Shared Learnings
| September 1, 2023

Meet the Learners in Residence

Launched in 2020, Spring Point Partners’ Learners in Residence (LIR) program provides time, space, and resources for values-aligned thought leaders to develop unique projects that inspire new thinking and shift narrative in their respective fields. Clint Smith and Chloe Mckenzie, the program’s inaugural Learners, completed their 18-month residence in December, 2022. Today, Spring Point Partners hosts more than a dozen thought leaders across the country. With deeply varied and distinct backgrounds, these artists, authors, advocates, filmmakers, and historians’ projects range from developing documentaries to archiving history to authoring books and shifting practice in animal welfare, in the arts, and in the world. Stay tuned as we share more about who they are and what they hope to do and learn throughout their residence.

Akisha Townsend Eaton

Akisha Townsend Eaton is an animal protection attorney, activist, and community leader residing in Bowling Green, Kentucky. She currently serves as Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity (CARE)’s Chief of Policy, leading what is believed to be the nation’s first division dedicated to addressing environmental justice issues in the context of the human-animal bond. Through this role and her community-focused work, she aims to inspire innovative and equitable policy solutions at the intersections of animal, racial, and economic justice. Akisha brings over a decade of animal law and policy experience to the Learners in Residence Program, starting with an animal welfare fellowship in the United States Senate. She has served as managing attorney, legislative counsel, and senior advisor for a number of national and international animal protection organizations; has contributed to numerous publications in her field; and has been an instructor, guest lecturer, and speaker at numerous law schools.  As an AmeriCorps alum, she successfully completed 1700 hours of community service in the area of youth literacy education. Akisha received her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center, where she was recognized as a Law Center Scholar, and her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University where she graduated with Distinction.

Alberto Ferreras

Alberto Ferreras is a Spanish-Venezuelan-American award-winning author and filmmaker. Ferreras is known for his video installation “Somos” (Smithsonian Institution, 2022) the first commissioned piece of the National Museum of the American Latino. He is the creator and director of the documentary series “Habla” (HBO, 2003-2022), and the author of the award winning novel “B as in Beauty” (Hachette Book Group, 2009), published in the U.S. Spain, and Italy. Ferreras made his debut as a screenwriter with the feature film “Que Viva La Música” (Sundance, 2015). His documentary “Cada Paso del Camino” (2017) commissioned by AARP premiered at the NY Latino Film Festival and went wildly viral on Facebook reaching more than 7 million views.

Andrew Block

Andrew Block is Professor of Law, General Faculty, and the Director of the State and Local Government Policy Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law.  He was Director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice from 2014 to 2019, where he led major reforms of the department including dramatically reducing the population of incarcerated youth, closing youth prisons, and building a statewide continuum of community-based services and supports. Before leading the department, Block directed the Child Advocacy Clinic at the Law School from 2010-14, founded and served as the Legal Director of the JustChildren program of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, VA from 1998-2010, and was a staff attorney at the Seattle-King County Public Defenders Association.

Block received various awards for his work at JustChildren, including the American Bar Association Young Lawyer’s Division Child Advocacy Award, the Virginia State Bar’s Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year and the Virginia Bar Association’s Robert F. Shepherd, Jr. Award.As Director of the State and Local Government Policy Clinic, Block and his Clinic students have helped develop, draft and secure passage of fourteen separate pieces of legislation before the Virginia General Assembly. Block served as vice-chair of Governor Ralph Northam’s Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law from 2019-2022.  He is a graduate of Yale University and Northwestern University School of Law.  

