Skip to main content
MenuSearch & Directory

Diversity Speaker Series

Inspirational human rights leaders from across the country have visited Saint Louis University to promote inclusion, diversity and equality in our communities — and to inspire our students to challenge social and racial injustice in meaningful ways.

In collaboration with numerous deans, faculty and student organizations at SLU, the Division of Diversity and Innovative Community Engagement has hosted these energizing human rights champions at campus events.

Internal community partners include the Black Student Association; the Great Issues Committee; the Doerr Center for Social Justice; the Communication, Women’s and Gender Studies, American Studies and African American Studies departments; the Medical Family Therapy program; the School of Education; and the School of Medicine.

External community partners include the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis and the Missouri History Museum.

Past Speakers

2023-24: Bedelia Richards, Ph.D.

Bedelia Richards, Ph.D., is a renowned race scholar who presented a two-part workshop and evening lecture in September 2023 on the complex workings of systemic racism and anti-Blackness within social institutions and organizations. Karla Scott, Ph.D., professor of communication, facilitated a fireside chat and question-and-answer session during the evening lecture.

The first workshop introduced participants to “RaceTalk” skills, which aim to help participants more effectively communicate, interact and build trust across racial lines. Participants gained an understanding of how structural racism shapes and informs dialogue across social groups, acquired a framework for identifying common obstacles to cross-racial dialogue and learned specific tools and strategies to address these obstacles. 

The second workshop, which will be held in February 2024, will be for undergraduate and graduate faculty members and will focus on improving students' RaceTalk skills and supporting them in engaging in cross-racial dialogue. Faculty will create a personalized "RaceTalk as a Skill" lesson plan with support from Richards.

2021: Kat Lazo

Kat Lazo is a Colombian-Peruvian New Yorker who is known as the Internet's favorite no-nonsense Latina who tells it how it is, in front of and behind the camera. She transitioned her popularity as a YouTuber into a thriving career as a video producer. 

With more than eight years of digital video production experience, her work has been featured by The New York Times, HuffPost, Latina magazine and Buzzfeed. As a video producer for the Latino digital platform Mitú, she is most known for her series “The Kat Call,” where she debunked taboos and misconceptions about the Latino community.

2020: Ibram X. Kendi, Ph.D. 

Ibram X. Kendi, Ph.D., the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University, and the author of “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” headlined the Fall 2020 Emmett J. and Mary Martha Doerr Center for Social Justice Education and Research lecture.

2019: Alicia Garza

Alicia Garza, activist, editorial writer and founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, spoke at the Center for Global Citizenship during Occupy SLU week. While the BLM movement has been around since 2013, founded in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, atrocities have been committed against Black Americans since the establishment of America as a country and continue to happen. It is these injustices that Black Lives Matter seeks to call attention to.

In response to the BLM movement, SLU’s staff, faculty, students and administration have begun to make changes to the campus themselves. This response includes adjustments and dialogue to promote inclusion, diversity and equity for the University — as well as trying to support the BLM movement mission to create a campus free of anti-Blackness.

2019: Martin Luther King III

The son of two of the 20th-century's most famed civil rights activists, Martin Luther King III called for continued work toward racial equity and social justice at the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. memorial tribute honoring the life and legacy of his father.

King called the crowd’s attention to pressing issues, including family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border; continued discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation; voter suppression; and economic insecurity. He recalled his parents’ belief in their fellow women and men to bring out change and urged those gathered to take up the Civil Rights Movement’s call to action.

2018: Rev. Jamie Washington Ph.D.

The founder and president of the Baltimore-based Washington Consulting Group, the Rev. Jamie Washington, Ph.D., emboldened SLU students to lead with “courageous action,” one of four pillars of leadership he had identified. The other pillars cited by Washington are awareness of self, awareness of others and collaboration.

Washington told student leaders they must move outside their comfort zones to engage openly with new and different voices. Exposure to others from different life experiences helps open student leaders to new ways to comprehend issues and solve problems. It also helps promote the leadership traits of human dignity and respect. He also encouraged them to focus their energy and not spread themselves too thin.

Washington also tailored his inspirational observations on leadership to separate groups of staff and faculty at SLU.

2017: Ashon Crawley, Ph.D.

More than 60 students, faculty and staff welcomed Ashon Crawley, Ph.D., author of "Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility." Crawley, an assistant professor of religious studies and African American and African studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, took listeners on a personal journey of identity, belonging, alienation and reconciliation from his youth to his time in London pursuing his doctorate. 

