From Civil Rights to BlackLivesMatter: Is There an Activism Standard?

Saturday, September 24
4:45 - 5:45 PM
Irvine Auditorium

About this Session: With a focus on current events, police brutality, juvenile justice, prison reform, and immigration rights how are activists today forging change for our communities?

Presented by the Department of Africana Studies and the Center for Africana Studies.

Featured Speakers

Judith Browne Dianis W'87

Executive Director
Advancement Project


Judith Browne Dianis has an extensive background in civil rights litigation and advocacy in the areas of voting, education, policing, housing, and employment. She has protected the rights of people of color in the midst of some of the greatest civil rights crises of our modern times, including in Florida after the 2000 election and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Known as the Godmother of the movement to end the school-to-prison pipeline, under Dianis’ leadership, Advancement Project has done pioneering work in building and strengthening a grassroots movement to end harsh discipline that pushes out children of color and criminalizes them. Dianis has authored groundbreaking reports on the issue including: Opportunities Suspended (2000) and Derailed: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track, detailing the unnecessary criminalization of students by their schools. Working closely with grassroots organizations, Advancement Project’s work has significantly decreased student suspensions and arrests in Denver, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Florida.

Recently, Dianis and her team at Advancement Project have joined forces with the Journey for Justice Alliance, an alliance of grassroots groups in 22 cities, to challenge the growing trend of public school closures and privatization in communities of color. This cutting edge work has included filing civil rights complaints in Chicago, Newark and New Orleans. Dianis’ commitment to racial equity in public schools carries over to her position as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of FairTest, which challenges the misuse of standardized testing. In recognition of Dianis’ work on these issues, she was named a Black Male Achievement Social Innovator by the Leadership & Sustainability Institute.

Dianis’ efforts to protect voters of color spans years of dedication. From filing one of the first-ever lawsuits to enforce the “Motor Voter” law to litigating on behalf of Black Floridians after the 2000 election, Dianis has established herself as an expert in voting rights. She continued her litigation efforts in 2004, stopping the Republican National Committee from engaging in voter suppression in Ohio and requiring Virginia in 2008 to ensure equitable allocation of voting machines. As Advancement Project has continued its aggressive voter protection efforts effectively blocking voter suppression efforts in 2012, Dianis has also been leading an effort to develop a campaign to secure an explicit right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. In 2013, she was awarded a Prime Movers Fellowship for trailblazing social movement leaders to further develop this campaign.

Dianis joined Advancement Project at its inception in 1999, after serving as the Managing Attorney in the Washington, D.C. office of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. She is a graduate of Columbia University School of Law, was awarded a Skadden Fellowship, served as a Tobias Simon Eminent Scholar at Florida State University Law School, and as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center. She was named one of the “Thirty Women to Watch” by Essence Magazine and has written and commented extensively in the media about race, voting rights, and education issues, appearing often on MSNBC, CNN, BET, TVOne and various radio shows.

Anthea Butler

Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Graduate Chair in the Department of Religious Studies
University of Pennsylvania


Anthea Butler is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. A historian of American and African American religion, Professor Butler’s research and writing spans religion and politics, religion and gender, African American religion, sexuality, media, religion, and popular culture. She is the author of and Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making A Sanctified World on The University of North Carolina Press. Her current book project is on African American women, home missions, and print culture. A sought-after media commentator on the BBC, MSNBC, CNN and other media outlets, Professor Butler also provides op-ed on contemporary politics, religion, and social issues at The Guardian, Washington Post, and the New York Times. She has also served as a consultant to the PBS series God in America and the American Experience on Aimee Semple McPherson.

Charles H.F. Davis III, Ph.D. GED'10

Director of Higher Education Research and Initiatives
University of Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education


Charles H.F. Davis III currently serves as Director of Higher Education Research and Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education. As the director, he is primarily responsible for managing the Center's portfolio of postsecondary services to include campus climate assessments, diversity trainings and workshops, executive education programs, equity institutes and other professional learning experiences for college faculty and administrators, and commissioned studies related to equity issues in higher education. Additionally, Charles continues to work with student organizers and student organizations committed to social justice within and beyond colleges and universities to include working with the Dream Defenders, Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation, and others within the larger movement for Black lives.

