Forum Speakers and Honorees

Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman

United States House of Representatives

Bonnie Watson Coleman, a long-time public servant and advocate for New Jersey families, was elected in 2018 to her third term in the U.S. House of Representatives. The first African American woman to represent New Jersey in Congress, Watson Coleman is passionate about the issues affecting working families of all backgrounds, including criminal justice reform, building an economy that works for all families rather than a wealthy few, and rebuilding infrastructure to improve this country and support job creation. She focuses on these priorities and other critical issues as a member of the House Committees on Appropriations and Homeland Security

The daughter of legendary state legislator John S. Watson, Watson Coleman has continued a family legacy of public service, fighting for women, economically and socially disadvantaged populations, ad other vulnerable groups in our society. Prior to her election a Representative for New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District, Watson Coleman served eight consecutive terms in the New Jersey General Assembly and shattered racial and gender barriers to become the first Black woman to serve as Majority Leader, and as the Chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee. During her time as Majority Leader, Watson Coleman convened a year-long series of public hearings on reforms to prisoner re-entry programs while shepherding legislation through the Assembly that the New York Times called “a model for the rest of the nation,” on prisoner rehabilitation and release.

In 2016, Watson Coleman founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls alongside two of her colleagues, the first caucus aimed at bringing both the tremendous challenges and incredible successes of Black women to the fore in Congress’s policy debates. Watson Coleman is an active member of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

Watson Coleman is a graduate of Thomas Edison State College, and has received honorary doctorate degrees from the College of New Jersey, Rider University, and Stockton University. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and co-chair of the Girl Scouts of America Capitol Hill Honorary Troop. She resides with her husband, William, in Ewing Township. The two are blessed to have three sons: William, Troy and Jared; and three grandchildren: William, Ashanee and Kamryn.


Linda Darling-Hammond

President of the Learning Policy Institute

Linda Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University and President of the Learning Policy Institute. She is a former president of the American Educational Research Association and member of the National Academy of Education as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her research and policy work focus on issues of educational equity, teaching quality, and school reform. She has advised school leaders and policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels. In 2008, she served as director of President Obama's education policy transition team. Her book, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity will Determine our Future, received the coveted Grawemeyer Award in 2012. Among her most recent books are Getting Teacher Evaluation Right: What Really Matters for Effectiveness and Improvement (2013) and Beyond the Bubble Test: How Performance Assessments Support 21st Century Learning (2014).

Photo of Keith Ellison

Attorney General Keith Ellison

Attorney General of Minnesota

Keith Ellison is the Attorney General of Minnesota. Ellison was elected to the office on November 6, 2018.  Congressman Keith Ellison represents Minnesota's 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Prior to his election as attorney general, Ellison served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Minnesota's 5th Congressional District from 2007 to 2019. Ellison served as one of the chief deputy whips of the Democratic caucus for the 113th Congress. Ellison also served as deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

As a member of congress Ellison was a member of the House Financial Services Committee. He also served on the House Democratic Steering & Policy Committee. In the past he served on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Rep. Ellison was elected co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus for the 113th Congress.
He was also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, founded the Congressional Consumer Justice Caucus, and belonged to more than a dozen other caucuses that focus on issues ranging from social inclusion to environmental protection. Before being elected to Congress Rep. Ellison was a noted community activist and ran a thriving civil rights, employment, and criminal defense law practice in Minneapolis. He also was elected to serve two terms in the Minnesota State House of Representatives.

Myron Orfield

Myron Orfield

Professor of Civil Rights Law & Director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, University of Minnesota Law School

Professor Myron Orfield is the Director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity. He has written three books and dozens of articles and book chapters on local government law, spatial inequality, fair housing, school desegregation, charter schools, state and local taxation and finance, and land use law. The syndicated columnist Neal Peirce called him “the most influential demographer in America’s burgeoning regional movement.” Orfield’s research has led to legislative and judicial reforms at the federal level and state level reform in Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, and Maryland.