Arvolyn Hill

Arvolyn Hill (she/her) is a community herbalist and outdoor educator with a never-ending curiosity about plants and the natural world. Raised on Schaghticoke land of rural Kent, CT, her love of herbalism grew after the passing of several family members due to preventable environmental illnesses. She studied Pan African Studies and English and Writing at Drew University. As well as enrolled at Twin Star Connecticut’s School of Herbalism and Energetic Studies and in 2016 opened Gold Feather, an online apothecary. Arvolyn is passionate about reclaiming herbalism for Black, Indigenous and People of Color by using herbs to build ancestral connection. She’s now the Manager of the Everett’s Children’s Adventure Garden at the New York Botanical Gardens where she creates nature centered science exploration activities for kids. Arvolyn’s work was featured in the New York Times, ChaShaMa, Elle Magazine and AfroPunk. In 2023 Arvolyn gave a TED Talk on the impact of Environmental Education as Empowerment at the TED CUNY Conference.

Benny Starr

Black music and southern culture intersect with deep roots in hip-hop, gospel, jazz, blues, and rock. They’re woven with rich history, resiliency, and storytelling that elicits a quest for a higher calling in those who connect with them. The same rings true in the music created by South Carolina Lowcountry artist Benny Starr. His most recent solo project, A Water Album, was released on Juneteenth 2019, and in 2020, Native Son, a duo comprised of Benny Starr and harmonious singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Rodrick Cliche, was formed. The US Water Alliance welcomed Benny Starr as their inaugural One Water Artist-in-Residence in October 2020. Through his 18-month residency with the Alliance, Benny worked with staff and the Alliance network to infuse arts and cultural strategies into thinking, problem-solving, and programming. Benny currently serves as a Senior Fellow of Arts & Culture with the US Water Alliance, integrating artistic approaches and cultural strategies to help advance and accelerate our ability to achieve a sustainable water future for all.

Brian Spitulnik

Brian Spitulnik, LMSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice and co-founder of Artists Reimagining Therapy & Systems (A.R.T.S.), a fully-funded program offering free group and individual therapy to artists and arts workers. Brian is committed to working with his clients to come fully into relationship with their environment and themselves while providing practical tools for behavioral change and emotional growth. Ongoing professional development and advanced training experiences are a critical component of Brian’s practice, ensuring a transformative impact on the individuals and communities he serves. Brian has earned degrees from The University of Michigan, Columbia University, and The Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. Before becoming a mental health practitioner, Brian performed on Broadway for over 15 years, wrote for Global Citizen, The Daily Beast, McSweeney’s, and Dance Magazine, and co-founded 85th Street Productions.

Chloe McKenzie

Chloe B. McKenzie is a researcher, writer, educator, and wealth justice activist. Chloe is the founder and visionary of BlackFem and the Center for Financial Trauma and Wealth Justice, national nonprofits that are closing the race and gender wealth gap by mobilizing cities, political systems, culture centers, and education systems to be the mechanism through which we maximize the wealth-building capabilities of Black women and women of color, their families, and their communities. During her time with the Learners in Residence program, Chloe conducted groundbreaking research on financial trauma, abuse, and shame. Her research has been featured in Forbes, British Vogue, and L’Officiel and used by major academic and financial institutions, with the intention of developing resources to close the wealth gap and to build healthier relationships with money. Chloe intends to continue her research as she pursues her PhD in Sociology and works with institutions such as Georgetown University, The Hope Center at Temple University, and Edquity.

Clint Smith

Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of the narrative nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, which was a #1 New York Times bestseller and was completed through the Learners in Residence program. He is also the author of the poetry collection Counting Descent. Clint has received fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, New America, the Emerson Collective, the Art For Justice Fund, Cave Canem, and the National Science Foundation. His essays, poems, and scholarly writing have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review, the Harvard Educational Review, and elsewhere. He is a former National Poetry Slam champion and a recipient of the Jerome J. Shestack Prize from the American Poetry Review. Previously, Clint taught high school English in Maryland. He is the host of the YouTube series Crash Course Black American History. Clint received his B.A. in English from Davidson College and his Ph.D. in Education from Harvard University.

