Speaker Bios

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Charles Black

A native of Miami, Florida, Charles is an alumnus of Morehouse College, where he was a member of the varsity debate team, editor of the college newspaper, president of the senior class, and chairman of The Atlanta Student Movement (1960’s Civil Rights organization). Charles was one of only eight students taught by Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr. at Morehouse.

Charles is a veteran actor in various media, Chairman of the Board of Illien Adoptions International, Inc., a member of the board of Freedom University, a member and Past Chairman of the board of Hammonds House Museum, past Editor of The Atlanta Inquirer Newspaper, Inc. and past CEO of a national consulting firm Frontiers Unlimited, Inc. He has also been an advisor and manager of numerous civic and political campaigns.

He has starred in a series of faith-based films, accompanied by training guides, being used in more than 1,200 churches across the nation. He regularly mentors younger generations of community and political activists. And, is in demand as a speaker or panelist on matters of Civil and Human Rights. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor for a Lifetime of Community Service by President Barack Obama in 2016.

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Matt Westmoreland

Matt Westmoreland is the Post 2 At-Large member of the Atlanta City Council. Prior to his election, Matt was the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education’s District 3 representative, serving as chair of its Budget Commission and legislative liaison to the Georgia General Assembly. 

During his tenure, the board recruited and partnered with a new superintendent to rewrite the school system’s mission and vision, revise its strategic plan, define equity, adopt a new operating model that pushed decision-making down to schools, develop a turnaround strategy for chronically struggling schools, and build a $545 million capital-projects plan. 

As chair of the Budget Commission, Matt led efforts to cut waste from the central office, increase teacher pay, allocate funding based on student need, and direct more dollars to classrooms. During his tenure, Atlanta Public Schools’ graduation rate increased 19 points from 58 percent to 77 percent, and the district saw improved SAT, ACT, and Advanced Placement test scores system-wide.

An Atlanta native, Matt attended Morningside Elementary School, Inman Middle School, and Henry W. Grady High School. He received his bachelor’s degree in history from Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, where he served as editor-in-chief of The Daily Princetonian. After graduation, Matt returned to Atlanta as a Teach for America Corps Member and taught history at Carver Early College High School in southeast Atlanta.

Matt previously served as programs director for Horizons Atlanta, an educational non-profit serving low-income students across Metro Atlanta through summer enrichment programs. He also worked for the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Washington, D.C. Public Schools System, in the D.C. office of Congressman John Lewis, and was an Urban Leaders Fellow with Colorado Senator Mike Johnston.

A lifelong and active member of Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, Matt lives in Midtown.

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Tyler Griffin

Tyler Griffin is graduate of Wabash College and Johns Hopkins University where he studied English and Biology. He joined teach for America upon graduating and taught at his placement school in Atlanta Public Schools for 3 years. After winning teacher of the year and district runner up he has spent the last two years as an instructional coach and school improvement specialist for Fulton County Schools. Tyler is a national facilitator of diversity, equity and Inclusiveness and most recently has been named he founding assistant principal of curriculum and instruction for an All Girls school in Brooklyn New York.

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Raymond Partolan

Mr. Raymond Partolan is an Immigration Paralegal at Kuck Immigration Partners LLC working primarily on familybased immigration cases. Before joining Kuck Immigration Partners, LLC, Mr. Partolan spent several years as the Program Associate at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta, a nonprofit law and advocacy center for Asian Americans across the Southeast. There, he was a BIA Accredited Representative and prepared family immigration petitions for the most underserved populations. For over seven years, Mr. Partolan has been a fearless advocate for immigrant and refugee communities as a DACA recipient himself. In 2013, he was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the University System of Georgia challenging its decision to bar DACA recipients from receiving in-state tuition at Georgia schools. He has lobbied for immigration reform at the local, state, and federal levels of government, traveling the country to share his immigrant story. He received a certificate from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. for his coursework in a “Comprehensive Overview of Immigration Law,” and graduated summa cum laude from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. Mr. Partolan is originally from the Philippines and is trilingual in English, Spanish, and Tagalog.

