Voting with Purpose: 7 esteemed leaders will speak at the Oct. 20 Word in Black virtual event


The 10 publishers in the Word in Black collaborative welcome seven esteemed Black leaders for an evening of conversation on voting with purpose. The event is an interactive informational broadcast that will focus on the importance of all voters participating in the upcoming election.

Seven guests from diverse backgrounds will share research, insights, and experiences that highlight why exercising one’s right to vote is crucial this — and every — election.

The panelists include:

  • Bakari T. Sellers, Attorney, Strom Law Firm and Political Commentator, CNN
  • Susan Smith Richardson, CEO, Center for Public Integrity
  • Leigh Chapman, Director, Voting Rights Program
  • Wes Moore, CEO, Robin Hood Foundation
  • Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr, President and CEO, NNPA
  • Nolan Williams Jr., Musicologist, theologian, songwriter, and producer
  • Kristen Clarke, President & Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The event is hosted by Chris Bennett, publisher of Seattle Medium, and Dr. Frances Toni Draper, CEO and publisher of the AFRO American, and is moderated by Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor in chief of the New York Amsterdam News, and Larry Lee, publisher of the Sacramento Observer.

Lee explains in the video clip why this moment in time is right for an event focused on voting with a purpose.


Sonny Messiah Jiles, CEO of the Defender Network, shares details in the video below about the Word in Black collaboration and the importance of empowering the Black community to uplift and to raise hope.

Leading the innovative event are Emmy award-winning producers,  Nzinga Christine Blake and Erik Niewiarowski, and fueling the technology is broadcast and streaming viewer engagement partner, Megaphone TV.

The Voting with a Purpose Panel

Meet the guests participating in the hour-long event Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 6 p.m. ET — streaming at WordinBlack.com.

Bakari Sellers recently released a New York Times Best Seller My Vanishing Country: A Memoir. The book has been described as part memoir, part historical and cultural analysis illustrating the lives of America’s forgotten black working-class men and women.

Bakari recently expanded his audience with the Bakari Sellers Podcast, a twice-a-week show that is part of The Ringer Podcast Network. His podcasts discuss a variety of topics from politics, race, sports, media, the presidential campaign, and much more.

Bakari was born into an activist family. His father, civil rights leader Cleveland Sellers, instilled core values in him to continue in the tireless commitment to service. 

In 2005 Bakari earned a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from Morehouse College. He continued his education at the University of South Carolina School of Law in 2008 earning a Juris Doctor. Bakari currently practices law with the Strom Law Firm, LLC in Columbia, SC where he heads the firm’s strategic communication and public affairs team and has recently added Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consulting to the list of services offered.

Bakari made history in the 2006 South Carolina state legislature as the youngest African American elected official in the nation, at the age of 22.  His political career did not stop there, in 2014 he was the Democratic Nominee for Lt. Governor in the state of South Carolina. Bakari has also worked for United States Congressman James Clyburn and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

His accomplishments do not go unnoticed within the Democratic Party. In 2008 he served on President Obama’s South Carolina steering committee. His ability to “reach across the aisle to get things done” has led to numerous achievements including being named TIME Magazine’s 40 Under 40 and “The Root 100” list of the nation’s most influential African-Americans in 2015, and HBCU Top 30 Under 30 in July 2014. 

Bakari has served as a featured speaker at various Political Events, Universities, and National Trade Organizations across the country, such as the 2008 and 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Susan Smith Richardson is CEO of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit nonpartisan investigative news organization. 

Richardson is a longtime journalist, news editor and publisher. She has worked for major city newspapers including the Chicago Tribune. She was managing editor of the Texas Observer and later was editor and publisher of The Chicago Reporter, which investigates race, poverty and income inequality. 

Smith Richardson has been a Nieman Fellow and a research fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, both at Harvard, and a fellow at the University of Texas School of Law’s Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice. She has written widely on the media, politics and questions of justice in both the newsroom and society. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., entrepreneur, global business leader, educator, civil rights leader, NAACP Life Member, syndicated columnist and author is the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). Dr. Chavis currently is also the Senior Strategic Advisor for the Diamond Empowerment Fund that he co-founded with Russell Simmons and leaders of the global jewelry and diamond industry in 2007. Dr. Chavis was elected in 2013 to the National Board of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO). Dr. Chavis’ award-winning syndicated column for the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) reaches 20.2 million readers weekly throughout the United States, Africa and the Caribbean.

A native of Oxford, North Carolina, Dr. Chavis received the bachelor of arts, in Chemistry from the University of North Carolina; the Master of Divinity, magna cum laude, from Duke University; and the Doctor of Ministry, from Howard University. Dr. Chavis has also completed course requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy in systematic theology, from Union Theological Seminary. Dr. Chavis is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.

He began his career in 1963, as a statewide youth coordinator in NC for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  In 1970, Chavis was appointed Southern Regional Program Director of the 1.7 million-member United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice (UCC-CRJ) and by 1985 was named the Executive Director and CEO of the UCC-CRJ. In 1988, Dr. Chavis was elected Vice President of the National Council of Churches of the USA.

