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The Power of Now | NCG's 2016 Annual Conference Speaker Bios


Speaker Bios

Aimee Allison

Aimee Allison is Co-Director of the Democracy in Color campaign and a political and communications strategist who served as a director at the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women. She was a host and producer for LinkTV, Comcast Newsmakers and a public radio morning show. She has appeared as a political commentator on various media outlets including PBS, CBS, and Fox.

Aimee has been published in Huffington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle as well as the blog she founded OaklandSeen. She was awarded fellowships at the Women’s Media Center and the Knight Digital Media Center at U.C. Berkeley. Aimee serves on the corporate board of the YMCA of the East Bay. She is the author of Army of None (Seven Stories Press, 2007) and holds a MA and BA from Stanford University, where she recently was honored with an Award of Merit for her public service. Her upcoming book on women and politics will be published in early 2016.


Alissa Black

As principal of investments, Alissa’s role at Omidyar Network is to improve the relationship between citizens and government through driving sector-level change in government and the emerging civic technology ecosystem.

Prior to joining Omidyar Network, Alissa was director of the California Civic Innovation Project at New America Foundation where she was responsible for developing the project’s strategy and managing the research portfolio. Previously, she served as the government relations director at Code for America, working closely with local government partners to drive innovation and the adoption of civic technology. She also worked on the emerging technology team for the City and County of San Francisco. There her team worked to bring open government to the city.

Alissa earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies with a minor in anthropology from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a master’s degree in urban planning from the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University.

Fred Blackwell

Fred Blackwell is a visionary leader working to ensure shared prosperity, innovation, and equity in the Bay Area. As CEO of The San Francisco Foundation, he leads one of the largest community foundations in the country, working hand-in-hand with donors, nonprofits, community leaders, business, and government partners in philanthropy to identify, influence, and leverage best practices and long-term solutions to make a greater impact in our community.

Blackwell, an Oakland native, is a nationally recognized community leader with a longstanding career in the Bay Area. Prior to joining the Foundation, he served as Interim City Administrator for the City of Oakland where he previously served as the Assistant City Administrator. He was the Executive Director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Development in San Francisco; served as the Director of the Making Connections Initiative for the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the Lower San Antonio neighborhood of Oakland; was a Multicultural Fellow in Neighborhood and Community Development at The San Francisco Foundation; and subsequently managed a multi-year comprehensive community initiative for TSFF in West Oakland.

Blackwell currently serves on the board of the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Legacy Fund, UC Berkeley’s College of Environment Dean’s Advisory Council, and as an advisor for Google Impact Challenge: Bay Area. He previously served on the boards of California Redevelopment Association, Urban Habitat Program, LeaderSpring, SPUR and Leadership Excellence. He holds a Master’s degree in City Planning from UC Berkeley and a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Morehouse College.

Nikole Collins-Puri

Before joining the Women’s Foundation of California in July 2013, Nikole Collins-Puri, Chief Strategist, Philanthropic Initiatives, started her career at AT&T as an intern where she worked her way up to developing a corporate wide diversity and inclusion model. Next, Nikole was accepted into the distinguished leadership development program, National Urban Fellows, where she worked alongside the economic development general manager and city manager for the City of Carson, California, on housing, redevelopment and operational efficiency projects.

Upon completion of her MPA from Baruch College, she landed at the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center as director of outreach. In 2012, Nikole transitioned from New York to California where she launched her own consulting firm, New Community Partners, LLC. The firm specializes in strengthening low-income communities by helping organizations plan, implement and sustain strategies effectively and cultivate strategic relationships that will advance their mission and maximize social impact.

Nikole serves as a board member for the San Francisco Education Fund and lives in the East Bay with her husband. She enjoys the art of shoe shopping, staying active, enjoying the company of great friends and discovering the delicious cuisine of the Bay Area. 

Maria Noel Fernandez

Maria is the Director of Organizing and Civic Engagement at Working Partnerships USA. She joined Working Partnerships in 2013 and leads the Silicon Valley Rising campaign as well as our community organizing and civic engagement model. Previously, she worked with the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council on successful local issue campaigns to raise the minimum wage, pass a general tax for county safety net services, and more. She was district director for the previous California State Speaker Pro Tempore and joined that office after spending three years as a community organizer through Sacred Heart Community Service's policy and organizing department where she led successful campaigns to protect senior services, defend immigrant rights and increase resources for the most underserved areas of San Jose. She also spent three years teaching English and Social Studies in Bogota, Colombia after having spent several years working for then City of San Jose Vice Mayor, Cindy Chavez. Maria Noel is also a board member of Californians for Justice and the National Partnership for Working Families.

