Keynote Bios


Isabel Wilkerson, author, Pulitzer Prize winner, and National Humanities Medalist

Pulitzer Prize winner and National Humanities Medalist Isabel Wilkerson is the author of The New York Times bestseller The Warmth of Other Suns. Wilkerson spent 15 years working on Warmth, interviewing more than 1,200 people to tell one of the greatest underreported stories of the 20th Century, that of The Great Migration. In addition to the National Book Critics Circle Award, her book has won the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Nonfiction, the Lynton History Prize from Harvard and Columbia universities, and the Stephen Ambrose Oral History Prize, and was shortlisted for both the Pen-Galbraith Literary Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

The Warmth of Other Suns was named to more than 30 Best of the Year lists, including The New York Times’ 10 Best Books of the Year, Amazon’s 5 Best Books of the Year, and Best of the Year lists in The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, among others. It made national news when President Obama chose the book for summer reading in 2011. In 2012, The New York Times Magazine named Warmth to its list of the best nonfiction books of all time.

Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times in 1994, making her the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African American to win for individual reporting.

Don Chen, President, Surdna Foundation

Don Chen is the President of the Surdna Foundation where he leads the 100-year old foundation’s efforts to strengthen and further leverage its commitment to social justice.

Prior to his appointment, Don was the Director of the Cities & States program at the Ford Foundation, where his work supported urban development initiatives to make housing more affordable, promote more equitable land use practices, and empower communities to have a powerful decision-making voice in American cities and in developing countries. He also led a multi-program team to support the strengthening of social justice organizations and networks in targeted U.S. states.

Previously, Don was the Founder and CEO of Smart Growth America, where he led efforts to create the National Vacant Properties Campaign (which later became the Center for Community Progress) and Transportation for America, and managed a merger with the Growth Management Leadership Alliance. He has authored many pieces on land use, transportation, social equity, and environmental policy.

Don has also served on the boards of the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, West Harlem Environmental Action, the Environmental Leadership Program, and Grist magazine. He holds a master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale University.

Calvin Gladney, President and CEO, Smart Growth America

Calvin Gladney, LEED AP, is President and CEO of Smart Growth America (SGA) and is a nationally recognized thought leader on the equitable and sustainable revitalization of communities. Prior to SGA, he was Managing Partner of Mosaic Urban Partners, a real estate advisory services and development firm. Over the last 10 years Mr. Gladney has worked in more than 25 cities as an advisor on neighborhood and citywide revitalization strategies. Mr. Gladney has been not only been a thought leader but an actual implementer — through Mosaic Mr. Gladney was part of a team that developed a new 31-unit apartment building and a separate two-story restaurant in Washington, D.C. In 2017, Mr. Gladney was also the Urban Land Institute’s Senior Visiting Fellow for Equity. Before founding Mosaic, he served as Vice President of the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation, a D.C. quasi-public real estate corporation, and he also served as the General Counsel and Transactions Manager of BRIDGE Housing Corporation, a large-scale affordable housing developer throughout the State of California.

Mr. Gladney graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School, received his B.S. from Cornell University and is a LEED Accredited Professional. He is a Trustee of the Urban Land Institute and a Board member of the Center for Community Progress. He is also a member of ULI’s national Responsible Property Investment Council. Mr. Gladney also serves as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Masters in Real Estate Program where he teaches real estate entrepreneurship and a real estate market analysis class. In his spare time Mr. Gladney…Mr. Gladney doesn’t have any spare time. But he will make time for you. You can connect with Calvin on Twitter and on Instagram @SmartGrowthCEO.

Maurice Jones, President & CEO, Local Initiatives Support Corporation

With deep experience in both the public and private sectors, Maurice Jones took the helm as LISC’s fourth president & CEO in September 2016. Immediately prior to joining LISC, he served as the secretary of commerce for the Commonwealth of Virginia, where he managed 13 state agencies focused on the economic needs in his native state. He previously served as deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) overseeing operations for the agency and its 8,900 staff members. Prior to that he was commissioner of Virginia’s Department of Social Services and deputy chief of staff to former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner.

