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Centering Equity Conference Speaker Bios

Rev. Cory Anderson – Featured Speaker

Rev. Cory Anderson

In his role as Chief Innovation Officer at WRF, Rev. Cory Anderson is a relentless collaborator. He builds and maintains local and national partnerships, launches bold initiatives, and leads the foundation’s future focused work to ensure equity for all Arkansans.

Cory understands collaboration because it has been his career. He previously wrote for the Arkansas Gazette, served as a juvenile probation officer, ran a local non-profit, worked at the federal level for the Corporation for National Service and helped lead the KIDSCOUNT Initiative for 8 years at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Cory currently serves on the boards of Arkansas Baptist College, the Urban League of Arkansas, the Association of Black Foundation Executives and the Neighborhood Funders Group, and he is a BMe Public Voices Fellow.

Dr. Candice Dowd Barnes – Conference Organizer

Dr. Candice Dowd Barnes

Dr. Candice Dowd Barnes serves as the Distinguished Education Equity Fellow and an associate professor for the College of Education at the University of Central Arkansas. She is also an Executive Coach and co-owner of Parker Education & Development, LLC, and owner of Couture Crafting.

Dr. Barnes presents nationally and internationally on cultural conflict recovery, the intersection of cultural humility and civility as a de-biasing strategy, examining personality structures for high-engagement, and the development of cross-cultural alliances. 

She is the co-author of Civility, Compassion, and Courage in Schools Today: Strategies for Implementing in K-12 Classrooms, Success Favors Well-prepared Adults: Developing Routines and Relationships to Improve School Culture. She is also the co-developer of the Culture, Humility, and Civility Training Program, certified by the International Civility Trainers’ Consortium.

Her recent book, Conflict Recovery: Cultural Humility and Civility in Education, is available now. Shatter the System: Developing Equity Roadmaps will examine the obstacles to achieve educational equity and the distance between awareness and correction, will be on shelves soon.  

Rev. Dr. Denise La Chelle Donnell – Keynote Speaker

Rev. Dr. Denise Donnell

Denise is all about the truth. She is a truth-seer, a truth-seeker and a truth-teller. She devotes all of her time and energy telling the truth about the truth.

The truth about her bio is that none of the academic accomplishments it boasts have anything to do with her personal goals. Denise is an unwilling victim of various systems of oppression that have inadvertently positioned her to be one who can engage people from all walks of life in ways that are meaningful, significant and memorable.

A Bachelor’s degree in English (Jackson State University, 1994) makes her articulate.

A Master’s degree in Secondary Education (University of Mississippi, 1996) helps people hear.

A Master’s in Divinity (Perkins School of Theology, 2003) characterizes her as faithful.

A doctorate in Educational Leadership (Jackson State University, 2008) proves that information is the greatest tool of all to affect change.

When Denise is not engaged in conversations about the truth, she spends her time reading, writing, sketching, playing the piano and throwing away all the food she cooks because it is too nasty to eat.

You can find Denise live on Facebook at 9am Tuesday and Thursday mornings hosting and co-hosting local community radio talk shows and Tuesday nights at 7pm for a non-traditional Bible study. 

Everyone is always welcome to lend their voices to the dialogue.

Tag – Dr. Denise Donnell on all posts –

IG  –

Dr. Victoria Groves-Scott – Opening Remarks

Dr. Victoria Groves-Scott

Victoria Groves-Scott is a Professor of Special Education and the Dean for the College of Education at the University of Central Arkansas. She received a doctorate in special education from the University of Kansas, a master’s degree from the University of Missouri Kansas City, and a bachelor’s degree from Drury University. 

Although she is a professor and leader by trade, she remains a teacher by heart. Groves-Scott received the Teaching Excellence Award from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2006 and the 2006 Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award. She was chosen by her peers as the Kansas Council for Exceptional Children Outstanding Special Education Teacher of the Year for 1998. She was awarded the Council for Exceptional Children Federation Award in 1999.

She has conducted research in the areas of phonemic awareness, reading instruction, assistive technology, mobile technology, assessment, and educational equity.

Dr. Groves-Scott was selected as an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2017. She is a Disruptive Educational Equity trainer, and she is passionate about social justice. She has led the UCA College of Education to be recognized for outstanding pedagogical instruction, technology innovation, equity, and program excellence. 

When she isn’t engaged in professional work, she enjoys hiking, kayaking, biking, and traveling with her family. She is currently raising a puppy, Nola, who has turned out to be quite a handful. 

Ayodele Harrison – Featured Speaker

Ayodele Harrison

Ayodele Harrison is an engineer turned education leader, entrepreneur, and certified compassion-based meditation teacher. At the end of his 16th year as a math teacher, Ayodele left the classroom when his desire to continue to grow as a teacher-leader was not nurtured by his school’s administration.

