Workshop Speakers

Jamele Adams

“Love how you love who you love” -jma

Proudly embracing membership in the community of Scituate and the educational family of its schools, jamele serves as the DEI Director for the District of Scituate Public Schools. Spelling his name with lower case letters, he does so to signal that he is a piece in life’s grand landscape for us all. Arriving to Scituate from Brandeis University, where he served as Dean of Students, along with specific responsibilities for student’s campus life experience, he pioneered and supported programs that celebrated and enhanced campus pluralism.

jamele also served as the Director for New York Yankees Derek Jeter’s “Jeter’s Leaders”, a program in the Derek Jeter Turn 2 Foundation. In this role jamele oversaw a unique leadership program that supports high school age students in the New York City. Recipient of many awards and recognitions for his work in higher education, with young scholars interested in law and creative writing workshops, he is also a nationally celebrated poet. jamele remains well known for his work engaging issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Through his L.I.T. platform and model; love, inclusion and trust serve as the basis for human connection while addressing h8 and bias. jamele is often called to high schools to assist in the navigation of complex terrains of injustice and help student communities after bias incidents have occurred.

Known for his work, jamele is often asked to be a panelist or to give presentations on a broad range of topics regarding diversity, equity, inclusion and pluralism. Accompanying the aforementioned are requests for him to prepare presentations in response to very specific incidents or conditions regarding diversity, equity and inclusion. jamele appears at multitudes of public and private schools, school districts and college campuses every year. 

jamele subscribes to the mantra “ALWAYS WE, never me.”

Nehia Al-Shanniek

After a decade in the diversity, equity and inclusion realm, Nehia Al-Shanniek launched Nehia Consults in the midst of a global pandemic thirsting for equitable solutions. Nehia has over ten years experience leading diversity initiatives in the education sector. In her current role, Nehaia serves as an Educational Consultant building diversity talent pipelines and creating and delivering DEI content to help improve retention and cultural proficiency practices. Prior to consulting, Nehia served as the Director of Teacher Support at OneGoal supporting the mission of closing the college degree divide. She has held leadership positions at Achievement First Public Charter Schools and other educational non-profits. She has extensive experience coaching Massachusetts educators and fostering environments that promote DEI, while upskilling teachers on student achievement best practices. Nehia holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy from Boston College and a Master’s in Education from Long Island University-Brooklyn.

Dr. Richard Booth

Dr. Richard Booth is a clinician in private practice, and at Brown University. He also serves as a consultant with educational leaders, faculty, and staff for strengthening learning environments, staff wellbeing, supporting student success and improving caregiver engagement. Dr. Booth conducts workshops, professional development seminars, trainings, and focused programming to a variety of institutions (private and public), state organizations, schools, and universities. Dr. Booth has a Ph.D. in School and Counseling Psychology. He presently serves on the executive board of the Village Green Charter School and is also a core member of The Wellness Collaborative, an interdisciplinary collective working towards improved health and wellness in underserved communities.

Jennifer De Leon

Born in the Boston area to Guatemalan parents, Jennifer De Leon is the author of the novel Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From (published by Simon & Schuster/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books in 2020) and the essay collection White Space: Essays on Culture, Race, and Writing (winner of the Juniper Prize and published by UMass Press in 2021). She is also the editor of the anthology, Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education (winner of the International Latino Book Award and published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2014). She graduated from Connecticut College with a double-major in International Relations and French, earned a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of San Francisco’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Social Justice while in the Teach For America program, and later, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from UMASS-Boston. She has received several awards and residencies from organizations across the country, including the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Hedgebrook, Macondo, VONA, Associates of the Boston Public Library’s Writer-in-Residence Program, and the City of Boston’s Artist-in-Residence Program. Her short story, “Home Movie,” originally published in The Briar Cliff Review, was the 2015 One City, One Story pick as part of the Boston Book Festival (30,000 copies were distributed around the city), and her stories and essays have appeared in over a dozen literary magazines and anthologies, including: Ploughshares, Iowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Guernica, and Best Women’s Travel Writing. De Leon is a winner of the 2016 Walter Dean Myers Grant, awarded by We Need Diverse Books, and named a 2020 Latinx Trailblazer by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. After a decade teaching in Boston Public Schools, she is now an Assistant Professor of English at Framingham State University and a faculty member in the MFA Program in Creative Nonfiction at Bay Path University. A long-time GrubStreet Creative Writing Center instructor and board member,
Jenn makes her home outside the Boston area with her husband and two sons. Her next YA novel, Maya, is forthcoming in August, 2022. Also on the way are two children’s picture books—So Many Gifts, and a biography of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchú. Connect with her @jdeleonwriter on Instagram and Twitter or at her website:

Darla DeGrace

Darla, a native of Cambridge, Massachusetts and first-generation college graduate, earned an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from Emmanuel College and a graduate degree from Simmons University School of Management.  Her career spans over two decades and she has been recognized as a subject matter expert on building diverse teams and creating more inclusive work cultures.