Trained as an attorney, Maurice worked during the Clinton Administration on legal, policy and program issues at the Treasury Department, where he also helped manage a then-new initiative called the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) fund—a federal program that has grown to be a critical supporter of nonprofits that leverage its capital to bolster their communities. In the private sector, Maurice was the general manager of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk and went on to become president and publisher of its parent company. He also worked for a Richmond law firm and a private philanthropy investing in community-based efforts to benefit children in Washington, D.C.

Raised by his grandparents in a rural southern Virginia community where his family had a tobacco and corn farm, Jones was awarded a full merit scholarship to Hampden-Sydney College, a small liberal arts school. In 1986, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and was selected as a Rhodes scholar. At Oxford University, he earned a master’s degree in international relations. In 1992, he graduated from the University of Virginia Law School.

Tony Pickett, CEO, Grounded Solutions Network

Prior to serving as Chief Executive Officer for the Grounded Solutions Network, Tony was the Senior V.P. of Master Site Development for the Urban Land Conservancy, leading efforts to plan, finance and construct multiple equitable transit oriented development initiatives, complementing the $7.2B Denver FasTracks regional transit system. ULC’s Master Site Development work led by Tony has been described by collaborators as innovative; thinking about and achieving equitable outcomes in a comprehensive and cross-disciplinary manner.

Prior to joining ULC, Tony worked as the founding Executive Director of the Atlanta Land Trust Collaborative; a non-profit Community Land Trust entity focused on achieving equitable development outcomes as part of the Atlanta Beltline transit oriented development initiative. The Atlanta Beltline vision included the creation of 5,600 permanently affordable housing units over a 25 year period, in order to mitigate potential displacement and gentrification impacts in existing underserved communities along a 22 mile transit oriented development corridor. Prior to that Tony served as the Atlanta Housing Authority’s Director of Real Estate Strategy and Development; successfully creating multiple new mixed-income communities using innovative financing and public/private partnerships. Tony’s experience includes planning, creating and using local tax increment financing districts to leverage private investments in combination with additional federal and state funding sources to revitalize distressed communities.

Tony is a graduate of the Cornell University School of Architecture, Art and Planning and a strong advocate for holistic and equitable neighborhood development efforts.

Lisa Rice, President and CEO, National Fair Housing Alliance

Lisa Rice is the second President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), the nation’s only national civil rights agency solely dedicated to eliminating all forms of housing discrimination.  NFHA is also the trade association for over 200 member organizations across the country that work to eliminate barriers in the housing markets and expand equal housing and lending opportunities.  NFHA provides a range of programs to affirmatively further fair housing including community development, neighborhood stabilization, training, education, outreach, advocacy, consulting and enforcement initiatives.

Ms. Rice’s fair housing and fair lending work began at the local level.  Prior to joining NFHA, she was the President and CEO of the Fair Housing Center of Toledo, Ohio and the Northwest Ohio Development Agency.

Ms. Rice played a leadership role in bringing many precedent-setting fair housing cases which have resulted in the elimination of systemic discriminatory policies and practices and the expansion of fair housing opportunities for millions of people.

Ms. Rice also leads NFHA’s effort to spear-head the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act – an 18 month campaign featuring events and activities across the country celebrating the passage of the Fair Housing Act and developing strategies for continuing the unfinished work of the law.

Ms. Rice is a member of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Board of Directors, the Center for Responsible Lending Board of Directors, JPMorgan Chase Consumer Advisory Council, Mortgage Bankers Association’s Consumer Advisory Council, Freddie Mac Affordable Housing Advisory Council, Urban Institute’s Mortgage Servicing Collaborative, Quicken Loans Advisory Committee, and America’s Homeowner Alliance Advisory Board.

