DSC Coordinating Committee
Debra Watkins was born in Los Angeles and raised in Pomona, California. After her high school graduation, she studied in France for one year and earned a baccalaureate that enabled her to attend college in that country free of charge. Instead, she returned to the United States and earned a B.A. in English with minors in French and Psychology from Pitzer College in 1976. Debra had spent her entire career of 35 years in the East Side Union High School District (ESUHSD) of San Jose before retiring in May 2012. Debra taught high school English for 14 years, then helped start an alternative high school called Pegasus. After eight years at Pegasus, she coordinated Project WORD (Working On Re-defining our Destiny) – a culturally responsive intervention program for African American students.
When Debra established the CAAAE in 2001, she also created the Dr. Frank S. Greene Scholars Program (GSP). Named after an African American scientist who helped pave the way for today’s computers. The GSP is a long-term, youth development STEM initiative for students of African ancestry. In 2017, the CAAAE’s name was changed to A Black Education Network (ABEN) to expand its influence across the country. Debra’s vision is for it to become the go-to organization for Black education in the country just as the CAAAE was in California.
Debra has garnered countless awards for her work, serves on local, regional and statewide committees and boards, and has helped raise several millions of dollars for the CAAAE since its inception.
Lorie Clark is the Blue Ribbon High School Specialist for the nationally recognized Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program. In this role she provides support to high school students in preparation for college or a career, ensuring they have access to resources and opportunities while in high school. She advises the Blue Ribbon Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) program for high school students which focuses on leadership development, student advocacy, servant-leadership, voice and equity. Additional responsibilities include working with MSAN (Multicultural Student Achievement Network) students on the achievement and opportunity gaps and issues related to the school to prison pipeline (suspensions and discipline). Students are working on modifying the student code of conduct using Dignity in School’s model code and the campaign “Solutions Not Suspensions”. Lorie Clark is a graduate of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida and resides in Carrboro, NC. She believes working with youth is her life’s work and has been with Blue Ribbon for 16 years.
Bio Coming Soon
Janet Vargas is an organizer and trainer with Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI). Born and raised in Chicago, IL, Janet has over 10 years of experience in community organizing having previously worked on immigration and worker’s rights, as well as youth organizing with a violence prevention focus while at Enlace Chicago in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. She currently serves as the lead support staff for the Elementary Justice Campaign with Parents Organized to Win, Educate, Renew – Policy Action Council (POWER-PAC), an Illinois parent policy action council. The parent-driven and led Elementary Justice Campaign changes policy and practice to end the school to prison pipeline. Janet is also a skilled trainer in COFI’s Family Focused Organizing model, a leadership development curriculum which provides comprehensive training and organizing support to develop parent leaders and helps them build organizations to take action on the issues that affect their families. COFI’s approach builds leaders over time and is rooted in real-world organizing that the parents themselves define.
Karen Lynn Morton is an Evangelist, Psalmist, Teacher, Author, Entrepreneur. In 2002 she launched the Woman of God’s Design, an organization that empowers women through God’s teachings, and held the first “Elect Ladies” conference. From that time on Lynn has been a speaker and/or coordinator of many events to help empower the people of God. Lynn’s love for people has carried over into her professional life as well. Lynn facilitates Parent Leadership Development Workshops in the Chicago Public School System and has founded and coordinates what is now known as The Austin Peace Center. After serving five years as Co-Chair of the citywide parent organization POWER-PAC (Parents Organized to Win Educate and Renew Policy Action Council), Lynn has been granted the position of Co-Chair Emeritus. As an entrepreneur, she is the owner of K. L. Morton Enterprises, which houses her training and coaching practices. Lynn is a Restorative Justice Trainer & Practitioner as well as a John Maxwell certified life coach, speaker and Motivational Teacher. In 2017 Lynn will release her first book, “I Tasted My Tears Today.” Lynn is the proud mother of one son. She is an avid reader and loves to write music and poetry.