Darla has a proven track record of building strategic recruitment partnerships, successfully launching employee resource groups, curating DEI content and facilitating diversity and inclusion professional development workshops. She worked to establish and nurture the relationship between Reebok and Howard University leading to the brand’s first formal partnership and internship program with an HBCU.  She championed and launched Reebok’s first POC ERG leading to the development of several other resource groups including the LGBTQ and passport diversity ERGs. She has held positions and consulted on similar projects with notable organizations including: Akamai Technologies, City Year, Inc., Lupoli Companies, National Black MBA Association, Legacy Global Sports, US Department of Education and Year Up, Inc.

Darla recently joined Morgan Stanley as Executive Director, Global Head of Diversity Talent Acquisition. Prior to Morgan Stanley, Darla served as CEO, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategist for DeGrace Group Consulting LLC, a thriving diversity staffing and culture solutions firm she launched in 2017.  DeGrace Group clients span multiple sectors including government agencies, global corporate and national non-profit clients. She is the President Emeritus and Executive Board Member for the National Black MBA Association-Boston, Co-Chairs The BASE Women’s Leadership Council, is a Member of the Board of Trustees for The Boys and Girls Clubs, Leadership Brainery, and Commonwealth Corporation. She was appointed by Governor Charlie Baker to serve as Commissioner on both the Black Advisory and the Plymouth 400 Commissions.

In her spare time, you can find Darla enjoying motherhood, mentoring the next generation of DEI leaders and challenging gentrification. She recently launched Lincoln Way Projects, LLC., a real estate investment group committed to the revitalization of urban communities – named after the public housing development she grew up in.

Dr. Natasha Halfkenny

Dr. Natasha Halfkenny, is the President and Founder of Melanin Scholars, LLC and Melanin Scholars Con Una Voz, Inc. Nonprofit Organization. She is the author of Through The Eyes of Successful Black Males and began her work with the extensive studies of how our Black and Brown children make meaning of their learning in racist institutions. She graduated from Northeastern University with a Doctorate Degree in International Higher Ed. Administration. She has taught for 21years and is currently an administrator in the Boston Public School System. Dr. Halfkenny has facilitated the Boston Public Schools’ 10 Boys/Girls initiative where the mission of the is to guide melanin-dominant students to their rite of passage by incorporating their knowledge of “The Power of Presence.” The mission is to also teach, motivate, and inspire young, melanin dominant men and women into being leaders, persevere through, and do for themselves, their families, and our communities through healthy choices, critical thinking, academic excellence and pursue social justice. Dr. Halfkenny has counseled, taught, tutored, and facilitated Restorative Justice circles for social-emotional support. She is currently a member of the Massachusetts Gubernatorial Board, Public Education Nominating Council which ensures the best candidates for Boards of Trustees for higher education institutions. As the Founder and President of Melanin Scholars, an Administrator in the Boston Public School System, her work ethic, perseverance and drive will prepare all educational stakeholders for lifelong succes.

Kathy Lopes

Kathy Lopes is a licensed clinical social worker and educator with decades of experience working in education, mental health, non-profit, and government sectors. She began her career as a school social worker in both Boston MA and Washington DC, and is now settled back in her home state of Massachusetts where she has held numerous managerial and administrative roles in the field of social work and education. Throughout her career, equity and inclusion have remained an integral part of her leadership and strategic planning priority.

Currently, she is the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Newton Public Schools and adjunct faculty at Simmons University School of Social Work, facilitating courses on leadership, policy and the dynamics of racism and oppression. She is a sought-out guest lecturer and public speaker on topics of cultural humility, equity, antiracism and social justice.

Lisa Smith McQueenie

Lisa is a passionate, versatile, knowledgeable DEI professional with a broad range of experiences. Throughout her thirty year career in higher education she provided vision and leadership in promoting a culture that values and supports diversity, equity and inclusion. She guided efforts to conceptualize, define, assess, nurture and cultivate DEI as an institutional, organizational and educational priority. As an independent consultant, she is a strategic partner who collaboratively assists clients in their efforts to identify objectives, develop metrics, increase engagement and establish organizational best practices. Lisa provides tailored, researched and relevant DEI consultation and has created, facilitated and/or identified appropriate team building, coaching, training and professional development opportunities in higher education, K-12, town government, nonprofit and other organizations.

