Darnella Frazier was only 17 years old when, while walking her younger cousin to the neighborhood store, she witnessed and courageously videotaped the murder of George Floyd by police on May 25, 2020. She said, "I opened my phone and I started recording because I knew if I didn't, no one would believe me.”
Frazier posted the video on social media, which instantly undermined the false account that Mr. Floyd had died after a medical incident. The video eventually served as evidence leading to the murder conviction of police officer Derek Chauvin, who kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes while Mr. Floyd cried out that he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin and three other officers were eventually convicted on federal civil rights offenses.
During Chauvin’s state trial, Frazier testified that "When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they're all Black … I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends … I look at how that could have been one of them.”
Frazier’s video sparked protests across the country and indeed the world during a summer that became known as a racial reckoning in America. That summer raised awareness and advocacy around police brutality and structural racism that continues today.
In December 2020, free speech advocacy group PEN America awarded Frazier its Benenson Courage Award, presented by Spike Lee. The group's CEO Suzanne Nossel said, "With nothing more than a cell phone and sheer guts, Darnella changed the course of history in this country, sparking a bold movement demanding an end to systemic anti-Black racism and violence at the hands of police … Without Darnella's presence of mind and readiness to risk her own safety and wellbeing, we may never have known the truth about George Floyd's murder."
On June 11, 2021, Frazier was given a Pulitzer Prize in the form of a special award and citation for "courageously reporting the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists' quest for truth and justice."
Frazier was an inspiration for the Institute’s successful advocacy for the creation of an Attorney General directive protecting the right of the public to record police activity without intimidation.
Frazier was born and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Douglas S. Eakeley
Douglas S. Eakeley joined Rutgers Law School in 2012 as the first occupant of the Alan V. Lowenstein Chair in Corporate and Business Law, after several decades in private practice specializing in complex commercial litigation. He is the founder and co-director of the Rutgers Center for Corporate Law and Governance and the Rutgers Law School Entrepreneurship Clinic. He teaches courses in business organizations, corporate governance and compliance & enterprise risk management.
A former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale College (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa), Oxford University and Yale Law School, Professor Eakeley served as First Assistant Attorney General of the State of New Jersey during the administration of Governor James J. Florio. In 1993, he was appointed by President William J. Clinton (with the consent of the United States Senate) to the board of directors of the Legal Services Corporation, which he chaired until April 2003. His current professional affiliations include serving as a founding trustee (and former Chair) of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, trustee (and former Chair) of Legal Services of New Jersey and Treasurer of the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority.
An inductee into the New Jersey Equal Justice Library and Archive Circle of Justice, Professor Eakeley has received numerous awards for his pro bono work and contributions to the community, including the American Jewish Committee’s Judge Learned Hand Award, Thurgood Marshall College Fund Award of Excellence, John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award from the Litigation Section of the American Bar Association, National Housing Institute’s Outstanding Service Award, Reynoso-Abascal Don Quixote Award from California Rural Legal Assistance, League of Women Voters of New Jersey Making Democracy Work Award, Lead New Jersey's Lifetime of Leadership Award and the first Legal Services of New Jersey/New Jersey State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award (renamed the Debevoise-Eakeley Award).
Zenola Harper is Vice President of Litigation, Labor and Employment at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. In June 2020, at a time when the country was reeling not only from the ravages of COVID but also the racial reckoning stemming from the murder of George Floyd and so many others, Harper was appointed to lead the team comprised of cross functional leaders to develop Horizon’s response. The team developed the Pledge for Positive and Lasting Change which addresses healthcare disparities related to race and social barriers, as well as racial inequities in employment, healthcare and economics in the communities that Horizon serves. The team created a vision, analyzed the issues and charted a path forward to accomplish its goal for sustaining change. The work is a part of the ongoing culture change at Horizon, embraced at all levels of the organization, and significant accomplishments have been made under her leadership.
