Black Young Men in America: Speaker Bios

Black Young Men in America Speaker Bios

Keynote Speaker

Rodney Walker, is an alumnus of Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. He is the Founder and CEO of Forever Life Productions; a company that creates custom videos and songs for special events. After being accepted to Morehouse College on academic probation in the Fall of 2008, Rodney has had many academic accomplishments. He has studied abroad in Spain, served as a keynote speaker in Monaco, France for Ernst and Young, and has delivered a Keynote at the White House on the importance of financial literacy for urban youth. Periodically, he speaks to middle and high school students about the importance of education and the benefits of going to college.


Waldo Johnson, Jr.,

Michael J. Sorrell, is the 34th President of Paul Quinn College. Under his leadership, the school is experiencing one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of higher education. Michael’s vision is to permanently transform PQC into a nationally elite small college by focusing on entrepreneurship, innovation, academic rigor, and servant leadership.  Among the school’s numerous accomplishments during President Sorrell’s almost seven year tenure have been: winning the 2011 HBCU of the Year, the 2012 HBCU Student Government Association of the Year, the 2013 HBCU Business Program of the Year awards and being recognized as a member of the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.  Additionally, he was named the 2012 HBCU Male President of the Year.

President Sorrell received his J.D. and M.A. in Public Policy from Duke University and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. He was a recipient of the Sloan Foundation Graduate Fellowship, which funded his studies at both Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government (as a graduate fellow) and Duke University.  He graduated from Oberlin College with a B.A. in Government. President Sorrell is married to the former Natalie Jenkins.  Natalie is an alumna of Spelman College and received her MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  They have one son, Michael Augustus.

Nia Abdullah, Principal of Bowen High School, has education in her blood! Her mother is a lifelong Chicago Public Schools administrator and her father founded and directed a private elementary school in South Holland, Illinois. Mrs. Abdullah is an experienced educator   with a passion for helping students find their intrinsic motivation to succeed in school and life. She has worked as a high school mathematics teacher, elementary school resident principal, curriculum coordinator, data coordinator, department chair, and assistant principal specializing in coaching teachers to differentiate instruction and make evidence-based instructional decisions. Under her leadership at Bowen High School, with a 60% minority male population, she has worked meticulously to transform its image in the South Chicago community and has raised its level of educational service for all students significantly!

Mrs. Abdullah has a Bachelor’s of Science in Electrical Engineering from Howard University, a Master of Arts in Secondary Mathematics Teaching from National-Louis University, and is currently working on an Educational Doctorate in Urban Education Leadership from the University of Illinois, Chicago.  She has been married to her husband, Fareed, for 11 years and has two spunky children, Hanif, 12, and Najaa, 9. Her son, Hanif, is a constant reminder of the obstacles and pitfalls African American males must navigate in their daily lives!

Troy D. Harden, Ed.D., LCSWcurrently serves as an Assistant Professor within Chicago State University’s Master of Social Work Program, specializing in urban youth and community interventions, and has implemented several projects to address community issues including; the Truth n’ Trauma Project; an youth advocacy project designed to address exposure to violence; Full Circle, designed to address violence among street organization affiliated youth; and Project MENTOR, an urban health mentoring program. Assistant Professor Harden has over 25 years’ experience serving and consulting in social service, school, and community settings.  He has worked as a clinician, administrator, educator, and activist concerning community issues in diverse settings.  He is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago’s Master of Social Work program, and received his doctorate from DePaul University’s School of Education.

Break-out Session Presenters

Marshaun Bacon, AM’09, MSW, was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago.  He graduated from Morgan Park High School and attended the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.  Mr. Bacon majored in Sociology, specializing in race, class, and gender inequality as well as social and political movements.  It was during this time that Mr Bacon discovered his passion for working with at-risk youth.  He founded a chapter of the social service fraternity Phi Rho Eta Fraternity, Inc. and began mentoring at-risk high school males. Mr Bacon continued to coordinate several mentoring programs while receiving a B.A. in Sociology and an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education.  After working as a Pre-K teacher for Chicago Public Schools, he received a Master’s degree from the Social of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.  Mr Bacon looks forward to the prospect of working with CPS high school students.  He takes personal responsibility for uplifting the lives of youth.

Tyree Booker, is in his 2nd year in Chicago as the Lead Executive Director for Camelot programs. Contracted with CPS, Camelot Education has two accelerated programs geared to assist over aged under credited youth between16-21 obtain their diploma in 2.5 years and a Safe School, which remediates students expelled from CPS.

Tyree has served in various roles within Camelot since 2004. He taught high school mathematics at the infamous Daniel Boone School and in 2006 was featured in the Philadelphia Daily News "Everyday Heroes" series after a letter was submitted on his behalf by a group of students. In 2008, Tyree co-led the startup operations team in the New Orleans Recovery School District as a part of Camelot's post Hurricane Katrina initiative. Before accepting his current position, he returned to Daniel Boone as Executive Director and along with the dedicated staff achieved the first ‘A’ grade on their report card from the school district.

