2014 Speakers


Check out the list of amazing speakers we had in 2014!

Ramiro Almeida

Ramiro Almeida is a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Media Lab. He focuses his academic work at the intersection of innovation, cities and technology. He is leading a wide variety of projects, one of which includes the creation of an experimental urban innovation laboratory in Quito’s Historic Center, the largest and best preserved in Latin America and UNESCO’s first World Heritage site.

At MIT City Science, Ramiro is working on creating a tangible and interactive platform that allows expert and nonexpert stakeholders to understand and make informed decisions about the interaction of architecture, space use, mobility modes, energy and water networks, urban food production, movement of goods, data flows, and other urban systems.

At Harvard’s Innovation Lab, Ramiro is leading the production of an animation film based on a fiction story in collaboration with students, faculty, fellows and affiliates.

Since 1999, Ramiro has led a wide variety of planning, project development and innovation activities around the world, one of which includes the effort to plan, design and implement the first subway line in Ecuador.

Ramiro has a personal passion for cities, entrepreneurship, innovation, technology, publishing, and filmmaking. He has published many books, produced a documentary, and was executive producer for PESCADOR, a film based on a true story that has been acclaimed at international film festivals and awarded the most important recognitions in Spain, Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador.

Suzi Carter

Suzi Carter is the Director of Programs and Partnerships for Food Co-op Initiative where she provides technical assistance to startup organizers and builds resources for co-op development. Suzi has worn a broad array of hats in her work supporting communities as they develop creative responses to the environmental, economic, and equity crises of our day: fundraiser, organizer, communicator, marketer, lobbyist, and business developer. In all of these roles, she brings a vision for transforming communities through collaborative and inclusivist approaches.

Suzi has mobilized her rural Virginia city to successfully open a food co-op, fund a greenway, and organize a private and public events space. With dedicated boards of directors she raised millions of dollars, recruited hundreds of members, and coordinated dozens of volunteers to actualize these projects, helping her community surmount those most daunting of obstacles, money and momentum.

A resident of Virginia by way of New York, she’s a country-fried Yankee who’s been known to use “youse guys” and “y’all” in the same breath.

Duron Chavis

Duron Chavis is an advocate for the African community and coordinator of innovative and dynamic initiatives on the topics of poverty, urban agriculture, and food security. He began his career in community advocacy at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and

in 2003, he founded the highly acclaimed Happily Natural Day Festival as a supplement to the museum’s annual summer jazz concert. This festival,now held annually in Richmond, VA and Atlanta, GA, has been extremely successful in inspiring Africans from all over the world to reexamine their relationship with their health in a holistic way. The weekend-long experience focuses on cultural awareness, health, wellness, and social change featuring exhibitors, workshops, interactive panel discussions, scholars, and performing artists from around the globe.

Duron also coordinates the Richmond Noir Market, a Saturday farmer’s market targeting low income communities in Richmond area ‘food deserts’, and founded the McDonough Community Garden, Swansboro Community Garden, & George Wythe High School Edible Garden. Additionally, he developed an after-school teen program teaching urban agriculture, culinary arts, and social entrepreneurship to urban youth.

Duron has served as a US Cultural Ambassador at Adornment London, a Black Cultural Expo in the UK, and a Clean Air Ambassador on behalf of Earthjustice and the Hip Hop Caucus on Capitol Hill. His notable work has received numerous accolades including Style Weekly’s Top 40 under 40 Award. Currently Duron serves as director of the Virginia State University Indoor Urban Farm and is co-director of Renew Richmond.

Aaron Deal

Aaron Deal is executive chef at Roanoke’s River And Rail restaurant. A North Carolina native, Deal has been at helm of some of the most renowned restaurants in the country and has garnered wide acclaim for his inventive approach to cooking, including being named a “Best New Chef Under 30″ by Chicago Social magazine and nominated a semi-finalist in the Rising Star category of the James Beard Awards in 2009. Deal was also named one of Restaurant-Hospitality magazine’s “12 to watch in 2012″ and in May 2014 took home the top prize after being invited to compete on The Food Network’s “Guy’s Grocery Games.”

Vilas Dhar

Vilas Dhar is an American investor, attorney, and social entrepreneur.Vilas manages a portfolio of impact focused investments alongside his strategic role at Dhar Law, LLP (www.dharlawllp.com), where he has built a nationally recognized platform for socially conscious legal engagement. The firm balances sophisticated private sector corporate representation with pro bono advisory services to governments, development actors, and nonprofits and philanthropic organizations.

