" "
Need help? Dial 2-1-1 to contact a United Way call center specialist or click here to find resources.


Jacksonville Civil Rights Conference Keynote Speakers

Scroll down to learn more about the keynote speakers for #JaxCivilRightsConf.

Charles E. Cobb Jr.

Journalist, professor and former activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Charles E. Cobb Jr. was born in Washington D.C. in 1943. After entering Howard University in 1961, he became active with the campus-based Nonviolent Action Group (NAG), an affiliate of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Cobb left Howard one year later to work full time as a SNCC field secretary in the Mississippi Delta. While working in that state he originated the proposal for Freedom Schools that became such an important part of the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project.

After Leaving Mississippi in 1967, he founded Drum and Spear bookstore in Washington, DC, was a cofounder of the Center for Black Education in the same city, and lived for two years in the East African nation of Tanzania.

A founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in 1975, Cobb began his journalism career in 1974 as a reporter for WHUR Radio in Washington, DC. In 1976, he joined the staff of National Public Radio as a foreign affairs reporter. From 1985-1997, Cobb was a member of the Editorial Staff of National Geographic magazine—the first black writer to become one of that magazine's staff writers.

Cobb is an author. Hi latest book is This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible.

He is a board member of the SNCC Legacy Project (www.SNCClegacyproject.org). Between 2015-2017, Cobb led an SLP collaboration with Duke University to create a digital gateway into SNCC and its work. The site was launched in March 2017. (www.SNCCdigital.org).

In June 2018, Cobb was the recipient of a Carnegie Fellowship in the category of Democracy to help facilitate his current project, a book to be published by Duke University Press on today’s young Movement for Black Lives that is tentatively titled Get in the Way: Protest: Politics, and the Movement for Black Lives.

Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole

President emerita, Spelman College and Bennett College

Johnnetta Betsch Cole is the Chair and Seventh President of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), an organization of over 2 million women of African descent. NCNW’s mission is to advocate for and empower Black women, their families and their communities. Dr. Cole is a noted educator, author, speaker and consultant on diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion in educational institutions, museums and other workplaces.

After receiving a Ph.D. in anthropology, she held teaching positions in anthropology, women’s studies, and African American studies at several colleges and universities. Dr. Cole served as President of both historically Black colleges for women in the United States, Spelman College and Bennett College, a distinction she alone holds. She also served as the Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, as a Principal Consultant at Cook Ross, and as a Senior Consulting Fellow at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Dr. Cole currently serves as Special Counsel on Strategic Initiatives at the Baltimore Museum of Art. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Abraham Lincoln Lewis Foundation, The Dr. Maya Angelou Foundation and she is the Dean of the Herndon Directors Institute. She has authored, co-authored and edited several books and numerous articles for scholarly and general audiences. Dr. Cole has received numerous awards, and is the recipient of 70 honorary degrees.

Throughout her career and in her published work, speeches, and community service, Johnnetta Betsch Cole consistently addresses racism, sexism, and all other systems of inequality. She is a member of the Links, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., The Top Ladies Of Distinction, Inc., and a Lifetime Member of the NAACP.

Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson

American academic, author, ordained minister and radio host

Michael Eric Dyson is one of the nation’s most renowned professors, gifted writers, inspiring preachers, knowledgeable lecturers and riveting media personalities. As a professor who earned a PhD in Religion from Princeton University, Dyson has taught at some of the nation’s most distinguished universities, including Brown, UNC Chapel Hill, Columbia, DePaul, the University of Pennsylvania, and Georgetown University. He is currently the Distinguished University Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies, College of Arts & Sciences, and Centennial Professor at Vanderbilt University.

As a writer of more than 20 books, New York Times bestsellers The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America; and, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, that was called by the New York Times,” one of the most frank and searing discussions on race…a deeply serious, urgent book, which should take its place in the tradition of Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and King’s Why We Can’t Wait.” His latest book, “Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America” published December 2020 was heralded as Amazon’s Bestselling Book for 2020.

Dyson has lectured across the country, and around the world, in many of the best colleges and universities, and in public theaters and auditoriums, and for many corporations and unions. He has also served for the last 30 years as a media commentator and host, on every major radio and television show, from NPR’s Morning Edition, The Takeaway, and Fresh Air with Terry Gross, to television’s Meet the Press, Face the Nation, Today Show, Good Morning America, and Real Time with Bill Maher, and as a political analyst on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News.

Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski

President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, President of UMBC since 1992, is a consultant on science and math education to national agencies, universities, and school systems. In 2012, he was named by President Obama to chair the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. He leads a university that has been recognized as a model for inclusive excellence by such publications as U.S. News, which the past 10 years has recognized UMBC as a national leader in academic innovation and undergraduate teaching.

In 2012, he was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME, and more recently he received the American Council on Education’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2018), the University of California, Berkeley’s Clark Kerr Award (2019), and the University of California, San Francisco’s UCSF Medal (2020). His most recent book, The Empowered University, examines how university communities support academic success by cultivating an empowering institutional culture.