Tyree received a Bachelor of Science in education from West Chester University and a Master’s of Science in school counseling from Gwynedd-Mercy College, along with an educational leadership certificate.

Tyree has extensive experience in adolescent mental health, serving the Belmont Center for Comprehensive Treatment for ten years. He chose to spend his entire career with students labeled ‘at-risk’ insisting,."I work for these kids because I am these kids." Tyree's family consist of his younger brother Marcus, 24, who he helped raise; God-daughter Charli, 13; and son Zion, 2.

Baba Kweku Embil, was born and raised in Ghana. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Art from the College of Art, University of Science Technology, Kumasi, Ghana and his Master’s degree in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Kweku's work has been widely exhibited, including at FESTAC in Lagos, Nigeria; UNESCO Conference, National Arts Council, Accra; and the National Cultural Center, Kumasi, Ghana.

Kweku has lectured and taught at the Loyola University of Chicago, Chicago State University, and the Field Museum of Natural History, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, and in Trinidad and Tobago on Teaching about Africa through the Arts. Kweku has been a Boys to Men and Upward Bound mentor and a regular keynote at the NTU Rites-of-Passage and Akwasidae Institute of Chicago.

In addition to his work as Principal of Woodlawn Community School where sixth grade children undergo the Rites-of-Passage, Kweku is currently the Chair of the Education and Culture sub-committee of the Accra-Chicago Sister-Cities and President of the Ghana Medical Foundation of Chicago.

Greg Gaither, is founder of Illinois African-American Juvenile Justice Institute (IAAJI) and Woodlawn Juvenile Reentry Project in Chicago. He has been a faculty member in the Department of Social Work at Chicago State University. Prior to teaching in higher education, Gaither was a school social worker assigned to CPS alternative schools, located inside Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center and Cook County Department of Corrections.  As a CPS-Region Six Coordinator, he managed and coordinated US Department of Education-Safe & Drug Free Schools Grants Programs for 25 high schools and 100 elementary schools comprising more than 20 community areas. In this capacity, he served as the lead grants administrator with responsibility for training and technical assistance/support to students, teachers, principals, parents and community groups in developing school community safety plans. His administrative duties also included lead coordinator of crisis intervention and trauma counseling services for students in the aftermath of gang violence and school homicides.

As Vice Principal at Jensen-Miller Academy in the North Lawndale community on Chicago’s West Side, Gaither provided school leadership/administrative support to 70-member teaching and ancillary staff. He also managed school wide discipline, after school and summer bridge programs.

A native of the Woodlawn community on Chicago’s South Side, Gaither is a graduate of James Madison Elementary and South Shore High School. He completed undergraduate studies at University of Illinois-Chicago, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree with emphasis in African-American Studies, and minor in Spanish. He earned a Master of Arts degree at the University of Chicago, School of Social Services Administration and a in Chicago second Master of Arts degree in School Leadership from Concordia University-Chicago. He is a doctoral (ABD) student in the College of Education at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Willie Jones, Jr., is a native Chicagoan, certainly was no stranger to gang violence growing up during the civil rights era, but he was an adamant athlete and athletes often received a pass in the midst of gang activities. He was a graduate of Chicago Public Schools and matriculated to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale where he participated in intercollegiate sports and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. He became a successful salesman in the insurance industry, while being promoted to management level positions in Illinois as well as in Massachusetts for Banker’s Life and Casualty Company. In 1994, he and a partner ventured into the world of Institutional Commodities and started JKV Global Enterprises, working with the pension funds of many Fortune 500 companies. 

He has been directly involved in mentoring young men in public schools since 1995 through Black Men Sharing and Caring, Concerned Christian Men and Building African American Christian Men along with other organizations. He has at times set on boards for local non-profit organizations and works in the insurance industry again helping retirees and soon to be retirees set up their financial affairs. He and wife Dorothy live in the city and has one son Kwesi who lives in Los Angeles California.

Elizabeth Kirby, is currently the Area 11 Network Chief for Chicago Public Schools. She formerly served as a principal at Kenwood Academy High School. She graduated from Harvard in 1994 and worked as a center director with the Higher Achievement Program in Washington, D.C. After moving to Chicago in the fall of 1995, she taught at Olive Harvey Middle College, an alternative school for students who dropped out or were expelled from Chicago Public Schools, as well as Triumphant Charter School. She was awarded a James Madison Fellowship in 1998 and studied constitutional history at Georgetown University. 

