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December 7, 2023

Raquel Willis is an award-winning activist, author, and media strategist dedicated to Black transgender liberation. She is the co-founder of The Transgender Week of Visibility and Action. The nationwide mass mobilization aims to build power and support for trans young people and the organizers fighting alongside them.

Her first memoir, released in November of 2023, is The Risk it Takes to Bloom; On Life and Liberation.

Willis has served as director of communications for Ms. Foundation for Women, executive editor of Out magazine, and national organizer for the Transgender Law Center. In 2021, she was named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Fast Company’s inaugural Queer 50. She published the GLAAD Media Award-winning “Trans Obituaries Project,” and in 2022, she executive-produced and hosted “The Trans Youth Town Hall” with Logo.

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November 9, 2023

Nancy Giles is a comedian, actress, and social commentator. Since 2002 she has been a regular contributor to the Peabody Award-winning program CBS News Sunday Morning. In that time, she has earned five Emmy Awards for her unique blend of common-sense wisdom, laugh-out-loud humor, commentary, and interviews.

She’s a veteran of Chicago’s esteemed Second City improv troupe. She has appeared Off-Broadway in Nora & Delia Ephron’s Love Loss, and What I Wore, and won the Theatre World Award for the musical satire Mayor. She was one of the stars of the acclaimed series China Beach and the sitcom Delta.

Her solo shows include Black Comedy: The Wacky Side of Racism, Notes of a Negro Neurotic, Things My Afro Taught Me, and The Further Adventures of the Accidental Pundette, which The New Yorker called “the surprise of (this) annual festival… a rocking standup comedy.”

She has been a guest on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, The Beat with Ari Melber, and All In with Chris Hayes. For more than 30 years, she has been a volunteer with The 52nd Street Project, helping at-risk kids take part in acting, playwriting, filmmaking, poetry, dance, and art workshops, classes, and performances.

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October 7, 2023

As cohost of the most listened-to radio program in the country for more than two decades, Steve Inskeep has mastered the art of building constructive debate. He is coming to the Forum with his new book, Differ We Must: How Lincoln Succeeded in a Divided America. Inskeep will share Lincoln’s lessons for bridging even the most intense political divisions and how we can employ them today. A book signing will follow this Forum.

Steve Inskeep is a cohost of NPR’s Morning Edition, the most widely heard radio program in the United States, and of NPR’s Up First, one of the nation’s most popular podcasts. His reporting has taken him across the United States, the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, Pakistan, and China. His search for the full story behind the news has led him to history; he is the author of Instant City, Jacksonland, and Imperfect Union.

In Differ We Must, Inskeep illuminates Lincoln’s life through sixteen encounters, some well-known, some obscure, but all imbued with new significance here. Each interaction was with a person who differed from Lincoln, and in each someone wanted something from the other. While Lincoln didn’t always change his critics’ beliefs—many went to war against him—he did learn how to make his beliefs actionable. He told jokes, relied on sarcasm, and often made fun of himself—but behind the banter was a distinguished storyteller who carefully chose what to say and what to withhold. He knew his limitations and, as history came to prove, he knew how to prioritize. Many of his greatest acts came about through his engagement with people who disagreed with him—meaning that in these meetings, Lincoln became the Lincoln we know.

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September 12, 2023

For more than a generation, schools across the U.S. embraced a specific methodology of teaching kids to read. The problem? Cognitive scientists had proven decades before it didn’t actually work. In her award-winning podcast Sold a Story, Emily Hanford investigated the influential authors who promoted this idea and the company that sold it to schools across the country. She’ll share what it has meant for millions of kids and what it says about education in the United States.

Emily Hanford is a senior correspondent and producer for APM Reports, the documentary and investigative reporting group at American Public Media. Her work has appeared on NPR and in The New York Times and other publications. For the past several years, she has been reporting on reading instruction. Her 2018 podcast episode “Hard Words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read?” won the inaugural public service award from EWA. Her most recent project, the podcast Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong, won a 2023 IRE Award and was nominated for a Peabody. Emily is based in the Washington, D.C. area. She is a graduate of Amherst College.

