Phenomenal Black Women and Girls: Speaker Biographies

Phenomenal Women and Girls symposium

The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration
African American AlumniCommittee
of the SSA Alumni Association presents

Phenomenal Black Women and Girls:Transcending Disparities and Social and Cultural Violence in Multiple Systems


Kimberlyn LearyKimberlyn Leary is a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow and serves as an Advisor to the White House Council on Women and Girls. Within the Council, Leary leads initiatives for diversity in STEM fields and empowerment for women and girls of color. Leary is an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and the Chief Psychologist at the Cambridge Health Alliance. Prior to serving at the White House, Leary taught courses and seminars at the University of Michigan and at Harvard Medical School on negotiation, clinical technique and on public policy and mental health. In 2009, Leary received an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School, attending on a Public Services Fellowship. Leary’s major areas of teaching, clinical activity, and research are directed at enhancing effective clinical practice in psychotherapy and in negotiation and mediation. Leary sits on the editorial boards of the Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Studies in Gender and Sexuality, Psychoanalytic Psychology, the Harvard Mental Health Letter and the Harvard Negotiation Journal.

Mary A. MitchellMary A. Mitchell is an editorial board member and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Mitchell earned a B.A. in journalism at Columbia College Chicago and joined the Chicago Sun-Times in 1991. She has written for several national publications including Essence Magazine and is a frequent panelist on WTTW's Week in Review and on Fox-TV. She has also appeared on national news programs such as Meet the Press. Mitchell is a recipient of numerous journalism awards, including the Award of Excellence from the National Association of Black Journalists; the Studs Terkel Award from the Community Media Workshop; the Peter Lisagor Award from the Chicago Headline Club; and induction into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 2011. Mitchell’s columns, which appear on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, rally African American readers to empower their communities by addressing important issues, including failing schools, police misconduct, disparities in the criminal justice system, and corrupt government officials.

Nneka Jones TapiaNneka Jones-Tapia is the Executive Director of the Cook County Department of Corrections. Prior to her current position, Dr. Jones Tapia served as the First Assistant Executive Director of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office where she oversaw mental health strategy at the Cook County Jail. Dr. Jones-Tapia developed the Mental Health Transition Center to build a support system for the successful reentry of mentally ill inmates into the community, as well as several programs geared toward increased health in the inmate population. Prior to joining the Sheriff’s Office, Dr. Jones-Tapia worked as the Chief Psychologist at Cermak Health Services, where she developed and chaired numerous mental health programs and committees and advised the Cook County DOC on mental health-related issues. Dr. Jones earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her master’s in clinical psychology from East Carolina University and her doctorate of psychology from the Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology.

Beth E. RichieBeth E. Richie is Professor of African American Studies and Criminology, Law and Justice at The University of Illinois at Chicago. The emphasis of her scholarly and activist work has been on the ways that race/ethnicity and social position affect women's experience of violence and incarceration, particularly for African American battered women and sexual assault survivors. Dr. Richie is the author of Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence and America’s Prison Nation (NYU Press, 2012) and Compelled to Crime: the Gender Entrapment of Black Battered Women. Dr. Richie’s work has been supported by grants from several foundations and institutions and has been the recipient of honorary awards. Dr. Richie is a board member of The Institute on Domestic Violence in the African Community, The National Network for Women in Prison and a founding member of INCITE!. Dr. Richie currently serves on the Science Advisory Board of US Department of Justice.

Kimberly FoxxKimberly Foxx is currently running to become Cook County State’s Attorney. She has spent much of her life advocating for children and families in Cook County, particularly those with experiences with the criminal justice system. Kim Foxx earned both her B.A. and her law degree from Southern Illinois University. After graduating, she was employed by various justice offices of Cook County where her duties ranged from managing casework for children – many of whom had been abused, neglected, or had special needs – to becoming a lead prosecutor of criminal cases. During this time, she also served as president of the National Black Prosecutors Association Chicago Chapter. Before starting her campaign, Kim Foxx most recently served as Chief of Staff for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. She has also served as Board President for Free Spirit Media and is currently Planned Parenthood of Illinois Board President.

Breakout Session Participants

Christina LattnerChristina Lattner is Assistant Clinical Professor at DePaul University. Her research focuses on aggregate populations, psychoeducational interventions that improve preventative healthcare and the quality of life in young and elder people, and sexual transmitted infection prevention of urban adolescents transitioning from pediatric to adult care. Educated as an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN), Lattner has over 14 years of nursing experience. Lattner obtained her RN and BSN in Michigan. She received her MSN, APN and Doctoral Candidacy in Chicago. Lattner has certifications in Critical Care, Sexual Assault Examiner, Emergency Communications, and Advanced Practice Adult-Gerontology. Currently she serves on the board of the School of Nursing Personal Committee, Association of Black Nursing Faculty and is a member of the International Association of Forensic Nurse examiners as a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner). Lattner is dedicated to developing talent, fostering skills, and facilitating clinical proficiency for future nurses through nursing education.