Dana McPhall

Dana McPhall has 30 years of experience in the nonprofit and government sectors with expertise in humane education through a racial justice lens and the promotion of social justice for racialized groups and nonhuman animals through law and public policy. Dana holds a Master’s Degree in Education through the Institute for Humane Education (IHE), as well as a Juris Doctorate and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy.  Early in her career, Dana worked to protect and to seek justice for low-income families and families of color experiencing domestic and sexual violence and for animals suffering from cruelty and neglect. More recently, Dana has dedicated herself to exploring the intersection of humane education and racial justice, particularly the link between race and animality, and to teaching educators, advocates, and parents about the intertwined systemic roots of anti-Black racism and animal exploitation. Dana is the author of “What I’ve Learned by Applying an Antiracist Framework to My Animal Advocacy,” which was published in 2020 by Sentient Media and included in the recent book AntiRacism in Animal Advocacy: Igniting Cultural Transformation. Dana has also led educational programs designed to support educators and advocates in making connections between interrelated issues of social justice within the U.S. food system and taking social action to move the U.S. towards a more just and sustainable food system.

Dena Simmons, Ed.D.

Dr. Dena Simmons is an activist, educator, and student of life from the Bronx, New York. She is the founder of LiberatED, a liberatory approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) that centers radical love, healing, and justice. She writes and speaks nationally about social justice and culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy as well as creating emotionally intelligent and safe classrooms within the context of equity and liberation. She is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Racial Justice at Loyola University of Chicago and has served as an educator, teacher educator, diversity facilitator, and curriculum developer. She has been a leading voice on teacher education and has written and spoken across the country about social and racial justice pedagogy, diversity, emotional intelligence, and bullying in K-12 school settings. Dr. Simmons’ research interests include teacher preparedness to address bullying in the K-12 school setting, culturally responsive pedagogy, and the intersection of equity and SEL—all in an effort to ensure and foster justice, belonging, and safe spaces for all. She is the author of the forthcoming book, White Rules for Black People (St. Martin’s Press).

Elizabeth Hira

Elizabeth Hira is a Spitzer Fellow and Senior Counsel with the Brennan Center, focusing on large-scale democracy reform that centers equity. Prior to that, Elizabeth worked in the U.S. Congress developing federal policy on equity. Over the course of her career, Elizabeth has developed meaningful expertise and a far-reaching network across a range of pressing issues and roles: consulting on long-term judicial strategy; developing strategic advocacy campaigns to champion LGBTQ equality; fighting to enable legal abortion access; defending freedom of association for human rights and climate justice activists; and working to protect people with disabilities. Elizabeth is also passionate about engaging everyday people in the democratic experiment through creative means, as evidenced by her one-woman show “Pursuing Guerrilla Equality,” and her crossword puzzle testing for DEI for The New York Times. Born in the Caribbean, Elizabeth holds a B.A. from Stanford, earned her J.D. at Georgetown Law, and now calls New York City home.

Elizabeth Todd-Breland

Elizabeth Todd-Breland is a scholar of 20th-century U.S. urban and social history, African American history, and the history of education. Her work also explores interdisciplinary considerations of racial and economic inequality, urban public policy, education policy, and social justice. Her award-winning first book, A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago since the 1960s (2018), analyzes transformations in Black politics, shifts in modes of education organizing, and the racial politics of education reform from the 1960s into the 21st century. Professor Todd-Breland’s writing has appeared in scholarly journals and edited volumes. She has also contributed to local and national radio, television, print, and online media, including NPR, ESPN, and the Washington Post. She is an Associate Professor of History and an Affiliated Faculty member in Black Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago. A frequent public speaker, Todd-Breland also organizes professional development workshops and develops curricula on African American history, urban education, and racial justice. In 2019, Todd-Breland was appointed as a member of the Chicago Board of Education. She is currently working on several new projects that that connect historical and contemporary stories to shift narratives and advance social justice.