John C. Brittain

Olie W. Rauh Professor of Law, UDC David A. Clarke School of Law

John C. Brittain joined the faculty of the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, in 2009, as a tenured professor of law, and served as Acting Dean from 2018 to 2019. Prior to joining UDC Law, he served as Dean of the Thurgood Marshall School of law at Texas Southern University in Houston, as a tenured law professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law for twenty-two years, and as Chief Counsel and Senior Deputy Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C., a public interest law organization founded by President John F. Kennedy to enlist private lawyers in taking pro bono cases in civil rights.

Professor Brittain writes and litigates on issues in civil and human rights, especially in education law. In 2015, the Mississippi Center for Justice honored him as a "pioneering civil rights leader and esteemed law professor who has inspired a generation of young attorneys." In 2013, he was named to the Charles Hamilton Houston Chair at North Carolina Central University School of Law, established to bring prominent civil rights law professors and litigators to the law school to teach constitutional and civil rights law for a year. Professor Brittain was one of the original counsel team in Sheff v. O’Neill, the landmark school desegregation case decided by the Connecticut Supreme Court in 1996, chronicled in Susan Eaton’s book, The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial, in which he is frequently mentioned. He was a part of a legal team representing private plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the State of Maryland for denying Maryland’s historically black institutions of higher learning – Morgan, Coppin, Bowie and Maryland Eastern Shore Universities – comparable and competitive opportunities with traditional white universities

B.A., Howard University 1966; J.D., Howard University 1969

Rev. Willie Francois

Pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church, Pleasantville, NJ Coalition Against Racial Exclusion NJ-CARE, BOA

Willie Dwayne Francois III serves as Senior Pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church of Pleasantville, New Jersey and as the President of the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality. Francois' pastoral activism and literary witness take shape around racial equity, economic justice and criminal justice reform. Francois co-authored the book Christian Minister’s Manual: For the Pulpit and the Public Square for All Denomination—the most progressive and comprehensive clergy service resource for congregational and justice ministries. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Morehouse College with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Religion, holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry from Emory University.

Mayor Sean Spiller

President, New Jersey Education Association, Mayor of Montclair

President, New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and Mayor, Montclair, NJ

Sean Spiller, a high school science teacher in the Wayne public schools, is secretary-treasurer of the New Jersey Education Association. Spiller was elected to a second two-year term effective Sept. 1, 2015.

Prior to becoming an NJEA officer, Spiller served as an executive board member of the Passaic County Education Association (2005-2013), and as president (2007-2013) and negotiations team member of the Wayne Education Association. At NJEA, he has acted as chair of Congressional Contact Committee, as a member of the Urban Education Committee and as ethnic minority-at large representative of the Delegate Assembly.

Spiller’s focus as NJEA secretary-treasurer is on helping members become more involved at the community level in confronting the challenges that face public education and school employees. He sees the burden placed on middle-class families today as one of the most critical issues to be addressed.

He and his wife Lauren, also a public school teacher, live in Montclair where, since May 2012, he has served as a member of the town council. He is also a member of the Montclair Business Improvement District, a member of the Montclair NAACP, the League of Women Voters and many other local groups and organizations.

Michelle Burris

Senior Policy Associate, The Century Foundation

Michelle Burris is a senior policy associate at The Century Foundation, focusing on racial and socioeconomic integration in pre-K–12 settings. Prior to joining TCF, Michelle was a teacher at Truman High School in New York City working with African immigrant students. She also served in the United States Peace Corps in Rwanda, teaching English at a boarding school. Michelle participated in internships at the White House and was a congressional fellow in Congressman Jim Cooper’s office. She graduated summa cum laude from Spelman College with a BA in political science, and holds a MA in politics and education from Teachers College, Columbia University.


Paul Jargowsky

Director, Center for Urban Research and Urban Education at Rutgers University

Paul A. Jargowsky’s principal research interests are inequality, the geographic concentration of poverty, and residential segregation by race and class.  His book, Poverty and Place: Ghettos, Barrios, and the American City (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1997), is a comprehensive examination of poverty at the neighborhood level in U.S. metropolitan areas between 1970 and 1990. The Urban Affairs Association named Poverty and Place the “Best Book in Urban Affairs Published in 1997 or 1998.”  In August 2015, The Century Foundation published Dr. Jargowsky’s report, The Architecture of Segregation: Civil Unrest, the Concentration of Poverty, and Public Policy.  The report received much attention in the media an social media, summarized here.