Mignon PruittMignon Pruitt has been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker since 1979. She primarily works with individuals in the areas of mental health and in child welfare in Chicago. In addition, Pruitt has trained graduate students from the University of Illinois, managed staff at Children’s Home and Aid Society of Illinois, consulted for early childhood programs and administrated in Foster Care and Adoptions. Currently, she continues to consult and provide mental health services for private agencies and for the State of Illinois, and she is a consulting editor for the Child and Adolescent Journal of Social Work.

Ebony Bradford-ThomasEbony Bradford-Thomas is a full time Psychotherapist in the counseling department for UCAN. She provides counseling services at four Chicago Public High Schools. Bradford-Thomas has a passion for advocacy and service as it relates to African American families. Her research topics include Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder and Engaging African American Families. She has presented her research to the Chicago Children Advocacy Center, Adler University, and many different school-based audiences on behalf of UCAN. Bradford-Thomas is currently pursuing her Doctorate degree in Community Psychology at National Louis University. Her passion is to assist in psycho education within marginalized communities in order to fuel advocacy and community change.

Doretha BrownDoretha Brown has worked with Youth Guidance since 2006 as a Parent Liaison, a Truancy Administrator, and a Post-Secondary Coordinator. Currently she is a W.O.W. (Working On Womanhood) specialist holding Social Emotional Learning sessions for female students at Bowen High School. Before joining Youth Guidance, Brown worked for Metropolitan Family Services as a YouthNet Coordinator. In 2001, she had the honor of receiving the “Women Who Make a Difference” Award. In 2014, Brown was presented with the Rita A. Ford ’98 “Faith In The Future Award” from Saint Xavier University. Her passion for the advancement and education of youth has launched a career in youth development. Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Brown is a product of Chicago Public Schools. Brown received a Bachelor’s Degree from Saint Xavier University. Currently, Brown is finishing her Master’s Degree studies at Roosevelt University.

Kelly FairKelly Fair is a literacy advocate, youth mentor, and founder of Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program. Since 2009, Polished Pebbles has helped young girls become effective communicators at home, school, and the future workplace by partnering with volunteers, businesses, schools, and agencies. Fair was recently recognized by ComEd as one of Chicagoland's "Neighborhood Heroes" for her outstanding work in Roseland, honored by the Walker's Legacy, and from Verizon Wireless' "Everyday Heroes" initiative for her service in the community. In 2014, Fair received the “Margaret Burroughs Award” from the DuSable Museum Women's Board. Fair graduated from Howard University with a degree in Speech Pathology minoring in Psychology. She completed her master’s degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology at the University of Iowa. She uses her educational background to instill effective communication skills with the young girls. Fair continues to support and collaborate with organizations interested in community improvement and literacy.

Sherida MorrisonSherida V. Morrison serves as Founder and CEO of Demoiselle 2 Femme, NFP. The mission of D2F is to provide holistic services, education, instruction, and training to assist adolescent females in a successful transition to womanhood. Sherida Morrison obtained a B.A. in Communications from Southern University and a M.A. in Sociology from DePaul University. She served as Adjunct Faculty at Kennedy King College for seven years as a professor of Sociology and has presented research on urban girls, youth violence, gender responsiveness, adolescent sexual health, and the benefits of CBPR at many local national conferences. Sherida is the author of the 3-D P.R.I.D.E. (Power Respect Intelligence Desirable Endurance) curriculum, which utilizes holistic approaches to teach self-esteem and the avoidance of at-risk behaviors to teen girls. She serves on several community boards and has received numerous awards and commendations. Sherida is the founder of the South Side Coalition on Urban Girls and Community Co-Principal Investigator for Partnership for a Better Roseland.

Herschella ConyersHerschella Conyers served as an assistant public defender, supervisor, and deputy chief in the Office of the Cook County Public Defender from 1986 to 1993. In 2013, Professor Conyers received the Edith Sampson Award from the Illinois Judicial Council for her work in advocating for juveniles in the legal system, a topic she became interested in after doing her law school clinical work at the Criminal Defense Consortium of Cook County, in Woodlawn. As a Clinical Professor of Law, Professor Conyers currently co-directs the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic and the Post Incarceration Reentry Clinic. She is a regular faculty member of the National Criminal Defense College and the New York State Defender’s Association. She has also lectured at Harvard, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Training and public defender offices across the country. Professor Conyers received her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School and her B.A. from The University of Chicago.

