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Meet our Speakers
Musician and Poet
No mere entertainer, Kwame Kamau uses music and poetry to make hard conversations softer, to make complex relationships comprehensible, and to make simple truths more profound.
Curt L. Tofteland
The Better Angels of my Nature versus the Lesser Demons of my Desire
Curt L. Tofteland is the Founder of the internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Behind Bars programs. For his work with marginalized populations, he has been awarded two Fulbright Fellowships, a Petra Fellowship, two Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Oakland University and Bellarmine University, and been named the Fifth Creative Fellow at the University of Auckland.
Youth are Worthy Partners
Poppy Sias Hernandez is the Assistant to the Superintendent and Director of Special Projects at Muskegon Public Schools. As a community organizer in Western Michigan for more than 15 years, the focus of her work has been in education and advocacy. She is a Certified Prevention Specialist through the State of Michigan, and is currently working on her Master’s Degree at Western Michigan University in the Organizational Learning and Performance Program where she is a Thurgood Marshall Fellow.
Speaker and Entertainer
Music & Brain Stimulation
A sophomore at North Muskegon High School, Andrea plays several different musical instruments. Her favorites are guitar, ukulele, and mandolin. Andrea enjoys hiking, singing, composing, and cheering for her high school’s football team. She is a very active participant in her High School Choir, being a sightreading leader, Vice President of Choir Council, and gaining a 29/30 Superior rating at solo and ensemble her freshman year.
Science of Mentorship
Mentorship specialist, author, speaker and mathematician, Shawn started his life as a crack baby. Growing up his main motivations were sex, money, cars, girls, and clothes. His mentors were his two older brothers — one murdered in a drug transaction — the other serving life in a Federal Prison for allegedly being one of Detroit’s most notorious drug lords. After losing his brothers to violence and prison, Shawn found another path that lead him to an education and opportunity. Fast forward and Blanchard was appointed to the city of Detroit’s Mayoral Cabinet as the Director of Youth Services. Throughout his tenure he successfully launched a citywide elementary soccer league and provided nearly 5,600 jobs, heading the Grow Detroit’s Young Talent youth employment initiative. Blanchard is the CEO and Founder of Shawn Blanchard Productions and the Style Advisor and Co-Owner of SnapSuits.
Theresa Hegedus, DDS
Meeting Humanity in the Faces of the Syrian Refugees
A lifelong Muskegon resident, Dr. Theresa spent four years as a mechanical engineer before receiving her Doctorate in Dental Surgery from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Dentistry. Her love of travel and adventure was the catalyst for her journey to the Solomon Islands in 2011, to provide dental care for the locals through Flying Doctors. Since then she has traveled and provided dental care with Flying Doctors in Kenya, Bolivia and most recently providing services to Syrian refugees in Jordan.
As Shown Through the Lens: Not-So-Random Acts of Kindness
Since age 13, Lucy has been taking photos as a hobby and has recently started her own business as an amateur senior portrait photographer. She is a senior at North Muskegon High School and hopes to study photography in college, continuing to take photos as a documentary photographer or photojournalist.
Changing the world one gene at a time
Syndell Parks is a biologist and owner of Muskegon-based GenPass. GenPass works closely with communities and individuals to identify and manage invasive species using genetic methods. Syndell also helps individuals translate developing science into accessible information to improve our lakes waterway ecosystems.
Dr. Cleamon Moorer, Jr.
Pursue Promise: The Greatest Failure is in the Inability to Quit
Cleamon Moorer Jr., DBA, is a father, husband, philanthropist, educator, author, mentor and educational entrepreneur. Moorer is the author of “From Failure to Promise: 360 Degrees,” the inspirational autobiographical story of how he overcame flunking out of college to become an engineer, college professor and dean.
Cassidy Briggs is a singer/songwriter. She has been in musicals and plays at her local high school, Reeths-Puffer, and loves performing. Cassidy is 15 years old and is a street performer at the Muskegon Farmers Market.
A former Marine Officer, Brian Strobel is an award-winning author on change. As a continual learner, he often needs to unlearn what he once believed as true. He believes without equivocation that leaders are in the “people business” and that they must lead with both their heart and mind.
Race: The Final Frontier
Darnell Jackson is the first African-American to serve as judge in Saginaw County Circuit Court, to serve as director of Michigan’s Office of Drug Control Policy, and to serve as deputy chief assistant prosecutor for Saginaw County. He has also served as deputy police chief for the City of Saginaw. Judge Jackson received his law degree and bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University.
Lori McElrath Eslick
ART: Make it Your ‘Favorite Inch’ of the Day
After Kendall College of ART and Design, Lori illustrated for Hallmark Cards. She is now a picture book illustrator. My family: Golman (Teacher) & our kids Camille and Chase model often for her illustration/paintings. After two open-heart surgeries, Lori loves to paint in the open air, as inspiration is immediate.
We’re Running Out of STEAM
Michael Gerstweiler is an electrical and computer engineer by profession and a student mentor and technology advocate by choice. In his youth the path to his engineering profession was laid out thanks to some caring teachers and mentors. His goal is to return that favor for today’s youth.