Now, as Senior Partner of Education and Director of BMEsTalk with CommunityBuild Ventures, Ayodele leads the work in partnering with public, private and international schools to remedy and reverse the educational inequities students, parents, caregivers, teachers and staff and community members experience everyday. 

Ayodele is a fearless and compassionate champion for racial equity, Black Male Educators, and equity-centered school improvement. He has over 20 years of experience in teaching and leading in public, private, and international schools. For four of those years, Ayodele taught at the American International School of Johannesburg in South Africa.

He has served as a classroom teacher, content specialist, department chair, mentor, football and basketball coach, in-school and out-of-school program director, consultant, and thought partner.

Washington Navarrete – Featured Speaker

Mr. Washington Navarrete

Washington Navarrete (he/him/his) serves as the Education Leadership Program Manager for UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization. In this role, he leads the National Institute for Latino School Leaders (NILSL) that supports educators and administrators in developing and advocating for policy solutions that advance education equity and outcomes for Latinx students and their families.

Previously, he served as the Manager of Alumni Communications and Engagement for Teach For America Greater Delta, where he worked with a network of 500+ alumni across Arkansas & Mississippi to expand opportunities for children and families.

Originally from Los Angeles, CA, he attended San Diego State University where he got his degree in Criminal Justice and Chicanx Studies. He is a member of the GLSEN’s National Education Advisory Committee and Teach For America’s National PRISM Board. In 2018, Washington was named one of Little Rock’s 20 over 20 for nonprofit professionals.

Tania Valencia – Featured Speaker

Tania Valencia

Tania Valencia is a policy analyst for the Education Policy Project at UnidosUS. Her work as an analyst focuses on achieving educational equity for Latino and English Learner students in K-12 schools. Tania produces publications to demonstrate the impact of state and federal policies to eliminate educational disparities in the Latino community; she also communicates UnidosUS’s policy updates via the weekly Policy Outlook series.

Tania’s work has also been featured in UnidosUS’s Progress Report, “Could a Bill for Full-Day Pre-K in Texas Benefit Latinos, English Learners, and the State Economy? UnidosUS Has the Data.” Before joining UnidosUS, Tania worked as an Organizational Specialist for the National Education Association and is a former educator.

Tania also holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Virginia Commonwealth University and has studied coursework in Teaching Practices at Johns Hopkins University School of Education.


Jimmy Warren – Featured Speaker

Jimmy Warren

Jimmy Warren is fueled by immense creativity, commitment to community building and delivering innovative solutions, Jimmy currently serves as a Political Communication Strategist for a family office. 

As a lifelong education advocate, Jimmy holds a Master’s Degree in Higher Education Administration and a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Sociology from Arkansas Tech University. He has worked in the communications industry for over a decade, previously serving as Communications Coordinator at Pulaski County Government and holding leadership positions at Fortune 500 companies like Hewlett-Packard and Apple. Jimmy’s dedication to service has led him to be a part of projects such as President Barack Obama’s National Day of Service, where he served as a communication strategist volunteer.

Driven by his commitment to community advocacy, Jimmy proudly served as the Chair for Training, Policy, and Procedures for positive interactions of Race and Community Relations on Governor Asa Hutchinson’s Law Advancement Task Force. He is also the President of the Arkansas Teen Court Association, which focuses on restoring youth through positive intervention.

He is the founder and creator of a digital talk show in partnership with the Arkansas Times, known as ArkanTalk, which showcases interviews with diverse movers & shakers around the Central Arkansas area.

He is an active member of the Arkansas Tech University Young Alumni Board, Conway Public School Foundation Board, and a Junior Achievement classroom volunteer. He has been recognized by the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce as the 2018 Young Minority Professional of the Year, and most recently as one of the Arkansas Business Publishing Group’s most influential leaders in Arkansas.

In his spare time, Jimmy enjoys reading, participating in community service projects, and spending quality time with his wife Shakira and their two daughters, Amaya and Alivia.

Please tag Jimmy in all posts –

UAPB Faculty/Staff – Lunch Panelists

Dr. Adrienne Robinson

Dr. Adrienne Robinson

Dr. Adrienne Robinson is an Assistant Professor in Rehabilitation Services and Assistant Graduate Coordinator in the School of Education at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Dr. Robinson has presented at various educational and disability conferences covering Meta-Cognition in Education, On the Job Training for Individuals with Disabilities, Relationship of Academic Performance and Health in School of Education Programs, CRC exam preparation, collaboration and leadership, and Assistive Technology in Agriculture.


