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New Leaders Council

See Who's Speaking at NLC's 2012 National Leadership Retreat in Atlanta!



Ready to Move Powerfully? Read on to meet the thought leaders who will be setting the tone for our national conversation in Atlanta, as we explore how to build bigger, better, more powerful progressive coalitions across the nation.


2012 New Leaders Council National Leadership Retreat Speakers


Doug Shipman

Chief Executive Officer, National Center for Civil & Human Rights


Doug was most recently a Principal in the Atlanta office of the Boston Consulting Group. Doug joined BCG’s Atlanta office in 2001 and was a summer consultant in the BCG New York office in 2000. He also spent one year in BCG’s Mumbai, India office as part of BCG’s Ambassador Program.

During his time at BCG, Doug worked for with senior executive clients within the financial services, consumer goods and industrial goods industries. He has led cases dealing with marketing, sales force organization and incentives, sales distribution strategy, pricing, and operations. He has extensive experience in strategy and overall management issues. Doug also has an extensive educational background in issues of race, ethnicity and gender including undergraduate and graduate studies in topics including the relationship between economics and poverty, the history of American minority groups and religion as applied in social movements including the American Civil Rights movement, the Indian independence movement and the Buddhist environmental movement in Southeast Asia.

He has also served as a facilitator for discussion groups exploring racial understanding in Richmond, VA and Cambridge, MA. Doug has an MPP (Master of Public Policy) from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University with an emphasis on domestic politics; an MTS (Master of Theological Studies) from the Harvard Divinity School with an emphasis on religion in public situations and politics and a bachelor’s degree with High Honors from Emory University with majors in Economics and Political Science. In 2010, Doug was named one of the New Leaders Council's "40 under 40" in the area of political entrepreneurship.


Kim Bearden

Co-Founder, Executive Director, And Language Arts Teacher, Ron Clark Academy


Kim Bearden was selected from over 70,000 nominations to be honored as the Disney American Teacher Awards Outstanding Middle School Humanities Teacher. The Milken Family Foundation selected her as one of 155 teachers from across the nation to receive the Award for Excellence in Education, and she was chosen from among 7000 teachers as Teacher of the Year in Cobb County, Georgia. Ms. Bearden is a member of the Leadership Atlanta Class of 2008, and she received the Phoenix Award from Mayor Shirley Franklin for her dedication to the education. Kimberly is a former Finalist for Georgia Teacher of the Year and the Phenomenal Woman of Character Award. Over the past twenty-three years, she has been a teacher, instructional lead teacher, curriculum director, school board member, staff development trainer, and middle school principal.


Dr. Arlene Lester

CAPT, United States Public Health Service


Dr. Arlene Lester serves as the Regional Minority Health Consultant, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS-Region IV). In this capacity she facilitates policies and activities targeted at the achievement of health equity and elimination of health disparities in the south eastern United States. Before taking the helm as HHS Region IV minority health consultant, she served as a Senior Program Management Consultant with the Division of Diabetes Translation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During her tenure at CDC the US Public Health Service awarded her the Commendation Medal for establishment of effective partnerships. Dr. Lester is a graduate of the School of Dentistry at the historic Meharry Medical College and the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. With over 20 years of service in public health, she resides in Atlanta, GA with her son Jack Allan.



Al Checchi

Author & Former Chairman of Northwest Airlines


Al Checchi participated in the transformation of three major American companies and took on the California political establishment as a candidate for governor. He is the author of a new book, The Change Maker, Preserving the Promise of America and a Declaration for Independence, a common sense governing agenda for America.



Vimala Phongsavanh

Vice-Chair of the Woonsocket School Committee


Vimala D. Phongsavanh is the Vice-Chair of the Woonsocket School Committee and the first Lao-American to be elected to a School Committee in the United States. She currently resides in the Fairmount community of Woonsocket.

Vimala is a product of Woonsocket Public Schools, she attended 5th Avenue Elementary, Kevin K. Coleman, Woonsocket Middle School and graduated from Woonsocket High School in 2004.