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May 20, 2023

Dr. Cornel West, affectionately known to many as Brother West, is the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Chair at Union Theological Seminary. Dr. West teaches on the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as courses in Philosophy of Religion, African American Critical Thought, and a wide range of subjects—including but by no means limited to, the classics, philosophy, politics, cultural theory, literature, and music. He has a passion to communicate to a vast variety of publics in order to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.—a legacy of telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice.

Dr. West is the former Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. Cornel West graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard in three years and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton.

He has written 20 books and has edited 13. He is best known for his classics, Race Matters and Democracy Matters, and for his memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. His most recent book, Black Prophetic Fire, offers an unflinching look at nineteenth and twentieth-century African American leaders and their visionary legacies.

Dr. West has partnered with to provide teachings on several influential courses including a class with Pharrell Williams on Empathy,  MasterClass’s first-ever multi-instructor class on Black History, Black Freedom & Black Love, as well as Dr. West’s standalone class on Philosophy. Visit and click on the MasterClass banner to learn more.


Ifeoma Ike, Esq. is an award-winning advocate, writer and policy advisor focused on designing solutions to address disparities. A graduate of CUNY Law School, Ike embodies the motto “law in service of human needs,” and has dedicated most of her career to advancing equity in spaces where marginalized lives dare to exist and live fully.

Some of the efforts Ike has co-engineered include Just Leadership USA and Mass Bail Out NYC; as well as the formation of three congressional caucuses: Caucus on Black Men and Boys; Caucus on Black Women and Girls; and the recently-launched Caucus on Black Innovation. A movement lawyer, Ike has been a policy advisor regarding human rights violations in Haiti, mistreatment of Afro-Columbians and non-consent medical practices on the continent of Africa. Ike was part of the Ferguson Legal Defense Committee following the murder of unarmed Black teenager, Mike Brown, Jr. During the Flint water crisis, Ike supported local organizers’ development of policy and civic responses. Understanding the role policy plays in the everyday lives of communities, Ike has co-drafted several pieces of legislation, including the federal End Racial Profiling Act and Reparations Bill (HR40).

As COVID-19 exposed old and new disparities, Ike’s social impact firm, Pink Cornrows, co-created sustainable solutions that included serving as policy advisors to the National Birth Equity Collaborative, leading the equity framework for the Rockefeller Foundation’s multi-city vaccination effort, and conducting research exploring the relationship between the pandemic and gun violence. Pink Cornrows also launched COVID While Black, a research and culture project centering the lived experiences of Black lives and the continued failures of our healthcare system, as well as honoring those who have transitioned. The team also continued offering their annual Black Policy Lab, which centers collaborative policy creation, skills sharing and joy.

Ike’s prior experience includes serving as New York City’s Executive Deputy Director of the Young Men’s Initiative, being a Senior Policy Advocate with the Innocence Project, providing counsel to the US. House Judiciary Committee, and being a researcher with the American Bar Association. Ike has also been an adjunct at Lehman College and a media contributor to MSNBC, CNN, PBS, NewsOne, HuffPost and Cosmopolitan.

As the first Black board member of the Women’s Prison Association, Ike and other board members led the internal culture shift to better meet the needs of Black and brown women impacted by the criminal legal system. In 2021, Ike became the first member of New York City’s Conflict of Interest Board to be appointed by the Office of the Public Advocate.

Ike holds a LL.M. with highest honors from The George Washington School of Law and J.D. from CUNY School of Law, where she specialized in mediation and conflict resolution. Ike earned her M.A. and B.A. in Communication Theory and Research as a Storer Scholar at West Virginia University.

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May 2, 2023

Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D. is a board-certified physician psychiatrist, a Clinical Assistant Professor at George Washington University. She is a women’s mental health specialist and a New York Times Contributor.

In her book, Real Self-Care: Crystals, Cleanses and Bubble Baths Not Included, Dr. Lakshmin reckons with a “wellness” industry that’s built to sell products. She argues women are largely targeted by these get-well-quick schemes. In their place, she focuses on tangible psychological tools to manage difficult emotions, set boundaries, make choices aligned with one’s values, and develop mental health literacy.