Erika K. Wilson

Professor of Law, Thomas Willis Lambeth Distinguished Chair in Public Policy at the University of North Carolina's School of Law

Erika Wilson serves as associate professor of law and the Thomas Willis Lambeth Distinguished Chair in Public Policy at the law school. Her research and teaching interests include clinical legal education, education law and policy, specifically obtaining educational equality for disadvantaged students, and the intersection between race and the law. She teaches Critical Race Theory, Education Law, and serves as the director for the UNC Clinical Programs.

Wilson attended the UCLA School of Law. After law school she worked as an associate at Arnold & Porter LLP. She also served as the George P. Lindsey Staff Attorney fellow for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. Prior to joining the Carolina Law faculty she taught at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Jonathan Kozol

Writer, educator, and activist

In the passion of the civil rights campaigns of 1964 and 1965, Jonathan Kozol gave up the prospect of a promising career in the academic world, moved from Harvard Square into a poor black neighborhood of Boston, and became a fourth grade teacher. He has since devoted nearly his entire life to the challenge of providing equal opportunity to every child in our public schools.

Death at an Early Age, a description of his first year as a teacher, received the 1968 National Book Award in Science, Philosophy, and Religion. Among his other major works are Rachel and Her Children, a study of homeless mothers and their children, which received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, and Savage Inequalities, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992. His 1995 best-seller, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1996, an honor previously granted to the works of Langston Hughes and Dr. Martin Luther King. Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison wrote that Amazing Grace was “good in the old-fashioned sense: beautiful and morally worthy.” Elie Wiesel said, “Jonathan’s struggle is noble. His outcry must shake our nation out of its guilty indifference.”

Ten years later, in The Shame of the Nation, a description of conditions that he found in nearly 60 public schools, Jonathan wrote that inner-city children were more isolated racially than at any time since federal courts began dismantling the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. The Shame of the Nation appeared on The New York Times bestseller list the week that it was published.

Jonathan’s most recent book on childhood and education is Fire in the Ashes, a sweeping narrative that follows a group of children in a destitute community out of their infancy and elementary grades, through their secondary years, into their late teens, and beyond. Some of their stories are painful and heart-breaking, but others are dramatic tributes to the resilience and audacity of courageous children who refuse to be defeated by the obstacles they face and find their way at last to unexpected and triumphal victories.

The nation’s most widely read and highly honored education writer and one of our most eloquent advocate for children of low income and for racial diversity in our schools and universities, Jonathan has been speaking to overflow crowds as child poverty has risen to unprecedented levels and racial tensions have become the focus of urgent political concern.

To Jonathan’s friends and allies in the world of education: Jonathan wants to make it clear that he does not intend to give up the struggle for our children and the challenges our schools are facing in an era of persistent inequality and obsessive testing. He continues to visit children in their classrooms and to give encouragement to overburdened but devoted principals and teachers. He’s been doing that for over fifty years. He isn’t stopping now.

Assemblywoman Shavonda E. Sumter

New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus Chair

Shavonda Sumter is the recipients of the 2021 Shirley Chisholm Breakthrough LeaderAward. 

As a prominent and accomplished legislator representing the 35th district and as the first female chair of the powerful NJLBC, Assemblywoman Sumter is well poised to further break boundaries, defy expectations and provide statewide leadership around the critical issues of racial justice and economic opportunity for millions of New Jersey’s poor, working class and middle class families of all backgrounds.

We look forward to working with Assemblywoman Sumter as she continues to defy expectations and as we advance the cause of social justice, civil rights and equal opportunity for all of our children, families and communities.

Awards will be presented during the conference: School Segregation in New Jersey - A pandemic of inequality & lost opportunity on Friday, September 24 • 10:00 am to 3:00 pm at The Conference Center at Mercer in West Windsor, NJ with Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, the first recipient of  Shirley Chisholm Breakthrough Leader Award.