In 1999, she began her career at Kenwood Academy as a history teacher, winning a Golden Apple Award during her second year at Kenwood. A member of the second cohort of New Leaders for New Schools, Kirby worked as an assistant principal at Kenwood from 2003 to 2005 and became the principal In July of 2005. In 2008, she received an award from New Leaders for New Schools for service in leadership as the principal of Kenwood Academy and an award for service in education from the Southeast Chicago Commission in 2009. She holds a Master's of Science Degree from the University Of Chicago.

Kweli Kwaza, is a graduate of the University of Chicago Social Service Administration Master’s Program.  He earned his undergraduate degree at Northern Illinois University in Political Science with a minor in Black Studies.  During his undergraduate career he earned the Fulbright Scholarship, which provided the opportunity to study the Swahili language in Kenya Africa.  He has held positions at the Xerox Corporation, The Chicago Housing Authority, Lanier (A Ricoh Company) and with Near West Side CDC. 

While Black Student Union President at Northern Illinois University, he founded a program based on his college visit experience, entitled The Talented Tenth College Prep & Career Mentoring Program.  The mission of this program is to provide exposure to students that will assist in their career goals and prepare students to pursue and succeed in post-secondary education.  He has worked with thousands of students over the years and believes he has been a part of the effort to reduce negative statistics.  Eighty six percent of Talented 10th students go to college and 75% graduate.  Talented 10th is in a position to grow to other communities across the country.

G. Sequane Lawrence, is a community economic development, workforce development, and youth development practitioner. He is a Chicago Community Trust 2011 Fellow. His fellowship deals with the efficacy of worker owner cooperatives as an entrepreneurial and workforce development model for low income people. Sequane has traveled to Mondragon, Spain to study first-hand the historic Mondragon Cooperatives Corporation and Cleveland, Ohio to observe the ground breaking Evergreen Cooperatives.

Sequane is currently Director of the Fathers, Families, and Healthy Communities (FFHC) Demonstration Project. FFHC focuses on issues that impact non-custodial fathers and their children throughout Illinois. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois- Circle Campus. Sequane was formerly the Director of the Elliott Donnelley Youth Center in Chicago’s Bronzeville community and Chief Executive Officer of Youth Service Project (YSP), a youth development organization in the Humboldt Park community in Chicago.  At YSP he led the way in providing youth-centered human services, market driven workforce strategies, leadership development, entrepreneurship, economic development and multi-media programs for Latino and African American youth.

Sequane is the founder and president of the Center for Strategic Investment in Youth and Families, a best practice research and action-centered community development institution. Sequane holds a Master’s of Science degree in Community Economic Development from New Hampshire College in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Dovetta McKee, is the Director of the Office of Special Programs/College Prep, the longest running outreach effort at the University of Chicago. She implements and manages pre-college access programs that provide students with academic, cultural, and recreational activities that support their preparation for college and career success.  She previously was Director of Special Initiatives at Prevention First Inc. in Chicago, a not-for-profit organization that builds and supports drug-free communities.

Prior to Prevention First, McKee worked for seven years at Aurora University, as an associate professor and Director of Human Services and YMCA Supplemental Major Degree Programs. She also spent 21 years at Montgomery Ward, first as a national buyer and then as a senior attorney.

Patrick Milton, has20 years of post secondary experience working at non-for-profit, community-based organizations and institutions of higher education. He served as the Assistant Director of Career Planning at the George M. Pullman Educational Foundation where he managed a pre-college program designed to provide intensive academic and college advising support to students attending Chicago Public Schools in the Roseland Community He later transitioned to serve as the Assistant Director of Multicultural Programs at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) to organize targeted academic, cultural and transitional support services to first generation African American and Latino students. He also served as the Program Officer at the North Lawndale Learning Community (NLC) where he fostered partnership development between the Chicago Public Schools, community-based organizations and philanthropic groups – as a medium for extending a range of support services to schools, students and families. 

He currently works at the Chicago Public Schools in the Office of College and Career Success as the Senior Manager for GEAR UP and Post secondary Advising.  His work focuses on driving college and career planning strategies, college enrollment and college persistence.  Patrick earned his undergraduate degree in Education at DePaul University and an MSW from School of Social Service Administration (SSA) at the University of Chicago.

Laura (Lo) Patrick, L.C.S.W. is the founding social worker at LEARN-7 charter school which opened in 2013 in East Garfield Park, and previously worked for eight years at University of Chicago Charter School, Donoghue campus.  In addition, Lo was a social worker with Youth Guidance, providing services at South Shore High School as well as at two elementary schools on the South Side of Chicago.  Lo has enjoyed providing direct service to students along with facilitating parent meetings, and sitting on leadership teams at schools to contribute a social-emotional perspective to the team.  Lo graduated with a Masters of Arts from the University Of Chicago School Of Social Service Administration in 1998.