Marietta Rodriguez, President and CEO, NeighborWorks America

Marietta Rodriguez is the President and CEO for NeighborWorks® America, a national, congressionally-charted nonprofit. NeighborWorks America creates opportunities for people to live in affordable homes, improve their lives and strengthen their communities in all 50 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In this role, Rodriguez works with senior executives and nationally renowned experts to leverage the power of public-private partnerships. She has a proven record of leadership and accomplishment, creating and executing strategic initiatives that address some of the toughest challenges facing low income families: homeownership, foreclosure prevention, community building and engagement.

Rodriguez created and managed multi-channel marketing campaigns that drove awareness and helped achieve business and community goals. She raised more than $10 million to develop and distribute a multi-media foreclosure prevention campaign in conjunction with Ad Council, resulting in over $89 million in donated media placements. Rodriguez also developed and managed a multi-year Loan Scam Alert Campaign, resulting in over $22 million dollars in donated media placements. Rodriguez also formed and managed a coalition of federal enforcement agencies, nonprofits and local governments focused on sharing critical information on mortgage scam tactics and community impact.

Rodriguez holds a BA from Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois in International Relations and Spanish and is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government /NeighborWorks America Achieving Excellence Program. A resident of Washington, D.C. she enjoys live music of all kinds, travel, reading and movies.

Akilah Watkins-Butler, President and CEO, Center for Community Progress

Akilah Watkins-Butler comes to the Center for Community Progress with an accomplished background in community development. She has more than two decades of experience working on economic development, community capacity building, and built environment issues that disproportionally impact low-income communities.

Prior to joining Community Progress, Akilah was Associate Director of Community Change and led the national anti-poverty and place based portfolio at the Center for the Study of Social Policy in collaboration with the Obama administration vis-à-vis their signature initiatives of Building Neighborhood Capacity, Promise and Choice Neighborhoods. Previously, Akilah served as Director of National Partnerships at NeighborWorks America where she implemented a national public health and housing initiative for over 4,000 low-to-moderate income families and communities. She also served as Deputy Director of Leadership for Healthy Communities, a national program office of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, where she assisted national and local policymakers reduce childhood obesity rates through public policies that promote active living, healthy eating and access to healthy food. Akilah has also worked as a community organizer and in the field of philanthropy supporting low-income, communities of color build capacity to control their economic and social futures.

Akilah received the prestigious Ford Foundation Fellowship in 2009 to complete her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Illinois. She also holds an undergraduate degree at Empire State College in New York State in community and human services and is an alumnus of Southern New Hampshire University where she earned two Master degrees: community economic development and business education. She currently serves as the Vice President for Grounded Solutions’ Board of Directors.

Patrick Sharkey, author, professor, and Chair of the Department of Sociology at New York University

Author, professor, and Chair of the Department of Sociology at New York University, Patrick Sharkey spent five years gathering national data about the drop in crime, and how it changed the nature of urban inequality. In his new book, Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, The Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence, Sharkey shows, with rigorous evidence, that decline in crime has fundamentally changed the nature of urban poverty. But the approaches we have taken to confront that violence (like targeted instances of stop-and-frisk) have come at great cost to some of our most basic rights.

Sharkey’s research, while focused in the often harsh realities of violence and poverty, is informed by a realistic optimism. His talks present the facts of policing, surveillance, and urban threat—also framed in his much-shared articles in publications like The New York Times, Slate, and The Washington Post—with a lucid and balanced purview. Vitally, the crux of Sharkey’s talks are the incredible efforts that civilians in some of the “worst” environments have accomplished, joining together of their own accord to clean up and create safer territories for themselves. In effect, limiting the need for police and surveillance. Clean parks, safe corners, harmonious streets. These things, he tells us, can be nourished without fear of punitive measures.

Patrick Sharkey is Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at NYU. His prior research considers the role of neighborhoods and cities in generating and maintaining inequality across multiple dimensions. His first book, Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality, received the Mirra Komarovsky Award for the best book of the year from the Eastern Sociological Society, the Otis Dudley Duncan Award from the Population Section of the American Sociological Association (ASA), and The American Publishers Award for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE Award in Sociology and Social Work.

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