John Maki

John Maki is the Director of the Council on Criminal Justice’s Task Force on Long Sentences, a national, non-partisan initiative that is dedicated to assessing the impact of America’s use of long sentences and making recommendations that advance safety and justice. John is also a fellow at NYU’s Marron Institute, where he assists public safety-related agencies and community-based organizations improve outcomes for people who have been impacted by violent crime. In his career, he has led the John Howard Association of Illinois, one of the United States’ few non-partisan prison watchdogs, served as executive director for the State of Illinois’ public safety research and grant-making agency, and partnered with community-based organizations and local, state, and federal government leaders across the country to design and implement criminal justice reforms and expand victim and survivor services.

Kate Steiker-Ginzberg

Kate Steiker-Ginzberg is a producer and attorney from Philadelphia. She has worked as a field producer for media clients including CBS News, 60 Minutes, The New York Times, and Sports Illustrated. In 2022, Kate graduated from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law where she did research and writing related to criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and media law. Kate’s journalism career was launched by her decision to move to Rio de Janeiro in 2012, during a moment of urban transformation and grassroots activism ahead of two international mega-events. Kate would end up covering not only the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics for CBS News, but also the Zika epidemic, Chapecoense plane crash, and the Operation Carwash corruption investigation. As a field producer, she coordinated logistics, booked interviews, and provided research and translation for both breaking news and long-form projects. Kate also worked on a documentary about wrongful conviction in Louisiana—a project that inspired her decision to attend law school.

While in law school, Kate worked extensively with the Sheller Center for Social Justice, and interned with nonprofits including HIAS Pennsylvania and the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project. Kate is currently doing a year-long fellowship with the ACLU of Pennsylvania and is co-directing a feature-length documentary about life sentences in Philadelphia.

Rachel López

Rachel López is an Associate Professor of Law at the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Drexel University and the Director of the Andy and Gwen Stern Community Lawyering Clinic. In 2021, she was named as an inaugural Dean’s Research Fellow. From 2015 to 2019, she served as a Commissioner on the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission, as an appointee of Governor Tom Wolf.

Her scholarship primarily focuses on state responsibility for mass abuse, transitional justice, and the carceral state. Her articles have appeared or are forthcoming in the Columbia Law Review, Northwestern Law Review, Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, NYU Journal of International Law and Politics, and University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law. Professor López received her B.A. in Sociology, Political Science, and International Studies from Northwestern University and her J.D. from the University of Texas, School of Law. She also has an LL.M. in French and European Law from Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne.

Reggie Shuford

Reggie Shuford is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Justice Center after transitioning from his  former role as executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania from 2011 to 2022. Prior to joining the ACLU-PA, he served as the director of law and policy at the Equal Justice Society (EJS), a national strategy group heightening consciousness on race in the law and popular discourse. From 1995-2010, Reggie served as senior staff counsel in the national ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. During his tenure there, he helped to pioneer legal challenges to racial profiling practices nationwide. He was the ACLU’s chief litigator in challenges to racial profiling, leading national litigation efforts and consulting with ACLU state affiliates and others in cases of “driving while black or brown,” airport profiling, and profiling related to the war on terror.

Reggie was appointed Diversity Chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association for 2019 by Chancellor Shelli Fedullo and is a member of the Board of Governors. He continued in those roles in 2020, under the leadership of the Honorable Michael Snyder, and now in 2021, under the leadership of Lauren McKenna, 94th Chancellor of the Bar Association. In 2019, Reggie also received the Michael Greenberg Community Service Award from the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association.

Reggie was appointed Diversity Chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association for 2019 by Chancellor Shelli Fedullo and is a member of the Board of Governors. He continued in those roles in 2020, under the leadership of the Honorable Michael Snyder, and now in 2021, under the leadership of Lauren McKenna, 94th Chancellor of the Bar Association. In 2019, Reggie also received the Michael Greenberg Community Service Award from the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association.