2017: Ntozake Shange

St. Louis native Ntozake Shange wrote the Obie Award-winning and groundbreaking play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” In an event co- sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement, Shange read poems to musical accompaniment at the Missouri History Museum before a captivated audience that included members of the SLU community.

Shange also authored the novels “Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo”; “Liliane”; and “Betsey Brown,” and a book of essays called "Lost in Language & Sound." She co-wrote the children’s books "Coretta Scott" and "Ellington Was Not a Street."

2017: Talitha LeFlouria, Ph.D.

“Black Women and Girls in the U.S. (In)Justice System: Historical and Contemporary Struggles” was the topic of the 2017 Bridge Lecture featuring Talitha LeFlouria, Ph.D. LeFlouria is an associate professor of African American Studies at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia.

Her academic focus is the imprisonment of Black women in the post-Civil War South. She is the author of the award-winning history of Georgia’s system for incarcerating women, “Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South.” LeFlouria’s research and commentary on Black women and convict labor was featured in the Sundance award-nominated documentary “Slavery by Another Name.” She is researching and writing her second book, “Doctoring Captivity: Prison Physicians and Incarcerated Patients in the Post-Civil War South.”

2017: Janet Mock

Writer and transgender activist Janet Mock was a keynote speaker as part of Free to [Be] Week at SLU. She founded #GirlsLikeUs, a social media project that empowers trans women. Her second book, “Surpassing Certainty,” a memoir about her 20s, was published in June 2017. Mock’s first memoir about growing up as a transgender youth in Hawaii, “Redefining Realness,” was a New York Times’ bestseller in 2014.

2016: George C. Fraser

Entrepreneur and author George Fraser was a keynote speaker at the sixth annual Martin Luther King Jr. memorial tribute. The event was sponsored by SLU and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. Fraser told the gathering that the key to racial equality is economic empowerment. “There is no one to save us, but us,” he said to the Black Americans in attendance and urged them to start and build businesses that “employ our people.”

Fraser is chair and CEO of FraserNet, Inc., a company he founded nearly 30 years ago, that connects Black entrepreneurs, professional managers and investors through networking. He is the author of four books: “Success Runs in Our Race: The Complete Guide to Effective Networking in the African-American Community”; “Race for Success: The Ten Best Business Opportunities for Blacks in America”; “Click: Ten Truths for Building Extraordinary Relationships”; and the children’s book, “Who Would Have Thunk It!”

2016: Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou

In remarks to the SLU community during events honoring the student protests of October 2014, the Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou recalled the societal impact of the Ferguson movement and its engagement of SLU students, faculty and staff. His musical group, The Holy Ghost, performed selections from their album, “The Revolution Has Come.”

A frequent speaker in SLU classrooms and for student organizations, Sekou also spoke at SLU’s 2016 conference on Race, Faith and Justice. In 2015, he was named to Ebony magazine’s "Power 100" list. Four years earlier, the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma, Alabama, honored him with its Keeper of the Flame Award.

2016: DeRay Mckesson

“Telling the Truth in Public” was the title of activist DeRay Mckesson’s address to the SLU community during an event co-sponsored by the Black Student Alliance. An ardent champion of America’s Black Lives Matter movement, Mckesson harnessed social media to bring compelling audio, video and images of racial protests of Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, to young people around the world. He also co-founded Campaign Zero, a policy platform to improve police interactions with people of color and ensure accountability. He currently hosts the podcast "Pod Save the People."

2016: Alison Harding Buchanan

As a part of the 2016 Atlas Week celebration, acclaimed British soprano Alison Harding Buchanan shared songs celebrating diversity, social justice and inclusion at St. Francis Xavier College Church. She has performed with opera companies and symphony orchestras, including those in New York, Detroit, Baltimore, Boston, London and Sao Paolo.

2016: Toniesha L. Taylor, Ph.D.

Toniesha Taylor, Ph.D., talked to the SLU community about the use of digital media to build and foster social movements. Taylor is an assistant professor of communication in the Department of Languages and Communication at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas. Her most recent publication was the essay “Transformative Womanist Rhetorical Strategies: Contextualizing Discourse and the Performance of Black Bodies of Desire,” published in Black Being, Black Embodying: Contemporary Arts & The Performance of Identities.

2016: Ayesha Hardison, Ph.D.

