Journey to Justice Speakers

Event Speakers


Brittany K. Barnett is an award-winning attorney and entrepreneur focused on social impact investing. She is dedicated to transforming the criminal justice system and has won freedom for numerous people serving fundamental death sentences for federal drug offenses – including seven clients who received executive clemency from President Barack Obama. Brittany is founder of several nonprofits and social enterprises, including the Buried Alive Project, Girls Embracing Mothers, XVI Capital Partners, and Milena Reign LLC. She has earned many honors, including being named one of America’s most Outstanding Young Lawyers by the American Bar Association. Brittany is also the author of, A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom, a memoir detailing how her journey transformed her understanding of injustice in the courts, of genius languishing behind bars, and the very definition of freedom itself.


Journey Stop 1: Roots of an Unjust System

Megan Ming Francis is a Visiting Associate Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington. Francis specializes in the study of American politics, with broad interests in criminal punishment, black political activism, philanthropy, and the post-civil war south. She is the author of the award winning book, Civil Rights and the Making of the Modern American State (2014). She is particularly interested in the construction of rights and citizenship, black political activism, and the post-civil war south.

Dr. Duane T. Loynes Sr. is an Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Africana Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. His research and teaching are situated at the sweet spot where race, philosophy, religion, culture, and justice intersect. Dr. Loynes also teaches ethics courses for the Life Program at Rhodes and is a founding faculty member of the college’s new post-baccalaureate certificate in Health Equity. Dr. Loynes is currently researching the fractured relationship between Black communities and law enforcement, applying the theoretical frameworks of Afro-pessimism, critical race theory, and implicit bias to understand the complex dynamics of anti-Black state violence in the United States. He also trains healthcare professionals and pre-med students on developing practices to minimize the role that implicit bias plays in framing the patient-provider relationship.

Sarah Lockridge-Steckel is the CEO and Founder of The Collective in Memphis, Tennessee. The Collective Blueprint is creating clear pathways to careers, for the over 45,000 youth out of school and work in Memphis. The vision of The Collective is that every young adult has the power to live their best life and the tools to make that a reality. She believes that we fix a broken system by investing directly in the visions and ideas of our young adults.


Joia Erin Thornton grew up in both Memphis, Tennessee and New Orleans, Louisiana. Joia is a graduate of Memphis Central High School, attended Dillard University and graduated from Louisiana State University with a Bachelor of Arts double majoring in English and French. She also holds a Master of Public Administration in Policy & Legal Studies from the University of Memphis. Joia is a civil rights activist and presently the Program and Partnership manager at Just City, a criminal justice reform nonprofit organization in Memphis, TN. Joia is also an organizer with Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. More recently, Joia was selected as a member of the 2021 Leadership Memphis Executive class. Her vision is to continue to advocate for marginalized groups, foster progressive policy strategies and leverage power against implicit and explicit biases.


Journey Stop 2: Pandemic, Policing and Prosecution

Demetria Frank is Director of Diversity & Inclusion and Associate Professor at the University of Memphis School of Law teaching courses in Evidence, Federal Courts, and Mass Incarceration. Professor Frank’s scholarly research focuses on prisoner rights, systemic bias, and youth justice intervention. Her most recent law review article, Prisoner-to-Public Communication published in Brooklyn Law Review, explores prisoner communication as a means of promoting prisoner rights and prison transparency. Professor Frank has served as chair of the Shelby Countywide Juvenile Justice Consortium, appointed by Mayor Lee Harris in 2018 and was recently appointed to the United States Commission on Civil Rights Advisory Committee to serve a four-year team as a member on Tennessee’s Advisory Committee.

Kevin Ring is the president of FAMM, a nonprofit criminal justice reform advocacy group headquartered in Washington, D.C. He has testified before Congress and state legislatures across the country regarding sentencing and prison reform, and he has been profiled in various national publications, including the Wall Street Journal, National Journal, and The Hill newspaper. Before joining FAMM, Ring was a legislative aide on Capitol Hill and then a federal lobbyist. Kevin is a graduate of Syracuse University and The Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

Alex S. Vitale is Professor of Sociology and Coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and a Visiting Professor at London Southbank University. He has spent the last 30 years writing about policing and consults both police departments and human rights organizations internationally. Prof. Vitale is the author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics and The End of Policing. His academic writings on policing have appeared in Policing and Society, Police Practice and Research, Mobilization, and Contemporary Sociology. He is also a frequent essayist, whose writings have been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Nation, Vice News, Fortune, and USA Today. He has also appeared on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, NPR, PBS, Democracy Now, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.


