2018 Conference Overview
Kevin Powell is one of the most acclaimed political, cultural, literary and hip-hop voices in America today. Kevin is a native of Jersey City, raised by a single mother in extreme poverty, but managed to study at Rutgers University in New Brunswick thanks to New Jersey’s Educational Opportunity Fund. Kevin has gone on to be the author of 12 books, including his newest title, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood. It is a critically acclaimed and brutally honest memoir about his life, including his youth. In 2018, he will publish a biography of Tupac Shakur, the late rapper and controversial American icon. Kevin’s writings have also appeared in CNN.com, Esquire, Ebony, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, ESPN.com and Vibe Magazine, where he worked for many years as a senior writer, interviewing such diverse public figures as Tupac Shakur and General Colin Powell.
Kevin routinely appears in interviews on television, radio, and in print and on the Internet discussing major issues of our time. As an activist, he is the president and co-founder of BK Nation, a new national, progressive, multicultural organization focused on such issues as education, civic engagement, leadership training, health and wellness, social media, arts and culture, and job and small business creation. Kevin was also a Democratic candidate for Congress in Brooklyn, New York, his adopted hometown, in 2008 and 2010.
Kevin routinely travels nationally and globally as a public speaker, at colleges and corporations, at various institutions, and a wide range of communities. Recent speaking engagements include stops at Microsoft headquarters, Stanford University, the U.S. Department of Justice, the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the “March on Washington,” a one-week residency at the American University in Nigeria, visiting lecturer positions at Central State University and Virginia State University and as Hip-hop Scholar-in-Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. On behalf of the U.S. State Department, he toured Japan lecturing on the relevance of Dr. King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech in the 21st century. Kevin also visited Wales in the United Kingdom for a series of lectures and workshops on the 100th birthday of 20th century poet Dylan Thomas, and the connections between Welsh and American poetry and spoken-word traditions. As a result, he was named the International Ambassador for the Dylan Thomas Centennial in America for 2014.
As a pop culture curator, Kevin produced the first exhibit on the history of hip-hop in America at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, which toured America and overseas. As a humanitarian, Kevin’s work includes local, national and international initiatives to end violence against women and girls (including a very well-regarded appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show highlighting domestic violence); and he has done extensive philanthropic and relief work, ranging from Hurricane Katrina to earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, to Superstorm Sandy in New York, to his annual holiday party and clothing drive for the homeless every December since 9/11.
As an acknowledgement of Kevin’s life of public service and his dedication to literature and the arts, Cornell University recently became the owner of The Kevin Powell Collection, documenting nearly 30 years of his work to date in print, photos, videos, books, handwritten notes, speeches, and select memorabilia.
Dave Dennis participated in the first Freedom Bus ride from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi in 1961 as they were attempting to desegregate the interstate bus system, and in voter registration efforts during the 1964 Freedom Summer. He had been raised in Louisiana by sharecropper grandparents.
Dave Dennis worked closely with Bob Moses and Medgar Evers in Mississippi, and was active in many Civil Rights organizations during the 1960’s. He served as co-director of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) in Mississippi. Dennis conducted voter registration workshops throughout the south as the Mississippi director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), working with SNCC members and other civil rights activists in Mississippi under the COFO umbrella. A bout with bronchitis prevented Dennis from riding in the car with three Civil Rights workers he was training, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, the night they were killed by Ku Klux Klan members on a back road in Neshoba County, Mississippi. Dennis spoke at the funeral of James Chaney.
Before his organizing work in Mississippi, Dennis established the first African American cooperative in the south, the Ruleville Mississippi Quilting Cooperative, comprised of eighteen women from that town.
In 1972, Dennis organized a successful challenge to the Louisiana Democratic Party structure. This represented the first time since Reconstruction that there was a majority of African American delegates from the Louisiana Democratic Party to the Democratic National Convention and an African American chairman of the delegation.
After leaving the practice of law in Louisiana in 1992, Dennis joined Moses to further develop an education program known as the Algebra Project. Today, he works as the director and CEO of the Southern Initiative of the Algebra Project, a nonprofit that aims to improve minority children’s mathematics education.
Dennis received his Bachelors of Arts and Science from Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School. He has been cited in several books and publications related to Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Movement.