Proctor Institute Great Preachers and Plenary Speakers Bios

Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce 

Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce is Professor and Dean of Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, DC. In 2016, Pierce served as the Director of the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Before coming to Howard, she was Director of the Center for Black Church Studies and Associate Professor of Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. Pierce’s research specialties include African American Religious History; Womanist Theology; African American Literature; and Race and Religion.

In addition to her teaching and academic scholarship, Dr. Pierce is an ordained Christian minister, dedicated mentor, community activist, board member of a foster care agency, and cable news commentator. For additional information, please visit: or find her at Twitter: @ynpierce.


Taylor Branch 

Taylor Branch is an American author and public speaker best known for his landmark trilogy on the civil rights era, America in the King Years. The trilogy’s first book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, won the Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards in 1989. Two successive volumes also gained critical and popular success: Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65, and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968. Decades later, all three books remain in demand. Branch returned to civil rights history in his latest book, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement (2013).  He served as executive producer for the HBO documentary film “King in the Wilderness” (2018), about Dr. King’s final three years before his assassination in Memphis. For additional information, please visit


Rev. Jennifer Bailey 

Rev. Jennifer Bailey is an ordained minister, public theologian, and emerging national leader in the multi-faith movement for justice. She is Founding Executive Director of the Faith Matters Network, a new interfaith community equipping faith leaders to challenge structural inequality in their communities. Jennifer comes to this work with nearly a decade of experience at nonprofits combatting intergenerational poverty.

An Ashoka FellowNathan Cummings Foundation FellowOn Being Fellow and Truman Scholar, Rev. Bailey earned degrees from Tufts University and Vanderbilt University Divinity School. She writes regularly for a number of publications including On BeingSojourners, and the Huffington Post.


Joy Masha

Joy Masha, daughter of an immigrant father from Nigeria, was born and raised in Long Beach, California by her single mother. She is the first member of her family to obtain undergraduate and graduate degrees. Ms. Masha is co-founder of Read Lead, a summer school program that provides free education enrichment for low-income elementary and middle school students and their families in the Los Angeles area.

Ms. Masha believes restorative education is a necessity when establishing dignity, relationship building, and transformative justice in both African and Black communities. She is the education deputy for California State Senator Holly J. Mitchell, Chair of the Budget Committee.


Saira G. Soto 

Saira G. Soto is Deputy Executive Director at the Children’s Defense Fund – California where she leads the development, implementation, and expansion of CDF-California programs for children and youth, including the Beat the Odds® scholarship program and CDF Freedom Schools® program. She is committed to raising strong, literate, empowered children who aren’t citizens in waiting. Before joining the CDF-California team, Ms. Soto worked to educate migrant workers on the health dangers of poor water and air quality, and exposure to pesticides.

In 1998, she received a CDF Beat the Odds® scholarship, and later earned a degree in environmental chemistry at the University of California at San Diego. She is a native of Durango, Mexico and was raised in East Los Angeles.

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.


Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II 

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is President and Senior Lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival, Bishop with the College of Affirming Bishops and Faith Leaders, Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and the author of three books: Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing; The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and The Rise of a New Justice Movement; and Forward Together: A Moral Message For The Nation.

Dr. Barber is also the architect of the Forward Together Moral Movement that gained national acclaim with its Moral Monday protests at the North Carolina General Assembly in 2013.  Dr. Barber served as president of the North Carolina NAACP from 2006 - 2017 and currently sits on the National NAACP Board of Directors. A recipient of many awards and former Mel King Fellow at MIT, he is currently Visiting Professor of Public Theology and Activism at Union Theological Seminary and is a Senior Fellow at Auburn Seminary. For more information please visit: .


The Reverend Starsky D. Wilson 

Rev. Starsky D. Wilson is president & CEO of Deaconess Foundation, pastor of Saint John’s Church (The Beloved Community) and chair of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. His faith-rooted activism centers philanthropy, democracy and equity. With Wilson’s leadership, Deaconess is building a movement for child well-being, recently opening a collaborative community action tank and a network of three Freedom Schools with the Children’s Defense Fund. After the death of Michael Brown, Jr., Wilson led the Ferguson Commission. In 2015 they released Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity, calling for sweeping changes in policing, the courts, child well-being and economic mobility. In 2017, Wilson chaired the racial equity advisory group of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, guiding a charge for the affirmation of equity as central to smart philanthropy.


The Rev. James Lawson, Jr. 

The Rev. James Lawson, Jr. was a leading theoretician and tactician of nonviolence and key adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on nonviolent direct action strategies in the Civil Rights Movement. He continues to train activists in nonviolence. In 1951, Rev. Lawson was sentenced to three years in prison for refusing the Korean War draft. Drawing on the example of Christ’s suffering, he taught growing numbers of Black and White students how to organize sit-ins and any other form of action that would force America to confront the immorality of segregation. Rev. Lawson helped coordinate the Freedom Rides in 1961 and the Meredith March in 1966, and while working as a pastor at the Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis, he played a major role in the sanitation workers strike of 1968. On the eve of his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr. called Lawson “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.” Rev. Lawson graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College and received a Master in Theology from Boston University.


Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson 

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson is a 33 year old, Affrilachian (Black Appalachian), working class woman, born and raised in Southeast Tennessee. She is co-executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, TN. Before joining Highlander, she was President of the Black Affairs Association at East Tennessee State University.