If you would like to purchase a sponsorship in honor of one of both of the honorees please go here. 

 To Register for the Conference School Segregation in New Jersey - A pandemic of inequality & lost opportunity please go here. 

Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter entered the New Jersey General Assembly in 2012. She has served in the executive leadership as Deputy Speaker and Majority Conference Leader. Assemblywoman Sumter currently represents the 35th Legislative District that includes parts of Bergen and Passaic County.

In this current session, Assemblywoman Sumter serves as chair of a new assembly committee, Community Development and Affairs, where she looks forward to tackling important issues such as community blight, the wealth gap and upscaling the needs of New Jersey’s small businesses. She is also a member of the Labor and Law & Public Safety committees.

Assemblywoman Sumter recognizes that her legislation transcends her district and affects the 9 million people in the state of New Jersey. She is a staunch advocate for job growth, women's health, voting rights, civil rights, and criminal justice reform. Assemblywoman Sumter has championed legislation addressing Black Maternal & Infant mortality in the state and recently, the Governor signed her voting rights legislation into law that will restore voting rights for more than 80,000 individuals who are currently on probation or parole effective March 2020.

Assemblywoman Sumter received her Master’s in Business Administration from the Fairleigh Dickinson University Silberman College of Business and attended Kean University for her undergraduate degree in Political Science. The opportunity for her to excel was a result of the generous funding support of state programs, such as the Education Opportunity Fund, and corporations that financed her education. Shavonda is a staunch advocate for access to health care services including mental health care. Her career in mental health services spans over 20 years working with health systems throughout the state that included HackensackMeridian UMC Mountainside. She prides herself on hard work that her parents Charles and Bonnie Williams instilled in her.

Assemblywoman Sumter has been married for 22 years to Kenneth; together they have two children, a daughter, Tyler and a son, Kenneth. She continues to work hard with a purpose because she believes to whom much is given, much is required.

Marie Blistan

Immediate Past President New Jersey Education Association

Marie Blistan is the recipient of the 2021 Shirley Chisholm Breakthrough LeaderAward. 

As the immediate past (two-term) president of the New Jersey Education Association, Marie Blistan defied expectations blazing a trail as an educator, labor leader and political powerbroker who advanced the interests of her members while acting as a force for progress for millions of working families in New Jersey. 

We look forward to working with President Blistan as she continues to defy expectations and as we advance the cause of social justice, civil rights and equal opportunity for all of our children, families and communities.

Awards will be presented during the conference: School Segregation in New Jersey - A pandemic of inequality & lost opportunity on Friday, September 24 • 10:00 am to 3:00 pm at The Conference Center at Mercer in West Windsor, NJ with Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, the first recipient of  Shirley Chisholm Breakthrough Leader Award.

If you would like to purchase a sponsorship in honor of one of both of the honorees please go here. 

To Register for the Conference School Segregation in New Jersey - A pandemic of inequality & lost opportunity please go here. 

Marie Blistan, a high school special education resource center teacher in Washington Township public schools, is the Immediate Past President of the New Jersey Education Association. Blistan previously served as NJEA’s vice president and secretary-treasurer. She was reelected to a second two-year term as president effective Sept. 1, 2019, which she completed on August 31, 2021.

A graduate of Glassboro State College (now Rowan University,) Blistan earned a master’s degree in reading. She and her husband Bob, a retired high school special education teacher in Washington Township, live in Harrisonville. Marie Blistan has taught in New Jersey for 35 years.

Leslie Wilson

Associate Dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Montclaire State University

Leslie Wilson is a Professor of History and the Associate Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Montclair State University. Leslie Wilson received a PhD from the Graduate School of the City University of New York. His research interests are popular culture, urban history, history of science and environmental history. He teaches courses including History of Black Americans and The Study of History.

Charles E. Menifield, PhD

Dean of the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University–Newark

Dr. Charles E. Menifield is Dean of the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University–Newark. His research interests lie primarily in the areas of budgeting and financial management, public health and welfare, and minority politics. Other areas include public management information systems, education finance, and public administration education. He has two books on minority politics and two books on public budgeting and financial management. He is a Fellow in the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA).