Harper is adept at strategic thinking and agility. She enjoys detecting the cause of a dispute and preventing it from happening again. Throughout her career she has focused on the “why,” with an emphasis on helping organizations address the cause to avoid recurrence. A masterful litigator, there is no doubt that the legal dispute or litigation will be addressed well, but a nagging question for her is always why the matter resulted in a dispute in the first place. Her experience is broad and includes business counseling, litigation, labor and employment matters, mergers and acquisitions, government investigations, risk management, governance and compliance. Valued for her ability to handle high stakes matters with grace, she is very focused on developing the strategy and pursuing it no matter the emotional environment that may exist because of the high-profile nature of the matter. Harper is someone who enjoys exposure to new areas of business and the law, and she willingly takes on new challenges. She has a measured approach and seeks to make sure the right people are in the room to address the issue. She exemplifies inclusivity and collaboration.
Agnostic to industry, Harper has worked at several corporations following her law firm experience at Blank, Rome, Comisky and McCauley. At Unisys Corporation, she led the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill litigation and resoundingly resolved the matter favorably for the company early in the litigation. At United Technologies’ Otis Elevator, Harper developed a pilot program identifying the causation of an inordinate amount of litigation, which pilot was implemented nationally and resulted in a decrease of litigation and a savings of $24 million over two years. At Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, she not only handled the largest health care fraud investigation against the pharmaceutical industry, but through cooperation and meetings with the government, was able to resolve the matter without any criminal convictions against the company or individuals. Harper joined Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey in 2011 as Deputy General Counsel and as a change leader to help shape the company into a more facile and innovative organization in the quickly transitioning healthcare industry. Her experience and judgment set her apart and presented her with increasing levels of responsibility and promotion to Vice President.
Harper served as the Assistant Corporate Secretary to the Board of Directors of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and she has also served as the Assistant Secretary to the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey. She currently serves as a Trustee to the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.
Harper develops high performing teams and motivates others to reach higher both in the workplace and beyond. She is the Chair of the Board of Trustees of NJ LEEP, a college access and success program for underserved youth in the Newark area. She also has led initiatives to benefit the Newark Boys Chorus School and received the school’s 2021 Leadership in Corporate Citizen Award. Harper is passionate about addressing inequities, particularly healthcare disparities, unequal access to quality education and impediments to economic security and advancement. She was recently appointed to the American Bar Association Task Force on Racial and Economic Justice and honored as a trailblazer by the Executive Women of New Jersey.
A graduate of Smith College, Phi Beta Kappa, magnum cum laude and high honors, and the New York University School of Law, Harper clerked in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and was a Fulbright Fellow to Tanzania, East Africa.
She is the proud mother of two accomplished artists who are creative entrepreneurs and who constantly amaze her.
Jelani Cobb is Dean of the Columbia Journalism School, where he is also the Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism and Director of the Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights.
Cobb is a highly distinguished and renowned journalist and historian. Since 2012, he has worked for The New Yorker as a contributor and currently as a staff writer, offering in-depth analyses of a wide array of subjects, ranging from electoral politics and policing to filmmaking and stand-up comedy. He has authored books on the election of President Barack Obama and the history of hip hop, and he recently co-edited an anthology of portraits of Black life in America. His essays and opinions have been published in The Washington Post, The New Republic, Essence, Vibe, The Progressive and TheRoot.com. Cobb’s expansive resume also includes reporting for Whose Vote Counts, the Peabody Award winning documentary series with Columbia colleague June Cross from PBS Frontline, Columbia Journalism Investigations and USA Today. Among the courses Cobb teaches at CJS is the seminar Covering Race, which examines the influence of race in the United States and its effects on reporting and media coverage.
Cobb graduated from Howard University and received his PhD in American History from Rutgers University. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright and Ford Foundations and in 2015 was honored with the Sidney Hillman Award for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.
Richard T. Thigpen
Richard T. Thigpen has been senior vice president for Corporate Citizenship at PSEG since July 2018 and is also chair of the PSEG Foundation.
Thigpen is responsible for areas of the business that drive public policy through advocacy, including federal, state and local government affairs, sustainability, charitable activities and corporate social responsibility. Thigpen is a member of PSEG’s Executive Officer Group.
Thigpen joined PSEG in March 2007 as vice president for State Governmental Affairs, PSEG Services Corp. He has been a public affairs consultant since 1999 and was a co-founding partner of 1868 Public Affairs, which provides lobbying, strategic planning, public relations and government relations services to clients in New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C.