Ms. Henderson has extensive experience with community organizing and is a former staff member of the Chicago SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) History Project. A long-time environmental justice activist, she focuses on mountaintop removal mining and environmental racism in central and southern Appalachia. An active participant in the Movement for Black Lives, she is on the governance council of the Southern Movement Assembly, organizer with Concerned Citizens for Justice (Chattanooga, TN), and a former regional organizer at Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide.

She holds a B.A. in English with a minor in African and African American History.


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.


The Rev. Dr. Theresa S. Thames 

The Rev. Dr. Theresa S. Thames is Associate Dean of Religious Life and of the Chapel at Princeton University. As an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, Dean Thames served as a local pastor in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area for nine years before joining the ORL staff. She is a graduate of Howard University with a B.A. in Human Communication Studies, received her M.Div. with a concentration in Gender Studies from Duke Divinity School and her Doctor of Ministry from Wesley Seminary. Dean Thames is passionate about the intersections of theology, community, and social justice.


Dr. Pamela Lightsey 

Dr. Pamela Lightsey is a scholar, social justice activist, and military veteran, currently serving as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Constructive Theology at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. Prior to that, she served as Associate Dean at Boston University School of Theology. 

In 2005, Dr. Lightsey was ordained as an elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church becoming the first out African American queer lesbian clergy in the denomination. As an activist, Dr. Lightsey has worked within the LGBTQ community to end the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy and to ensure marriage equality. She was on the ground protesting against excessive police force during the first 21 days of unrest in Ferguson and has consistently collaborated with activist-colleagues in the movement for the liberation of Black lives, those addressing violence against Black transwomen, and institutional racism on college campuses.

Dr. Lightsey’s publications include, “Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology,” “He Is Black and We are Queer” in Albert Cleage Jr and the Black Madonna and Child, and “Reconciliation,” in Prophetic Evangelicals: Envisioning a Just and Peaceable Kingdom . For more information please visit


Cynthia A. Jarvis 

Cynthia A. Jarvis never intended to become a Presbyterian minister. An English major at Denison University, she considered journalism, theater, the writing life or even, in desperation, becoming a paralegal. Instead she received a Rockefeller Trial Year Fellowship in 1971, a grant designed for religious outliers whose questions about God far outnumbered their affirmations. She completed her M.Div. degree in June of 1974 at Vanderbilt Divinity School and was awarded the Tillet Prize in Theology. She was ordained to be assistant minister of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Wooster, Ohio, and then served Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, N.J. Since 1996, she has been the minister and head of staff of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

Currently, she is co-editor of a seven volume biblical commentary for Westminster John Knox Press entitled Feasting on the Gospels. She is also co-editor of two books: Loving God with the Mind: The Pastor as Theologian and The Power to Comprehend with All the Saints: The Formation and Practice of a Pastor-Theologian. For more information please visit .


Rodney S. Sadler, Jr. 

Rodney S. Sadler, Jr. is Associate Professor of Bible and Director of the Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte, NC. He is an ordained Baptist minister who has served in pastoral supply roles at several Presbyterian congregations and as interim pastor at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church (American Baptist) and Sardis Baptist Church (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship) in Charlotte, NC.  

He authored Can A Cushite Change His Skin: An Examination of Race, Ethnicity, and Othering in the Hebrew Bible, co-authored of The Genesis of Liberation: Biblical Interpretation in the Antebellum Narratives of the Enslaved, and has served as a managing and associate editor of The African American Devotional Bible and the Africana Bible respectively.

Dr. Sadler is Co-Chair of People Demanding Action, Vice Chair of the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice, Co-Chair of the Truth Reconciliation and Anti-poverty Commission, and has worked organizing clergy with and developing theological resources for the Forward Together/Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina. 

He is a graduate of Howard University (B.S.), Howard University School of Divinity (M.Div.), and Duke University (Ph.D.), and has also studied at Hebrew University (1990).  For more information please visit


Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes 

Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes, a theologian, liturgist, artist, and native Brazilian, joined Union Theological Seminary in New York City as the Associate Professor of Worship in 2016. Previously, he taught at McCormick Theological Seminary, Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Dr. Carvalhaes is an ordained teaching elder within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). A published author, editor, and highly sought after speaker, Dr. Carvalhaes has preached at Wild Goose Festival, Festival of Homiletics, and other preaching events. He led worship for the All African Council of Churches in Mozambique, taught at the Global Institute of Theology of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and leads worship and teaches at the Hispanic Summer Program since 2013.

He completed his Ph.D. in Liturgy and Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, his first Master of Philosophy degree in Theology, Philosophy, and History at Methodist University of Sao Paulo, and a Master of Divinity degree from Independent Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Sao Paulo, Brazil). For more information please visit:


Rev. Gregory C. Ellison, II 

Rev. Gregory C. Ellison, II is an associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Emory University Candler School of Theology. His teaching draws primarily from his work with Fearless Dialogues, a grassroots community empowerment initiative he co-founded, that creates unique spaces for young people and community to have hard, heartfelt conversations on taboo subjects like racism, classism, and community violence. 

Ellison’s research focuses on caring with marginalized populations, pastoral care as social activism, and 20th and 21st century mysticism. He is the author of Cut Dead But Still Alive: Caring for African American Young Men and Fearless Dialogues: The Civil Rights Movement of the 21st Century   has a book in progress with Westminster John Knox Press – Anchored in the Current: The Eternal Wisdom of Howard Thurman in a Changing World.

He is an ordained Baptist minister who has served in Methodist and Presbyterian churches. For more information please visit


Dr. Patrick B. Reyes 

Dr. Patrick B. Reyes 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.