Plenary Speakers

Featured Keynote: Alvin Herring

Alvin Herring is the director of racial equity and community engagement at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan. In this position, Herring provides strategic oversight for the Racial Equity and Community Engagement team and grant portfolios related to racial equity, racial healing and community engagement that advance the foundation’s mission to support children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success in school, work and life. Herring holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and pan-African studies from the University of Louisville and a master’s degree in counseling from the University of St. Francis. He has also pursued post-master’s work in counseling at Purdue University and pursued religious studies at the Ecumenical Institute, St. Mary’s Seminary. A full bio can be found here.

Opening Plenary: Leading Through Challenging Times

Ilhan Omar
Ilhan Omar is an experienced Twin Cities policy analyst, organizer, public speaker and advocate. She was recently elected as the Minnesota House Representative for District 60B, making her the highest-elected Somali-American public official in the United States. Ilhan is the Assistant Minority Leader, with assignments to three house committees; Civil Law & Data Practices Policy, Higher Education & Career Readiness Policy and Finance, and State Government Finance. In addition to serving in the legislature, Ilhan is a mother of three and the Director of Policy Initiatives at Women Organizing Women, where she empowers East African women to take civic leadership roles in their community. Born in Somalia, Ilhan and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was eight. The family spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States in 1990s.

Jeff Chang
Jeff Chang is the Executive Director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University. His books include Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, Who We Be: The Colorization of America (published in paperback in January 2016 under the new title, Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post Civil Rights America). His latest, We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes On Race and Resegregation, was published in September 2016. His next book will be a biography of Bruce Lee. Jeff co-founded CultureStr/ke and ColorLines. He was named by The Utne Reader as one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” and by KQED as an Asian Pacific American Local Hero. He has been a USA Ford Fellow in Literature and the winner of the Asian American Literary Award.

Maha Freij
Maha Freij is the Deputy Executive Director & Chief Financial Officer at ACCESS, and is a leading visionary in the Arab American community with regard to philanthropy and building strong institutions to strengthen the voice of the community in American civil society. Under her leadership, the Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP) has established itself as the only national Arab American community foundation in the U.S., connecting philanthropists across the country and helping them to make a greater impact. Maha has also been a key leader in growing ACCESS from its roots as a regional human services organization, to what it is today — a community builder nationwide. Maha is a graduate of the Hebrew University with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and economics. She is credited as the first Arab/Palestinian woman to earn a CPA license in Israel in 1989 – the same year she immigrated to the United States.

Lunch Plenary: Comedy as a Tool for Social Activism

Suzie Afridi
Suzie was born and raised in Jericho, in the West Bank. Her dad was a welder and her mom was a reluctant farmer. When she was fourteen her family immigrated to San Jose, California. She attended San Jose State University then pretended to be a tax professional until her husband decided on a whim to move to Dubai. She lived in Dubai for three years doing random jobs, none of which made her Pakistani in-laws proud. In 2007, she delivered a boy in a government hospital in Dubai, she misses their food to this day. In 2008, the little family of three moved to NYC. In 2013, she started doing stand up because no one read her blog. When she is not doing stand up, she pretends to exercise and is very busy not writing. Her long term goal is be able to entertain from bed. She is available for any kind of event, seriously, anything. @SuzieSaysSo

Amer Zahr
Amer Zahr is an Arab American comedian, speaker, writer, and adjunct professor at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. He has headlined packed houses at New York City’s world-famous Carnegie Hall and the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.  He is the founder of producer of the “1001 Laughs Ramallah Comedy Festival,” a production in Palestine, as well as the annual “1001 Laughs Dearborn Comedy Festival” in Dearborn, Michigan, in partnership with the Arab American National Museum. He is also the filmmaker of “We’re Not White,” a comedic and informative approach to the Arab American struggle to get a box on the United States Census Form. Amer is the author of the well-read blog “The Civil Arab,” as well as his first book, “Being Palestinian Makes Me Smile.” Amer holds an MA in Middle East Studies and a JD (law degree), both from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He writes and speaks widely on political and social affairs, and has appeared on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and Al-Jazeera.