In 2015, Charles earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Center for the Study of Higher Education at The University of Arizona, where his research broadly examined the use of digital media technologies in contemporary student activism, organizing, and social movements in college. He is also the executive director and principal investigator of the Activist Millennials Project, which serves as the nexus of research and practice for millennials engaged in activism and social justice organizing at the intersections of educational institutions and communities.

Sara Lomax-Reese C'87

President and CEO


Sara Lomax-Reese is the President and CEO of WURD Radio, LLC, Pennsylvania’s only African-American owned talk radio station. She is also the co-founder of The Next Majority, LLC, a new multicultural data and analytics company that seeks to develop the most comprehensive repository of open source and proprietary information about communities of color in the United States. Prior to her work with WURD and The Next Majority, Sara co-founded HealthQuest: Total Wellness for Body, Mind & Spirit, the first nationally circulated African-American consumer health magazine in the country.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Sara has written for The Miami Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Essence Magazine, American Visions Magazine and Modern Maturity. Most recently Sara has contributed to a new book of essays from Black mothers of sons. Sara also served as an adjunct professor of communications at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA. She has taught a collaborative course at the University of Pennsylvania with Dr. John Jackson titled “Urban Ethnography” which taught students how to create audio documentaries that aired on 900AM-WURD.

Sara has received numerous awards including: the Woman of Substance Award from the National Medical Association; the “Tree of Life” award from the Wellness of You; and, HealthQuest Magazine received the Beacon of Light Award from the Congressional Black Caucus for outstanding health coverage. Sara was recognized as one of the "100 People to Watch" by Business Philadelphia Magazine, and in 2010, she was selected for the “Women of Distinction” award given by the Philadelphia Business Journal. Additionally, Sara received the 2012 PECO “Power to the Community” award given by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women of Pennsylvania.

Sara sits on a variety of boards including The Kimmel Center for Performing Arts, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Community of Leaders. An avid yoga and meditation practitioner, Sara is also co-founder of Philadelphia’s People of Color meditation group. She is married to Tim Reese and is the mother of three boys, Langston, Elijah and Julian.


Dorothy E. Roberts J.D.
Director, Program on Race, Science and Society

George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, and Professor of Africana Studies University of Pennsylvania Law School and School of Arts and Sciences

Dorothy Roberts, an acclaimed scholar of race, gender and the law, joined the University of Pennsylvania as its 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Sociology and the Law School where she also holds the inaugural Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mosell Alexander chair.

Her pathbreaking work in law and public policy focuses on urgent contemporary issues in health, social justice, and bioethics, especially as they impact the lives of women, children and African-Americans. Her major books include Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century (New Press, 2011); Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (Basic Books, 2002), and Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (Pantheon, 1997). She is the author of more than 80 scholarly articles and book chapters, as well as a co-editor of six books on such topics as constitutional law and women and the law.

Ezekiel Dixon-Román, PhD

Associate Professor
Chair, Data Analytics for Social Policy Certificate Program
University of Pennsylvania


Dr. Dixon-Román’s research rethinks and reconceptualizes the use of quantitative methods from a critical theoretical lens (broadly conceived), particularly for the study of social reproduction in human learning and development.

Dr. Dixon-Román’s theoretical and empirical work has demonstrated alternative possibilities via three primary and interrelated areas of inquiry:

  • inheritance and the social reproduction of “difference” (e.g., race, gender, class, sexuality, and dis/ability) in education, with a particular focus on theoretically and empirically demonstrating alternative ontological and epistemological approaches to social inquiry;
  • the production of knowledge with the methods of quantification, with a particular focus on rethinking and reconceptualizing their ontological and epistemological assumptions and practices;
    • critical inquiry on social policies that seek to address issues of inequality, social mobility, and education.
    • Dr. Dixon-Román co-edited Thinking Comprehensively About Education: Spaces of Educative Possibility and Their Implications for Public Policy (Routledge) and is the author of the forthcoming Inheriting ImPossibility: New Materialisms, Quantitative Inquiry, and Social Reproduction in Education (University of Minnesota Press). He is currently working on two book projects: Handbook of Critical Inquiry and Quantitative Methods and Measurement, Data, & Society. Dr. Dixon-Román is chair of the new Data Analytics for Social Policy Certificate of the MSSP Program and leading the SP2-Aliadas en Cadena Initiative, which is an evaluation of the Venezuelan based NGO’s flagship program that provides information and communication technology training and certification for vulnerable women.

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