Vilas also founded and directs the Next Mile Project, a first of its kind accelerator fostering non-profit collaboration and increased engagement with private and government actors. Currently based in Boston with twenty two member organizations and programmatic impact in fifteen countries, the Next Mile Project is in the process of expanding nationally (www.nextmileproject.org).

Sangu Delle

Born in Ghana, Sangu’s childhood home was a refuge for victims of torture and violence from neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone. Awarded a full merit scholarship to attend prep school in the U.S., Sangu then graduated from Harvard with highest honors in African Studies and Economics. While at Harvard, Sangu co-founded cleanacwa (formerly the African Development

Initiative), which continues today, rallying academics, non-profits, businesses, and local government to help find and spread effective solutions for water and sanitation access.

Convinced that the real needs of communities can best be met through entrepreneurship, in 2008 he founded Golden Palm Investments to fund promising start-ups that can have social impact and generate jobs.

Sangu has been noticed by many national publications. Most recently, in 2014, Forbes named Sangu as one of Africa’s top 30 Under 30 Entrepreneurs, and Euromoney named Sangu “Africa’s Rising Star” and featured him in the May edition of the magazine.

Sangu is an author and poet, publishing Contemporary Africa through Poetry in 2012 and a forthcoming book, Seeding Growth: Africa’s Youngest Entrepreneurs. He loves the outdoors and trekked Mount Everest in 2013, and is currently training to summit Kilimanjaro during the summer of 2014.

Pete Eshelman

Pete combines knowledge of the outdoors with leadership, organizational, and promotional skills. He is a graduate of DePauw University and has worked in outdoor industry since 1997 as an instructor or leader in rock climbing, white water kayaking, canoeing, mountain biking, and caving.

He was director of operations at Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing from 2000 to 2009 where he developed programs for audiences ranging from children to corporate gatherings. Eshelman is a member of the economic consortium for Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority, serves on the Roanoke Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, the Greenways Commission, is a member of the Regional Bicycle Advisory Committee, and one of 30 Creative Connectors as part of Roanoke’s Creative Communities Leadership Program.

At the Roanoke Regional Partnership, Pete has developed roanokeoutside.com, founded the Blue Ridge Marathon – America’s Toughest Road Marathon, and the GO Outside Festival to help build brand recognition for outdoor recreation and increase recognition of the region as a place to live, work, and invest.

Pete was awarded the 2011 CVB Gold Star Award for outstanding efforts and contributions to the growth and development of Roanoke’s tourism industry and this past fall received the Virginia First Lady Initiative Team Effort award for the Blue Ridge Marathon.

Steve Farley

Steve Farley is a visionary, motivational, highly entrepreneurial leader grounded in real-world experience who has delivered major transportation projects through grassroots activism and inspires others to do the same. He lives his passion for the positive transformation of America through investment in transportation infrastructure, public spaces, alternative energy, and sustainable development.

He is a professional public artist with a national reputation for his community-building large-scale tile murals (see Tilography.com) who, as a citizen activist, initiated Tucson’s $189 million Modern Streetcar system from the ground up, organized residents and businesses, and galvanized an initially skeptical region to obtain funds from multiple sources to build a system that has revitalized a downtown that spent decades in decay. Opened this year, the line has already generated more than a billion dollars in new development within three blocks of a four-mile route, energizing the streets and the local economy.

Farley is also an Arizona State Senator, although he hopes you won’t hold that against him. He’s one of the good guys who has worked successfully in the legislative minority for the past eight years by reaching across the aisle to gain support for sustainable transportation and arts funding, traffic safety, high-speed rail, economic development, education, and livable communities while serving on the Transportation, Finance, and Government & Environment committees. He also works nationally on these issues as vice-chair of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee. He has been honored in Arizona with awards including Best Debater, Best Elected Official, and Leader of the Year for Public Policy, and he is a father with two daughters successfully launched into the world doing amazing things.

Mindy Thompson Fullilove

What if divided neighborhoods were causing public health problems? What if a new approach to planning and design could tackle both the built environment and collective well-being at the same time? What if cities could help each other? Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove uses her unique perspective as a public health psychiatrist to explore ways of healing social and spatial fractures simultaneously.

Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Dr. Fullilove has published numerous articles and six books including “Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America’s Sorted-Out Cities,” “Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It,” and “House of Joshua: Meditations on Family and Place.”

William H. Fralin, Jr.