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Jason Esteves

Jason Esteves currently serves as an at-large representative on the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education. He was elected on December 4, 2013 and has focused his efforts at promoting equity and improving the financial outlook of the school system. As an attorney and former educator, Jason is working to ensure every child in Atlanta Public Schools obtains an education that prepares them for college and career.

After graduating from the University of Miami, Jason devoted himself to teaching at an underperforming school in a low-income neighborhood. He worked countless hours with students, teachers, and parents to ensure his kids had the resources they needed to succeed. This experience gave Jason insights into the challenges our children face and the importance of public schools that help children overcome those challenges.

Today, Jason serves as Assistant General Counsel at Equifax Inc., where he manages litigation matters for the company. He was as an associate at the law firm of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP (now Dentons US LLP) after graduating from Emory University School of Law. Jason also serves on various boards of local non-profits, and believes that partnerships with non-profits are vital to ensuring our children have the wraparound services they need to be able to focus on their education and development.

A native Georgia, Jason was raised in Columbus, Georgia by his parents, Linda and Fernando, a retired Army veteran. At an early age, his parents instilled in him the importance of public service and a good education. Those values are the foundation upon which Jason serves today.

Jason is married to Ariel, a graduate of Kennesaw State University and Emory University’s School of Nursing graduate program. Jason met Ariel while he attended Emory Law School. Ariel is a Director at CareSource, serving low-income families across Georgia. Jason and Ariel are proud parents of their son, Jaeden and reside in northwest Atlanta.

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Samuel Wakefield

Samuel has been leading community building efforts for well over a decade.  Over the past few years he has led strategic planning efforts for communities in South Fulton, comprised of 30 public schools and a population of over 100,000 residents across the schools.  Prior to joining Fulton County, he led numerous teams at Teach For America, including pioneering several community leadership development programs.  Before that, he worked as a community building fellow with the Annie Casey Foundation, laying the groundwork for Atlanta's Neighborhood Count's program.  

Samuel's undergraduate background from Emory University is in Political Science and Economics, with a minor in Community Building and Social Change.  He acquired his Master's in Public Administration from Georgia State's Andrew Young School of Public Policy with concentrations in Nonprofit Management and Leadership Development.

Ever the character, his most important roles are those of husband and father to three precocious daughters.  He’s also a published author on fatherhood, avid blogger, and wannabe superhero.

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Bee Nguyen 

Bee Nguyen is the representative for Georgia House District 89, which includes City of Atlanta and DeKalb County. 

As the daughter of former refugees from Vietnam, Bee Nguyen cherishes the community’s most diverse voices.  From an early age, her family taught her to give back to the community. Bee has spent nearly a decade of her life working to empower underresourced girls through Athena’s Warehouse, the nonprofit she started from the ground up to support high school girls in Atlanta. To date, the organization has served over 600 girls.

Her prior experiences include work with the resettlement agency Boat People SOS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, where she developed a solid policy foundation.  She graduated from the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies with a Master of Public Administration in 2012. 

She is a member of the Atlanta Regional Commission Millennial Advisory Board, a mentor for the Wren's Nest, a 2015 Georgia Women Policy Institute fellow and a graduate of the 2015 New Leaders’ Council class. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Red Clay Democrats, a political action committee that raises money to support progressive candidates. She served as chief-of-staff to Rep. Sam Park, where she advocated for progressive policies and fought against discriminatory policy, including policies targeting women, the LGBTQ community, the refugee community, and the immigrant community.

In 2015, she resettled a Syrian family of nine to Clarkston, Georgia. She is active in the Syrian refugee community, working with the community to provide support

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Greg Giornelli

Greg Giornelli has worked on transformational projects at the city and neighborhood levels for more than 20 years, playing diverse leadership roles in the public and nonprofit sectors. Currently, he is leading a start-up initiative, Purpose Built Schools, to replicate the successful Drew Charter School model in other communities around the country. He previously served as President and COO of Purpose Built Communities.

Previously, Greg worked for the City of Atlanta in various capacities in the administrations of Mayor Shirley Franklin, including Chief Operating Officer, President of the Atlanta Development Authority and Chief Policy Officer.