Rodney Hurst

Award-winning author, civil rights activist, Black historian

Rodney Lawrence Hurst, Sr. is a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather, a widower, a cancer survivor, a civil rights activist, a Black historian, a United States Air Force veteran, and is the award-winning author of three books--It was never about a hot dog and a Coke®! A personal account of the 1960 sit-in demonstrations in Jacksonville, Florida, and Ax Handle Saturday; Unless WE Tell It…It Never Gets Told! stories of notable Blacks of Jacksonville who impacted this city and the country; and Never Forget Who You Are: Conversations about Racism and Identity Development, which he co-authored with Dr. Rudy F. Jamison Jr. discusses Racism and identity development as seen through Mr. Hurst’s eyes and Dr. Jamison’s eyes.

Hurst, a native of Jacksonville and a 1960 high school graduate of segregated Northwestern Junior-Senior High School in Jacksonville, Florida, was the sixteen-year-old President of the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP and was one of the leaders of the 1960 sit-in demonstrations in downtown Jacksonville.

Hurst served two four-year terms on the Jacksonville City Council. He speaks extensively on Racism, Black History, American History, and Civil Rights History. He is the recipient of numerous awards and is responsible for several “firsts” in Jacksonville.

The Rev. Christopher McKee

Senior pastor of The First Baptist Church of Oakland

Since March of 2017, Reverend Christopher McKee, Jr. has served as the proud senior pastor of the historic First Baptist Church of Oakland (The Church of Oakland) in Jacksonville, Florida. Under Pastor McKee’s leadership, “The Oak '' has continued to be a beacon of hope on Jacksoville’s historic East Side and place of transformational spiritual growth which reaches across the Jacksonville community. Pastor McKee’s time of leadership has witnessed both numerical and ministerial growth within The Church of Oakland Family.

Pastor McKee holds a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in History (Summa Cum Laude) from Youngstown State University and a Master of Divinity Degree from Yale Divinity School (New Haven, Connecticut) where he received the Mersick Prize for public speaking. Pastor McKee is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Transformational Leadership at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (Rochester, New York).

Saved and baptized at the age of eight and called to preach at 18, Pastor McKee has been proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and serving in various ministry roles for over 17 years. From 2013-2017 Pastor McKee served as senior pastor of the historic Tabernacle Baptist Church (Youngstown, Ohio).

Committed to ministry beyond the pulpit, Pastor McKee has served on the boards of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, Access Health Mahoning Valley and helped to lead faith-based voter engagement efforts across Ohio. He is on the Board of OneJax and has served on advisory teams for the Urban Education Symposium and the Clinton Foundation. He is a proud member of the Jacksonville Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, Fraternity Inc.

As a man devoted to the Lord and his family, Pastor McKee’s greatest privilege is to share in the ministry of love and marriage with his beautiful wife, the former Éres Cristen Brown. Together they are the proud parents of daughters, Karis Iman and Koryn Ivana.

Chevara Orrin

Chevara Orrin is an award-winning diversity, equity & inclusion strategist, social entrepreneur, published author, filmmaker, public speaker and social justice activist. She is founder of We Are Straight Allies, a campaign created to support equality in the LGBTQ+ community and move forward passage of inclusive policies in housing, employment and accommodations, and #WhiteAndWoke™ an initiative designed for white people that are committed to intentional disruption of systems of oppression. The Allies campaign has drawn the participation of prominent figures such as feminist icon Gloria Steinem and was instrumental in the 2017 passage of a fully comprehensive Human Rights Ordinance in northeast Florida. Chevara is currently filming, “Why is Washington [Still] Burning?, a documentary that chronicles the actions of a collective of 100 white and Jewish activists in support of Black people, during the DC uprisings, days after Dr. Martin Luther, Jr’s assassination. The film explores today’s role of white Americans in the struggle for racial justice.

Chevara is deeply inspired by the legacy of her parents. She is the daughter of a white, Jewish mother who served as the lead coordinator for the 1967 March on the Pentagon in opposition to the Vietnam War and a Black father who was a “fiery top lieutenant “of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a driving force behind many critical civil rights campaigns of the 1960s, including the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade. 1965 Chicago Open Housing Movement and the Selma to Montgomery march which led to passage of the Voting Rights Act. Her father was portrayed by Grammy and Academy award-winning artist, Common in the critically acclaimed film, Selma.

Chevara is an innovative leader with more than 20 years of experience ranging from executive leadership in the arts and higher education sectors to global consulting with Fortune 500 clients. As an advocate committed to eradicating sexual violence, she is a contributing author in the Lambda Literary award-winning anthology, love WITH accountability (AK Press, fall 2019), a collection of writings that examine how accountability is a powerful and necessary form of love needed to address child sexual abuse. She is also co-founder of The Freedom Collection, a wearable art clothing line that honors the Freedom Riders of the 1960s.