William H. Fralin, Jr., was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 2004 – 2010. In his six years in office he championed groundbreaking Internet Safety legislation and patroned 60 bills that passed the General Assembly. He currently serves on the Virginia Health Reform Initiative (VHRI) Advisory Council as a gubernatorial appointee and, as a leading member of The Roanoke Valley Fiber/Broadband Task Force, is passionate about the impact high-speed access has on economic development and quality of life.

Doug Gordon

Doug Gordon is the founder of BrooklynSpoke, a blog devoted to livable streets advocacy, news, and opinion. He is frequently quoted by the New York City media on issues related to cyclist and pedestrian safety, and is an active member of Transportation Alternative’s Brooklyn Activist Committee and the transportation and public safety committee of Brooklyn’s Community Board 6. As a TV writer and producer, his work has been seen on PBS, Discovery, History, National Geographic Channel, Travel Channel, VH1 and ABC. He lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with his wife, daughter, and son.

Carol Peppe Hewitt

Carol Peppe Hewitt is an author, business owner, rabble-rouser, and pioneer in the Slow Money movement. Growing up in rural NW Connecticut, she watched as one by one the working farms disappeared. Now she works to change that trend, guiding patient capital to small-scale farmers and the businesses that support them in North Carolina, where she and her husband, Mark, have lived for the past 30 years.

Since co-founding Slow Money NC in 2010, she has been catalyzing low-interest loans in North Carolina, building resilience in the local economy from the coast to the mountains. Her book, Financing Our Foodshed: Growing Local Food With Slow Money, tells the compelling, real-life stories of twenty-two of those Slow Money entrepreneurs – folks who grow, process, distribute, and sell us local food – and the motivations behind the people in their communities who become their lenders.

Dylan Locke

Dylan Locke is the Artistic Director at Jefferson Center Foundation, in Roanoke, Virginia. He has been producing the performing arts programs and educational outreach at Jefferson Center for almost 13 years. His work has focused on presenting culturally-diverse arts programs to Western Virginia communities. He has worked in close collaboration with community groups and artists to facilitate grass roots cultural aspirations. Dylan is also a musician and has performed and recorded with a large variety of music ensembles over the past 20 years and his work as an arts presenter has been prolific.

Dylan was responsible for the Music Lab moving to Jefferson Center in 2009 and has since positioned Jefferson Center and the Music Lab as an innovative model for arts education, specifically targeting youth groups from kindergarten to high school. The Music Lab and Jefferson Center through these initiatives has gained more awareness with touring artists and the local communities and aspires to create an environment for arts and education that strengthens the community we live in and empowers the next generation leaders.

Dylan has produced many projects that have received high acclaim regionally and nationally, including the North American Festival of Traditional Arts, a tour of artists from Quebec, US and Vera Cruz that toured the east coast, Silk Road to Roanoke, a collaboration with Simon Shaheen, a Palestinian oud player and the Roanoke Youth Symphony Orchestra, The Blind Leading, a project that explored blindness and creativity, Another Reason to Celebrate, a celebration of Roanoke’s own jazz piano hero and most recently Snarky Puppy’s Family Dinner Project which received a Grammy for Best R&B Performance, a first for Jefferson Center and Roanoke VA.

Beth Macy

Beth Macy is the author of “Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local — and Helped Save an American Town,” published by Little, Brown and Company in July 2014 and promptly debuting at #10 on the New York Times Best-Seller list. A chronicler of outsiders and underdogs and the daughter of a displaced factory worker, Macy is the longtime families beat reporter at The Roanoke Times, where her work has won more than a dozen national awards, including a Nieman Fellowship for Journalism at Harvard.

Helen Marriage

Helen Marriage is Artistic Director of Artichoke, which she founded with Nicky Webb in 2005. Artichoke is one of the UK’s leading independent production companies working to transform landscapes and expectations through its unique way of realising the ambitions of artists and the dreams of the public.

Over the last nine years Artichoke has produced some of the UK’s most talked about large-scale art events ranging from Royal de Luxe’s The Sultan’s Elephant, which saw central London come to a standstill with over 1,000,000 spectators, through Antony Gormley’s Fourth Plinth project One & Other, to Peace Camp made by international theatre director Deborah Warner and actor Fiona Shaw for the London 2012 Olympic Festival. Artichoke’s biennial festival celebrating the power of light, Lumiere, has become an international sensation, drawing visitors from across the globe to the wintry darkness of Northern England.

Artichoke’s interests lie at the conjunction of art, politics, communication and transformation. By creating a platform for an artist’s most impossible ideas and inserting their work into the everyday life of society, Artichoke achieves high impact through massive unexpected disruption to daily life. This work has taken the company into an examination of the nature of control over the public domain and the ways in which our cities and landscapes can be re-imagined, if only

temporarily. It is the company’s belief that while its transformation of the landscape is ephemeral, the transformation of the individual witness leaves a permanent legacy.