She attended Providence College as a Cunningham Southeast Asian Scholar and received a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science in 2008.

Vimala served as an AmeriCorps VISTA from 2008-2009 at the Asian Community Development Corporation in Chinatown Boston. In her year of service she managed the Energy Efficiency Lighting Program and coordinated Asian Voices of Organized Youth for Community Empowerment (A-VOYCE) a leadership program for Boston youth.

After her year of service, she worked at NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley as the Education Programs Coordinator in Woonsocket from 2009-2011. Her responsibilities included managing and coordinating education and enrichment programs for 75 youth year-round in the Constitution Hill and Fairmount Communities of Woonsocket.

Vimala currently works at the Socio-Economic Development Center for Southeast Asians (SEDC-SEA) as the Director for Youth and Adult Literacy. SEDC-SEA has offices located in both Providence and Woonsocket. In her role, Vimala oversees and directs the organization’s International Language Bank, and the youth and adult education programs.


Saba Long

Press Secretary, Untie Atlanta

Like many Gen-Yers,  Saba's active involvement in politics began on the '08 campaign for Barack Obama. Having  always paid attention to the political process from afar, the energy of his campaign pushed Saba to dip her toes in the world of campaigning and I've been hooked ever since

Saba Long is ready to bridge her interest of technology and government (either domestic or emerging market countries) in areas including citizen initiatives, ICT for development, open government/gov2.0 and patient capitalism projects. This would be in a strategic communications, operations and marketing capacity.

She currently the Press Secretary for a transportation referendum campaign in metro Atlanta handling communications fo rMAVEN, the education arm of the campaign as well as CTM-Untie Atlanta, the advocacy arm. Once passed, this regional transportation referendum will raise $8.5 billion via a penny sales levy to fund more than 157 transportation projects. This is an unprecedented opportunity for the region to finally tackle our notorious traffic congestion. The election is July 31, 2012.


Chadrick Kennedy, CFP®

Senior Vice President, The Kennedy Financial Group


As Senior Vice President of The Kennedy Financial Group, Chad brings over 15 years of experience as an insurance professional to his role at The Kennedy Financial Group. Over the years, he has developed a niche market working with complex issues around Stop Loss Coverage, Disease Management, and Self-Funded Plans. He holds a Life & Health Insurance Producers license, as well as, Series 6 & 7 Securities licenses. Using analytical skills he developed at Howard University’s School of Engineering to solve employer’s and individual’s complex financial problems, Chad also oversees, new business and expansion into financial partnerships that can compliment The Kennedy Financial Group’s core Employee Benefits business.


Justin Braz

Chapter Director, New Leaders Council New Jersey


Justin Braz is the New Jersey Political Coordinator for 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. His strong interest in local, state, and national politics has augmented a lifelong passion towards fomenting significant social change for working class men and women.


Justin has cultivated an impressive resume of policy and political experience. As part of American University's Washington Semester, he spent five months living and studying in our nation's Capitol, with a prestigious internship placement at Senator Frank Lautenberg's DC office. Following his time in DC, Justin was selected to participate in the LeaderShape Institute; a labor intensive program focused on encouraging and training young leaders to pursue leadership positions with vigor and integrity.

Justin also worked as the regional coordinator for Mark McCracken's Congressional bid in Pennsylvania's 5th District. Following his election assignment for McCracken, he served as the executive producer and co-host of Present Tense, a local television program on politics and other current affairs. He is a founding member and Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Tuition Coalition, a student organization focused on affordable college tuition for all Pennsylvania residents-a position he held until he graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor's degree in Sociology in 2009.

Selected to serve as the South Jersey Director of College Outreach for Yes We Can 2.0 on behalf of the Democratic State Committee, Justin went on to become Chief of Staff for New Jersey Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, making him the youngest Chief of Staff in the New Jersey Legislature. As Quijano’s Chief-of-Staff, he crafted an ambitious policy agenda and impressive legislative resume for the Assemblywoman, eventually propelling her to Homeland Security and State Preparedness Chair.