Chevara has been recognized by the White House and the Human Rights Campaign as a leader, advocate and ally for the LGBTQ community and featured in publications including The Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Tikkun Magazine and The Feminist Wire. She has also been a featured guest on SiriusXM Radio and highlighted in John Blake’s 2007 book Children of the Movement, a powerful glimpse into the heart and soul of the Freedom Movement of the Sixties as seen by its children.

Leon Russell

Chair, National Board of Directors, NAACP

Leon W. Russell was elected Chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors at its Annual Board of Directors meeting in New York on February 18, 2017. Mr. Russell has served as a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors since 1990.

Mr. Russell retired in January 2012 after serving as the Director of the Office of Human Rights for Pinellas County Government, Clearwater, Florida since January 1977. In this position, Mr. Russell was responsible for implementing the county’s Affirmative Action and Human Rights Ordinances which provide for the development of a racially and sexually diverse workforce reflecting the general make-up of the local civilian labor force and the implementation of the county’s Equal Employment Opportunity Programs. Programs involved in the implementation of this ordinance cover employees in all the departments under the County Administrator and the five Constitutional Officer.

The Pinellas County Human Rights Ordinance provides protection from illegal discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations for the county’s 923,000 residents. This ordinance has been deemed “substantially equivalent” to Title VIII of the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Over five hundred formal complaints of discrimination are filed under the ordinance annually.

In September 2007, Mr. Russell was elected President of the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies (IAOHRA) during its annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. The IAOHRA Membership is agency based and consists of statutory human and civil rights agencies throughout the United States and Canada as well as representation from other nations. These agencies enforce state and local civil rights laws and are actively engaged in reducing and resolving intergroup tension and promoting intergroup relations. Mr. Russell concluded his second term as IAOHRA President at the conclusion of the IAOHRA Annual Conference in Austin, Texas in September 2011.

Additionally, Mr. Russell served as the President of the Florida State Conference of Branches of the NAACP from January 1996 until January 2000, after serving for 15 years as the First Vice President. He has served as Assistant Secretary, Chair of the Convention Planning Committee, and Vice Chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors.

Mr. Russell has served as a member of such organizations as International City Management Association; National Forum for Black Public Administrators; Board of Directors of the Children’s Campaign of Florida; Blueprint Commission on Juvenile Justice with responsibility for recommending reforms to improve the juvenile justice system in the state of Florida; past board member of the Pinellas Opportunity Council; and past President and board member of the National Association of Human Rights Workers. Currently, he serves as Chairman of the American Children’s Campaign (formerly Children’s Campaign of Florida).

Mr. Russell also served as the Chairman of Floridians Representing Equity and Equality (FREE). FREE was established as a statewide coalition to oppose the Florida Civil Rights Initiative, an anti- affirmative action proposal authored by Ward Connerly. Ultimately, the initiative failed to get on the Florida Ballot because of the strong legal challenge spearheaded by FREE.

Mr. Russell has received numerous civic awards and citations. He was born and grew up in Pulaski, Virginia where he attended segregated Calfee Elementary School, Christiansburg Institute and graduated from Pulaski High School in 1968. He is a 1972 graduate of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee with a BS in Political Science. His first job out of college was as a Field Representative for the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1977, he was recruited by the International City Management Association and moved to Pinellas County, Florida to become the Director, Affirmative Action.

Music Headliner: G.C. Cameron

George Curtis "G.C." Cameron is an American soul and R&B singer. After serving in the Vietnam War with the Marines, Cameron joined Motown act The Spinners as lead singer. He sang both lead parts on their first big hit, 1970's It's a Shame, co-written and produced by Stevie Wonder, and remained with Motown as a solo artist when The Spinners left Motown in 1971. G. C. was best known for the hit, “It’s so hard to say Goodbye to Yesterday”, on the sound track for the 1975 movie, “Cooley High.” The song has endured with music fans for generations. Boyz II Men remade it into a new hit in the 1980’s. His time with with motown also yielded some now rare and highly sought after albums and singles. Many a fan old and new, still marvel the silky soul and diverse range of the singer once called the man with 6 voices.

Music Headliner: The Katz Downstairz

In the 10 years that The Katz Downstairz has been together, they’ve become a household name in their native city of Jacksonville, Florida. Providing an unprecedented and unique sound that is an amalgamation of Hip Hop, Jazz, and Neo-Soul with an unmistakable Urban undertone, they are unrivaled on the city’s current music scene. Their weekly shows is one most highly anticipated and well-attended ongoing events in Downtown Jacksonville. Reminiscent of a “back in the day” type house party, the throwback style is both an appealing and refreshing breath of fresh air in a music scene long gone stale. Since emerging on the scene in the summer of 2011, The “Katz” have set themselves apart from the typical, run-of-the-mill Jacksonville bands providing a “grown and sexy” yet fun reprieve for Jacksonville’s professional, career-minded, family-oriented crowd.