Ruth is the co-founder/co-coordinator Community Education Project of New Orleans (CEPNO) & co-director of the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal in New Orleans. She brings a deep knowledge about long-haul organizing, solidarity work, cultural resistance, anti-racist education and faith-based justice work. Nigerian-born and raised, she has been a proud resident of New Orleans for over 20 years and is also a proud mother of 3 sons.
Demand to Learn Campaign
Bio coming soon
DaQuann W. Harrison is our youngest Coordinating Committee Member. At just 20 years old, DaQuann is a national youth empowerment speaker and educational advocate, national racial activist, member of the Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice, United Nations Youth Delegate, Federal Liaison for the State of Michigan (Dignity in Schools Campaign), and a host of other amazing things. In 2016 DaQuann founded his own organization “DWH Inspires” which uses empowerment practices and community organizing to build a better foundation for the next generation.
Letha Muhammad is the Director of Education Justice Alliance (EJA), based in Raleigh, North Carolina. As Director, Letha is working to advance the organization’s impact in dismantling the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline in their local school district, Wake County Public Schools, which will ensure that Black and other students of color have access to a quality education. EJA believes that the most effective way to dismantle the school to prison pipeline is to engage parents and families that are directly impacted by the issue. As such, her work includes engagement and training with parents, families and community members to ensure their access to a quality public school education. She is the mother of two school age children and one first year college student.
I Vote For Me
Lorraine Wright is a native New Yorker and the CEO / Executive Director of I Vote For Me, a Richmond-based Non Profit. IVFM focuses on Self-Advocacy in the spaces of Social Justice and the protection of Human Rights. Lorraine earned a Masters Certificate in Project Management from the George Washington University, School of Business in 2005. I Vote For Me sits on the Coordinating Committee of and is an organizational member of the national Dignity in Schools Campaign. Lorraine is a Certified Facilitator with the Virginia Center for Restorative Justice. Lastly, she is the parent of 2 AMAZINGLY AWESOME children, who are conscientious Freedom Fighters just like their mom!
Marika Pfefferkorn is the Executive Director of the Midwest Center for School Transformation. She regularly works with youth, parents and community members and advocates to push back against discriminatory discipline practices that push students and parents out of school and into the school to prison pipeline. She is the Co-Chair of the Solutions Not Suspensions (SNS) Coalition and a Federal Liaison for Dignity in Schools Campaign where she informs effective school practices on a national level.
Liz works with parents and advocates to promote policy change in public education to guarantee students’ right to dignity and a quality education. She has carried out research projects to document human rights violations in U.S. public schools, and has provided trainings to parents, youth and organizers about how to incorporate human rights standards and strategies into their advocacy. She has worked as a consultant with Human Rights Education Associates and as Project Coordinator at the Center for Economic and Social Rights, where she authored the report Civil Society and School Accountability: A Human Rights Approach to Parent and Community Participation in NYC Schools. She holds a B.A. from Brown University and a Masters degree in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Nollie Jenkins Family Center
Janice M. Harper has been a Community Organizer and Advocate of Nollie Jenkins Family Center (NJFC) since September 2010, working to develop and achieve positive changes in order to lead the community towards effective outcomes by a process that will change lives. She advocates for students’ educational rights; including families of children with disabilities. She works with young people in an intergenerational model of community and youth organizing that builds trust and confidence; along with youth leadership and development, parent training, policy advocacy, women and girls’ empowerment, environmental justice and the arts, and educating community around positive alternatives to suspensions; such as NJFC’s Scholar of Peace Peer Mediation program. She also serves on several educational committees and formerly served 5 years as DSC’s Federal Strategies/Liaison Co-Chair. Her work addresses the Prevention of Schoolhouse 2 Jailhouse (School-to-Prison Pipeline) and other relative educational reform issues to keep students in school, which led to the success of NJFC’s Campaign work since 2012 to abolish corporal punishment recently in July 2018. She also provides leadership to educate local and state stakeholders and allies.
