Pierce Freelon – Keynote speaker

Pierce Freelon is a professor, director, musician, Emmy-Award winning producer, and a millennial politician who is running for North Carolina State Senate.

He is the founder of Blackspace, a digital maker space in Durham where young people learn about music, film and coding. He is the writer, composer and co-director of an animated series called History of White People in America, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival back-to-back in 2018 and 2019. He is a co-founder of Beat Making Lab, a PBS web-series, which won Best Video Essay for its episode Heartbeats of Fiji at the 2015 Daytime Emmy Awards.

Born and raised in Durham, Pierce ran for Mayor in 2017 on a platform of Community, Growth, Youth and Love. He is currently a candidate for North Carolina State Senate.

Pierce earned a BA in African and African American Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and an MA in Pan African Studies at Syracuse University. He has taught music, political science, and African American studies at both UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University.

Pierce lives in Durham with his wife of 11 years and their two children.



Deanna-Van-Buren – Keynote speaker

Deanna Van Buren is the design director and co-founder of Designing Justice + Designing Spaces (DJDS), an architecture and real estate development non-profit working to end mass incarceration by building infrastructure that attacks its root causes: poverty, racism, unequal access to resources, and the criminal justice system itself.

Unlike the traditional adversarial and punitive architecture of justice—courthouses, prisons and jails—the Oakland-based DJDS creates spaces and buildings for restorative justice, rehabilitation and community building.

Van Buren’s most notable projects include: Restore Oakland, a multi-use hub for restorative justice and workforce development in East Oakland, created in collaboration with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United); the Near Westside Peacemaking Center in Syracuse, New York; Pop-Up Village, a mobile event that brings a constellation of resources to under-resourced communities; and The Women’s Mobile Refuge Center, a mobile overnight space for women who have recently been released from incarceration.

A pioneering activist, Van Buren has been recognized internationally for her leadership in using architecture, design, and real estate innovations to address the social inequities behind the mass incarceration crisis. Her 2017 TEDWomen talk on what a world without prisons could look like has been viewed more than one million times, and she is the only architect to have been awarded the Rauschenberg Artist as Activist fellowship.

Van Buren is also the recipient of UC Berkeley’s prestigious 2018 Berkeley-Rupp Architecture Prize and Professorship, which awards $100,000 biannually to a design practitioner who has made a significant contribution to advancing gender equity in architecture, and whose work emphasizes a commitment to sustainability and community.

Van Buren received her BS in architecture from the University of Virginia and her MA from Columbia University. She is an alumnus of the Loeb Fellowship at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.



Adolphus Opara (Lagos, Nigeria). Opara’s work is induced by encounters with people and their daily effort to exist amidst obstacles that define and situate their individual locality. Opara uses visual storytelling to better understand as well as to show his connection to the issues that confronts him daily. Opara’s work has been widely exhibited at many international venues including the Tate Modern in London.


As Principal of her own firm, Allison Grace Williams’s execution of commercial, civic, and corporate projects allows her to lead by example; Williams’s designs seamlessly integrate urban context, history, climate, and cultural demands with her personal and professional design agendas.


A Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist, designer, creative technologist, and researcher who is passionate about exploring the relationships between various forms of design and the human experience.


Billy Almon is a designer and storyteller who highlights the connection between nature, technology, and design. Over the last 3 years Billy has been traveling around the world exploring how biological strategies are being used to inspire solutions to human challenges through the process called Biomimicry.


An out-of-the-box thinker who pushes hard for equity and inclusion for those that are undervalued and overlooked. Her goal is inclusion, by creating and supporting additional pipelines that enhances the city’s innovation mix by focusing on women, housing, technology, and entrepreneurship.


Charles is a third-year student at Northeastern University studying Economics and Mathematics with a minor in Psychology. At Northeastern, Charles is the Director of Northeastern Students Against Institutional Discrimination (SAID), a coalition of student activists confronting institutional marginalization by empowering students to become better organizers through political education and direct action.



Through a multidisciplinary creative practice, De Nichols mobilizes global changemakers to activate ideas that address civic and social challenges within their communities. Based in St. Louis, MO, De Nichols serves as the Social Impact Design Principal of Civic Creatives, a design strategy agency that develops interactive experiences, tools, and initiatives to help communities engage issues of civic disengagement, youth development, social inclusion, food access and security, and arts & cultural policy.


Denise Shanté Brown is a holistic design strategist, mental health advocate, creative healer and feminist entrepreneur co-designing possibilities for health and healing in Baltimore.


Landscape architect, author, and program director of landscape architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington, Diane Jones Allen creates work committed to environmental justice, sustainability, and the cultural significance of landscape while advocating for the transformative potential of design.


Trained as both an engineer and as an architect, Felecia Davis is known for her rigorous investigation of Architextiles. Or rather, using digital soft fabrication and computation, Davis studies the intersection of architecture and textile production in the pursuit of constructing inhabitable space.


Jerome Harris is a graphic designer originally from New Haven, Connecticut and currently based in Brooklyn, New York. Harris holds an MFA in Graphic Design from Yale University and a BA from Temple University. Harris is the Design Director of Housing Works, a non-profit organization fighting the HIV/AIDS and homelessness crisis in New York City.


Co-founder of the Design Studio for Social Intervention (ds4si). His interests focus on the research and development of design tools for marginalized communities to address complex social issues. With over three decades of experience in community practice, Bailey brings a unique perspective on the ethics of design in relation to community engagement, the arts and cultural action.


Raised in Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia by parents who vastly expanded his understanding of the world through travel. This early exposure to people of different cultures led to his interest in cultivating genuine relationships and discovering the inherent differences and similarities that define people and communities.


Nia K. Evans is the Director of the Boston Ujima Project. Her educational background is in the areas of labor relations, education leadership, and policy. Her advocacy includes a focus on eliminating barriers between analysts and people with lived experiences as well as increasing acknowledgement of the value of diverse types of expertise in policy.


Toni L. Griffin is the founder of Urban Planning and Design for the American City, based in New York. Through the practice, Toni served as Project Director the long range planning initiative of the Detroit Work Project, and in 2013 completed and released Detroit Future City, a comprehensive citywide framework plan for urban transformation.