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Heather McGhee | Author of New York Times Bestseller The Sum of Us
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

A renowned expert on the American economy, Heather McGhee is one of the most brilliant and influential thinkers exploring inequality today. Both her viral TED talk and her instant New York Times bestseller The Sum of Us reveal the devastating true cost of racism—not just for people of color, but for everyone. Deeply stirring, intelligent, and compassionate, McGhee’s talks offer us an actionable roadmap during one of the most critical—and most troubled—periods in history.

“This is a book for every American, and I am grateful for McGhee’s research, her humanity, and her never-more-important teachings.”

— Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author

What if, in the middle of your live TV appearance, someone asked for advice on overcoming racial prejudice? For Heather McGhee, the response was natural: she helped. The viral exchange, now viewed over 10 million times, also inspired her to kick off a cross-country journey throughout America, where she explored what we lose when we buy into the “zero-sum” paradigm—the idea that progress for some, comes at the expense of others. Her deeply personal experiences come together in The Sum Of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. An analysis of how we arrived at this divided nation, The Sum of Us illuminates how racism is at the root of some of our most vexing public problems, from collapsing infrastructure to rising student debt. But at the heart of the book are humble stories of people yearning to be a part of a better America, including white supremacy’s collateral victims: white people themselves. Hailed as “illuminating and hopeful,” the critically acclaimed book spent 10 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and was longlisted for the National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. It’s being adapted into a Spotify podcast series by Michelle and Barack Obama’s production company, as well as a young adult reader’s version by Random House Children’s Books.

 

To date, The Sum of Us has been endorsed by the likes of Ibram X. Kendi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert, and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, who calls it a “must read.” It has also been dubbed “The book that should change how progressives talk about race” (New York Times) and “Required reading to move the country forward…” (Chicago Tribune). The Sum of Us was named one of the Washington Post and TIME’s Must-Read Books of 2021, and the Best Business Book of the Year by Porchlight.

 

For nearly two decades, McGhee helped build the non-partisan “think and do” tank Demos, serving four years as president. Under her leadership, Demos moved their original idea for “debt-free college” into the center of the 2016 presidential debate, argued before the Supreme Court to protect voting rights in January 2018, and provided expert testimony to Congressional committees, including a Supreme Court confirmation hearing. As an executive, McGhee led Demos’ own racial equity organizational transformation, resulting in a doubling of the organization’s racial diversity and growth across all measures of organizational impact. In 2018, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz also asked McGhee to advise the company as it designed an anti-bias training for 250,000 employees in the wake of the unjust arrest of two Black men in a Philadelphia store. McGhee wrote a report with recommendations for how Starbucks could apply a racial equity lens to their businesses, and how other companies both large and small can benefit from doing the same.

 

An influential voice in the media and an NBC contributor, McGhee regularly appears on NBC’s Meet the Press and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Deadline White House, and All In. Her opinions, writing, and research have appeared in numerous outlets, including the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Politico and National Public Radio.

 

McGhee holds a B.A. in American Studies from Yale University and a J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. She currently serves as a Visiting Lecturer in Urban Studies at the City University of New York’s School of Labor and Urban Studies. She has also held visiting positions at Yale University’s Brady-Johnson Grand Strategy Program and the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.  McGhee is the Chair of the Board of Color of Change, the country’s largest online racial justice organization, and serves on multiple other boards of trustees, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Demos. For the latest updates on Heather’s writing, speeches, and media appearances, visit www.heathermcghee.com.

Testimonials

“The event was a splendid success. Heather gave an absolutely riveting talk, winning the admiration of students and faculty alike. It exceeded even my own very high expectations. She’s a gem.”

Yale University
Testimonials

“We were thrilled to host a virtual keynote with Heather McGhee for an audience of education system leaders from across the U.S. Heather was brilliant. The audience learned so much in that hour, and found her style to be warm and compelling. She brought a clear, inspiring, and inclusive call to action and we all left energized and hopeful.”

WestEd
Testimonials

“Our folks really appreciated the time with Heather! Her strong analysis along with powerful stories provided really clear teaching and insights. At the end, she gave us an inspiring call to action not only based on her leadership and expertise but also in response to the dialogue with our Sr. Fellows.”