Previously, Thigpen was an associate at the New York law firm of Thacher Proffitt and Wood in the mortgage-backed securities practice group (1988 to 1990), district director for U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (NJ-10) (1990 to 1996) and executive director of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee (1996 to 1999). He has served as a political analyst for New Jersey Network and as an academic associate for PublicMind, Fairleigh Dickinson University Polling and Survey Research Institute. Thigpen was a former assistant to the president of the NAACP State Conference for Public Affairs. Currently, he is a member of the boards of the Regional Plan Association, New Jersey Climate Change Alliance, New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, Public Media NJ Inc. (NJ PBS), Brown University Alumni Association, New Jersey Business & Industry Association, Alliance to Save Energy and the Donald M. Payne Global Foundation. He is also chair of the American Association of Blacks in Energy national board. Thigpen holds a Doctor of Law degree from Columbia University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Brown University.
William H. Stokes
Elected Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey in May of 2013 and consecrated in November of that same year, The Right Reverend William H. Stokes came to New Jersey a proven leader in the work of racial justice and reconciliation. As rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach, Florida from January of 1999 until his 2013 election as bishop, he led his parish and community to engage in antiracism dialogues and conversations about racial justice which involved county and town political and civic leaders which merited stories in both The Palm Beach Post and The Sun Sentinel. He was instrumental in fostering a unique partnership between St. Paul’s and St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, a historic Black parish in Delray Beach. This effort was featured in Sheryl A. Kujawa Holbrook’s 2002 book “A House of Prayer for All Peoples: Congregations Building Multiracial Communities.” In Delray Beach, Bishop Stokes was a member of the Mayor’s R.A.C.E Matters Committee, a coalition of community leaders that addressed issues of racism and racial injustice in Delray Beach including the community’s response to the tragic and wrongful police shooting of 16-year-old Jerrod Miller in 2005. While rector of St. Paul’s, he led St. Paul’s in the founding of Paul’s Place, a church based after-school program for mostly Haitian-immigrants, Haitian-American children who lived in the immediate surroundings of the church.
From 1995 to 1998, he was the Associate for Christian Education at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida and instituted on-going anti-racism dialogues in that parish as well. Stokes served as a member of the Committee on Anti-Racism for the Episcopal Church from 2001 until 2009. During this time, he was certified as an Anti-Racism Trainer for The Episcopal Church and was also certified as a trainer by the Washington-based National Multicultural Institute. He also served as a member of the Commission on Anti-Racism for the Diocese of Southeast Florida for ten years.
As Bishop of New Jersey, Bishop Stokes has fostered a strong collaborative partnership in facing the many challenges and struggles of historic Black congregations in the Diocese of New Jersey, encouraging the wider diocesan community to support this effort through awareness, prayer and the provision of significant people and financial resources. Under his leadership, the Diocese of New Jersey passed a resolution at its 2020 diocesan convention creating a Reparations Task Force whose stated purpose is “to initiate and oversee a multi-year process to examine our sins, complicity and financial benefits through the history of slavery and its legacy continuing to contemporary practices and to recommend appropriate actions for the Diocese.” The work of this Task Force is well-underway and is expected to result in the creation of a Reparations Committee of the Diocese to take up and continue the work. Bishop Stokes has been a recognized voice and advocate in the State of New Jersey for the causes of Racial Justice and Reconciliation and has been active with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice in advocating for passage of legislation in the State of New Jersey to create a statewide Reparations Study Task Force. In addition to regular communications to the diocese and its communities, which stretch from Elizabeth to Cape May, he has authored or co-authored op-eds in New Jersey newspapers articulating clear calls for racial justice.
Imam Wahy-ud Deen Shareef
Imam Wahy-ud Deen Shareef is the third child of Laura and John Wilson’s four children; John II, Intisar and Deborah. He and his wife Helima share their lives with four children: Ronald, Anita, Shakir and Laila; eight grandchildren: Rashonda, Ronald II, Mathew, Eric, Brandon, Brianna Aliyah, Gerelle Amir and Anissa Na’ilah; two great grandchildren: Jaylin and Kori; and many nurturing family and community members.