Rev. Kenneth Darryl Ray Clayton

Pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church of Paterson, NJ and President of the Paterson NAACP

Kenneth Darryl Ray Clayton is the Senior Pastor of the St. Luke Baptist Church of Paterson, NJ. A native of Paterson, he is the oldest of three children born to Vivian Clayton and the late George Clayton and is a product of schools of this city. Pastor Clayton is the president of the Paterson branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Genevieve Siegel-Hawley

Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia

Dr. Genevieve Siegel-Hawley is Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.  Siegel-Hawley has researched and written extensively on segregation, inequality and opportunity in U.S. schools including City Lines, County Lines, Color Lines: An Analysis of School and Housing Segregation Patterns in Four Southern Metropolitan Areas, 1990-2010.

Rev. Karen Hernandez-Granzen

Pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church

Rev. Karen Hernandez-Granzen has been the pastor at Westminster since 1995. She earned her A.A.S. from New York City College of Technology in 1982, her B.A. from California State University Los Angeles in 1988, and in 1994, her M.Div from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. She was a PCUSA delegate to the Jubilee World Council of Churches in 1998, in Zimbabwe. She was the 2017 Community Partner-in-Residence, of the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, Princeton University. She was a member of the Trenton Latino Advisory Council, and now the Co-Chair of the Trenton’s Art Music and and Culture Committee. Currently, she a Princeton Civil Rights Commissioner, the Chaplain of the Bethany House of Hospitality: a Young Adult Intentional Community, and the Co-Moderator of United Mercer Interfaith Organization. She is a respected teacher and mentor for seminary interns and for clergy training and specializes in multicultural and urban ministry. She is a member of Princeton Theological Seminary's Urban Ministry Initiative Cabinet. She is married to the Rev. Dr. Michael Granzen, and the mother of Mikaella and Olivia. 

Dr. Jianping Wang

President, Mercer County Community College in New Jersey

A veteran educator with 20 years of experience in community college administration has been selected by the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Board of Trustees as the next college president.

Dr. Jianping Wang (pronounced WONG), Vice President of Academic Affairs at Ocean County College (OCC) in Toms River, will begin her duties at MCCC July 1. She was named MCCC’s sixth president after an exhaustive five-month nationwide search and selection process that included the entire college community. Wang will succeed Dr. Patricia C. Donohue, who will retire June 30 following a 49-year career, the past eight at MCCC.

Senator Joe Cryan

New Jersey State Senate

Joseph Cryan was elected to the Senate in 2017. A former member of the New Jersey General Assembly, Cryan represented legislative District 20 from 2001 to January 4, 2015. He resigned after he was elected sheriff of Union County in 2014. Cryan served as the Majority Leader in the Assembly and chaired or served on over a dozen different committees in the legislature.

In his tenure as Sheriff, Joe Cryan has led the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office in its commitment to excellence and professionalism. Under his leadership, he has overseen a successful gun buy back program and worked with state and local law enforcement to ensure the safety and security of our streets and neighborhoods. In addition, Cryan has significantly advanced the physical security of the Courthouse Complex, increased the training of officers to respond to Active Shooter events, and expanded the Municipal Transport Unit to better assist our municipal police departments. He also developed a Community Policing Unit to partner with local agencies in their efforts to prevent and control crime in their neighborhoods. Most recently, led a response to the opioid epidemic locally by partnering with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, the Union County Police Department and Prevention Links in a program sponsored by the Board of Freeholders known as CLEAR (Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery), a program designed to allow willing participants to access treatment through law enforcement channels.

He has been honored and recognized by many organizations throughout his career. Joe Cryan was also the first general chairman of the Union County Saint Patrick’s Day Parade committee and is the standard bearer of the Cryan Association, an Irish-American civic charitable civic organization.

Joe Cryan resides in the Township of Union with his wife Kathy and daughter Katie Peterson. He also has a son, John, and daughters Megan Bell and Hannah Peterson.