In 1993 and 1994 Dr. Chavis served as the Executive Director and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and remains an active supporter of the NAACP. In 1995, Dr. Chavis was the National Director and organizer of the Million Man March. From 1995 to 1997 Chavis was the Executive Director and CEO of the National African American Leadership Summit (NAALS). The 2010 theatrical release of the full length movie “Blood Done Sign My Name” distributed by Paladin, directed by Jeb Stuart, starring Ricky Schroder, Nate Parker, and Lela Rochon depicts a true story from Dr. Chavis’ early days in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960’s and 1970’s in his hometown of Oxford, NC.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, leads one of the country’s most important national civil rights organizations in the pursuit of equal justice for all. Under her leadership, the organization has been at the forefront of some of the nation’s biggest racial justice problems today. The Lawyers’ Committee seeks to promote fair housing and community development, economic justice, voting rights, equal educational opportunity, criminal justice, judicial diversity and more.

Throughout her career, Ms. Clarke has focused on work that seeks to strengthen our democracy by combating discrimination faced by African-Americans and other marginalized communities. Clarke formerly served as the head of the Civil Rights Bureau for the New York State Attorney General’s Office, where she led broad civil rights enforcement on matters including criminal justice issues, education and housing discrimination, fair lending, barriers to reentry, voting rights, immigrants’ rights, gender inequality, disability rights, reproductive access and LGBT issues. Under her leadership, the Bureau secured landmark agreements with banks to address unlawful redlining, employers to address barriers to reentry for people with criminal backgrounds, police departments on reforms to policies and practices, major retailers on racial profiling of consumers, and one of the country’s largest school districts concerning issues relating to the school-to-prison pipeline. Kristen received her bachelor of arts degree from Harvard University and her Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School.

Wes Moore is the CEO of Robin Hood, one of the largest anti-poverty forces in the nation. He is a bestselling author, a combat veteran, and a social entrepreneur.

Wes’ first book, “The Other Wes Moore,” a perennial New York Times bestseller, captured the nation’s attention on the fine line between success and failure in our communities and in ourselves. That story has been optioned by executive producer Oprah Winfrey and HBO to be made into a movie. He is also the author of the bestselling books “The Work,” “Discovering Wes Moore,” and “This Way Home.”

Wes grew up in Baltimore and the Bronx, where he was raised by a single mom. Despite childhood challenges, he graduated Phi Theta Kappa from Valley Forge Military College in 1998 and Phi Beta Kappa from Johns Hopkins University in 2001. He earned an MLitt (Master of Letters) in International Relations from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar in 2004. Wes then served as a captain and paratrooper with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne, including a combat deployment to Afghanistan. He later served as a White House Fellow to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Before becoming CEO at Robin Hood, Wes was the founder and CEO at BridgeEdU, an innovative tech platform addressing the college completion and job placement crisis. BridgeEdU reinvents freshman year for underserved students. Wes remains chairman of the board of directors at BridgeEDU. He has also worked in finance as an investment banker with Deutsche Bank in London and with Citigroup in New York.

Leigh M. Chapman is director of the voting rights program at The Leadership Council for Civil and Human Rights, overseeing projects that advocate voting protections for marginalized people. Previously, Chapman was senior policy advisor at Let America Vote, where she advised the organization on election law and policy issues at the state and federal levels. Before that, she was appointed director of policy for the Pennsylvania Department of State by Governor Tom Wolf, where she managed the department’s policy and regulatory development process in coordination with the Governor’s Office of Policy in the program areas of charities, corporations, elections and professional licensure. Chapman began her civil rights career at Advancement Project where she served as a staff attorney in the Voter Protection Program. Chapman graduated from the University of Virginia earning a Bachelor of Arts in American studies and history and received her J.D. from Howard University School of Law.

Nolan Williams, Jr. is an American composer, producer, music director, innovator, curator, and musicologist. His body of creative work includes curatorial festivals curated in partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Philadelphia’s Mann Center; cultural programming developed in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, U.S. State Department, and the Embassies of India and South Africa; choral and orchestral works performed by the Philadelphia, National Symphony, Charleston Symphony, Philadelphia Youth, Atlanta Youth and Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestras; numerous choral commissions; songwriting credits on two Grammy-nominated projects; music for television; and, collaborations with an impressive roster of artists, including Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Smokie Robinson, Gladys Knight, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Natalie Cole, Raul Esparza, Bobby McFerrin, Vanessa Williams, Denyce Graves, India.Arie, and Hil Harper.

Williams is also chief music editor of the landmark African American Heritage Hymnal (GIA Publications, 2001), with sales approaching 500,000 books sold worldwide; associate editor of Total Praise, the 2012 hymnal published for the eight-million-member National Baptist Convention, USA; and third-most contributing arranger for Lead Me, Guide Me – Second Edition (2012), the African American Catholic hymnal. He has lectured before the American Academy of Religion; for the Festival Musicá e Filosofia in Naples, Italy; at Yale and Georgetown Universities; and, as a visiting professor at Dartmouth College (2012 spring term) and Howard University (1991-1992).

Word in Black is a journalism and business transformation collaborative with 10 founding members.

Learn more about the Emmy award-winning producing team, Nzinga Christine Blake and Erik Niewiarowski, and technology partner, Megaphone TV by reading background on how the event came about.

This is an event you can’t miss. Register to attend here.