Imam Shareef completed his Hajj to the Ka’bah in Makkah in 1987. He represented Imam W. Deen Mohammed (raa) at the World Conference on Religion and Peace in Tokyo in 1998. He was a delegate at the historic Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the United Nations in NY in 2000. As a delegate Imam and business person, he attended the Tuskon Business Conference in Istanbul, Turkey in 2010. In 2012, he received the Peace Islands Institute's “Peace and Understanding” Award; he attended an Iftar (breaking of the Ramadan Fast) at the White House as a guest of President Barack Obama; and he co-led an NICHP interfaith delegation of 11 Jews, 11 Christians and 11 Muslims to Palestine/Israel. As an invited Muslim delegate, he attended the Focolare Interreligious Convention in Rome, Italy in 2014.
Imam Shareef co-founded Waris Associates Inc. in 1984, which led to the establishment of the Waris Cultural Research and Development Center and Masjid Waarith ud Deenin in Irvington, New Jersey. He is a student of Imam W. Deen Mohammed (raa)and the Imam (religious leader) of Masjid Waarith ud Deen. These organizations develop and implement spiritual, educational, recreational, cultural and social programs that address the challenges facing American families today. He also serves as the Executive Director of ComWealth Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a nonprofit economic development corporation.
He is the Convener of the Council of Imams in New Jersey and co-founder of the New African Partnership between CINJ and City National Bank in Newark. He is a co-founder of the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace. He is a member of the New Jersey Coalition of Religious Leaders and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and New Jersey State Attorney General’s Outreach Advisory Councils.
Imam Shareef is currently the President/CEO of his own consulting company, Shareef Professional Services LLC (SPS). SPS provides project, program, construction, financial and administrative management services. The company’s services include staff and workforce development, team building and project coordination for business and commercial projects from concept design through implementation.
He was a Senior Advisor to former Mayor, now Senator, Cory A. Booker representing the State of New Jersey in the United States Senate. He established and is the former Director of the Newark Port Career and Business Development Center in the Department of Economic & Housing Development in the City of Newark, New Jersey. He was responsible for business and workforce development in the areas of the airport and seaport, focusing on the transportation, logistics and distribution industries.
Imam Shareef graduated from East Orange High School and received his Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, New Jersey. He retired after 25 years of serving as a Engineering Project Manager for Kraft/Nabisco Foods. In his position at Kraft/Nabisco he managed major capital equipment manufacturing project installations for processing and packing consumer food products and represented Kraft at a UN sponsored business development mission to the Gambia in 2002.
Imam Shareef was a co-host on a NJTV (PBS) television program “A Matter of Faith,” addressing local, national and international issues from a faith perspective, co-authoring a blog with the same title. He is a frequently invited speaker on numerous college campuses and corporate and public sector events. He has appeared as a commentator and contributor on several television programs presented by CNN, MSNBC (Morning Joe), ABC, PBS, NJTV and Ebru. He serves as a director and consultant on several boards and an inspirational speaker delivering lectures, workshops, counseling, education and training programs for organization and project management, ethical/moral guidance, personal and professional management, social responsibility and how to achieve productive ethically, intellectually, spiritually and materially balanced lives.
Rabbi Joel Abraham
Rabbi Joel N. Abraham grew up in Somerville where his father was the Rabbi of Temple Beth El and where he was active in JFTY, the regional Reform Jewish youth group. He co-founded a Reform Jewish student organization in college and has worked for a local youth movement and Mitzvah Corps. He holds a BA in History from Yale College, an MA in Modern European History from Columbia and an MAHL from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. He was ordained at HUC-JIR in New York, studied at the Jerusalem, LA and NY campuses and is currently enrolled in a Doctor of Ministry program at the Drew Theological School.
Before becoming Rabbi at Temple Sholom (now in Scotch Plains) in 1999, he served pulpits in California, Nevada, Virginia and West Virginia. Rabbi Abraham is a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; the Past President of the New Jersey-West Hudson Valley Association of Reform Rabbis; mazkir of the NFTY-GER Clergy team; member of the Central New Jersey Va'ad haRabbanim and the Steering Committee of the MetroWest Rabbis' Roundtable; a member of the steering committee for the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Committee; (twice) past president of the Scotch Plains/Fanwood Ministerium and its representative on the Scotch Plains and Fanwood Joint Committee for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation; co-founder and Board member of Social Justice Matters and Board Secretary of Faith in New Jersey and is fiercely committed to increasing justice in our turbulent world. Along with his wife, Michelle Shapiro Abraham, he is co-author of Mishkan T'filah Journal, an interactive version of the Reform movement's new prayerbook. In 2019, he was the joint recipient of the Union County Human Relations Commission's Unit Award for Achievement for the work of Social Justice Matters and was awarded the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Martin Luther King Day of Service award in 2022.