Helen was granted a prestigious Loeb Fellowship at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard, from 2012-2013.

Helen’s previous work has included a seven-year period as Director of the Salisbury Festival, which she transformed from a local event into what The Times described as a ‘miracle of modern British culture’. She was previously Director of Arts & Events at Canary Wharf for property developers Olympia & York, and an Associate Director of both the London International Festival of Theatre and Artsadmin.

Josh McManus

Josh McManus is Program Director with the Knight Foundation in Akron. Prior to joining Knight, Josh was Founder and Inventor at Little Things Labs, a problem-solving laboratory working with private foundations in post-industrial American cities. Before starting the Lab, Josh co-founded CreateHere, a talent retention and cultural change project in Chattanooga, Tenn., that has sparked more than 500 creative enterprises, stimulated over $4 million in real estate purchases, retained and attracted thousands of residents, and championed the world’s largest community visioning process. An innovator in entrepreneurial development, talent retention and attraction, placemaking and cultivating emerging leadership, Josh assists foundations in exploring place-based change. He is a constant advocate for using design processes to advance social, cultural and economic progress.

Aaron Naparstek

Aaron Naparstek is the founder of Streetsblog, an online publication providing daily coverage of transportation, land use and environmental issues with reporters based in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington DC. Launched in 2006, Streetsblog has played a significant role in transforming New York City transportation policy and galvanizing a Livable Streets movement that i pushing for a more people-centered, less automobile-oriented approach to transportation planning and urban design in communities across North America and around the world.

As an activist and community organizer, Aaron’s advocacy work has been instrumental in growing New York City’s bike network, removing motor vehicles from parks and developing new public plazas, car-free streets and life-saving traffic-calming measures. Most recently, Aaron co-founded two new organizations that are working to transform New York’s political landscape, StreetsPAC.org and ReinventAlbany.org. He speaks and works with local livable streets activists around the country and trains them in the use of social media for advocacy and political action.

Currently living in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife and two sons, Aaron is based at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning as a Visiting Scholar.

Eve Picker

Eve Picker’s world is wrapped around cities and change. Her background as an architect, city planner, urban designer, real estate developer, community development strategist, publisher and instigator gives her a rich understanding of how cities work, how urban neighborhoods can be revitalized, what policies are needed to do it, and the unique marketing that creates the buzz needed for regeneration. With cityLAB, her first non-profit venture, Eve is turning her passion for cities to broader, citywide revitalization issues. You can read more about Eve at evepicker.com.

Sam Rasoul

Sam Rasoul represents the 11th District in Virginia’s General Assembly House of Delegates.

The son of immigrants, Sam was born and raised in the Roanoke Valley. Educated at Roanoke College and Hawaii Pacific University, he became a small business owner and later the CFO and COO of a non-profit healthcare firm. Sam channeled his passion for healthcare reform into finding more compassionate ways to care for our seniors and helping with maternal and child health in East Africa.

Sam currently has his own small business that helps organizations become more successful through developing better business plans and through investing in their employees.

Lynn Richards

Lynn Richards is the incoming President and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, starting July 1, 2014. Previously, Richards had a long and distinguished career at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), holding multiple leadership roles over 13 years including Acting Director and Policy Director in the Office of Sustainable Communities. She worked with dozens of state and local governments to implement placemaking approaches by developing policies, urban design strategies, and environmental solutions for vibrant, prosperous neighborhoods. Additionally, she produced groundbreaking research on water and land use strategies.

Before joining the EPA, Richards worked briefly in the private sector at a consulting firm. She lived and worked in the former Soviet Republics from 1988 to 1995, helping environmental groups increase their organizational and political effectiveness.

Richards was awarded a Loeb Fellowship in Advanced Environmental Studies at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in the 2012-2013 school year. She has a dual Masters in Environmental Science and Public Affairs from Indiana University.

Jerel Rhodes

Jerel is a man of vision, faith and commitment. These three driving forces have served to guide him in his dedication to motivating young minds to believe that there is no barrier, statistic or obstacle that can keep them from their destiny. As the visionary and founder of Rebounding Roanoke, Jerel created a progressive educational based organization for the youth of the Greater Roanoke Valley. Rebounding Roanoke now serves as the umbrella for The Renaissance Academy, J&R Educational Consultants, and the Rhodes Counseling Group.