Natalie Foster

Natalie has spent the last 15 years at the crossroads of social movements and technology, and is currently an advisor to the Aspen Institute's Future of Work Initiative and a New America California Fellow. She’s transformed and run some of the largest digital teams in the country, including President Obama’s successful effort of pass health reform, and built two organizations from scratch.

Most recently, Natalie co-founded and launched Peers to support people who are working in the sharing economy. Prior to Peers, she was the CEO and co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, a platform for people–driven economic change, with Van Jones.

Previously, Natalie served as digital director for President Obama’s Organizing for America (OFA) and the Democratic National Committee. She built and directed the team responsible for the president's message and fundraising through social, mobile, and email communication with the President's millions of supporters.

Natalie built the first digital department at the Sierra Club and served as the deputy organizing director for

Named one of the Top Fifty Women to Watch in Tech, she is often speaking and training at convergences like SxSW, Social Media Week, SOCAP, Ouishare Fest, the New Organizing Institute, Personal Democracy Forum, and Netroots Nation.

Natalie lives in Oakland, CA with her husband, Matt Ewing, and nearly 3-year old son, Huxley. The daughter of a preacher from Kansas, Natalie is a graduate of Pepperdine University, Green Corps, the field school for environmental organizing and is a Rockwood Leadership Institute Fellow.

Christie George

Christie George is the Director of New Media Ventures, the first national network of angel investors supporting media and tech startups that disrupt politics and catalyze progressive change. At New Media Ventures, she has overseen the investment of over $8m into a portfolio of non-profits and for profits, including Upworthy, SumOfUs and DailyKos.

Christie’s work centers on fostering an independent, vibrant, and diverse media sector. She started her career at a venture capital firm, spent six years managing sales and marketing for Women Make Movies, the world's leading distributor of films by and about women, and is a co-founder of Louder (acquired by, the crowd-promotion platform for ideas that matter. She serves on the board of the Roosevelt Institute and was named a Social Citizen Ambassador by the Case Foundation.


Christie holds a BA from Yale University and an MBA with distinction from the University of Oxford, where she was a Skoll Scholar in Social Entrepreneurship and graduated with the Said Prize, awarded annually to the program's top student. She lives in Oakland and is a proud co-owner of the Rio Theater in Monte Rio, CA.

Jason Grumet

Jason Grumet, founder and president of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), is respected on both sides of the aisle for his innovative approach to improving government effectiveness.

In 2007, Grumet founded BPC with former U.S. Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell to develop and promote bipartisan solutions to America’s most difficult public policy challenges. Under Grumet’s leadership, BPC is developing and advocating bipartisan solutions on immigration reform, health care, housing and economic policy, energy security and national security.

In 2001, Grumet founded and directed the National Commission on Energy Policy, which produced a comprehensive set of policy recommendations many of which were adopted into law in 2005 and 2007. These policies included specific legislative approaches to promote domestic energy production as well as the first updates of U.S. automotive fuel economy standards in 30 years.

Previously, Grumet led the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a nonprofit association of air quality agencies in the Northeast. During his eight-year tenure, Grumet expanded the organization’s technical and advocacy capabilities increasing its presence in the national policy debate.

Grumet’s first book, City of Rivals: Restoring the Glorious Mess of American Democracy, was released in September 2014.

Grumet received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University and his Juris Doctorate from Harvard University. He lives with his wife and three children in Bethesda, Maryland.

Taj James

Taj is a founder and Co-Director of Movement Strategy Center.  Started in 2000, MSC’s purpose is to nurture whole people and whole communities as we transition from a world of domination and extraction to a world of regeneration, resilience, and interdependence.  

Taj launched MSC in 2001, putting forth the question “How do we weave together the strands of the progressive community into a social change movement capable of winning lasting policy and social change?” For over a decade, Taj and MSC have served as a consistent source of social change innovation and leadership.