Dr. Celeste Alexander

Dr. Celeste Alexander

Dr. Celeste Alexander is the Teacher Excellence Coordinator at Arkansas River Education Service Cooperative.  She earned her doctorate in Educational Technology from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.

Dr. Alexander’s previous experiences as a math teacher, broadcast journalist, professional development specialist, and motivational speaker enables her to mentor a broad range of individuals in the field of education.  She helps educators to achieve greater success, satisfaction, and happiness in their careers.


Dr. Nita Bohannon

Dr. Nita Bohannon

Dr. Nita Bohannon is an Assistant Professor and Director of Student Teaching at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, School of Education.

She received her doctorate in Education Leadership from Harding University. Professionally, Dr. Bohannon has held numerous positions within the field of education: teacher, principal, reading specialist, and program advisor for the Arkansas Department of Education in the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.


Ms. Tina Fletcher

Ms. Tina Fletcher

Ms. Tina Fletcher earned a baccalaureate degree in Political Science and African-American Studies at the University of Arkansas and a Master’s degree in Secondary Education at Harvard University.

She is an Education Policy, doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania where she studies black teacher experience with licensure exams.  Ms. Fletcher holds the Visiting Professor Chair in Praxis Innovation at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the School of Education.


Dr. Wanda Newell

Dr. Wanda Newell

Dr. Wanda Newell is Interim Dean and Associate Professor of the School of Education at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

She earned her doctorate in Family and Child Study from Auburn University, two master’s degree from the University of Alabama in Early Childhood Education and Human Environmental Sciences and an undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education from National-Louis University.

She held numerous professional positions: teacher, Head Start Director, policy analyst, philanthropy officer, college professor and college administer.


Dr. William Torrence

Dr. William Torrence

Dr. William Torrence an Associate Professor at the University of Arkansas-at Pine Bluff, School of Education.

He serves as the Principal Investigator for the National Science Foundation funded Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Scholars Teacher Academy Resident System (STEM STARS) Program.  He serves as mentor for Male Teachers of Color within the School of Education.

He earned his doctorate in Health Education from Texas A& M University in College Station.


Breakout Session Speakers

Dr. TK Anderson

Dr. TK Anderson is a National Board Certified teacher who serves as the field experience coordinator for Middle Level and Secondary Education interns for the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Central Arkansas. She has a passion for developing future teachers who have a heart for service and a heart for all students. Dr. Anderson has dedicated her 22-year career in education to being an advocate for the underserved, underrepresented, and underprivileged.

Recently, Dr. Anderson successfully defended her dissertation, entitled, “Representation of African/Black Men Educators in K-12 Public Schools: Impact on Recruitment, Retention, and Responsibilities to Education.”

Jarrod Benjamin

Mr. Jarrod D. Benjamin is Florida International University’s Cyber Apprenticeship Program Director and Chief Executive Officer of The LEAD Firm. He is responsible for curriculum development, leadership training, keynote events, and serves as an organization consultant for over 120 colleges and universities across the country.

Jarrod’s oversight training services include Higher Education Enrollment Management Consultation, Student Leadership, Greek Life, and Student Affairs Professional Team Building. Mr. Benjamin is also the founder and host of the Black and Multicultural Greek EMPOWERMENT Summit – Atlanta Edition.

Dr. Joyvin Benton

Dr. Benton is the Director of Development at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.  The Institute is a nonprofit that encourages collaborative problem solving and respectful dialogue. Dr. Benton has a PhD in Urban Systems and Policy from Rutgers University and a Master’s in Psychology from San Diego State University. She is committed to building spaces that are equitable and just.

Dr. Andrea Cleveland

Dr. Andréa Cleveland, Your Personal P.O.W.E.R. Coach, is a prolific speaker, author, life coach, and intuitive healer with over 15 years in the field of personal and professional development. Her work taps into the core of who we are as human beings on our personal journeys to self-discovery, self-love, and manifesting our deepest desires.

Dr. Taine Duncan

Taine Duncan, PhD is Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion and director of the Interdisciplinary Gender Studies Minor Program at the University of Central Arkansas. She has given over 50 presentations on philosophy and gender theory, from peer-reviewed international presentations to community presentations for civic engagement, to corporate training on diversity, belonging, inclusion and equity.

She is the co-editor of the Journal: Philosophy in the Contemporary World and serves on the board of the Asian Studies Development Program Alumni Association, which hosts an annual conference. She is currently working on two authored books and one edited book. She is committed to bringing philosophical thinking to elevate, empower, and embrace others while working together to create a beloved community.

