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.
Boston area Youth Organizing Project
Pheonix is an Afro-Haitian Boston native with 14 years of experience in local and national organizing efforts around juvenile justice and within the youth organizing community. She is currently the interim Director at BYOP (Boston Area Youth Organizing Project). She continues to share her restorative practices and helps support creating safe spaces to address a variety of campaigns and actions that cover the social issues that impact marginalized communities, such as immigration, juvenile justice, gentrification, education reform and more.
Julia L. Davis is the Director of Youth Justice and Child Welfare. She has spent nearly two decades advocating for vulnerable children through civil rights litigation, public policy, and philanthropy. Most recently, Ms. Davis provided consulting services to the New York City Administration for Children’s Services. She also served as a senior attorney at Children’s Rights, leading reform campaigns on behalf of system-involved youth across the country. For more than six years, she conducted research and led public health campaigns for adolescents and young adults at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Ms. Davis also served clients in state and federal government, the nonprofit sector, and philanthropy as a consultant for The Lewin Group, as part of projects to invest in and improve outcomes for children and families living in poverty. Ms. Davis is a member of the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Children and the Law, she represents clients pro bono through the Immigrant Justice Project, and she serves on the School Leadership Team at P.S. 217 in Flatbush, Brooklyn. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and community health from Brown University and a law degree from the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.
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.
Khem is a wife and mother of six children. She is an education advocate by any means necessary. She is a rights holder, not a stakeholder, a solutionary not a complainer. She has served on many public school leadership teams and other elected parent leadership roles, former charter school parent. She has served on the board of Class Size Matters, co-founded The Mothers’ Agenda of New York. Presently she is the Board President of Parents Across America, the Founder/Director of Parents Organized for Public based in Greensboro, NC, and is an elected school board member of Guilford County, NC the third largest school system since 2018.
Melissa is the Youth Justice and Child Welfare Policy Associate at Children’s Defense Fund-NY. She has spent the last five years dedicated to systemic change and advocating for vulnerable populations across New York City. Most recently, Miss. Clarke worked at New York City Charter School Center where she worked towards building community and political support in order for charter schools to flourish in the communities that needed access to high quality schools. Melissa received her B.A in Political Science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and her Masters of Science in Social Work from Columbia University where she focused her work on public policy and contemporary social issues.
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.
Jaryanna “Jary” Rivera (she/her) is a Puerto Rican who lives in the South Bronx. She graduated from Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists and now attends John Jay College of Criminal Justice majoring in Forensic Psychology. Jary is passionate about making change happen in the world regarding women of color and all people in the Latinx and Black community. As a YLB alumna, she is now the NYC YLB Coordinator.
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
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
Interm Campaign Coordinator
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.