In his decade and a half of leadership with MSC, Taj has been proud to help launch and support new alliances such as Strong Families and the Climate Justice Alignment. Taj has also played a key role in building new funding collaboratives and strategies to increase investment in grassroots organizing and alliance building. These initiatives include California Fund for Youth Organizing, Move to End Violence Initiative, California Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, and Building Healthy Communities.

Before launching MSC, Taj served as the Director of Youth Policy and Development at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, where he organized youth and community members around issues facing children, youth and families. Taj’s network and leadership building experience began in his role as the Western Regional Field Organizer for the Black Student Leadership Network (BSLN), a project of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Taj served on the steering committee for the PAC to defeat Proposition 21, a California ballot initiative that would spend billions to incarcerate thousands of youth with adults. Taj has provided board leadership for many non-profits and philanthropic institutions such The Praxis Project, Youth United For Community Action, the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing and the California Fund for Youth Organizing.

Taj has written extensively on the topics of movement building, organizational change, and on the role of young people in social change.

A graduate of Stanford University, Taj was a recipient of a Next Generation Leadership fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation and was named a “Local Hero” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Alan Jenkins

Alan Jenkins is Executive Director of The Opportunity Agenda, a communications, research, and policy organization dedicated to building the national will to expand opportunity in America. Before joining The Opportunity Agenda, Alan was Director of Human Rights at the Ford Foundation, managing grantmaking in the United States and eleven overseas regions. His prior positions include Assistant to the Solicitor General at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he represented the United States government in constitutional and other litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court, and Associate Counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where he defended the rights of low-income communities facing exploitation and discrimination.

Alan's other positions have included Assistant Adjunct Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, Law Clerk to Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, Law Clerk to U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Carter, and Coordinator of the Access to Justice Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.  He is a frequent commentator in broadcast and print media, including MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times and the Huffington Post.

Alan serves on the Board of Trustees of New York Public Radio, on the Board of Governors of the New School for Public Engagement, and as an Advisor to the JBP Foundation.  He is a Founding Co-Chair of the American Constitution Society's Project on the Constitution in the Twenty-First Century. Alan holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School, an M.A. in Media Studies from the New School University, and a B.A. in Psychology and Social Relations from Harvard College.

Van Jones

Van Jones is the President & Co-Founder of Dream Corps. Current initiatives, #cut50, #YesWeCode, and Green For All, create innovative solutions to "close the prison doors, open the doors of opportunity, into a new green economy."

A Yale- educated attorney, Van has written two New York Times Bestsellers:The Green Collar Economy, the definitive book on green jobs, and Rebuild the Dream, a roadmap for progressives. Van is a correspondent for CNN and regular guest on political talk shows.

In 2009, Van worked as the green jobs advisor to the Obama White House. There, he helped run the inter-agency process that oversaw $80 billion in green energy recovery spending.


Josh Kirschenbaum

Josh Kirschenbaum, Vice President for Strategic Direction, one of the original PolicyLink staff members, has led community-building and technology projects, and now brings a wealth of organizational knowledge to build diverse alliances and implement strategic initiatives.

Prior to joining PolicyLink, Josh was the director of special projects at the University of California, Berkeley Institute of Urban and Regional Development, where he managed a defense conversion research program and fostered partnerships between the university and the City of Oakland to strengthen and revitalize low-income neighborhoods.

He holds a BA from Brown University and an MS in city and regional planning from the University of California, Berkeley.


Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer became president of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California, in September 2012.

Before joining the Foundation, Mr. Kramer served from 2004 to 2012 as Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School. During his tenure, he spearheaded significant educational reforms, pioneering a new model of multidisciplinary legal studies while enlarging the clinical education program, a public service ethos, and developing the international law program to support a growing emphasis on globalization in legal practice. His teaching and scholarly interests include American legal history, constitutional law, federalism, separation of powers, the federal courts, conflict of laws, and civil procedure.

At the start of his career, Mr. Kramer served as law clerk to U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Henry J. Friendly of the Second Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr.

Following his clerkships, Mr. Kramer served as professor of law at the University of Chicago and University of Michigan law schools. He joined the faculty of New York University School of Law in 1994, where he served as Associate Dean for Research and Academics and Russell D. Niles Professor of Law until leaving for Stanford in 2004. Until joining Stanford, he also served as a special consultant for Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP.

Mr. Kramer is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Law Institute. He serves as a director on the boards of a number of nonprofit organizations, including the National Constitution Center and the ClimateWorks Foundation.

