and womanist theologies, empire and capital in theological perspective, and cultural-political hermeneutics. A member of the Presbyterian Church, Dr. Taylor frequently lectures in churches and supports church communities in their efforts to organize on justice and peace issues. Since 1987, he has studied regularly in Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico, analyzing cultural and political dynamics of churches moving closer to a contextualized Mayan theology that also facilitates resistance to military repression. Dr. Taylor coordinates Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal. He has authored numerous books including The Theological and the Political: On the Weight of the World, Religion, Politics, and the Christian Right: Post-9/11 Politics and American Empire, The Executed God: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America and Remembering Esperanza: A Cultural Political Theology for North American Praxis. He holds a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.