Raymond Porch

I am a student of humanity and freedom. I am a K-12 educator that’s committed to co-construction of excellent learning environments, communities, and cultures; environments that support and facilitate freedom. My skills and passion flourish and add value in spaces where knowledge and awareness are a priority; where co-constructing socially, emotionally and academically equitable environments are paramount; and where curiosity, learning, and understanding are interrelated and influence all interactions.

Kamau Ptah

Husband, father, educational leader, teacher, traveler, drummer, writer, student of indigenous wisdom teachings and healing modalities are several terms that have been appropriately assigned to characterize Kamau Ptah.

For 29 years, Kamau has been a custodian and a practitioner of the rites of passage system of transformative teaching and learning. Earning his BA from Hampton University in History/Social Science and Education and his Master’s degree in School Administration from Cambridge College; Kamau currently serves as a nationally renowned educational consultant, who specializes in rites of passage, transformational disciplines and culturally responsive restorative practices. Kamau is the founder and Executive Director of Akoben Enterprise, which is an educational consultancy that partners with learning institutions, organizations, and communities to provide culturally relevant practices centered on rites of passage, restorative practices, social and emotional learning, transformational disciplines, affirmative development, academic motivation, and identity formation. Through a network of elders, healers, artists, cultural custodians, educators, businesspeople and leaders, the work of Akoben Enterprise is a commitment of service to the ideals of identity restoration through transformational disciplines and the rites of passage practice.

Kamau was also a co-founder of the Urban Assembly Academy of History and Citizenship for Young Men (the first all-male school in New York City since the 1960s and the first that established a formalized rites of passage practice within a public-school setting). For COSEBOC, Kamau envisioned and helped launch the 444 Sankofa Passages Program, a school-based rite of passage that provides the optimal conditions for the healthy education, socialization, and identity development of boys of color. He also leads the Young Men’s Passage youth participation in COSEBOC’s Gathering of Leaders. Through the study and facilitation of Rite of Passage experiences and indigenous community building technologies, Kamau has established a creative style of educational leadership that stimulates the holistic development of educators and youngsters, hence awakening the sensibilities and intelligences to address the current challenges in educating our future.

Jamila Sams

​​Jamila Sams, Ed.M. is an educator with over 20 years of experience working with youth of all ages and backgrounds. Her areas of expertise include educational leadership, youth development, nonprofit management and strategic partnership development. As the founder of Go to Ms. Sams Inc., Jamila works tirelessly to provide services to educators, nonprofit professionals, and members of the business community around three core areas: School Climate and Culture; Youth Program Development and Training; and Strategic Partnership Development. Clients include the Maryland State Department of Education; the New York City Department of Education; QLIK Corporation; Mentor Foundation USA, The University of Maryland Baltimore, Mentor International, and El Desafio (The Challenge) in Rosario, Argentina.

Jamila has been a featured speaker for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the National Gathering for the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color, and the Center for the Promotion of Social Emotional Learning National Conference. Jamila’s breakout TEDX entitled: “Why Are You” has been viewed over 900 times to date. Jamila recently launched the We Do it for the Culture™ Curriculum; a culturally responsive social emotional learning curriculum grounded in hip hop culture for grades 6-12.

Ms. Sams is a proud native of Philadelphia, a self-proclaimed hip-hop head and a first-generation college graduate of Lincoln University. She obtained her Master’s degree in Educational Administration & Supervision from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and serves on the executive boards of the YMCA of Baltimore and Words Beats & Life.

Leslie Smart

Leslie Smart (she, her, hers) – Leslie is currently the Assistant METCO Director of Needham Public SchoolsShe is also a member of the district’s REAL (Race, Equity, Access, and Leadership) Steering Committee and has in developing and teaching Needham High School’s CCOR (Courageous Conversations On Race) Course.
She is also currently an instructor for IDEAS (Initiatives for Developing Equity & Achievement for All Students, under the M.A.S.S. umbrella) and has been teaching and developing course work for educators around dismantling systemic racism in education and antiracist/anti-bias educational practices.
Leslie is also a Commissioner on the MA Commission on the Status of Women (Metrowest) with a strong commitment to advocating for the legislation of the Healthy Youth Education Act for MA Public Schools.

Rebecca Smoler

Rebecca has been an English Language Arts educator in Boston suburbs for over a decade. In 2010, after taking a course on antiracist teaching practices, she returned to her classroom and school with a new commitment to equity and justice. She is currently an instructor at Initiatives for Developing Equity and Achievement for Students (IDEAS) and the English Language Arts Coordinator 6 – 12 for Sharon Public Schools. Rebecca has taught courses and presented on a range of topics relating to antiracist education, including bias, white fragility, engaging in difficult conversations on race, and enacting systemic change in educational institutions. She lives in Boston with her husband and two daughters.