March 18–20, 2018 | Houston, TX

2017 Highlights

beginning of content:

2017 Featured Speakers

Opening Plenary: A Conversation with Johnnetta B. Cole

Monday, March 20, 9–10 a.m.
Johnnetta Betsch Cole
National Museum of African Art Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole was appointed the Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) in March, 2009. Founded as a small museum on Capitol Hill in 1964, NMAfA became a part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1979, and in 1987 it moved to its current location on the National Mall. The museum’s collection of over 12,000 objects represents nearly every area of the continent of Africa and contains a variety of media and art forms. The National Museum of African Art also has an extensive education program. Since the mid-1980s, Dr. Cole has worked with a number of Smithsonian programs. She currently serves on the Scholarly Advisory Board for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Before assuming her current position, Johnnetta Cole had a long and distinguished career as an educator and humanitarian. Dr. Cole served as president of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women. She is the only person to have served as president of these two historically black colleges for women in the United States. Dr. Cole made history in 1987 when she became the first African American woman to serve as president of Spelman College. During her presidency, Spelman was named the number one liberal arts college of the South.

After one year in an early-entrance program at Fisk University and completing her undergraduate studies at Oberlin College, Johnnetta Cole earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Northwestern University with a focus on African Studies.

Moderator: Clint Smith

Clint Smith is a writer, teacher, and doctoral candidate in Education at Harvard University with a concentration in Culture, Institutions, and Society. He is a recipient of the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship with research interests that include mass incarceration, the sociology of race, and the history of U.S. inequality. Previously, he taught high school English in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he was named the Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year for 2013 by the Maryland Humanities Council. He has spoken at the 2015 TED Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, the U.S. Department of Education, the IB Conference of the Americas, and the Aspen Summit on Inequality and Opportunity. He has been profiled in The Washington Post, NPR's Here & Now, Vox, The Huffington Post, The Root, NBC News, PBS NewsHour, and The Boston Globe. His two TED Talks, The Danger of Silence and How to Raise a Black Son in America, collectively have been viewed more than five million times.

Clint is an Individual World Poetry Slam Finalist, a Cave Canem Fellow, a Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop Fellow, and has served as a cultural ambassador for the U.S. Department of State. His writing has been published in The New YorkerThe GuardianBoston ReviewAmerican Poetry ReviewHarvard Educational Review and elsewhere. His first full-length collection of poetry, Counting Descent, was published by Write Bloody Publishing in 2016. The collection won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award.

Clint earned a BA in English from Davidson College and is an alumnus of the New Orleans Public School System.

A Viable Choice for All Students: Innovation and the Sustainability of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Monday, March 20, 12:30–1:30 PM

Michael J. Sorrell
Paul Quinn College

Michael J. Sorrell is the 34th President of Paul Quinn College. Under his leadership, the school has become one of the most innovative small colleges in America and is rapidly becoming a model for urban higher education by focusing on academic rigor, experiential learning, and entrepreneurship.

Among the school’s numerous accomplishments during President Sorrell’s eight year tenure have been: winning the 2011 HBCU of the Year, the 2012 HBCU Student Government Association of the Year, and the 2013 HBCU Business Program of the Year awards; being recognized as a member of the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll; creating the New Urban College Model; demolishing 15 abandoned campus buildings; partnering with PepsiCo to transform the football field into the “WE over Me Farm”; achieving full accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS); rewriting all institutional fundraising records (including the most seven-figure gifts in school history); and restructuring the curriculum.

Michael received his J.D. and M.A. in public policy from Duke University and his Ed.D. at the University of Pennsylvania.


William R. Harvey
Hampton University

Dr. William R. Harvey is president of Hampton University and 100% owner of the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company of Houghton, Michigan. A native of Brewton, Alabama, he is a graduate of Southern Normal High School, Talladega College, and Virginia State University. He earned his doctorate in College Administration from Harvard University in 1972. Before coming to Hampton 38 years ago, he held administrative posts at Harvard, Fisk, and Tuskegee universities.

As president of Hampton University since 1978, Dr. William R. Harvey has introduced innovations which have solidified Hampton’s stellar position among the nation’s colleges and universities. His innovative leadership is reflected in the growth and quality of the university’s student population, academic programs, physical facilities, and financial base.

Since Dr. Harvey became president, student enrollment has increased from approximately 2,700 to a high of approximately 6,300. Seventy-six new academic programs have been introduced including PhD programs in physics, pharmacy, nursing, atmospheric and planetary science, physical therapy, educational management, and business administration. During that time, 28 new structures have been built.

Harvey initiated a university-owned commercial development consisting of a shopping center and 246 two-bedroom apartments. All after-tax profits from the Hampton Harbor Projects are primarily utilized for student scholarships. Additionally, the project creates jobs, provides services, has increased the number of African American entrepreneurs, and has expanded the tax base in the city of Hampton.

As a fundraiser, he is considered one of the best in the country. When Dr. Harvey became president, Hampton’s endowment was at $29 million. Today, that endowment stands in excess of $260 million.

Educating Innovators: Empowering Students to Own their Futures

Tuesday, March 21, 1:15–2:15 p.m.

Zena Howard,  AIA, LEED AP
Perkins+Will, Principal

Senior Project Manager for the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture

Zena Howard is a Principal and Shareholder with the global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will. Previously, Zena joined The Freelon Group in 2003, rising from Associate to Associate Principal by 2010, advancing to the level of Principal and Owner in 2012. In 2014, The Freelon Group joined forces with Perkins+Will where Zena continues her leadership as a Principal with the North Carolina practice and as a member of the firm’s global Diversity + Inclusion Council.

Zena has led many significant and award-winning projects including The International Civil Rights Center & Museum, Greensboro, N.C., Durham County Human Services Complex, Durham, N.C., several Durham County Public Libraries, Durham, N.C., and the District of Columbia Anacostia and Tenley-Friendship Libraries, Washington D.C. Most notably, she is the Senior Project Manager for the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture that recently opened on the National Mall in Washington D.C. As project leader, Zena is the point person executing the Smithsonian’s multiple decades of planning and investment in this important national museum. Zena is also the Senior Project Manager for the much anticipated expansion of the Motown Museum in Detroit, MI. This project commemorates the history and continuing legacy of Berry Gordy and the Motown artists and sound.

Zena has over 20 years of experience as an architect and project leader with a career focused on private and public institutions, museum and cultural facilities, libraries, and higher education facilities. Zena is a native of North Carolina and earned her bachelor of science in architecture degree from the University of Virginia in 1988.