Greg was the founding Executive Director of the East Lake Foundation (1994-2001), the lead non-profit organization that developed and continues to implement a bold, innovative and successful model of community revitalization that helps families break the cycle of poverty, from 1994-2001. In this role, he oversaw the redevelopment of the East Lake Meadows public housing project into a revitalized mixed-income community. This successful transformation included Atlanta’s first charter school, a new YMCA, a child development center, the East Lake Junior Golf Academy, and a number of health and wellness programs for neighborhood families.

In addition to serving as the President of Purpose Built Schools, Greg is also an attorney who has worked in private practice and as an Assistant District Attorney for DeKalb County, located in Metro Atlanta.

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Eshé P. Collins

An Atlanta native and former teacher in Atlanta Public Schools, Eshé P. Collins never wavered from her strong passion for education. Beginning at a young age, she always knew the value of a solid education: a challenging curriculum, a system of great teachers, and strong family and community involvement. Eshé understands the impact of quality education in realizing the potential of the city, and is excited to leverage her passion and experience to provide all students in Atlanta with the education they deserve.

Eshé has an extensive record of commitment and achievement in urban education and communities. As a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at A.D. Williams Elementary School, 92 percent of her students met or exceeded expectations on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test for both grade levels. Eshé also led the after-school, and summer tutoring programs for the Bowen Homes community and co-founded the “Reaching Back, Bridging Gaps” reading program, a community-based literacy initiative.

Eshé’s work within urban settings has been the combination of her classroom, policy and legal experience on issues that address student achievement and equity in education. She analyzed national education issues and advocated for accessible healthcare at the Children’s Defense Fund. Also, Eshé worked in Cape Town, South Africa, where she helped refugee women and children access quality services and enrollment in local schools.

Currently, Eshé serves as Georgia State University’s project director for Jumpstart, an early education, nonprofit organization that delivers a high-quality curriculum to preschool children in low-income neighborhoods. In this role, she trains adults to teach and lead in their communities; works closely with parents to improve family involvement; and more importantly, inspires children to learn through the love of literacy. Within the program, Eshé has increased community involvement by 150 percent, which has resulted in community members’ service of more than 15,000 hours in the classroom and community each year.

In pursuit of her passion, Eshé earned a B.A. degree in psychology from Spelman College; M.S. in urban teacher leadership from Georgia State University; and J.D., cum laude, from North Carolina Central University School of Law. She holds Georgia educator certifications in early childhood education and educational leadership, and a license to practice law in the state of Georgia.

Eshé is a woman of many accomplishments and continues to be an avid servant throughout the Atlanta community.

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Leslie Grant

Leslie Grant grew up just east of downtown Atlanta in Tucker, GA, graduated from Shamrock High School in DeKalb County, studied at: Berry College, Rome, GA as a charter member of the Chick-Fil-A WinShape Center scholarship program; Laval University, Quebec City, Quebec; the College of Architecture at The Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA and The Cooper Union, New York, NY.  Leslie worked in the offices of John Portman & Associates, Atlanta, GA, and in New York City for Peter Eisenman and Associates, architect Faruk Yorgancioglu, and Flatiron District photographer, Alan Kaplan.

Upon returning to Atlanta in 1993, Leslie worked in the commercial film industry as a location scout and location manager on various film and video projects including Bud Greenspan's Olympic Official Film in 1996.

Leslie and her husband Don have lived in Historic Grant Park since 1995 and have two children, Lucy and Will who have attended Atlanta Public Schools since kindergarten. Leslie was involved in the startup of both the Neighborhood Charter School in Grant Park (now the K-8, Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School) and the Grant Park Cooperative Preschool and has served on the boards of each school.

Leslie founded, created and Mother-Hen’d a small business focused on raising healthy kids from scratch, that operated from 2007-2012 called Chickin Feed. She has volunteered in schools throughout Georgia, serve as an advocate of eating REAL FOOD, Farm to School programs through work with Georgia OrganicsAtlanta Farm to School, the Grant Park Farmers Market and other organizations. 

In 2010, Leslie joined with a group of parents to advocate for a more rigorous high school offering for families in southeast Atlanta. This advocacy group, now known as SEACS (Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools), builds awareness and educational community to better support all of the schools in SE Atlanta.

