KEYNOTE: Dr. Michael Eric Dyson

  • Dr. Michael Eric Dyson

    Author, Academic, Activist

    Dr. Michael Eric Dyson is one of the nation’s most renowned professors, gifted writers, inspiring preachers, knowledgeable lecturers, and prominent media personalities. As a teacher who earned a PhD in Religion from Princeton University, Dyson has taught at some of the nation’s most distinguished universities, including Brown, UNC Chapel Hill, Columbia, DePaul, the University of Pennsylvania, and Georgetown University. He is presently Distinguished University Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies, College of Arts & Science, and Distinguished University Professor of Ethics and Society, The Divinity School, and NEH Centennial Chair at Vanderbilt University. Dyson is one of America’s premier public intellectuals and author of over 25 books, including seven New York Times bestsellers such as The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America and Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America. 

    As a preacher and sometime pastor for the last 40 years, Dyson – who was licensed and ordained at Detroit’s historic Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church under the legendary pastoral ministry of Dr. Frederick Sampson – has mounted many of the nation’s most noted pulpits to deliver sermons. Dyson has lectured across the country, and around the world, in many of the best colleges and universities, and in public theaters and auditoriums, and for many corporations and unions. He has also served for the last 30 years as a journalist, media commentator and host, on every major radio and television show, from NPR’s Morning Edition, The Takeaway, and Fresh Air with Terry Gross, to television’s Meet the Press, Face the Nation, Today Show, Good Morning America, and Real Time with Bill Maher. Dyson has served as a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, and as a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, and a political analyst for MSNBC.  Dyson has also frequently appeared on CNN and Fox News to offer political and cultural analysis. Dyson has even found time to make guest appearances on scripted cable and network television programs such as Soul Food, The Game and Black-ish. While feminist author Naomi Wolf calls Dyson “the ideal public intellectual of our times,” writer Nathan McCall captures it best when he says that Dyson “is a street fighter in suit and tie.”


SESSION 1: Civic Education

This panel, featuring leading experts in civic education and seasoned educators, promises a rich discussion on educational practices with the power to transform the future of democratic participation.
  • Session Moderator: Alisha Butler

    Alisha Butler's research draws on interdisciplinary perspectives to investigate the overlapping ecologies of schools and neighborhoods that shape students’ and families’ schooling experiences. With a focus on urban contexts, her research considers the link between school and neighborhood improvement, the significance of space and place for understanding educational equity, and how school-family-community partnerships can strengthen schools. In 2020, she received the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. Her research has appeared in Urban EducationThe Urban Review, and Peabody Journal of Education.
  • President of the Institute for Citizens & Scholars

    Rajiv Vinnakota is the seventh president of the Institute for Citizens & Scholars (formerly the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation). Prior to joining Citizens & Scholars in July 2019, Raj served as the Executive Vice President of the Youth & Engagement division at the Aspen Institute, a new venture focusing on youth leadership development, civic engagement, and opportunity. Before work at the Aspen Institute, he was the co-founder and CEO of The SEED Foundation, the nation’s first network of public, college-preparatory boarding schools for underserved children. Raj remains on the board of The SEED Foundation. A graduate and former trustee of Princeton University, Raj has dedicated his career to educating, empowering, and supporting America’s youth, particularly those from disadvantaged communities. His work as a social entrepreneur and non-profit leader has earned him national recognition in the form of prestigious fellowships from Echoing Green, The Ashoka Foundation and the Aspen Institute, as well as awards such as Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson Award, Harvard University’s Innovation in American Government Award, and Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life award. Raj is a board director for two public companies, Enovis Corporation and ESAB, and serves as chair of the nominating & governance committee for each of these boards. In addition to being a former trustee and executive committee member for Princeton University, Raj is the former national chair of its annual giving committee and former executive committee member for its Aspire capital campaign. Raj was previously a founding board member of Path Forward, an advisory committee member for the College Board, and a board director for The Meyer Foundation. Raj also serves on the advisory committee for Citizen Data. At Princeton, Raj majored in molecular biology and also earned a certificate of studies from the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs & Public Policy. He and his family live in Maine.
  • Urbanist, Poet, Political Theorist

    Celina Su '99 is the Marilyn J. Gittell Chair in Urban Studies and a Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York. Her work focuses on everyday struggles for collective governance, and her current book project centering radical democracy, Budget Justice: Racial Solidarities & Politics From Below, is forthcoming from Princeton University Press. As an engaged scholar, Celina has published three books, including Streetwise for Book Smarts: Grassroots Organizing and Education Reform in the Bronx and Our Schools Suck: Youth Talk Back to a Segregation Nation on the Failures of Urban Education (co-authored). From 2015 to 2018, she served as Lead Co-Chair of the URBAN Research Network, a coalition of 1,800+ scholars and activists committed to community-based research, social change, and democratizing knowledge production. Celina has also published a book of poetry, Landia, tackling questions of borderlands, migration, and citizen subjectivities; Celina's poems have been published in the New York Times Magazine and elsewhere. Her honors include a Berlin Prize, a Senior Democracy Scholar fellowship at the Harvard Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, and a Whiting Award for Excellence in Teaching. She has served on NYC's participatory budgeting Steering Committee since its inception in 2011 and on the board of People Powered: Global Hub for Participatory Democracy since its launch in 2019. 
  • Civic Education Expert

