The Political City: Speakers

Ta-Nehisi CoatesKeynote Speaker: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the most original and perceptive voices in black America—and one of our best writers, period. With rich emotional depth and a sonar sense of how pop culture, politics, and history shape discussions of diversity—his Atlantic cover story on slavery and race, “The Case for Reparations,” is one of the most talked-about pieces of nonfiction in recent memory—Coates is “the young James Joyce of the hip hop generation” (Walter Mosley).

An Atlantic senior editor and writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates has penned many influential articles. One of the most famous is “This is How We Lost to the White Man,” a searingly honest look at the generational and ideological rifts in the black community; its title is a quote by Bill Cosby. Last year, Coates’s lively Atlantic blog—a lesson in how to thoroughly engage a community of readers—was named by Time as one of the 25 Best in the World.

Coates’ critically hailed debut, The Beautiful Struggle, is a tough, touching memoir of growing up in Baltimore during the age of crack. It’s also a vivid portrait of his father, a former Vietnam Vet and Black Panther who started his own underground black press and dedicated his life to carrying his sons across the shoals of inner city adolescence. He is currently writing his first novel, about an interracial family in pre-Civil War Virginia.

Coates has written for The Village Voice and contributed to Time, O, and The New York Times Magazine. In 2012, he won the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis writing. Judge Hendrik Hertzberg, of The New Yorker, wrote, “Coates is one of the most elegant and sharp observers of race in America. He is an upholder of universal values, a brave and compassionate writer who challenges his readers to transcend narrow self-definitions and focus on shared humanity.”

James Ragland photo2Moderator: James Ragland

James Ragland is an award-winning Reporter, Editor and Metro Columnist for The Dallas Morning News. A 30-year veteran of two major U.S. newsrooms, James began writing his column in 2000. He is widely recognized for his coverage of poverty, race, social justice and politics. James graduated from Texas A&M University-Commerce with degrees in Political Science and Journalism in 1985 and began his career at The News. Within three years, he was assigned to cover one of the paper’s top beats—City Hall. In July 1991, James accepted a position with The Washington Post, where his coverage of city affairs earned him several major awards. James returned to The News as an editor in 1994. He served as deputy political editor on the National Desk during the 1996 presidential election and launched columns for the metro and lifestyle sections of the paper. He is a member of the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association Hall of Fame and a Distinguished Alumnus of Texas A&M University-Commerce. His work has appeared in magazines and newspapers around the country, and he has contributed to several anthologies on topics ranging from Bill Cosby to Cuba. James is married and has three children.

Florencia Velasco Fortner photo2Dual Keynote: Florencia Velasco Fortner

President & CEO, The Concilio

Tenacity. Compassion. Respect. Optimism. These irrepressible qualities define Florencia Velasco Fortner, The Concilio’s president and CEO. An immigrant from Mexico at age six, you might have thought she was destined to become a statistic. She credits her success to the encouragement of her parents and the support she received from people and programs that invested in her.

Today, at the helm of The Concilio, she’s returning the favor as she champions disadvantaged children and families. Since she joined The Concilio in 2005, the organization has quadrupled its assets and increased families served from 2,000 to over 11,000. She is a graduate of Leadership Dallas, a Marshall Memorial Fellow, a member of the Dallas Summit, Dallas Assembly and the Hispanic 100, she serves on the advisory board of the Dallas Women’s Foundation and Archives of Women of the Southwest. Additionally, she serves on the board of the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies at SMU, as well as numerous other community organizations.

Lee Cullum headshot2Panelist: Lee Cullum

Lee Cullum is a journalist who contributes columns to the Dallas Morning News and commentaries to the National Public Radio station in North Texas. She also is host of CEO, a series of interviews with business leaders, produced by PBS. She was editor of the editorial page of the Dallas Times Herald and edited D Magazine, which during her tenure was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. She has hosted Conversations, a series of biographical interviews with major newsmakers for the PBS station in that area. Cullum worked as a reporter and then executive producer and on‑air moderator of Newsroom, a nightly program on the PBS affiliate in Dallas. She also developed several productions for broadcast on PBS including a profile of Lillian Hellman that was nominated for an Emmy. Cullum anchored the Election Specials that won the Columbia DuPont Broadcast Journalism Award for KERA‑TV. Cullum attended Sweet Briar College and graduated from Southern Methodist University. She has one son, Cullum Clark, who is in finance and lives in Dallas with his wife, Nita, and their daughters, Lili, Annabel and Charlotte.

Michael Sorrell Picture2Panelist: Michael Sorrell

Michael J. Sorrell is the 34th President of Paul Quinn College. Under his leadership, the school is experiencing one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of higher education. Michael’s vision is to permanently transform PQC into a nationally elite small college by focusing on innovation, academic rigor, and servant leadership. Among the school’s accomplishments during President Sorrell’s seven year tenure have been: winning the 2011 HBCU of the Year, the 2012 HBCU Student Government Association of the Year, and the 2013 HBCU Business Program of the Year awards; partnering with PepsiCo to transform the unused football field into the two acre “WE over Me Farm”; rewriting all institutional fundraising records; and restructuring the curriculum. Michael received his J.D. and M.A. in Public Policy from Duke University and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania. He has studied at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government (as a graduate fellow) and Duke University. He graduated from Oberlin College with a B.A. in Government. Michael was named the 2012 HBCU Male President of the Year by HBCU Digest and has been widely recognized for his civic leadership in Dallas. President Sorrell is married to the former Natalie Jenkins. They have one son, Michael Augustus and are expecting a daughter in February.