She will discuss the shortcomings of pop-“wellness” and offer real, scientifically-backed tools and strategies for wellbeing informed by cultural practices from around the world.

Dr. Lakshmin serves on the Board of Directors for the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance –a national non-profit dedicated to further maternal mental health policy – and the Editorial Advisory Board of Clinical Psychiatry News. She is the founder and CEO of Gemma, the first digital education platform dedicated exclusively to women’s mental health, centering inclusion and impact. She is also a frequent contributor to The New York Times, (How Can I Make the Holidays Less Exhausting), her writing has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar (Naomi Osaka and the Cost of Saying No), and she’s frequently in the media for example WNYC (The Realities of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Today), among other outlets.


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April 18, 2023

Elliot Ackerman is both a former Marine and White House Fellow. He served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart. He is the New York Times-bestselling author of multiple books, including his most recent: The Fifth Act: America’s End in Afghanistan.

He will speak about what we should all have learned from America’s 20 years in Afghanistan.

Ackerman’s books have been nominated for the National Book Award, the Andrew Carnegie Medal in both fiction and non-fiction, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. A contributing writer for The Atlantic, Ackerman’s writing often appears in Esquire, The New Yorker, and TIME Magazine and his stories have been included in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Travel Writing.

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March 28, 2023

Ari Shapiro is the award-winning co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered. He has covered wars in Iraq, Ukraine, and Israel, and he has filed stories from dozens of countries. He is out with a new memoir titled The Best Strangers in the World. It tells some of the stories of what he has learned reporting from and working with people in every corner of the globe. He will share some of those stories at the Westminster Town Hall Forum.

Before joining the All Things Considered host team in 2015, he was NPR’s international correspondent based in London. He was previously NPR’s White House Correspondent during the Obama presidency; he embedded with the 2012 presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney; and he was NPR’s Justice Correspondent for five years during the George W. Bush administration. Some of his awards include the Silver Gavel, an Edward R. Murrow Award, and the Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize.

Shapiro is also a frequent guest singer with the “little orchestra” Pink Martini, from his hometown of Portland, Oregon. He has recorded on four of the band’s albums, singing in English, Hebrew, Ladino, Spanish, Arabic and Armenian.

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October 5, 2022

Healing our divides starts at home. Building community and serving others is a pathway to better understanding and deeper appreciation across our divides.

That’s the message of Jonathan Reckford, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International. He will speak to how we each of us serving others and the greater good can start healing our divisions.

Jonathan Reckford has served as CEO of Habitat for Humanity International since 2005. Local Habitat organizations served more than 4.2 million people last year in all 50 states and in more than 70 countries.

Prior to leading Habitat, he served as executive pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina. Before that, he spent much of his career in the for-profit sector, including executive and managerial positions at Marriott, The Walt Disney Co., and Best Buy.

He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Urban Steering Committee for the World Economic Forum.

Named the most influential nonprofit leader in America in 2017 by The NonProfit Times, he is the author of Our Better Angels: Seven Simple Virtues That Will Change Your Life and the World.




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October 25, 2022

Politically, the division between rural and urban parts of the United States looks stark. But the story of rural American politics is not so simple, according to Lisa Pruitt. Metro-centric political leaders, media, and academics must better understand rural communities if we wish to heal this divide.

Pruitt’s roots in rural America go back five generations. She believes politicians make a grave mistake writing off rural places and communities. She argues against conflating rurality with whiteness. At the same time, she pushes for a more nuanced understanding of rural and working-class whites, especially in the era of Trump.

Lisa Pruitt is the Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law at the University of California Davis. Before joining the King Hall faculty in 1999, Pruitt worked abroad for almost a decade in settings ranging from international organizations to private practice. She worked with lawyers in more than 30 countries, negotiating cultural conflicts in various arenas, from intellectual property rights to rape as a war crime.

In 2004, she established a new sub-discipline in legal scholarship—one that explored rural-urban difference in relation to how people engage law and the state. She has since brought a ruralist lens to myriad legal topics, among them abortion access, substance abuse, termination of parental rights, domestic violence, access to justice, health and human services, and indigent defense.