In the last year Justin was selected to be the Labor Coordinator for NJ's 20th Legislative District Democratic Primary, in one of the most closely-watched, and narrowly-won primaries in the state. He also coordinated Get Out the Vote operations in NJ's 38th Legislative District in the general election. In this position he managed five field offices, several employees and hundreds of volunteers, on a $100,000 budget, making his role a critical one in this hard-won victory.

Justin currently serves as Democratic Committeeman for Marlboro's 13th District. He is also Chapter Director and a founding member of the state chapter of the New Leader's Council, a national leadership training institute for progressive political entrepreneurs throughout the state. In his free time, Justin is an avid reader, a racquetball enthusiast and a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. A sports lover as well, depending on the season he can be found following his New York Yankees, Giants or New Jersey Devils.



Sherra Bell

Founder, Creative Know-Who

Founded in 2001 as a recruitment consulting practice, Creative Know-Who continues to evolve with the changing needs of the marketplace. Founder, Sherra Bell, has a BFA in visual communications from Auburn University. She also earned an MA in social and organizational change. She has also studied improv through JaCKPie at Relapse Theater andiO Chicago's Summer Intensive Program.

Sherra was President of AIGA Atlanta from 2005-2007 and remains networked into AIGA as well as many other local and national organizations, including DMI, AiMA, TAG, and others. She is a frequent guest lecturer to local colleges and high schools and remains an active mentor to the AIGA Atlanta Student Board. Sherra serves as the current Past Presidents Mentoring Chair and served on the 2009 and 2010 Nominating Committees for AIGA National.

Informed and connected, Sherra has over a decade of experience placing Atlanta's top creative talent. She really does know Jack...and pretty much everyone else. Sherra is an advocate and ambassador for designers in Atlanta and the Southeast. As an Atlanta native, she is passionate about helping designers develop leadership skills in ways that increase Atlanta's visibility as a community that is respected for its great design talent.



Representative Yasmin Neal

Georgia House of Representatives, District 75


Yasmin Neal is a native of Georgia, and was born and raised in the 75th district that she represents which is in Clayton County. Yasmin Neal is the youngest member of the GA House of Representatives, elected at the age of 25 years old.

Yasmin is currently a police officer at the Clayton County Police Department, and was a Detective in the Major Felony Unit. Yasmin also worked at the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department as an Internal Affairs/ Backgrounds and Hiring Investigator, and then an Investigator in the Fugitive Unit. She is a graduate of Jonesboro High School and attended Valdosta State and Clayton State Colleges, and pursued a degree in Criminal Justice.

Yasmin is on the School of Criminal Justice advisory board at ITT Tech University, is a member of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, Young Elected Officials Network (YEO), and received the 2010 Conservation Award from Georgia Conservation Voters, for consistently voting to protect all of Georgia’s natural resources while at the House of Representatives.

Yasmin has a non-profit, Clayton Rocks, which engages and supports youth activities in the Clayton County area, the kick off event being self defense class that was taught to teenage girls over the summer of 2011. Yasmin is a partner in education with Clayton County Schools, The Coretta Scott King (all girls school), the Benjamin Carson (All boys school) and Yasmin serves on the Judicial Non-Civil Committee (sets GA criminal law), Public Safety and Homeland Security, and Children and Youth.

Yasmin has been endorsed by Georgia’s WIN List, Planned Parenthood of Georgia, AFL-CIO, Atlanta Stonewall Democrats, People for the American Way and Georgia Trial Lawyers.



 Justin Tanner

National Co-Chair, Obama for America-Gen 44

Justin G. Tanner is a Legislative Analyst in the Office of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, where he helps maintain working relationships with state, federal and local government entities.