The guest speaker at the 2016 Bridge Lecture, Ayesha Hardison, Ph.D., shared insights about the portrayal of Black women in novels, magazines and newspapers during the Jim Crow era, gleaned from her 2014 book, “Writing Through Jane Crow: Race and Gender Politics in African American Literature.” Hardison is an associate professor of English and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where she teaches African American literature. She’s currently researching and writing a literary history of the Civil Rights Movement.

2016: Diane Nash

An icon of the Civil Rights Movement, Chicago native Diane Nash witnessed some of the most historic episodes in American history. She helped lead the sit-ins of segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1960 with other Fisk University students. A year later, she helped coordinate the Freedom Rides, a nonviolent tactic by student activists that would trigger segregationist violence and shame the Kennedy administration into action.

In 1963, Nash played key roles in the boycott of Birmingham, Alabama, merchants and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And she helped organize the 54-mile march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. Nash was keynote speaker at the fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr. memorial tribute, where she was awarded the 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Civil Rights Award by SLU and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.

2015: Laverne Cox

A packed auditorium greeted activist and actress Laverne Cox at an event co-sponsored by the SLU Rainbow Alliance. Co-star of the Netflix original series “Orange Is the New Black,” Cox talked of her extraordinary journey from Mobile, Alabama, to Hollywood as a Black, transgender woman. The Emmy nominee was featured on the cover of the June 9, 2014, issue of Time magazine and in its story “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier.”


Atlas Week Themes and Keynote Speakers


Theme: “Chasing the Echoes of Freedom in the 21st Century”
Keynote: Roya Hakakian

Roya Hakakian is an Iranian American writer, journalist and public speaker. Her opinion columns, essays and book reviews appear in leading English language publications including the New York Times, New York Review of Books and The Atlantic. A founding member of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, she has spoken on a variety of news outlets, from CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” to MSNBC, as well as in Washington D.C. for the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and the State Department with U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken.

Hakakian is the author of two collections of poetry in Persian, and is listed among the leading new voices in Persian poetry in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Her poetry has also appeared in numerous anthologies around the world.


Theme: “From the Ashes: Rebuilding the Global Scene in the World of COVID-19”
Keynote: Price Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein of Jordan is the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Known for his outspoken criticism of the fascism, religious radicalism, and threats to civil liberties growing in countries around the world, Zeid was a powerful advocate for human rights and open societies. Zeid was the sixth High Commissioner for Human Rights, serving from 2014 to 2018.


Theme: “The House that Race Built”
Keynote: Rev. Nontombi Naomi Tutu

Rev. Nontombi Naomi Tutu is a prominent race and gender justice activist. Her professional experience ranges from being a development consultant in West Africa to program coordinator for programs on race and gender and gender-based violence in education at the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town. In addition, Tutu has taught at the University of Hartford, University of Connecticut and Brevard College in North Carolina. She served as program coordinator for the historic Race Relations Institute at Fisk University and was a part of the Institute’s delegation to the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.


Theme: “This Place That We Come From: Moving Through Our Untold Experiences”
Keynote: John Quinones

As a highlight of Atlas Week 2019, ABC News veteran John Quinones shared his journey from migrant farm work and poverty to more than 30 years at ABC News and the anchor desk at 20/20 and Primetime.

Quinones is also the creator and host of the ethical dilemma newsmagazine “What Would You Do?” His moving presentations focus on his odds-defying journey, celebrate the life-changing power of education, champion the Latino American Dream and provide thought-provoking insights into human nature and ethical behavior.


Theme: “From Broken Walls, We Build Bridges: Out of Conflict Rises Community”
Keynote: Fred Ochieng’, M.D., and Milton Ochieng’, M.D.

Fred Ochieng’, M.D., and Milton Ochieng’, M.D., are the co-founders of The Lwala Community Alliance, which is now the largest provider of health services in western Kenya, serving a population of more than 30,000 people. The Alliance's main focus is health care and has multidimensional programs in education, economic development and public health outreach.


Theme: “Visions for Global Change: Start Where You Are, Do What You Can”
Keynote: Alison Thompson

Alison Thompson is a full-time global humanitarian volunteer. For the past 17 years, she has run refugee camps, field hospitals and resilience command centers in major disaster sites around the world, including Haiti, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Nepal, Greece, Turkey and Macedonia. Her work started on Sept. 11, 2001, when she volunteered as a first responder for nine months following the attacks in New York.