    Joseph Kahne '86 is the Ted and Jo Dutton Presidential Professor for Education Policy and Politics and Co-Director of the Civic Engagement Research Group (CERG) at the University of California, Riverside. Professor Kahne's research focuses on the influence of school practices and digital media on youth civic and political development. For example, with funding from the Institute of Educational Sciences (IES), and in partnership with scholars from Ohio State, Brown, and UCR, CERG has launched and is studying the impact of Connecting Classrooms to Congress (CCTC)CCTC is a social studies curricular unit that enables students to learn and deliberate about a controversial societal issue and then participate in an online townhall with their Member of Congress. In addition, Kahne and CERG are currently engaged in related studies of efforts to promote youth voice, lived civics, and a broad vision of social studies reform tied to the Educating for American Democracy RoadmapThis work takes place through partnerships with reformers and school districts in CA, IL, NM, OK, FL, and CO.  In addition to studying the impact of these curricular experiences on young people’s civic development, with John Rogers, we are currently devoting particular attention to the politics of democratic educationWe are examining ways the political contexts of school districts shape possibilities for educational reform and the varied ways educators respondProfessor Kahne was Chair of the MacArthur Foundation’s Youth and Participatory Politics Research Network. 
  • Career Educator

    Challa Flemming '02, Ed. D, is a native of Connecticut. She has dedicated more than 20 years to the field of education. Dr. Flemming has served as a teacher, instructional coach, school administrator and assistant professor. She currently serves as a Clinical Practice Department Chair & Curriculum Designer at Relay Graduate School of Education. Challa began her teaching career as a New York City Teaching Fellow and spent 5 years at her placement school in the Bronx. Following her time with the New York City Department of Education, Dr. Flemming returned home to Connecticut and became a founding teacher at a 5th - 8th grade public charter school in Bridgeport, CT. She remained at that school for a total of ten years, serving as a teacher, instructional coach, academic dean, and principal. In July of 2017, she transitioned to higher education and began her work as an assistant professor at Relay GSE. Dr. Flemming earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Wesleyan University, a Master of Science in Elementary Education from Mercy College, and a Doctorate in Education from Alverno College. She holds elementary teacher certification in New York and Connecticut and a Higher Education Teaching certificate from Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her dissertation research explored antiracist teacher preparation and she is devoted to the work of equity, inclusion, belonging and antiracism. 

SESSION 2: Art and Activism

This session invites participants to consider how art can inform and inspire political and social change in our democracy.
  • Documentarian, Professor of Film

    Tracy Heather Strain teaches documentary production, storytelling and history at Wesleyan and brings to her students an enthusiastic interest in all styles, modes, models and platforms used in crafting nonfiction films. She is an award-winning filmmaker who directs, produces, researches and writes documentaries which gained support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ford Foundation, Chicken & Egg, Independent Television Service, LEF Foundation, among other funding organizations. In 1999 Strain won a Peabody Award for her first two feature documentaries "Bright Like a Sun" and "The Dream Keepers" as part of the six-part Blackside/PBS series I’ll Make Me a World: A Century of African American Arts, and another in 2019 for the American Masters television broadcast of her latest directing effort, “Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart.” The bio doc, which premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival also netted Tracy a 50th NAACP Image Award for Motion Picture. Her other directing and producing credits include “Building the Alaska Highway” for American Experience, “The Story We Tell” in Race: The Power of an Illusion and “When the Bough Breaks” in the duPont Columbia-award-winning Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?.” She shares an Outstanding Research News & Documentary Emmy nomination for her contributions to "The Mine Wars" American Experience film. Strain is President and CEO of The Film Posse, the production company she co-founded with her partner and colleague, Randall MacLowry.  

SESSION 3: Media and Democracy

This session explores how the ever-changing media landscape shapes our participation in democratic life with a particular focus on how the decline of local news has changed our conception of citizenship.
  • Session Moderator: Steven Moore

    Steven T. Moore's work focuses on a broad spectrum of attitudes around race and politics in American politics, and particularly how these attitudes shape public opinion, how they are reflected in news media, and how they shape meaningful political behavior. His dissertation explored racialized paternalism, and the degree to which this attitude can predict discriminatory behavior and outcomes, despite being closely associated with positive feelings for a given racial group. 

    Steven completed a Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Michigan in 2020. He recieved a BA in Political Science from the University of South Carolina.  

  • Journalist, Political Commentator, Host of "Fast Politics"

    Molly Jong-Fast is a distinguished author, journalist, media pundit, and the host of Fast Politics with Molly Jong-Fast, a podcast that cuts right to the heart of our politics today. Jong-Fast has created her own path in the world of literature while coming from a family with a strong literary heritage: she is the daughter of novelist Erica Jong and author Jonathan Fast and the granddaughter of Howard Fast. Throughout her career, Jong-Fast has made significant contributions to a number of periodicals. She contributes to prestigious magazines like The Atlantic and Vogue. She had previously worked for The Daily Beast as an editor-at-large. Her works span a variety of genres, including the novels Normal Girl and The Social Climber's Handbook, as well as the memoir Girl [Maladjusted], which was first released under the title The Sex Doctors in the BasementJong-Fast connects audiences with podcasts and newsletters in addition to her written works.