Mr. Kramer received an A.B. in Psychology and Religious Studies from Brown University, graduating magna cum laude in 1980, and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, magna cum laude, in 1984. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including The People Themselves: Popular Constitutionalism and Judicial Review.

Ian Haney López 

Ian Haney López is the John H. Boalt Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, where he teaches in the areas of race and constitutional law. One of the nation’s leading thinkers on racism’s evolution in the United States since the civil rights era, Ian’s current research emphasizes the connection between racial divisions and growing wealth inequality in the United States.

His most recent book, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, lays bare how over the last fifty years politicians have exploited racial pandering to convince many voters to support policies that ultimately favor the very wealthiest while hurting everyone else.

Ian is also the author of White by Law as well as Racism on Trial, books that explore the legal construction of race. A constitutional law scholar, he has written extensively on how once-promising legal responses to racism have been turned into restrictions on efforts to promote integration. He has been a visiting law professor at Yale, New York University, and Harvard, where he served as the Ralph E. Shikes Visiting Fellow in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

He holds a master’s in history from Washington University, a master’s in public policy from Princeton, and a law degree from Harvard, and is a past recipient of an Alphonse Fletcher Fellowship, awarded to scholars whose work furthers the integration goals of Brown v. Board of Education. He currently serves as a Senior Fellow at DemosHear Ian discuss Dog Whistle Politics below:



Jahmese Myers

Jahmese leads Revive Oakland’s incredible group of community, labor, and faith allies to win and implement community benefits policies that improve job quality and access. Prior to EBASE, Jahmese worked at several county, regional, and state public agencies with an emphasis on research and community engagement. She holds a B.S. in Economics from Saint Mary’s College and a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from U.C. Irvine. Jahmese lives in Oakland and can ordinarily be found walking her beagle, on the bullhorn at rallies, running (slowly) around Lake Merritt, and occasionally starring on KTOP.



Rashad Robinson

Rashad Robinson serves as Executive Director of With over 1 million members, ColorOfChange is the nation’s largest online civil rights organization. Since 2005, ColorOfChange has been a leading force in holding government and corporations accountable to Black people and advancing visionary solutions for building a just society for everyone. For the past four years, Rashad has greatly expanded the scope and impact of the organization, and continued to build a member-driven movement around the issues that matter most to Black folks. From fighting for justice for Black people hurt or killed due to anti-Black violence, to battling attempts to suppress the Black vote, to helping shape the successful strategy in the fight to protect a free and open Internet, ColorOfChange has been at the forefront of the most critical civil rights issues of this century. In 2015, Fast Company named ColorOfChange the 6th Most Innovative Company in the world, "for creating a civil rights group for the 21st century.”

Under Rashad's leadership, ColorOfChange developed and led a national campaign against the right-wing policy shop, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). After exposing ALEC's involvement in passing discriminatory voter ID and deadly Stand Your Ground laws, ColorOfChange pushed over 100 corporations to end their financial support of ALEC. He has appeared in hundreds of news stories, interviews, and political discussions through outlets including ABC, CNN, MSNBC and NPR.  And he was recently selected as one of EBONY Magazine’s Power 100 honorees for 2015.

Prior to his work at ColorOfChange, Rashad served as Senior Director of Media Programs at GLAAD, where he led the organization’s programmatic and advocacy work to transform the representation of LGBT people in news and entertainment media.

Rinku Sen 

Rinku Sen is the President and Executive Director of Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation and the Publisher of the award-winning news site Colorlines. Race Forward brings systemic analysis and an innovative approach to complex race issues to help people take effective action toward racial equity through research, media, and practice.

Under Sen’s leadership, Race Forward has generated some of the most impactful racial justice successes. One example is the groundbreaking Shattered Families report, which changed the immigration debate with investigative research on how record deportations of parents were leading to the placement of thousands of children in foster care, often separating them permanently and legally from their families. Sen was the architect of Drop the I-Word, a campaign for media outlets to stop referring to immigrants as “illegal,” resulting in the Associated Press, USA Today, LA Times, and many more outlets dropping the i-word, affecting millions of readers every day.

Rinku is the Co-Chair of the Schott Foundation for Public Education and sits on the boards of Hedgebrook and Working America. A highly sought-after keynote speaker for colleges, Sen has spoken at Harvard, Brown, University of Michigan, Penn State, and was the Commencement Speaker at Antioch New England.

