2019 Summer Institute Speakers


ruby sales

Throughout history, there have been many inspirational women who have impacted the fight for social and racial justice. Ruby Nell Sales, an African-American social activist, was born in Jemison, Alabama and raised in segregated Columbus, Georgia. As a child, Sales’ parents often spoke about the inequity of the society they lived in, but Sales did not fight the same way about racial tensions until her late teens when she became aware of the effects on her and others’ lives.


Staceyann Chin

Staceyann Chin is the recipient of the 2007 Power of the Voice Award from The Human Rights Campaign, the 2008 Safe Haven Award from Immigration Equality, the 2008 Honors from the Lesbian AIDS Project, the 2009 New York State Senate Award, the 2013 American Heritage Award from American Immigration Council, and the 2016 Planned Parenthood Excellence in Media award. Chin is also a 2017 LGBTQ Humanist Award recipient. She unapologetically identifies as Caribbean and Black, Asian and lesbian, woman and resident of New York City.

A proud Jamaican National, Staceyann’s voice was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, where she spoke candidly about her experiences of growing up on the island and the dire consequences of her coming-out there. 

Widely known as co-writer and original performer in the Tony award winning, Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, her poetry has seen the rousing cheers of the Nuyorican Poets' Café, one-woman shows Off-Broadway, writing-workshops in Sweden, South Africa, and Australia. Chin’s three one-woman shows, HANDS AFIRE, UNSPEAKABLE THINGS, and BORDER/CLASH all opened to rave reviews at the Culture Project in New York City.

Staceyann is the author of the memoir, The Other Side of Paradise, and is currently touring MotherStruck, her critically acclaimed solo theater piece, directed by Cynthia Nixon, and produced by Rosie O’Donnell, chronicling her incredible experiences about motherhood, which opened in New York, in December, of 2015.

Be it on “60 Minutes,” in the New York Times, or The UK guardian, Staceyann has a reputation for telling it exactly like it is.

Judge Wendell Griffen

Dr. Nancy MacLean


Emilie Townes

Vexations: Religion and Politics in the Black Community

The Rev. Dr. Emilie M. Townes, a distinguished scholar and leader in theological education, is dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is also the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society.

Townes' broad areas of expertise include Christian ethics, cultural theory and studies, postmodernism and social postmodernism. She has been a pioneering scholar in womanist theology, a field of studies in which the historic and current insights of African American women are brought into critical engagement with the traditions of Christian theology. Townes has a strong interest in thinking critically about womanist perspectives on issues such as health care, economic justice, poetry and literary theory.

Daniel Cornfield


Karla McKanders


Herbert Marbury

Teresa Smallwood


Shameka Nicole Cathey

Dr. Cathey earned her Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science from Howard University. She has gained various teaching experiences at colleges including Howard University, Prince George’s Community College, The University of the District of Columbia, James Madison University, Tougaloo College, and Brown University. She currently serves on the faculty of American Baptist College where she teaches African American Politics and Social Justice.  Her research interests are in the areas of Civil Rights, African American Politics, and Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies.  As a scholar-activist, she intentionally works to integrate applied research with social justice issues.  She prides herself on working in partnership with students, colleagues and community advocates to uplift the freedom, affirmation, and celebration of all diverse identities.  She serves the profession through membership and committees within her professional associations including the American Political Science Association (APSA), National Conference of Black Political Scientists (NCOBPS), and American Society of Public Administrators (ASPA).  Dr. Cathey is also a Dean’s Scholar at Vanderbilt Divinity School and anticipates graduating with a Master of Divinity in May 2021.

Daniel Sharfstein