Leslie’s service on the Atlanta Board of Education began in 2014 and continues today with additional service on the board of the Council of Great City Schools, the Audit Committee, the Atlanta Youth Commission, the Beltline Affordable Housing Advisory Board and the Student Attendance Protocol Committee. She currently works part-time at Emory University’s Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture.

The Grants are long-time members of Morningside Presbyterian Church.

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Wesley Tharpe

Wesley Tharpe serves as Research Director at GBPI, where he is responsible for coordinating the organization’s team of policy analysts and ensuring all reports and analysis meet the highest standards. He also spearheads GBPI’s tax policy agenda and monitors long-term trends in state spending and revenues.

Wesley authored many reports since joining GBPI in 2011, including a blueprint for ways to improve Georgia’s tax system, a case for enacting a Georgia Earned Income Tax Credit, a detailed analysis of raising the minimum wage and an examination of ways foreign-born Georgians help boost the state’s economy and tax revenues. He speaks often with lawmakers, reporters and community groups.

Wesley serves on the board of The Center for Working Families and is a member of LEAD Atlanta’s Class of 2017. Prior to joining GBPI, he worked as a programs and communications manager for Realizing the Dream Inc., a small nonprofit committed to nonviolent conflict resolution.

A native of Fayetteville, Ga., Wesley graduated from the University of Georgia and holds a master’s in public policy from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.


YT Bell

Yterenickia S. Bell, affectionately known as ‘YT’, has been an advocate in her community for many years. A native of Georgia, Bell is a three time graduate of Georgia State University with a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice and Political Science, a Master's in Social Work and a Master’s in Public Administration. Bell’s passion to help vulnerable populations led her towards a career in urban planning, community organizing, social work, and politics.

A champion for the people, Bell is a Licensed Master Social Worker and works as a therapist and patient advocate for local organizations including the Rockdale County Jail and Gwinnett Comprehensive Work Camp. Additionally, YT Bell is the Chief Executive Officer of Cornerstone Consulting and Investment Group, Inc. Cornerstone Consulting and Investment Group is a multifaceted urban planning and strategic consulting firm based out of Atlanta, Georgia working with municipalities on beautification efforts, parks and recreation revitalization, and comprehensive plans.

YT Bell is an active member of the National Association of Social Workers and the National Forum of Black Public Administrators. Recently, she was selected for the 2018 New Leaders Council - Atlanta co-hort and 2018 Emerging leaders DeKalb co-hort. Previously, Bell was chosen as a fellow of the Georgia WIN List and joined the 2016 Class of the YWCA of Greater Atlanta’s Georgia Women’s Policy Institute. Through her involvement, Bell worked to raise the profile of young voices in the fight for policy reform. She continues to be a force in her community as a board member of OurFutureGeneration Inc., The Bizzie Group, and iThrive Inc.

YT Bell values people, community, and effective policies that assist with cultivating change and reducing the challenges of the residents.  YT Bell has worked years as a community advocate and public policy professional to address injustices, safety concerns, serve vulnerable populations, and solve complex problems. She will continue to work relentlessly for people struggling to live in Clarkston, GA and she is committed to improving the quality of life for all citizens as a City Councilwoman in Clarkston, Georgia.

As the newly elected Councilwoman for Clarkston, she plans to work diligently to create an inclusive city that provides opportunities and works to eliminate challenges for all citizens of Clarkston.

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Rob Fortson

Rob has experience in education, health care, administrative law, regulatory law, and labor and employment matters. He also serves as a senior vice president in McGuireWoods Consulting’s state government relations group.

His education practice focuses on advising schools and education service providers on a variety of corporate and operational issues including board governance, facilities acquisition, financing and leasing, charter applications and renewals, FTE allotment and appropriations issues, employment disputes, IDEA and 504 compliance, student disciplinary issues, and vendor negotiations. He has also represented school board members and concerned citizens in matters related to board governance and school system accreditation. Rob leads the education team for McGuireWoods Consulting, which represents online universities and charter schools, academic intervention services companies, curriculum and assessments providers. Rob also serves annually on the Atlanta Public School’s charter school petition interview committee, which reviews all applications for approval by the school district.