Prior to his move to Intergovernmental Affairs, he was a Senior Communications Specialist in the Mayor's Office of Communications, where he handled executive correspondence on behalf of Mayor Reed, accompanied him to speaking engagements and worked directly on nuanced policy issues. Before joining Mayor Reed’s administration, Mr. Tanner served as the Director of New Media for the mayor’s 2009 citywide campaign and 2010 Inaugural Planning Committee. He is the author of the City of Atlanta's social media policy.


Politically, Mr. Tanner is a National Finance Committee member with the DNC, serving as a National Co-Chair for Obama for America's Gen44 program. Over the past few years, he has served as the Finance Chair for the Young Democrats of Atlanta, an Advisory Board member for Covenant Community, Inc., a mentor in the APS REAL Men Read program and on the Board of Governors for the Red Clay Democrats.


Justin is also an emerging young leader - In May 2011, he was featured as one of Atlanta's "Next Up: 25 Rising Young Stars," in Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine. He was also chosen as a member of LEAD Atlanta's 2012 Class. In Sept of 2011, he was selected as one of 10 outstanding Atlantans by Outstanding Atlanta, Inc. He is a 2011 NLC Fellow, a 2010 Truman Project Partner and 2010 United Way V.I.P. graduate. Finally, he is the recipient of the Atlanta Urban League Young Professionals' 2011 “Dream Catchers Political Advocate” award.


Mr. Tanner holds a J.D. from Vanderbilt Law School and a BBA in Marketing from Howard University, where he graduated magna cum laude. While matriculating at Howard, he became a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Alpha Chapter. He is a member of Cascade United Methodist Church.



Kristin Oblander

President of The Oblander Group L.L.C.


Kristin Elise Oblander is the President of The Oblander Group L.L.C., a prominent Democratic fundraising firm specializing in Democratic campaign fundraising. Named by "Campaigns and Elections" magazine as a "Rising Star in Politics 1998", Ms. Oblander has rapidly built a reputation as one of the nation's top young Democratic fundraising professionals.

Prior to opening her Atlanta, Georgia based firm in February 1999, Ms. Oblander served as the Finance Director for the Roy Barnes for Governor Campaign beginning in March 1997. Under her direction, the 1998 Barnes campaign raised over $11.7 million, allowing it to rise from third in the polls in the primary to claim the Democratic nomination and then, earn a hard-fought victory in the general election. The Barnes campaign had over 10,000 donors and held over 200 fundraising events, including the largest political fundraiser in Georgia's history, raising over $1.1 million in a single night. Ms. Oblander also served as Finance Director for the 1999 Inauguration of Governor Barnes. The inaugural effort produced over $600,000 in contributions from corporate donors.

Under Kristin’s direction as Finance Director the 2002 Barnes re-election campaign reached an all-time Georgia political fundraising record of raising over $22,000,000.

During the 1998, 2000 and 2002 general election campaign, she also directed fundraising for the coordinated campaign of the Georgia Democratic Party. That effort produced millions in contributions and enabled the party to conduct its largest-ever voter turnout programs. The 2000, 2001 and 2002 J.J. Dinners raised over $1,000,000 and smashed all previous fundraising records for a Georgia Democratic Party event.

Kristin served as the Southeastern Finance Director for the Democratic National Committee during the 2006, 2008 and 2010 election cycles. The region included eight states where she was responsible for staging events with President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Chairman Tim Kaine and numerous White House officials, Cabinet Members and surrogates.

Kristin has been a featured speaker on fundraising at many training seminars including: the 2005 and 2006 White House Project, the 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2006 Legislative Candidate Training Workshop for the Georgia Democratic Party, the 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006 Burris School of Government Candidate Training, the 1999 and 2001 Stennis Center for Southern Women in Public Service Conference and the 2000, 2001 and 2003 Campaigns & Elections Political Training Seminar in Washington, D.C. Kristin presented fundraising training at the 2004 Democratic GAIN training seminar in Boston, MA. She delivered the political fundraising training for the New Leader’s Council in Atlanta in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Kristin holds a Bachelor of Science from the College of Management at Georgia Tech and resides on Peachtree Street in Midtown, Atlanta. When not out on the campaign trail, she enjoys peace and quiet at her North Georgia mountain home and long hikes with her beloved dog, Woody. (R.I.P. Woody 1993 – 2011)


Richard Ray

Past President Georgia State AFL-CIO


Richard Ray was born September 19, 1941 in Durham, North Carolina. He graduated from Durham High School, attended Atlantic Christian College and is a graduate of the Georgia State University Labor Studies Program.