Sen received a B.A. in Women's Studies from Brown University and an M.S. in Journalism at Columbia University. A native of India, Rinku grew up in northeastern factory towns, and learned to speak English in a two-room schoolhouse.

Scott Shafer

Scott Shafer is the Senior Editor of the California Politics and Government Desk at KQED. He leads the editorial direction of a three-person team covering news across the state. He also helps craft KQED’s in-depth coverage of the 2016 elections. Since joining KQED in 1998, Shafer has covered stories for National Public Radio programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday. Most recently, he hosted The California Report’s 30-minute weekly news magazine. Shafer and his team continue to contribute to KQED Newsroom and The California Report. Shafer has earned numerous awards for his political reporting. He was a member of the panel of journalists that questioned candidates in the televised 2010 U.S. Senate debate between Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina. He covered the gay marriage issue from the Proposition 8 Campaign through the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made same-sex marriage legal in California. Shafer has hosted live statewide coverage of election night and State of the State Addresses every year since 1998. Prior to joining KQED, Shafer was press secretary to San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos and Chief of Staff to Controller Gray Davis.



Justin Steele

Justin Steele is the Bay Area Giving Lead for, which supports local nonprofit organizations innovating in the areas of youth employment, homelessness, racial justice, and poverty alleviation for low-income and underserved communities.  Prior to joining, Justin served as Deputy Director of the Washington D.C. site of Year Up, an intensive one-year job training and internship program for low-income young adults.  He has been active in youth and community development for 15 years, serving on the boards of the National Society of Black Engineers and Citizen Schools and working in programs like BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) and the NAACP.  Justin began his career as a management consultant at Bain & Co. and The Bridgespan Group creating strategic plans for companies and social enterprises.

Justin received an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Virginia and earned a dual MBA/MPA master’s degree from Harvard with a concentration in nonprofit management and urban social policy.  He lives in Oakland with his wife and their three daughters.


Sandra Witt

Sandra Witt joined The California Endowment in August 2011 as director of Healthy Communities North. Witt is responsible for advancing the vision and strategic direction, as well as helping achieve established goals and outcomes, through The Endowment’s philanthropic efforts in Northern California.

Prior to joining The Endowment, Witt served as the Deputy Director of Planning, Policy and Health Equity for the Alameda County Public Health Department where she was responsible for ensuring that programs and policies were accurate, effective and responsive to County residents, and consistent with the goal of eliminating health inequities. Concurrent to that role, she also served as the director of the Community Assessment, Planning, Education and Evaluation (CAPE) Unit of the Alameda County Public Health Department for which she developed and directed a unit of epidemiologists, evaluators and health educators responsible for assessing and monitoring the health status of County residents, and providing technical assistance to county, department, and community programs. In this capacity, she received an Outstanding Manager of the Year award.

With more than 20 years of experience in the field of public health, Witt has served in a variety capacities, including as an epidemiologist/community researcher for the Alameda Public Health Department (1998-1999); public health consultant for the International Health Programs of the Western Consortium for Public Health in Santa Cruz, CA (1997); and as a health and development program officer and consultant for the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa, Canada (1985-1990).

Witt received a Fulbright-Hayes Fellowship and Inter-American Foundation sponsorship for her doctoral dissertation research, “Child Health, Resilient Households and Protective Practices in Ecuador Shantytown.” She earned Dr.PH. in Maternal and Child Health from the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. She also holds a Masters in Public Health and a Masters in Latin American Studies/Anthropology.

Miriam Zuk

Miriam is the Project Director of the Urban Displacement Project and senior researcher at UC Berkeley in affiliation with the Institute of Governmental Studies and the Institute for Research on Labor & Employment. She has 15 years of experience in the fields of environmental justice and equitable development.

Dr. Zuk currently leads work on residential displacement in the Bay Area in collaboration with the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and seven community-based organizations. She also teaches research design and writing to graduate students in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley.

Dr. Zuk completed her Ph.D. in 2013 at UC Berkeley in the Department of City and Regional Planning. She previously served as the Deputy Director of Air Quality Research for the Mexican Ministry of Environment. Dr. Zuk received her M.S. in Technology and Policy from MIT and her B.A. in Environmental Sciences from Barnard College.