Before joining McGuireWoods Consulting, he served as of counsel at Georgia360 Public Affairs and as a litigation and trial attorney with Turner Bachman & Garrett. He has also served in various roles in and related to federal, state and local government, including stints in the legal counsel's office at the U.S. Department of Education and the Georgia Municipal Association, and a two-year clerkship for U.S. District Court Judge Thomas W. Thrash. Rob received his J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Georgia School of Law and was inducted into the Order of the Coif.

A former teacher and coach in the Baltimore City School System and Teach For America alumnus, Rob stays involved with Teach For America and several other educational organizations. He and his wife, Meeghan, are both Atlanta natives and reside in East Atlanta with their two sons.

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Ian Cohen

Originally from Philadelphia, Ian Cohen graduated from Emory University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy before beginning his career as an educator through Teach for America, where he earned both Teacher of the Year and Coach of the Year while in the classroom.  He is a former Fellow and Program Director for the Urban Leaders Fellowship, gaining experience in the policy arena at the local and state levels.  In 2014, Ian co-founded the non-profit education organization, Next Generation Men & Women (NGM/W), which focuses on bringing college and career readiness to life for under-served high school students across Atlanta.  During his 3 year tenure as Executive Director, the organization grew to 3 schools, 150 students, and 30+ partners while raising ~$1M. Since transitioning out of his full-time role with NGM/W in late 2017, Ian has served as a trainer and adviser to entrepreneurs through the Center for Civic Innovation while he works towards something new.  Ian is also an avid reader, movie lover, and growing science nerd.

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Dasheika Ruffin

Dasheika currently serves as the Southern Regional Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (the “ACLU”) National Campaign for Smart Justice. The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is a 50-state campaign focused on ending mass incarceration in the United States, reducing the jail and prison population by 50 percent, and combating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. As Southern Regional Director, Dasheika manages the campaign’s efforts in eight priority Southern states including: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Dasheika utilizes grassroots organizing, legislative reform, and litigation strategies to achieve victories in areas of Sentencing Reform, Parole Reform, Bail Reform, Prosecutorial Reform, and Reentry throughout the South.

Dasheika has a depth of political campaign experience. Since 2000, she has worked on three Presidential Campaigns – President Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, seven Mayoral Campaigns ranging across the entire South, several City Council and Commissioner Campaigns, a District Attorney Campaign, and 5 U.S. Congressional Campaigns. Most recently, Dasheika helped led the historic Democratic victory in Alabama as a member of the Doug Jones for Senate Campaign. Dasheika created events and initiatives to help drive African American turnout, resulting in 96% of African American voters casting their ballots for Senator Doug Jones.

Prior to her tenure with the Doug Jones Campaign, served as the Legal Legislative Analyst for the City of Atlanta, where she drafted policies and laws, on behalf of the Atlanta City Council and made legal and legislative recommendations to the Council. Most notably, she drafted Atlanta’s Marijuana Ordinance, which deprioritizes possession of less than an ounce of marijuana within the City of Atlanta city limits and the City’s Ban the Box legislation, which prohibits the use of criminal history information to disqualify candidate applying for work with the City of Atlanta Government.

Outside of her role with the ACLU, Dasheika is actively involved in a number of civic, legal, and community organization. She is a volunteer lawyer with the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, where she represents the interest of indigent clients. She also works as a Guardian Ad Litem for Fulton County, where she represents the interest of minor children who are the subject of lawsuits. Additionally, Dasheika serves as the chair of the Atlanta Youth Commission, where she works to develop strategies, policies and initiatives that are targeted towards benefiting, cultivating and promoting youth. Dasheika is a Big Sister with Big Sisters Big Brothers of Metro Atlanta and serves as a praise dance instructor through her church. She is a graduate of the 2015 cohort of the New Leaders Council and a member of the Executive Board, a graduate of Leadership DeKalb and the Emerging Leaders Program. Most recently, Dasheika serves as a Script Consultant for Own Network’s television series Queen Sugar where she provides consults with writers on criminal justice matters.

Dasheika is licensed to practice law in Georgia and Texas and has practiced Business Litigation, Employment Discrimination and Governmental Affairs law for over 10 years. She received her JD from Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, TX and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Florida.