Ray has been a member of the American Flint Glass Workers Union since 1963 as a mold maker. He served as President of Local 42, Local #6 and the Durham Central Labor Council.

From 1990-1999, Ray served as Secretary-Treasurer for the Georgia State AFL-CIO and in 1999 he was elected president.



 Representative Scott Holcolmb

Georgia House of Representatives, District 81


Scott Holcomb is the incumbent for House District 81. As a freshman, Scott was named a Deputy Whip and he serves on the Public Safety and Homeland Security, Defense and Veterans Affairs, and Children and Youth Committees. He received Environmental Leadership Awards from Georgia Conservation Voters in 2011 and 2012.

Scott is an experienced attorney who has practiced since 1998. He began his career as a lawyer with the U.S. Army JAG Corps, where he served as a prosecutor and international law attorney. He served with the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, from 1998-2001 and deployed to Bosnia for Operation Joint Forge. From 2001-2003, he served with 3rd Army at Fort McPherson, Georgia, and deployed overseas for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. During those conflicts, he provided advice on the laws of war to the three-star generals who commanded ground forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Following his military service, Scott worked at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP and focused his practice on litigation. In 2006 and 2007, he was named a "Rising Star" by Georgia Super Lawyers Magazine. In 2007, Scott became the general counsel for J.P. Turner & Company, L.L.C., a local business. In 2011, he opened The Holcomb Law Firm, LLC.

Scott is a strong advocate for veterans' issues and he provides pro bono representation to veterans and their families. He serves on the Military Legal Assistance Committee of the State Bar of Georgia and he is a member of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Scott is active in the community and is an adviser to the Northlake Community Alliance and a member of the Tucker Civic Association. He has served on the boards of HOPE Atlanta, the Georgia Perimeter College Foundation, and the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network.

An expert in international law and foreign policy, Scott taught part-time at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech. He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Principal with the Truman National Security Project. His commentary has been published in the Chicago Journal of International Law and several newspapers including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Savannah Morning News, and Macon Telegraph. He has also appeared on CNN, NPR, and BBC Radio.

Scott earned a B.A. from the University of Connecticut, a J.D. from West Virginia University, and is currently pursuing the Executive MBA at The University of Georgia's Terry College of Business. In 2011, he completed the Legislative Health Policy Certificate Program at Georgia State University. Scott has also spent time studying overseas as an American Marshall Memorial Fellow, Manfred Wörner Fellow, and student at the Bucerius Summer School on Global Governance.

Scott is married to the former Kathleen Oh of Reidsville, Georgia. They have a son, Carter, and a daughter, Kirsten, and attend Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.

An active athlete, Scott completed Ironman Florida and enjoys running marathons. Most mornings, he can be found running in the Northlake area of his district.



 Damian Perez

Engagement Director, New Leaders Council Miami

Damian Perez recently joined the New Leaders Council as the Engagement Director.
Previous to his current role, Mr. Perez proudly served the City of Miami as the Community Relations Director.

While at the City of Miami Mr. Perez and his friends started the first chapter of New Leaders Council in Florida.

Mr. Perez has experience in electoral and civic campaigns in addition to small business management.


