Challenge Forum Speakers

We have some exciting speakers lined up this year. Click on their photos to learn more about them.

LaToya Cantrell

Mayor, New Orleans

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Natasha Carrizosa

Poet & Emcee, Natty Roots and Rhyme

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Patrick Dobard

CEO, New Schools for New Orleans

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Lona Edwards Hankins

Deputy CEO of Infrastructure and Long-term Planning, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority

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Taylor Parker

Program Associate, Born This Way Foundation

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Marlon Peterson

writervist, The Precedential Group Social Enterprises

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Dan Porterfield

President and CEO, The Aspen Insitute

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Camille Range

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Martha's Table

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Gwen Thompkins

Journalist, NPR

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Dr. Beverly Wright

Executive Director, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University

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LaToya Cantrell

Mayor, New Orleans

LaToya Cantrell is the mayor of New Orleans, sworn in as the city’s first female mayor on May 7, 2018 and reelected in 2021. She previously served on New Orleans City Council, winning elections in 2012 and 2014. Prior to that, Cantrell was president of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, leading the neighborhood’s redevelopment following Hurricane Katrina and flooding from the levee failures. She came to New Orleans in 1990 to attend Xavier University, but her life was steeped in community service before that. As a little girl, her grandmother would bring her to neighborhood meetings, and by age 13, she was serving as secretary for her local chamber of commerce. Cantrell is a Fellow in the Henry Crown Fellowship through the Aspen Institute.

Natasha Carrizosa

Poet & Emcee, Natty Roots and Rhyme

Natasha Carrizosa is a poet, writer, creative writing teacher, and speaker. Her work is deeply rooted in her childhood and life experiences. Raised as the daughter of a fierce African-American mother and Mexican father, her writing reflects the dichotomy of these two rich cultures. Carrizosa is the author of mexiafricana, heavy light, and crown. She has performed her work and conducted workshops for audiences in Madrid, Paris, St. Lucia, New York, Chicago, Houston, and many other places. Her love for the arts inspired the creation of natty roots & rhyme, one of the most dynamic poetry open mics in the country.

Patrick Dobard

CEO, New Schools for New Orleans

Patrick Dobard is the outgoing CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, a nonprofit organization that champions, develops, and funds programs that value educational equity and quality education for all children. During his tenure, NSNO has raised more than $72 million for schools. From 2012 to 2017, Dobard was superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD), where he oversaw its conversion to the nation’s first all-charter school district. A native New Orleanian and career educator, he began teaching in his hometown after graduating from Southern University of New Orleans. Dobard is becoming a partner in City Fund, an education-focused nonprofit that provides funding and support for charter-school networks and charter-like schools in traditional school districts.

Lona Edwards Hankins

Deputy CEO of Infrastructure and Long-term Planning, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority

Lona Hankins is the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s deputy CEO of infrastructure and long-term planning. She brings over 30 years of experience in engineering and project management, from her time in the oil industry and most recently as director of major capital projects for the Recovery School District (RSD). There, Hankins spearheaded $2 billion worth of school rebuilding projects in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Committed to advancing equity and environmental justice, she is dedicated to using engineering and planning principles to improve children’s lives, specifically to build a more equitable and spatially just infrastructure in New Orleans. Hankins earned a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Southern University A&M College and completed the Effective Leadership Program at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

Taylor Parker

Program Associate, Born This Way Foundation

Taylor Parker is program associate for Born This Way Foundation, supporting the organization’s programming and partnerships including #BeKind21 and Channel Kindness. They have been part of the Foundation since 2017, when they received its Channel Kindness Award in Indianapolis, and have since been contributed to the Channel Kindness program, including being a featured author of Channel Kindness: Stories of Kindness and Community. Previously, Parker was an advisor for Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis’s (IUPUI) Alternative Breaks program, a youth delegate for the Youth United Nations General Assembly, and an inaugural member of Indy Maven’s editorial board. They graduated with their master’s degree in philanthropic studies from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and have a bachelor’s degree in philanthropic studies from IUPUI.

Marlon Peterson

writervist, The Precedential Group Social Enterprises

Marlon Peterson is a “writervist.” He authored Bird Uncaged: An Abolitionist’s Freedom Song, hosts the podcast “DEcarcerated,” and owns the social-impact endeavor, The Precedential Group Social Enterprises, and its nonprofit arm, Be Precedential. Since his decade of incarceration, Peterson has written, created programming, lectured, organized, and advocated. He has been a Soros Fellow, Senior Atlantic Fellow, and Aspen Civil Society Fellow, and his bylines have appeared in USA Today, The Nation, Ebony, Essence, Gawker, and others. Peterson’s essays have been published in Kiese Laymon’s How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others and How We Fight White Supremacy by Kenrya Rankin and Akiba Solomon. His TED talk, “Am I not human? A call for criminal justice reform,” has over 1.2 million views.

Dan Porterfield

President and CEO, The Aspen Insitute

Dan Porterfield is president and CEO of the Aspen Institute. Previously, he was president of Franklin & Marshall College for seven years, senior vice president for strategic development and an English professor at his alma mater, Georgetown University, and a senior public affairs official in the US Department of Health and Human Services. Recognized as a visionary leader and advocate for expanding educational opportunity and improving the human condition, Porterfield was named a White House Champion of Change in 2016. He earned BA degrees from Georgetown and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his PhD from The City University of New York Graduate Center, where he was awarded a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities.

Camille Range

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Martha's Table

Camille Range is a registered dietitian nutritionist who empowers families and communities to lead healthy lives through nutrition, health, and wellness. She has worked on several obesity and public health programs promoting positive health-behavior changes in Hispanic and African American mothers, daughters, and families. These include the University of Houston’s BOUNCE program, former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative, and ISCOPES, a fellowship program at George Washington University. Passionate about increasing diversity and inclusive leadership in the dietetics and public health professions, she is completing her doctorate in urban leadership and entrepreneurship at University of the District of Columbia, focusing her research on policy change and solutions to address racial and health inequities within major urban food systems.

Gwen Thompkins

Journalist, NPR

Gwen Thompkins is a journalist and writer. Since 2012, she has been executive producer and host of the public radio program “Music Inside Out with Gwen Thompkins,” showcasing the varied musical landscape of Louisiana. She is also the New Orleans correspondent for WXPN’s “World Café.” Thompkins was previously senior editor of NPR’s “Weekend Edition” and NPR’s East Africa bureau chief. Her stories have been featured on NPR news magazines, NPR Music, The Oxford American, the Library of Congress Recording Registry, and The New Yorker online. She is currently writing a book based on the “Music Inside Out” interviews. A native of New Orleans, she returned full time following a fellowship at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

Dr. Beverly Wright

Executive Director, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University

Beverly Wright is an environmental justice scholar and advocate, author, and civic leader. A professor of sociology, she is the founder and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University, which addresses environmental and health inequities along Louisiana’s Mississippi River Chemical Corridor and the Gulf Coast region. Wright co-authored Race, Place, and the Environment After Hurricane Katrina and The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How The Government Response Endangers African American Communities. Her honors include being named one of TheGrio 100 History Makers in 2010 and receiving the 2008 EPA Environmental Justice Achievement Award. Wright received a BA from Grambling College and an MA and PhD from State University of New York at Buffalo.