Jourdan Sorrell, is President & CEO of 100 Black Men of Chicago, Inc, one of the premier mentoring organizations in Chicago.  He provides 100% pro-bono strategic direction and leadership to an all-volunteer non-profit that implements their “Four for the Future” platform, which consists of Mentoring, Education, Health & Wellness and Economic Empowerment. The 100 Black Men of Chicago provides robust programming such as weekly mentoring programs that shows 13-18 year old at-risk youth pathways to success.  This programming educates college students on how to secure corporate careers or become entrepreneurs. The Annual College Scholarship Fair, the largest all-volunteer College Fair in the United States, is a signature program of the organization.

Jourdan is very active in his community having served on advisory committees with organizations such as 100 Black Men of America, Illinois Mentoring Partnership, Link Unlimited and Notre Dame Club of Chicago. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and attends New Life Covenant Church SE. Jourdan obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.

Jason Story, is a clinical therapist at Youth-Guidance, a school-based non- profit social service agency. Youth-Guidance creates and implements school-based programs that enable at-risk children to overcome obstacles, focus on their education, and ultimately to succeed in school and in life. As a clinical therapist he provides individual, group, and crisis- intervention counseling. Mr. Story has participated in and provided in-service training to the school community, coordinated parent engagement programs, and has served on board and agency committees throughout Chicago and Northwest Indiana. He has extensive experience in youth development, counseling, and mental health services. Jason A. Story has a Master of Science in Counseling and Psychology from Alcorn State University.

Tommye Sutton, is the Deputy Chief of Police-Director of Charter School Security with the University of Chicago Department Of Safety. He is the primary security administrator for the University of Chicago Charter Schools, responsible for developing, implementing and maintaining a comprehensive physical security plan and school safety program. He previously worked for the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security where he has facilitated training of collegiate and professional sports venue staff on security infrastructure systems and delivery of Sports Security trainings offered throughout the United States. He was also Lieutenant of the Emergency Preparedness Unit and served as investigator and inspector for a newly created enforcement Board appointed by the Mayor in the Metropolitan Government of Nashville Davidson County. Tommye received his Bachelor of Arts in English/Pre-Law and graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi. He will receive a Master’s of Criminal Justice from Tennessee State University in August 2014.

Catherine B. Whitfield, LCSW began her work with youth by serving as a high school social worker within Chicago Public Schools Charter community. As a social worker, she developed her skills advocating for students placed at risk. During her tenure, she developed a comprehensive advisory program as well as various social emotional groups to meet the ever-expanding needs of her students. After departing from direct service, Ms.Whitfield served as the Social & Academic Facilitator with the Network for College Success and as the Student Development and Intervention Manager for the CPS Office of School Improvement. In both roles, Ms. Whitfield provided d direction and strategic planning support to various CPS schools in receipt of multi-million dollar Federal School Improvement Grants. Currently, Ms.Whitfield serves as the Assistant Principal of Bowen High School on the southeast side of Chicago and brings over 9 years of experience serving youth.

Monico Whittington-Eskridge, BA ’92, AM ’96, serves as the Statewide Program Administrator of Field Support for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Chicago State University Supervisory Training to Enhance Practice (STEP) Program. Eskridge received her Masters of Arts Degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Administration where she serves as a member of the Alumni Board of Directors, the Co-Chair of the African-American Alumni Committee and Chairs the Professional Development sub-committee for the African-American Alumni Committee. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology at the University of Chicago. Eskridge is a native of Chicago and has been active in the field of social service for 18 years working with victims of abuse and neglect in various roles within the public child welfare and private domestic violence communities. Within DCFS she has been a permanency worker, intact family supervisor, and serious harm sex abuse child protection supervisor. She has been a State of Illinois certified trainer for 12 years and has received numerous awards, including the Department of Children and Family Services African-American Advisory Council’s Outstanding Achievement Award for her work Service serving the children and families of the State of Illinois.

Eric Z. Williams, is currently a College/Career Specialist for The Chicago Public Schools where he assists schools in developing strategies for increasing college awareness, readiness, access and success. As an Educational Administrator in the Office of College and Career Success, Eric advises and supports district administrators, principals, counselors, teachers, college/career coaches and other school staff as well as higher education and community partners in the effort to prepare and transition over 100,000 CPS high school students into postsecondary education and careers. He has been a key figure in the districts’ significant increase in college enrollment over the last several years.

Prior to beginning his work in the Chicago Public School System in 2004, Eric worked as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Trinity Higher Education Corporation (THEC) in Chicago and as an Associate Dean of Students and Admissions/Financial Aid Officer for Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. Eric has earned a Masters of Arts in Political Science from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana and a Bachelors of Arts from Knox College in Class School, Eric has also started a Masters in Divinity program at the Chicago Theological Seminary, where he was named a President’s Prize Fellow. Eric has presented at several colleges, churches, conferences and conventions and has published articles in Black College Today, The African-American Pulpit and several other journals and magazines. Eric is married and has three sons.