Gisela GrumbachGiesela Grumbach is an assistant professor of social work at Governors State University. She graduated from UIC Jane Addams College of Social Work with her PhD and completed her dissertation in the area of social justice. Dr. Grumbach received the Provost Deiss Award for her dissertation work examining African American women and their reconnection to parenting post-release. Dr. Grumbach has volunteer and work-related experience with the criminal legal system. She worked with the public defender’s office as a mitigation specialist for the Murder Task Force and volunteered in the Cook County Jail. In addition, Dr. Grumbach has experience in the Chicago Public Schools and DCFS and has worked with system-involved mothers in her private practice. These experiences have driven her interest in working with marginalized families.  The criminal legal system and other socially stratifying systems create a lack of opportunity structures families sorely need.

Alexis Mansfield

Alexis Mansfield is the Supervising Attorney of the Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM) Program at Cabrini Green Legal Aid. She received her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree from Northwestern University School of Law. She spent eight years as a Chicago Public School teacher before becoming an attorney. She mainly practices family law and teaches family law classes at Cook County Jail and various women's prisons in Illinois.

Colette PayneColette Payne is a student at Harold Washington College and the Visible Voices Coordinator for Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM) Program. She joined CLAIM’s Visible Voices group in 2001 and has been an active member of the Leadership Council and Speakers Bureau since 2012. Her passion is to educate families to build healthier communities. In October 2012 Colette testified before the Cook County Board Commission on Women’s Issues. She took part in legislative education in Springfield in November 2012 with the Community Renewal Society, and served on a delegation to meet with Illinois Department of Corrections officials to improve prison conditions and expand community release for women. Her speaking engagements include University of Illinois School of Nursing, Northeastern Illinois University’s Undocumented Resilience Organization, UIC urban Medicine, and Unitarian Church in Evanston. Colette was hired in December, of 2013 as Claim’s Visible Voices Coordinator. In 2014 she was featured on Val Warner’s Windy City Live segment, After Dark: Mom’s behind bars.

Erica B. Davis is currently a Program Director with the Chicago Department of Public Health Office of Violence Prevention and Behavioral Health where she is responsible for the overall management, implementation, and fiscal oversight for prevention initiatives, a Crisis Intervention Pilot Program, and Crisis Response and Recovery. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Service Administration and Counseling. Ms. Davis is adept in violence prevention with nearly 20 years of experience in the fields of child welfare, recidivism reduction, and violence/injury prevention. She is the lead author and editor of Bringing the Kids Back into Focus: Building a Community Response to Children’s Exposure to Violence and is the author of Changing systems to change individuals: the incubation approach to systems change. She has also aided in the writing of other publications focused on children and violence. Additionally, Ms. Davis actively participates in and provides leadership in various community, civic, and social organizations.

Jaquta BoxJaquta Box became interested in science, health, and helping people while growing up in the Illinois foster care system. She became CPR certified and in 2008, she graduated from the Chicago Public Schools Practical Nursing Program. Jaquta then went on to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) with a full scholarship. During her time at UIUC, Jaquta worked full-time as a Licensed Practical Nurse, while maintaining a full course schedule. She also volunteered at local hospitals and children crisis centers, as well as becoming a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters. In 2013, Jaquta graduated with a B.S. in Health Administration, Health Education, and Health Planning. Jaquta is now studying for her B.S. in Nursing with a plan to pursue a doctoral degree and become a nurse practitioner. Outside of nursing, she studies the intersection of poverty, food addiction, and obesity in urban areas. She is currently researching the Foster Care Industrial Complex, a study partially motivated by her own experience in foster care.

Toiné HoustonToiné Houston, formerly known as “Young Flame”, is an African American Neo Soul lyricist, actress, and model and has been a professional spoken word artist for over 18 years. “Toiné” joined All Hype City, a unique theater/sketch comedy/improv and film Production Company based out of Chicago, IL in 2002. In addition to theater stages, she has been featured on Verses & Flow and has shared the screen with seasoned actors Lawrence Fishburne, Shia Labeouf, Tyrese Gibson, Jennifer Beals, and Terrence Howard, landing herself stand-in, along with feature extra roles in Transformers 3, Contagion, as well as Chicago Code & Empire. Her sophomore album, “Love States...” an eclectic blend of Hip-Hop/Neo Soul/Jazz and House Album – takes her audiences down a candid and soulful journey of not only personal love entanglements, but relatable stories she feels are shared amongst other women in their journey of being in like and love.

Eugene Robinson, Jr.Eugene Robinson, Jr. currently serves as a Network College and Career Specialist for Chicago Public Schools. Robinson has over 12 years of experience in k-12 education and social work. He served as the Director of Academic Support Services for Kennedy King College. As director he managed all academic student support services, academic labs, and tutoring across multiple academic disciplines. Robinson was also the Manager of College and Career Services at Bowen High School. His primary role at Bowen was to ensure every student graduate high school and successfully enroll in a postsecondary program of choice. Robinson earned his undergraduate degree from Chicago State University and an AM from the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) at the University of Chicago. When he is not working he volunteers his time with the SSA African American Alumni Association, CPS Real Men Read Initiative and is a coach for One Million Degrees.