A conversation with Benjamin Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP, and Rep. Donna Edwards; moderated by Alexis McGill Johnson.
Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards represents Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, comprising portions of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties. She was sworn in after a special election to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 110th Congress in June 2008, becoming the first African American woman to represent Maryland in Congress. She began her first full-term in the 111th Congress in 2009.
Benjamin Todd Jealous
As the 17th President and Chief Executive Officer of the NAACP, and the youngest person to hold the position in the organization’s nearly 100-year history, Benjamin Jealous has a deep commitment to social justice, public service and human rights activism. Jealous has served as President of the Rosenberg Foundation.
He was also Director of the U.S. Human Rights Program at Amnesty International where he led efforts to pass federal legislation against prison rape, rebuild public consensus against racial profiling in the wake of 9/11, and expose the widespread sentencing of children to life imprisonment without parole. As the Executive Director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a federation of more than 200 black community newspapers, Jealous doubled the number of black newspapers publishing online.
Early in his career, Jealous reported for the Jackson Advocate, an African American newspaper based in Mississippi. His reporting was credited with exposing corruption amongst high-ranking officials at a state prison, and helping to acquit a small black farmer who had been wrongfully and maliciously accused of arson.
Alexis McGill Johnson
Alexis McGill Johnson is a thought leader and a bridge builder whose work spans politics, academia, social activism, and cultural strategies. Throughout her work, Alexis has explored the shifting paradigms of identity and race-based politics in the post-civil rights era, increasing civic engagement among youth and people of color, and the implications for demographic and ideological changes of these constituencies on national politics. Her career and philanthropy have always, at their core, focused on improving the lives of young people, with an emphasis on youth of color. She is a frequent commentator on FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, and in press.
Currently, Alexis is serving as the Executive Director of American Values Institute (AVI), a consortium of researchers, educators, and social justice advocates whose work analyzes the role of bias and racial anxiety in our society. AVI's goal is to develop and introduce a research-based, empirically supported set of interventions into today's racially polarized and fraught climate. Alexis is serves as Board member for Planned Parenthood Federation of America where she will assume the role of Chair this April.
Upon earning her undergraduate degree in Politics from Princeton, Alexis began her career in academia by enrolling in a doctoral program at Tale University. For six years, Alexis developed and taught several courses on race and urban development, power, poverty, and social movement theory at both Yale and Wesleyan Universities. Never satisfied with the insular boundaries of the Ivory Tower, however, Alexis searched continually for other venues and audiences to discuss the real life concerns and experiences of her generation. In March 2002, she found such an outlet in Savoy Magazine where she wrote an article about mobilizing the Hip Hop generation entitled: 'Can the Hip Hop Generation become the Next NRA?' An interview for that article with Russell Simmons, the legendary 'Godfather of Hip Hop,' created a unique opportunity to serve as Political Director of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, Simmons's voter mobilization organization.
From July 2003 through the following year, she worked with Mr.Simmons and his national network of artists and cultural participants to devise the strategic plan for the HSAN. In July 2004, Alexis accepted an offer as Executive Director of Citizen Change, a nonprofit established by Sean Diddy Combs that educated young voters through grassroots and tailored social media efforts. During the 2004 election cycle, Alexis worked with Combs and his team at Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment on an unprecedented media and marketing campaign marked by the now ubiquitous slogan 'Vote or Die!' to educate, motivate, and empower young people about the process of voting. Mixing traditional grassroots mobilization with non-traditional consumer based marketing methodology created a new model for reaching young people and people of color that led to the most massive grassroots mobilization this generation had ever seen.
Since 2004, Alexis has remained a committed political activist and strategist for a variety of artists, organizations, and political candidates. That opportunity has allowed her to keep researching and testing various models of cultural engagement.
In addition to PPFA, Alexis also serves on the boards of Center for Social Inclusion, Air Traffic Control, and Citizen Engagement Lab, and is a Founder of The Culture Group. She previously served on the board of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
She and her husband, Rob Johnson, live in New York with their two daughters, Sara Jean (3) and Dylan Katherine (11 months).