Believing that early intervention is the catalyst to cultivating and developing a generation of true “Cycle-Breakers, Mr. Rhodes set his sights on middle and high school students. In 2012, The Renaissance Academy was founded to engage African American male students in a series of college trips, community service, job shadowing, workshops and events promoting academic, social and financial skills. The Academy offers professional men and women within the local community an opportunity to contribute to the success of future generations of African American male students while connecting with Rebounding Roanoke in new, positive, and creative ways.

Currently, Jerel serves as a Guidance Coordinator for the Roanoke City Public School System. He attended Norfolk State University where he received his degree in Sociology and Masters from Radford University in Human Development and Counseling Education. Jerel has received numerous awards and recognitions from the City of Roanoke, as well as from local civic and professional organizations for his dedication to the youth of the Roanoke Valley.

Henry Rock

Henry Rock is Executive Director and Founder of City Startup Labs, a non-profit dedicated to stimulating and supporting entrepreneurial activity and innovation in order to create sustained economic vitality within inner-city America. City Startup Labs launched in January 2014 with a new 15-week pilot program designed to provide accelerated entrepreneurial education to young African-American men ages 18 to 34.

Rock has over two decades of experience in media sales, advertising and marketing, in addition to business development and strategic planning for small black-owned and operated businesses, including his own ventures. He was featured at a TEDx Talk in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2013 about re-imagining young black men as a new class of entrepreneurs. He’s studied economics at Rutgers University and marketing at the Keller Graduate School of Business Management.

Joycelyn Wilson

Joycelyn Wilson, aka Dr. Joyce, is an assistant professor of educational foundations at Virginia Tech, and founding director of the Four Four Beat Project, the first and only hip hop-based digital archive and pedagogies collaborative located at an institute of technology. She is affiliate faculty in the Virginia Tech Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, an Emmy-nominated documentary film producer, and Hiphop Archive alumnus fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute, part of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

Her current interests are in southern hip hop culture and creating new literacies through digital curation of hip hop based artifacts – particularly as it relates to the development of leadership, STEM, and social justice capacities of minority youth. As an educational anthropologist, Dr. Wilson also focuses on hip hop based research methods – what she refers to as the hip hop imagination – and its influence on digital, formal, and informal learning environments, particularly in the American South.

Dr. Wilson is a partner in the HipHopEd collective and a regular contributor to The Root. She also provided insight on hip hop culture in Atlanta to VH1 Rock Docs “ATL: The Untold Story of Atlanta’s Rise in the Rap Game,” co-executive produced by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. Before parlaying her hip hop sensibilities into academia, Dr. Wilson was a southern correspondent and journalist for market-leading publications such as XXL, The Source, Fader, Rap Pages, and wax poetics. Along with civil rights leader Andrew Young, she is the co-producer of the Emmy-winning documentary film “Walking With Guns”, featuring rapper/actor Clifford “TI” Harris, Jr. and Grammy-winning rapper Michael Render.

A fashion magazine junkie and product of the Atlanta Public Schools, Dr. Wilson received her BS in Mathematics and PhD in Educational Foundations from the University of Georgia. Her MA is from Pepperdine University. She stands on the shoulders of loving family, friends, teachers, and mentors. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @drjoycedotnet.

Ernie Zulia

Since fourth grade, Ernie Zulia has pursued the belief that “not only can theatre be key to a strong community, but it can change the world,” and ever since, he’s been concocting theatre pieces and directing productions for audiences from his backyard, to major regional theatres around the United States, to international stages in Asia and Europe.

His theatrical universe is currently based at Hollins University where he is associate professor and artistic director of the Hollins Theatre Institute, which has recently been honored with 14 Kennedy Center awards and was named one of the top twenty college theatres by the Princeton Review.

He has worked closely with Academy Award-winning Broadway composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell) on multiple projects, and as part of the Hollins Legacy Series will create a new piece called “Defying Gravity” that will blend the writing of several of Hollins acclaimed authors with songs by Schwartz.

His adaptation of Robert Fulghum’s bestseller, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, premiered while he was associate director at Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre, and since then has received thousands of productions around the world. In the summer of 2001, he organized the International Theatre Laboratory of Crete in collaboration with Virginia Tech, where artists from five countries assembled in a seaside Cretan amphitheater to explore a global theatre language for the 21st century.

He is an alumnus of Northwestern University’s Graduate School of Theatre Arts, holds a BA from SUNY Geneseo, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild and The Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.

When he grows up, he wants to secure a seat in the audience…but that’s a long way off.