Rabbi Abraham lives in Fanwood with his spouse, Michelle Shapiro Abraham, DRJE, the Executive Director of Strategic Innovation and Program, Camps and Immersives for the Union for Reform Judaism. His eldest child Avital Devorah is the Director of Youth and Community Engagement at Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, NY and his son Ezri Barak attends Northeastern University where he is active in Hillel and the Pep Band.
Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael
Responding to a call that she had first felt as a youth, Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael pursued a Master of Divinity at Meadville Lombard Theological School and entered the ordained Unitarian Universalist ministry in 2007. In 2017 Rev. Anya and her partner in ministry and life, Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael, chose shared ministry with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair. Central to Rev. Sammler-Michael's current ministry is the honest confrontation and engagement with conflict necessary to dismantle white supremacy, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia and sexism. When she speaks truth to power, and when she works to empower truth, Rev. Sammler-Michael stresses humility and relationship as avenues to engage the holy and serve the Beloved Community.
Rev. Sammler-Michael is an avid gardener, cook and lifelong vegetarian. She practices yoga and meditation and maintains a regular prayer practice. Whenever possible, she seeks the ocean and the soul cleansing that only salt water can provide. She has delivered an invocation for president Barack Obama at a campaign event, built and served as the first Board President of the interfaith association BRIDGES in Loudoun County, Virginia, has mentored many students in their path to ministry, has served as convener of the presidential search team and co-president of the Board of the Meadville Lombard Theological School and serves as a good officer, offering conflict mediation through the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association.
Rev. Dr. Darrell Armstrong
The Reverend Dr. Darrell LaRue Armstrong has served as the Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton, New Jersey since January 2000. He is only the third pastor to serve Shiloh in its more than 100-year history. Rev. Armstrong’s leadership at Shiloh combines his commitment to God and Kingdom Building with a tireless dedication to civic engagement. During his 20-year tenure, Shiloh’s budget and its membership nearly tripled. Rev. Armstrong also spearheaded Vision 2020, a comprehensive community revitalization effort, which includes the building of the Rev. Dr. S. Howard Woodson, Jr. Family Life Center. Rev. Armstrong’s leadership at Shiloh has already produced significant contributions to the local community. Most notably, in 2001, Rev. Armstrong, Shiloh members and residents of Trenton’s North and West Wards created the Shiloh Community Development Corporation.
Rev. Armstrong holds degrees from Stanford University (B.A., Public Policy), Princeton Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and the College of New Jersey (Ed.S., Marriage & Family Therapy). This training, coupled with a childhood that included many years in kinship and foster care, has uniquely prepared him to be a respected voice in the child welfare/family strengthening communities. Rev. Armstrong sees his “global work and life’s call as striving to make ALL families stronger by addressing issues which impact their physical, mental, and spiritual health and wellbeing BEFORE they get into crisis!”
Born and raised in South (Central) Los Angeles, California, Rev. Armstrong received his early Christian education under the guidance and support of the Holy Light Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. with which he maintains a strong bond. Rev. Armstrong is the proud father of Amaris Kayla and Daniel LaRue.
Rabbi David Z. Vaisberg
Rabbi David Z. Vaisberg, M.A.R.E, M.A.H.L, serves as Senior Rabbi of historic Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, New Jersey. Along with his rabbinical work, Rabbi Vaisberg is involved in several social justice efforts, including New Jersey Together in Essex County, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Religious Action Center - New Jersey, and T'ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. Rabbi Vaisberg currently serves on the Central Conference of American Rabbis Responsa Committee and is a chaplain with the Maplewood Police Department.
Born in Montreal, Quebec, and raised in Mississauga, Ontario, Rabbi Vaisberg earned his Honours B.A. in Psychology from York University in 2006 and was ordained from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion’s New York Campus in May 2012.
Rabbi Vaisberg writes for the Times of Israel blog and the New Jersey Jewish News. You can find his work at davidvaisberg.com. In his spare time, Rabbi Vaisberg plays guitar and sings, cooks enthusiastically and runs obstacle courses and long-distance races.