Janice holds an undergraduate AA degree in Business from Ashford University and resides in Holmes County, MS by way of her home town in Illinois.
Natalie joined The Dignity in Schools Campaign as Campaign Coordinator in July of 2012. In her previous roles, she acted as the Campaign Coordinator of New York Neighbors for American Values, a Community Organizer at Voices of Women Organizing Project, and the Education Reform Associate at the New York Immigration Coalition. She received an MSW from the CUNY Hunter School of Social Work-Community Organizing program in 2007, and received a BSW from CUNY Lehman College in 2006. She was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, and has lived in New York since 2004.
Contact: [email protected]
Phone: 212-253-1710 Ext. 312
National Field Organizer
Zakiya came to advocacy, organizing, and policy work as a parent pushing back on the pre-school to prison pipeline. Prior to joining Dignity in Schools Campaign, she co-founded Racial Justice NOW! (RJN!) in Dayton, Ohio and served as Executive Director for 5 years. During her time at RJN! Zakiya organized Black parents to fight back against schools’ overly harsh discipline policies and practices that are ineffective, unfair and detrimental. Through this advocacy, organizing, and policy work-parents were able to win some significant victories; including a moratorium on out of schools suspensions for PK students and the creation of the ‘office of males of color,’ in the Dayton Public Schools. This work was the impetus in the new law passed in 2018 strictly limiting PK-3rd-grade suspensions and expulsions for public and charter schools in the State of Ohio.
Zakiya has been featured in media publications such as the Dayton Daily News, The Real News Network, Ohio Education Association (OEA) and presented training’s on race, school climate and culture at the OEA Summer Academy in 2015 & 2016. Additionally, Zakiya was featured in an article on preschool expulsions from the Center for American Progress.
Zakiya has received the Emerging Leader Award from the Center for Community Change in 2017 and the Community Advocacy Award from Advocates for Basic Legal Equality and Legal Aid of Western Ohio in 2016. Zakiya also received the Drum Major for Justice Award from the Dayton (OH) Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 2015.
Finally, Zakiya has the first chapter in the upcoming book: ‘Lift Us Up! Don’t Push Us Out! Voices from the Frontlines of the Educational Justice Movement’ released on Beacon Press in August 2018.
Contact: [email protected]
Lakita P. Jackson joins DSC as the administrative coordinator, based in our Manhattan office. Lakita has earned her B.F.A. in Musical Theater with a concentration in creative writing from the New School University. Her previous employers include: Harlem Day Charter School, a charter school in East Harlem where she served as a youth development worker for their extended day program, Tremor Video, a digital video technology co. where she was the office manager, and most recently New Visions for Public Schools, working as a program assistant, supporting a network leader and respective children’s first network team in their operational and instructional support of network schools across the five boroughs.
Along with her professional aspirations, Lakita is also a musician who goes by the name, Kita P, performing throughout NYC. She uses her music as a tool for healing, celebration, and to speak truth to power. Music can be heard at kitap.bandcamp.com.
Contant: [email protected]
Phone: 212-253-1710 ext. 308
Tafari is a passionate educator, brand strategist, graphic designer & photographer based in Atlanta, GA. He is excited to join the Dignity in Schools Campaign in April 2018 as the Communications Coordinator. Tafari is the owner and operator of The Indigenous Lens, a photography company that works to connect heritage and beauty through the art of visual conversation. Tafari also is a Facilitator-in-Training at AYA Educational Institute, an African-Centered educational and leadership development organization that facilitates a myriad of trainings, workshops and one-on-one sessions designed to heal alienation, heal toxic communication patterns and other wounds born of oppression. Previously, he Co-Directed HABESHA-Baltimore, a Pan-African organization that cultivates leadership in youth and families through practical experiences in cultural education, sustainable agriculture, entrepreneurship, holistic health, and technology.