  • Local Journalist, Media Expert

    Dr. Khalilah L. Brown-Dean (Ka-Lie-La) is Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Professor of Political Science at Quinnipiac University. She holds a B.A. in Government from The University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in Political Science from The Ohio State University. Brown-Dean is founder of the Inclusive Excellence Teaching Lab; an interdisciplinary cohort of scholars with a demonstrated commitment to, and interest in, equity-driven learning. Her scholarship appears in numerous academic and public outlets to center the role of identity in shaping access to democracy, justice, and representation. Her most recent publications explore voting rights, civic engagement, and the politics of punishment. She is the author of Identity Politics in the United States (Polity Press 2019) and co-author with Ray Block, Jr. of Penn State University of a new project entitled Protesting Vulnerability: Race and Pandemic Politics (Cambridge University Press). In 2021 the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame honored her as a leader for social justice and in 2023, she was named the inaugural recipient of the Constance Baker Motley Award for her commitment to civic engagement and community empowerment. Dr. Brown-Dean is host of the award-winning radio show and podcast DISRUPTED for Connecticut Public Radio. 
  • Broadcast Journalist, Political Policy Reporter

    Tracie Potts is Executive Director of the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College, providing public policy programs focused on democracy. Mrs. Potts spent three decades as an award-winning broadcast journalist, covering local news before being named correspondent for NBC News Channel, the affiliate service of NBC News. Based on Capitol Hill, she covered four Presidential administrations, Congress and the federal government for 200+ local morning news programs, MSNBC, CNBC and foreign news organizations. Mrs. Potts volunteered with the News Literacy Project for 14 years and serves on its National Journalism Advisory Council. She was awarded NLP’s John S. Carroll Journalist Fellow Award and hosts the foundational lesson for NLP’s “Checkology” e-learning platform. Mrs. Potts is advisory board chair for Learning Heroes, and vice-chair and a former national fellow of the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.  
  • Award-Winning Journalist, Editor

    Kara Bettis Carvalho is an award-winning journalist and editor at Christianity Today. She is the ideas editor at Christianity Today, a 68-year-old magazine founded by evangelist Billy Graham, and writes on topics of religion and culture. A religion journalist by training, Kara believes storytelling can help readers understand underlying individual experiences and desires that contribute to political and religious polarization. Her experience spans small town newspaper reporting and nationally reaching magazine profile feature writing, including in The Raleigh News & Observer, Common Good Magazine, Religion Unplugged, RELEVANT Magazine, among others. Her profile writing has won several journalism awards and fellowship grants. Kara received her bachelor of arts in media, culture, and the arts from The King's College and her master of arts in theology from Southern Seminary.

Closing Conversation

  • Journalist, Author, Political Analyst

    Anand Giridharadas is a truth-teller and defender of democracy who gives audiences hope and shows what we can achieve together. Although it feels harder than ever to build a movement and come together for a common goal, Anand says all is not lost. We can find solidarity by reaching out to those who think differently from us, while still holding fast to what we believe. Anand is the internationally bestselling author of multiple books, including the New York Times bestseller The Persuaders. He shows how we can find connection, build stronger teams, and make change at every level. Anand Giridharadas is the internationally bestselling author of multiple books, and one of our foremost voices on democracy, overcoming division, and how humans make and resist and grapple with change. In his work—as an author, a journalist, and a regular political analyst for MSNBC—he points us toward real, meaningful change, wider human solidarity, and hope. 
  • Wesleyan University President

    President Michael S. Roth '78 became the 16th president of Wesleyan University in 2007. He has overseen the launch of academic programs at Wesleyan such as the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life and the Shapiro Center for Writing, as well as five new interdisciplinary colleges emphasizing research and cohort building in the areas of the environment, film, East Asian studies, integrative sciences, and design and engineering. Under his leadership, Wesleyan had its most ambitious fundraising campaign in its history, raising more than $482 million, primarily for financial aid. Roth has undertaken a number of initiatives that have made a Wesleyan education more affordable for many and more accessible to students from under-represented groups.  

    In the wake of the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision in July 2023, he announced a suite of new recruiting efforts aimed at enhancing diverse campus learning including an end to admissions preference for legacy applicants and the creation of an African Scholars Program. An intellectual historian, Roth has published several books centered on how people make sense of the past. Since returning to Wesleyan, he has published three books (all with Yale University Press) bearing on liberal education, the most recent being The Student, A Short History (2023). His Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters (2014), was recognized with the Association of American Colleges & Universities’ Frederic W. Ness award for a book that best illuminates the goals and practices of a contemporary liberal education. Roth’s 2019 book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness, addresses some of the most contentious issues in American higher education, including affirmative action, safe spaces, and questions of free speech. Roth continues to teach undergraduate courses and at Wesleyan and online.