Stephanie Gray

Stephanie Gray (they/them) is a disabled, non-binary queer femme Jew. They are an organizer, educator, and wellness consultant. They co-founded the Faulkner County Coalition for Social Justice in 2016 and currently serve as Board President. Since May, they have been a Lead Organizer with Reinvest in Conway. They are also a Research Fellow with the Global Center for Advanced Studies exploring queer, disabled, and Jewish temporalities and critical theory.

Dr. Lesley Graybeal

Lesley Graybeal is the Director of Service-Learning and Volunteerism at UCA in the Division of Outreach & Community Engagement. She received her PhD in Social Foundations of Education from the University of Georgia and is a community engagement professional in community-based learning, civic engagement, and dialogue across differences.

Elise Hampton

Elise Hampton has been an educator  since 2014 and has held several positions: middle school Social Studies/Science teacher, Middle School Science Instructional Facilitator, and now, Assistant Principal at Simon Middle School.  Elise currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Bullock Temple STAR Academy and as a Commissioner on the Black History Commission of Arkansas.

Amy Jordan

Amy Jordan has been the principal of Courtway Middle School since 2017. She has worked as an English teacher, a literacy coach, a literacy specialist, and an assistant principal. She graduated from Vilonia High School in 1992 and Hendrix College in 1996. She obtained her master’s degree in school leadership and administration from the University of Central Arkansas in 2003.

Dr. Brookshield Laurent

Dr. Laurent is an Osteopathic Family Medicine physician, Chairwoman, and Associate professor for the Department of Clinical Medicine at the New York Institute of Technology -College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University. She is also the founding Executive Director for the Delta Population Health Institute, the community engagement arm for NYITCOM at Arkansas State University. Dr. Laurent is a fellow of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Health Policy Fellowship. Through this program, she received federal and state policymaking training regarding healthcare access, cost, quality, population health, health equity, and the healthcare workforce. She is also a fellow of the Physician Leadership Institute through the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians.

As a medical educator, Dr. Laurent has created and implemented innovative courses on foundational clinical medical skills to prepare rising physicians for the changing medical landscape and equipping them to address health disparities and inequities. Early in Dr. Laurent’s career as a physician, she began to see forces outside the clinical exam room that strongly influenced and impacted her patients’ health. Understanding that health starts where we live, grow, learn, and play, she established the Delta Population Health Institute (DPHI). DPHI leverages its’ academic institutional assets to create policy, system, and environment change to develop a culture of health in the Mississippi Delta. The institute convenes all sectors within a community to collaborate; and cultivate thriving and resilient communities.

Dr. Michael Mills

Dr. Michael Mills, Associate Dean of the College of Education at the University of Central Arkansas, is a leading expert on assessment accountability and the practical uses of mobile technology, with a particular focus on ensuring educational equity and designing strategies for effectively integrating mobile devices in the classroom. He is an SXSWedu, ISTE, and SITE presenter and has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished Educator and Google Education Trainer and has served on the advisory boards for SXSWedu and the Apple Distinguished Educator Program for the Americas. Feel free to follow him on Twitter (@MichaelSMills).

Lianna Newman

Lianna Newman, (no pronouns, only use Lianna) is black, queer, nonbinary, and motivated to help STEM organizations do better. Lianna is a Mid-Level Software Engineer, with three years of Human Resources experience, and a B.A. in Communications. Lianna is currently pursuing a Masters in Social Work at Howard University with a focus on researching the effects of microaggressions on individuals with intersecting identities in the technology industry. Lianna is also a public speaker, the DC Chapter Head & Black Mental Health Support Group moderator/leader at Out in Tech. When not working or volunteering, Lianna can be found making miniatures, creating more accurate representations of people of color in an equity focused LEGO photography series, and spending time with Lianna’s partner and 8lb dog.

Dr. Melissa Smith

Dr. Melissa Smith is Associate Professor of English Education and the program coordinator for the UCA 7-12 English Education BA program. She researches gender and sexuality issues in K-12 and teacher education. Currently, she is collecting data about the experiences of Arkansas K-12 educators who identify as allies for LGBTQ+ students.

Dr. Matthew White

Dr. Matthew White is a longtime Arkansas educator whose professional experiences include serving and advocating for students in a variety of roles: secondary English teacher at three public schools, behavioral specialist at a day treatment center, and admissions counselor at a community college. He recently completed his Ed.D. at Arkansas Tech University and also holds two educational leadership degrees from the University of Central Arkansas. Dr. White is a member of both the Arkansas Education Association and the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, has previously served on the Arkansas Tech Alumni Board, and is a past president of the Conway County Genealogical Society. He enjoys hiking, researching family history, and spending time with his wife and two-year-old son.