Evolution of Black Politics: Power, Policy and Progress in an Ever-Changing Community

Join the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice African American Alumni Committee (AAAC) at the 2023 Black History Month Symposium, Evolution of Black Politics: Power, Policy, and Progress in an Ever-Changing Community.

This year’s symposium will explore evolutions in Black Americans’ political voice, power, influence, and progress over recent years. The program will include an intergenerational panel discussion and feature keynote speakers who will help conceptualize and contextualize the evolution of Black political power, influence, and the policies that impact our collective ability to thrive.

Participants will also engage in discussions around the multi-faceted political contributions of the practitioner, specifically the complex role of Black social workers, and outline critical action steps needed to strengthen their political voice, power, and influence.

About the Symposium: For over 15 years the African American Alumni Committee has presented its bi-annual (annual for the first half) symposium during Black History Month as a way to honor our history, legacy, and contributions in a way that engages Black social workers, practitioners, and the broader community around topics that impact the Black community.

Free and open to the public. This is a virtual event via Zoom. Registration required.

Phil the Phoenix
Samyra Leonard, Youth Keynote Speaker and Panelist

Samyra Leonard is a Licensed Social Worker who was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. As the oldest of 7, she has always had the desire to care for and protect others. She decided at an early age that she wanted to dedicate her life to helping people, so she pursued her Bachelor's in Social Work at Valparaiso University in 2015. After receiving her Bachelor's Degree, Samyra pursued her Master's in Social Work at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, specializing in Leadership & Social Change. Since beginning her studies in Social Work, she has worked with multiple vulnerable populations but has found her calling in macro-level administration and advocacy.

Samyra is currently the Program Manager at a nonprofit organization that seeks to educate people about trauma- and justice-informed policies and practices while providing direct support to individuals, groups, and families impacted by adverse community experiences. She is also a Program Manager at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign that oversees and has helped create a Community Health Worker training program for youth of color in Chicago and surrounding suburbs.

Phil the Phoenix
Lionel Kimble, PhD, Panelist

Dr. Lionel Kimble is an Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies at Chicago State University. Dr. Kimble has a deep historical knowledge of the experiences of Black Chicagoans. His work primarily focuses on African American labor and politics in Chicago during the New Deal and World War II. Dr. Kimble has written and lectured extensively and appeared on several national and international news programs. His first book, A New Deal for Bronzeville: Housing, Employment, and Civil Rights in Black Chicago, 1935-1955, was published by Southern Illinois University Press. He has also published several articles focusing on Black war workers and veterans’ issues during the 1940s and 1950s.

Dr. Kimble holds a BA and a PhD in History from the University of Iowa.

Phil the Phoenix
Darnell Leatherwood, AM ’13, PhD ’21, Panelist

Darnell Leatherwood is currently Visiting Faculty at Saint Louis University and a National Science Foundation Fellow in Advanced Quantitative Research Methods at the University of Chicago and Michigan State University. He is also Faculty Affiliate at the University of Michigan School of Social Work's Center for Equitable Family and Community Well-Being.

Darnell is also a former Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences Fellow, Illinois Board of Higher Education Fellow, Expert Mentor for the IVenture Accelerator at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and was a founding member of Thrive Chicago and President Barack Obama's My Brother's Keeper (MBKChicago) Action Team. He was awarded the University of Chicago’s Allison Davis Research Award in 2020 and was named to the Chicago Scholars' 35 Under 35 List in 2020.
He holds a PhD in Social Policy and Social Welfare from the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, a Certificate in Education Sciences from the University of Chicago, an MA in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, and a BS in Management (concentration: Entrepreneurship) and Business Process Management from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Phil the Phoenix
Briana Payton, AM ’20, Panel Moderator

Briana Payton is the Senior Legislative Advocacy Coordinator at the Chicago Community Bond Fund and the Pretrial Fairness Act Policy Coordinator for the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice. In her role, she collaborates with organizers, attorneys, impacted people, and policy experts across Illinois to advocate for radical reform of the pretrial legal system. These collective efforts led to the passage of the Pretrial Fairness Act in January 2021, a law that will end money bonds and reduce pretrial incarceration in Illinois in 2023 (pending a Supreme Court ruling).

Since 2020, Briana has served as a key subject matter expert on the Pretrial Fairness Act, educating thousands of people about the harms of money bonds and helping to successfully defend reforms against misinformation and legislative rollbacks, especially in the fall of 2022. Previously, Briana worked in re-entry, federal public defense, and violence prevention research in Chicago. She holds her Bachelor’s in Sociology and African American Studies from Princeton University, and her Master's in Social Work and Social Policy from the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice with a focus on justice system transformation.

Phil the Phoenix
John Zeigler, Breakout Session Facilitator

John Zeigler is the Director of DePaul University Egan Office of Urban Education and Community Partnerships (UECP). John recognizes that the most effective solutions to community issues should be community driven. For over twenty-five years, he has worked as a counselor, educator, community activist, lobbyist, therapist, researcher, and creative artist in Chicago communities. In addition, he is a senior program advisor for the Goldin Institute, where he helps to construct “glocal” global and local grass root organization development.  

While director of the Egan Urban Center, he was awarded the Gandhi, King, Ikeda: A Legacy of Building Peace award from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. John has been awarded the Peace Corp’s Loret Miller Ruppe Award for Outstanding Community Service, Young Chicago Authors Wallace Douglas Distinguished Service Award, and the State of Illinois “Everyday Hero” All Stars Project Community Leadership Award. He is an Asset-Based Community Development and Shannon Institute Fellow.

He is also faculty at DePaul University, teaches at Stateville Correctional Center, and is finishing his doctorate in education at DePaul University.

Breakout Session Facilitators

AAAC Members:

Briana Payton, AM ’20
Senior Legislative Advocacy Coordinator, Chicago Community Bond Fund
Policy Coordinator, Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice

Eugene Robinson, Jr., AM ’09
President, Crown Family School Alumni Association

Ashley N. Jackson, AM ’11 (she/her(s))
PhD Candidate
Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis

Sean-Lamar Hudson, AM ’14
PhD Student at Illinois State University
Executive Director of Research and Strategic Initiatives at Harry S Truman College - City Colleges of Chicago.


If you have any questions about access or to request a reasonable accommodation that will facilitate your full participation in this event such as ASL interpreting, captioned videos, Braille or electronic text, food options for individuals with dietary restrictions, etc. please contact the event organizer.