American Leadership Forum, Silicon Valley
Testimonials

“Heather's presentation was engaging, thoughtful, and inspiring! The follow up conversation flowed naturally and set the perfect tone for this moment in time. We’ve received great feedback from members who clearly appreciate Heather's work, and there were quite a few comments in the chat from folks eager to get a hold of her book.”

Southeastern Council of Foundations
Testimonials

“We have already received very positive feedback on your impactful and very relevant mainstage session. Some examples of the comments included “Heather was incredible," “Superb in every way.” We are also deeply grateful for your participation and presentation during the Annual EGA Trustee Dinner sharing your wisdom and lessons learned from your time at the helm of Demos’ racial equity transformation. EGA members deeply appreciated listening to your insights and engaging with you.”

Environmental Grantmakers Association

Speech Topics

Race
The Sum of Us What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together
Despite its position as one of the world's most advanced economies, America has, time and time again, created policies that routinely fail its people—from the 2008 financial crisis, to crippling student debt, to the continued lack of universal healthcare. But there exists a common thread that links all of these problems, says public policy expert Heather McGhee: Racism. Structural racism is the driver of inequality—not just for people of color, but for everyone.
 
In her new book The Sum Of Us, McGhee takes readers on a journey across the country, where she explores, with compassion, intelligence, and great care, what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm—the idea that progress for some of us, must come at the expense of others. "Now more than ever, racial division is a tool wielded by those who are the most wealthy, the most powerful, and the most self-interested," explains McGhee. What would actually improve our lives, and everything we share in common—from our infrastructure to our education system to democracy itself—would be to come together across racial divides.
 
This talk, based on McGhee's extraordinarily powerful book, pulls back the curtain on how racism divides and devastates us; but it also offers a path forward—into the achievable changes we need to make to create a just and equitable future for all.
Politics & Society
Dismantling Racist Systems Creating A Vision for Our Country’s Future
Racism is the common denominator in our most vexing public problems, and its legacy and impact in the United States are deep and profound for everyone. Racist lenses have infiltrated and negatively impacted every system we rely on—including many of those inside the creative economy, philanthropy, and cultural enterprise—and ultimately, make all of these systems poorer. In this keynote conversation, thinker, commentator, and well-known public policy and economic justice scholar Heather McGhee breaks down the far-reaching and detrimental effects of racism in both public and private policy, and then lays out a vision for how we can collectively move towards something more equitable and just⁠—something that serves all of us, including those of us carrying the most privilege, better.
DEI: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
Leading Organizational Transformations Diversity, Racial Equity & Inclusion
Over her tenure as President of Demos, Heather McGhee increased the staff diversity by 100 percent and created an original racial equity curriculum and process that helped the 50 staff members and trustees better operate in a diverse professional environment. Most importantly, the organization’s transformation was characterized by joy and a renewed commitment to its mission and purpose from staff of all backgrounds. In the spring of 2018, Heather served as a pro bono advisor to Starbucks, helping shape their company-wide anti-bias training on May 29th and co-authoring a report, “Toward a Vision for Racial Equity & Inclusion at Starbucks” with recommendations that can be adapted for other corporations. With this talk, McGhee addresses corporate executives and staff about the business benefits of leading such processes and how to get alignment for change.

 

 
Race
Bridging the Racial Divide Lessons from the Most Unlikely Friendship
Heather McGhee’s gracious response to a prejudiced caller on C-Span transformed his life and inspired tens of millions when the video went viral. By treating his admission of racism as a courageous step, she created an opening for countless other Americans to face their own biases. She went on to offer him ideas for how to overcome his prejudice, steps he has since followed and transformed his life. In this talk, McGhee speaks to what she has learned from her unlikely friendship, and, drawing on her expertise in racial healing and transformation, offer concrete steps for how ordinary people can bridge the racial divide at work, school, and in our fragile democracy.
 
DEI: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
Fostering a Changing Workforce The Millennial Generation and Beyond
Today’s young people are inheriting a radically different economy and society that has left an indelible mark on their aspirations, values and life trajectories. An expert on the economic challenges facing young adults and youth-led activism, McGhee offers much-needed context for understanding the Millennial moment. She can speak to students, teachers, and  employers of millennials, and she can marshal the groundbreaking research Demos has undertaken to characterize the challenges facing a brand new, post-Millennial generation now entering the workforce.