Theme: “Reaching Across Borders: Embracing Our Global Community”
Keynote: Kilian Kleinschmidt

Kilian Kleinschmidt is a humanitarian aid worker and expert in refugee relief and emergency crisis management. For more than 20 years, he served as a senior official with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). He recently became known as the "Mayor of Za'atari" when he managed the Za'atari refugee camp in Northern Jordan from 2013 to 2014 on behalf of the UNHCR. Currently, he is serving as an advisor to the Austrian government on asylum seeker reception.

Distinguished Guest Lecture: Mukesh Kapila, M.D.
Title: "Don't Stand By: Lessons from Darfur for Today"

Mukesh Kapila, M.D., is a medical doctor, humanitarian expert and international aid diplomat. Currently, he is professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs at Manchester University. He has experience in more than 130 countries serving in senior positions in the British government, the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. His dealings with many dictators and despots across the world's premier trouble spots have led him to focus on the prevention of genocide and other most horrible crimes against humanity.


Theme: “Simple Steps: Global Change Starts with You”
Keynote: Derreck Kayongo

As a child, Derreck Kayongo and his family fled Uganda to Kenya to escape the Idi Amin regime. Ten years later, Kayongo traveled to the United States. From there, he beat the odds, earned an education, became a U.S. citizen and served in some of the world's most respected nongovernmental organizations (NGO).

In 2009, Kayongo and his wife, Sarah, started their own NGO, the Global Soap Project, which repurposes partially used soap from hotels into new soap for vulnerable populations. Kayongo has worked with the American Friends Services Committee, Amnesty International and CARE International.


Theme: “Education: Igniting the Flames of Change”
Keynote: Shabana Basij-Rasikh

Shabana Basij-Rasikh is co-founder and president of the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), a nonprofit that helps exceptional young Afghan women access education worldwide and jobs back home. SOLA helps qualified candidates access good schools in the region and around the world. In 2011 and 2012, Basij-Rasikh was the National Gender Mainstreaming Advisor at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development in Kabul, Afghanistan.


Theme: “Advocacy in a Globalized World: From the Classroom to the Frontline”
Keynote: John Prendergast

John Prendergast is a human rights activist and best-selling author who has worked for peace in Africa for more than 25 years. Under the umbrella of The Enough Project, Prendergast has helped create a number of initiatives and campaigns. He helped launch the Satellite Sentinel Project, which aims to prevent conflict and human rights abuses through satellite imagery, with actor George Clooney, and co-founded the Darfur Dream Team Sister Schools Program with former basketball player Tracy McGrady and other NBA stars to fund schools in Darfurian refugee camps and create partnerships with schools in the United States.


Theme: “Empowering Humanity Through Education and Service”
Keynote: Sheryl WuDunn

Sheryl WuDunn, the first Asian American reporter to win a Pulitzer Prize, has been an executive and journalist at The New York Times and worked in finance at Goldman Sachs and Bankers Trust. She has received many other journalism awards, including the George Polk Award and Overseas Press Club Awards. WuDunn was honored for her book "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression in to Opportunity for Women Worldwide" in 2010 with the Beacon Award from the White House Project, a nonpartisan organization that seeks to advance women's leadership in all communities and sectors.


Theme: “Global Justice: Meeting Basic Human Needs”
Keynote: Irene Khan

Taking the helm of Amnesty International in 2001 as the first woman, first Asian and the first Muslim to guide the world's largest human rights organization, Irene Khan brought a new perspective to the organization. She has been at the helm of broadening its work in areas of economic, social and cultural rights, and initiating a process of internal reform and renewal to enable them to respond flexibly and rapidly to world events.


Theme: “Global and Local Justice: The United Nations Millennium Development Goals”
Keynote: Hauwa Ibrahim

Hauwa Ibrahim is a senior partner and the pro bono legal aid counsel in the General Law Practice of the Aries Law Firm in Abuja, Nigeria. One of the top defenders of women's rights in Nigeria, Ibrahim has successfully challenged numerous charges and convictions under strict Islamic Sharia law in her country. She has served as a consultant to the United Nations Development Program, the European Union and Lawyers without Borders.


Theme: “Voices Around the Globe: Words of Inspiration, Hope, Change, Resistance, and Transformation”
Keynote: Emmanuel Jal

Once a child soldier on the front lines of combat in war-torn Sudan, Emmanuel Jal has been hailed as the "rising star of African hip-hop." When he was 11 years old, Jal joined more than 400 other child soldiers in a courageous desertion of rebel lines. He was one of only 16 children to survive the journey. He is now a spokesman for Amnesty International and Oxfam, and has worked for Save the Children, UNICEF, World Food Programme, Christian Aid and other charities.