Past Conferences


Keynote Speaker:
The Rev. Dr. William Barber II

Bishop with The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries; Visiting Professor at Union Theological Seminary


The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is the President & Senior Lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival; Bishop with The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries; Visiting Professor at Union Theological Seminary; Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, (Disciples of Christ) in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and the author of four books: We Are Called To Be A Movement; 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. In 2018, Rev. Dr. Barber helped relaunch the Poor People's Campaign, which was begun by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, starting with an historic wave of protests in state capitals and in Washington, D.C., calling for a moral agenda and a moral budget to address the five interlocking injustices of systemic racism, systemic poverty, the war economy and militarism, ecological devastation, and the false moral narrative of Christian nationalism.

Keynote Speaker: 
Joy Harjo

23rd United States Poet Laureate


Joy Harjo was appointed the 23rd United States Poet Laureate, the first Native American to hold the position, in 2019. Her nine books of poetry include: An American Sunrise, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, and She Had Some Horses. Harjo’s memoir Crazy Brave won several awards, including the PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Non-Fiction and the American Book Award. She co-edited two anthologies of contemporary Native women’s writing: When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through and Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Native Women’s Writing of North America, one of the London Observer’s Best Books of 1997. She is the recipient of the Ruth Lilly Prize from the Poetry Foundation for Lifetime Achievement, the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets for proven mastery in the art of poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the United States Artist Fellowship. Harjo’s latest is a book of poetry from Norton, An American Sunrise.



Keynote Speaker: 
Varun Soni

Dean of Religious Life and Spiritual Life at the University of Southern California


Varun Soni is the Dean of Religious Life and Spiritual Life at the University of Southern California, where he also serves as vice provost of campus wellness and crisis intervention, and where he teaches courses in the School of Religion and the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. In his different roles, he oversees campus wellbeing, threat assessment, support and advocacy, ombuds services, and spiritual life for the university. A prolific public speaker and scholar of religions, his work is featured in a number of media outlets, including CNN, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, National Public Radio, PBS NewsHour, Washington Post, and Harvard Divinity Bulletin. In 2019, Soni received the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Honors award from Harvard Divinity School in recognition of his national leadership in spiritual innovation. He holds degrees in religion from Tufts University, Harvard University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Cape Town, as well as a law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Keynote Speaker: 

Ruth J. Simmons

President of Prairie View A&M University


Ruth J. Simmons serves as President of Prairie View A&M University. She was President of Brown University from 2001-2012. Under her leadership, Brown made significant strides in improving its standing as one of the world’s finest research universities. Awarded numerous honorary degrees, she received the Brown Faculty’s highest honor: the Susan Colver Rosenberger Medal in 2011. A French professor before entering university administration, President Simmons held an appointment as a Professor of Comparative Literature and Africana Studies at Brown. After completing her Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard, she served in various faculty and administrative roles at the University of Southern California, Princeton University, and Spelman College before becoming president of Smith College, the largest women’s college in the United States. At Smith, she launched a number of important academic initiatives, including an engineering program, the first at an American women’s college.


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