Josh Spickler, a native Nashvillian, worked in Shelby County as a public defender for a number of years. He served as Director of the Defender’s Resource Network at the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office. He spent several years in private criminal and insurance defense practices as well. As an attorney in the criminal legal system, Josh saw that many people never get a fair shot at justice and was inspired, along with many others, to organize Just City. Today, he works alongside its staff, board, and many supporters to create a smaller, fairer, and more humane criminal justice system. Josh has degrees from Rhodes College and the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis.


Journey Stop 3: Returning Citizens and Transforming Justice

Marcus Bullock is the epitome of resilience. At 15 years old Marcus was sentenced to 8 years in adult maximum-security prisons. It was a tough time for Marcus and his family, but his mother sought to help him understand that there can still be life after prison. Following his release from prison he launched several successful businesses, including a mobile app that helps to keep families connected during incarceration. In his talks Marcus inspires the audience through his journey of incarceration to entrepreneurship.

Topeka K. Sam is the Founder and Executive Director of The Ladies of Hope Ministries – The LOHM and co-founder of HOPE HOUSE NYC. She serves on the board of directors for Grassroots Leadership and is now the first formerly incarcerated person on the board of The Marshall Project. Since her release from Federal Prison in 2015, Topeka has become a Beyond the Bars 2015 Fellow and a 2016 Justice-In-Education Scholar both from Columbia University, a 2017 Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow working on Parole and Probation Accountability Project, a 2018 Unlocked Futures Inaugural Cohort Member, 2018 Opportunity Agenda Communications Institute Fellow, Director of #Dignity Campaign for #cut50, Senior Advisor of New Yorkers United for Justice, Host of “The Topeka K. Sam Show” on SiriusXM UrbanView Channel 126 Sundays 9am est., and has recently signed a development deal as Executive Producer for a scripted and unscripted series inspired by her fight to change the many problems that plague female incarceration with 44 Blue Productions. She has worked and continues to work selflessly and relentlessly in her fight for the dignity, decriminalization and decarceration of women and girls.

Robert Shipp received a mandatory minimum life sentence without the possibility of parole at the age of 20 for 5 months involvement in a nonviolent drug conspiracy. Robert’s story gained national media attention through the relentless advocacy of his sister in her quest to gain freedom and justice for him. He was released from federal prison after serving 25 years, 10 months and 12 days. Robert is passionate about criminal justice reform and now speaks on national platforms about his experience and the need for more policy changes. He is owner of Lynk Consulting Group, LLC and is currently serving as a consultant for Cure Violence Global, an organization who seeks to reduce violence globally. He also works with several community organizations and mentor young men that are at a crossroad as he once was.


Veda Ajamu joined the National Civil Rights Museum in 2010, where she is currently the Director of Community Engagement and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives. She is also an energetic criminal justice reform advocate, speaker, and facilitator. Veda passionately advocated with criminal justice reform organizations accomplishing policy changes in unjust federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. This resulted in freedom and justice for her brother who served over 25 years of an original life sentence at the age of 20 for a nonviolent crime. Veda is the focus of an award-winning video produced by FAMM, “Veda Ajamu: Warrior for Justice,” and has been featured in national media outlets, including NBC Nightly News and The New York Times. In addition, she served on the 2018 Review Committee for the Wayfinder Foundation Community Activist Fellowship Program. In 2019, Veda participated in a Criminal Justice Reform Strategy Session at the White House. She is the recipient of Southwest Tennessee Community College 2020 Carter Godwin Woodson Award of Merit for her personal and professional work.



Yolanda "Quiet Storm" Gates is a native of Chicago, IL. She is an avid writer, poet, and teaching artist. She has been named one of the 2012 Tri-State Defenders 50 Women Of Excellence, 2016 1st place NCRM Drop The Mic Poetry Slam Winner, Artsy Awards 2017 & 2019 Best Female Poet, Tri-State Defenders 2017 Best In Black Awards Best Spoken Word Artist, and Outstanding Author for 3V Leading Lady Awards. Quiet Storm is the founder of “The Writerz Bloc” Creative Writing Collective, an organization using various creative writing skills to promote literacy efficiency amongst youth ages 8-18. She is the author of two poetry books Eye of the Storm and Embracing The Journey and creator of “Embracing The Journey” discussions, an open discussion on the many layers of the journey of womanhood. She is also the Podcast Host of “Embracing Our Journey’s” podcast, a podcast highlighting millennial triumphs. She lives by "Be The Change You Wish To See In The World."



Terri Lee Freeman was appointed president of the National Civil Rights Museum in November 2014. As president, Freeman is responsible for providing strategic leadership in furthering the museum’s mission as an educational and cultural institution. During her short tenure, Freeman has emphasized the connection between the historic civil rights era and today’s contemporary issues. Freeman has placed her emphasis on building the organization’s reputation as the new public square. Through her collaborative approach to the work, she has increased visitor engagement with the Museum’s public programs four-fold.

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