Julius Pryor III

General Managing Partner of J. Pryor Group, LLC


Julius Pryor, III, is an accomplished executive with proven abilities to leverage the unique qualities of employee teams. He is a courageous champion who leverages diversity and inclusion to drive sustainable outcomes. General Managing Partner of J. Pryor Group, LLC, he is a speaker, provocateur and strategic consultant, in high demand. He helps people leverage strengths to realize true potential. He talks about conceptual thinking: becoming more comfortable being uncomfortable and how to be relevant in the 21st century.

Mr. Pryor recently served as Vice President, Global Diversity for Coca-Cola Enterprises. He developed a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion, clearly defining outcomes for workforce and marketplace objectives.

Previously, he was Vice President, Global Diversity, for the Johnson & Johnson Consumer Group. There, he led initiatives that fostered innovative thinking regarding new products and customer relationships, as well as establishing fresh approaches to managing the workforce, workplace and global marketplace. He built a proven record of success, in pharmaceutical, medical device and diagnostic product business units in North America, Asia Pacific, South America, and Europe.

Before joining J&J, Mr. Pryor served as Director Diversity Strategies for Russell Corporation, a branded apparel company best known for Russell Athletic®, Jerzees®, and Spalding® lines. Reporting directly to the Chairman and CEO, he developed initiatives that dramatically improved the company’s revenue by increasing market share with new customers. He emphasized marketplace outcomes and business results.

Mr. Pryor has 22 years as a U.S. Navy Officer, serving in various commands, most notably as part of the historic re-commissioning crew of the USS Missouri (BB-63). He was on board for Missouri’s first major deployment: a circumnavigation of the world. He has been in a number of Navy leadership roles. He has completed course work at the National Defense University and the Naval Postgraduate School. Mr. Pryor holds the rank of Captain, and is a certified instructor for the Navy Officer Leadership Development Course.

A sought-after speaker, he has conducted workshops and delivered presentations at Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern), Rotman School of Management (University of Toronto), Ross School of Business (University of Michigan), Johnson School (Cornell), Opus College of Business (University of St. Thomas), Auburn University, and the Conference Board. He presented at the first Japanese Diversity and Inclusion Conference (Tokyo). His topic: Driving Business Outcomes by Leveraging Leadership Roles for Women.

Mr. Pryor is a graduate of Morehouse College (Atlanta, GA) and the Williston Northampton School (Easthampton, MA).


Mark Walsh

Chairman, New Leaders Council


NLC Chairman Mark Walsh is the head of a small venture capital firm focusing on interactive/internet technology and services, Ruxton Ventures, LLC, and CEO of GeniusRocket (, an internet advertising platform.

Mark has been in the internet industry for over twenty five years, heading up consumer internet efforts for GE, running AOL’s internet and business to business efforts, and as CEO of VerticalNet, a business to business internet company which he took public in early 1999.

Since 2001 Mark has been active in politics, serving as the first Chief Technology Advisor for the Democratic National Committee, then internet head for the John
Kerry for President Campaign, and then as founding CEO of Air America Radio. For the last six years he has co-hosted a weekly political talk show called “Left Jab” on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio. At his venture capital company, he has invested in a number of small to medium technology/startup companies and serves on a number of their boards.

Investment and/or board highlights include NutriSystems (NASDAQ: NTRI), Blackboard (NASDAQ: BBBB), (sold to eBay), (sold to Adobe), Spectrum K12 Software (Sold to Scantron), Hook & Ladder Brewing Company, MobilePosse, Transactis and ARPU. He is also active in a number of non-profits, serving or having served on the boards of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and In2Books.

Mark is chairman of the advisory council at The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland Business School, and is chairman of the New Leaders Council. He started his business career in television, as anchorman and News Director of a CBSTV affiliate, and as New Business Development director for HBO in NewYork.

Mark has a BA from Union College (where he serves as chairman of the board of trustees) and an MBA from Harvard Business School.



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New Leaders Council is a 501 (c) (3) public charity dedicated to educating a new generation of leaders and to providing those leaders with the tools they need to succeed. NLC does not engage in political or legislative activities of any kind, does not support or oppose any candidate for public office, and serves only as an educational leadership training ground.