J. Renay Loper

J. Renay Loper centers people as an impact strategist driven by catalyzing change and leveraging the power of strategic partnerships across sectors to shift systems that address complex social problems and injustice in communities, globally. Most recently, Renay served as the Vice President of Program Innovation at PYXERA Global where she served on the Executive Leadership Team and was the Head of a signature initiative, TIE Global Artisans. During her years with PYXERA Global, Renay led five country offices, co-led the organization’s work on inclusive circular cities, and advised Fortune 100 corporate clients on their social impact strategies. Renay has led the development and implementation of initiatives across Southeast Asia, Europe, Western Africa, and the US.  In addition, Renay led the organization’s ARC (Antiracist Collective) initiatives that includes internal and external efforts toward dismantling unjust systems. To this end, she created Rhetoric to Action, a series of conversations to bridge sectors toward collective action around social and racial justice.

Renay is currently on faculty at Bard College in the MBA in Sustainability program where she teaches Personal Leadership Development; and on faculty at NYU in the Executive Masters in Public Administration where she teaches Leadership Confronted. In addition, Renay is an avid speaker and writer and holds a MS in Higher Education/Post-Secondary Counseling and a BS in Business Management/International Business, both from West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

Scott Emerick

Based on 15 years of work learning with Opportunity Youth in Philly and Boston, Scott Emerick is currently working with partners to launch the Opportunity Youth Schools Project. He currently serves as the CEO of Friends of YouthBuild Philly overseeing fundraising, financing and construction plans to complete the school community’s new and permanent home in North Philly. As the Executive Director of YouthBuild Philly, he oversaw the programming, operations, fundraising, and capacity building for the largest single-site Opportunity Youth program in the US. Before coming to YouthBuild Philly, he served as Senior Vice President for Education, Career, and Service Pathways at YouthBuild USA. In this role he oversaw program initiatives related to improving postsecondary access and success; implementing quality education programming; increasing STEM and career development capacity; and helping educators respond to learning differences.

Scott has provided technical assistance for school districts on teaching quality and teacher retention. He also has professional experience as an educator, as an advocate for improved teaching and learning conditions, and as a management consultant for clients investing in education. He earned a B.A. degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.A. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Tre Johnson

Tre Johnson is a freelance writer on race and culture and a longtime career educator. His writing focuses on the historical and cultural intersections of race, politics, and identity. His freelance career as a cultural critic and essayist has included appearances on CNN Tonight w/ Don Lemon; CBS This Morning; PBS NewsHour and NPR Morning Edition. His writing has appeared in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, New York Times, Vox, San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post and several other outlets. He’s served on panels for the NY TV Festival, Black Star Film Festival and others. He’s also given keynote addresses and lectures at University of Pennsylvania, St. Mary’s College of Southern Maryland, and Lewis & Clark College. His first book, BLACK GENIUS: Our celebrations and our destructions, which will explore the phenomenon of Black excellence and its ability to succeed and sometimes be crushed by white systems and people, will be published by Dutton Books at Penguin Random House.

Outside of education, Tre has served as board and vice chair focused on issues such as education, teacher diversity, and juvenile sentencing and reentry.

Tre is a graduate from the University of Maryland, proudly born and raised in Trenton, NJ and currently lives in Philadelphia, PA.

Vann Newkirk

Vann R. Newkirk II is a senior editor at The Atlantic, and the host and co-creator of the Peabody Award-winning Floodlines, a narrative podcast about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. For years, Newkirk has covered voting rights, democracy, and environmental justice, with a focus on how race and class shape the country’s and the world’s fundamental structures. Vann is a 2022 Andrew Carnegie fellow, and was a 2020 James Beard Award Finalist, a 2020 11th Hour Fellow at New America, and a 2018 recipient of the American Society of Magazine Editors’s ASME Next Award.

Will Elliott

Will Elliott is a 25-year-old life coach for kids who helps teens and parents around the world develop unshakeable confidence and indestructible character so they can take action and become truly unstoppable from the inside out. Will is a personal growth fanatic, a triathlon enthusiast, and a dog dad to the most amazing (and overweight) Australian Shepherd named Dash. Will lives in Fort Collins, Colorado and loves spending free time training, reading, and engaging in quality conversations with loved ones.

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