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The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau

A speakers bureau that represents the best original thinkers,
writers, and doers for speaking engagements.

Author Gabby Rivera Explores Art, Diversity, and Joy in NPR Interview

In this portrait for NPR’s Latino USA, acclaimed author, activist, and artist Gabby Rivera explores the importance of representation in the arts, dealing with hate, and her remarkable work and career.

“I must remember, it's not mainstream culture that I'm a part of. I'm part of these little pockets of good people everywhere, doing their best to just love themselves, and each other.”

— Gabby Rivera

Rivera’s first novel, Juliet Takes a Breath, is an unconventional coming-of-age—and coming out—story, based on her personal experience. Called the “dopest LGBTQA YA book ever” by Latina magazine, the novel captured not only critical acclaim and international attention, but also the imagination of Marvel Comics. By 2017, Rivera was writing America, Marvel’s first comic series with a queer Latina superhero—but underrepresentation of marginalized groups was still the industry norm. And as America exploded onto the scene, Rivera found herself targeted in a campaign of mass online harassment of those involved with the comic book industry's efforts to include more creators and characters of diverse backgrounds. With great success can come great backlash, and for a time Rivera thought she wouldn’t be able to keep creating comics. Fortunately, love and strength will always conquer hate and fear, and Rivera rose above the attacks—thanks in part to the comics community itself.

 

“What really saved me, and what really turned all of this into big love, was when I went to individual comic book shops and did signings,” she says to NPR’s Maria Hinojosa. “It was there, and in colleges also across the country, where I met really good, good human beings, who loved America Chavez, who loved that there were women and queer people and brown people in the comics. And yes, a lot of them look like me, and you know what? A lot of them look like a regular-ass white dude at the mall, coming up to me and being like, ‘I loved America, it was so nice, it was so refreshing.’”

 

And now, Rivera has her first original comic series, b.b. free, which debuted this month. “What's fun about b.b. free, is that it actually comes from a short story that I wrote,” she told NPR. “I wrote about…[a] plague of imbalance put out into the world by Mother Nature that eats greed, and ends up kind of killing everyone who is essentially greedy. It starts with the one percent and then kind of trickles its way down. So, what is that world? And so we plop a beautiful, chubby little fifteen-year-old Puerto-Rican girl from the Florida Swamps [there]. And she's b.b. free, and she wants to go on an adventure, she wants to go on a road trip.”

 

NPR’s interfiew closes with a discussion of Rivera’s upcoming podcast, Gabby Rivera's Joy Revolution. Hitting airwaves in 2020, it will feature interviews with revolutionary QTPOC humans and allies, and explore how they find, maintain, and nurture their joy in this chaotic world. So what brings Rivera joy?, Hinojosa asks. “Number one, this is a joy that is rooted in acknowledging pain and suffering and the reality of the world around us. I don't take it for granted that ten years ago, I didn't think I was gonna live. I was having panic attacks, I had no money, I had no future…So here now, ten years later, that I am a thriving, supported artist and writer making my way in the world, that is my joy. And I love myself. And I love myself enough to be like, I don’t need to give people who don’t love me, my energy. It’s all good. I’d rather be here talking to you, you know?”  

 

You can listen to NPR’s Portrait Of: Gabby Rivera here.

 

To book speaker Gabby Rivera, contact her exclusive speakers bureau, The Lavin Agency. 

On the Come Up, Lavin Speaker Angie Thomas’ New Book, Is out Today—and Already Being Adapted for Film

With her debut novel The Hate U Give still topping The New York Times bestseller list, Angie Thomas’ second novel On the Come Up—released today—is in good company. And despite only being out for less than 24 hours, it’s already being adapted into a feature film. 

On the Come Up—set to be directed by George Tillman Jr., who also directed the film version of The Hate U Give—is about an aspiring teen rapper whose first song goes viral for all the wrong reasons. In its glowing review, the Times calls the book an “exquisitely intimate novel,” and says that Thomas is a writer that we’re lucky to have. The Guardian says it’s “joyous and very funny,” and “shows talent and ambition challenging stereotypes.”

 

“Few first novelists have the kind of success Angie Thomas saw with The Hate U Give,” says the Times in a recent profile. The Hate U Give has spent 100 weeks on the Times bestseller list and been made into an equally acclaimed movie.

 

On the Come Up is out today from Harper Collins. 

 

To book Angie Thomas or another literary speaker, contact  href=”https:>The Lavin Agency today. 

Black History Month: The Struggles of Our Past Teach Us About Our Present

February is Black History Month—a time in which we celebrate the important contributions and achievements of African Americans throughout history. Lavin speakers Titus Kaphar, Heather McGhee and Margot Lee Shetterly engage with this crucial history through a variety of lenses: art, policy, STEM. But most importantly they draw wisdom from it, in order to forge a better future.   

“Art is a language. There is always a coded narrative.”

Titus Kaphar’s sculptures, paintings and installations bring pathos and immediacy to issues almost too massive and abstract to fathom: de-industrialization, generational poverty, mass incarceration, civic agency. In stirring keynotes, he uses his work to deconstruct what we think about history, art, race and more. He received a MacArthur “Genius” Grant this year for forging truly significant process towards building a more just and peaceful world.   

 

Can art amend history? | Titus Kaphar

 

 

“It's time to define anew what it means to be an American.”

In the wake of two wrongful, racially motivated arrests in one of their stores, Starbucks entrusted Heather McGhee and her team at Demos to create and implement a groundbreaking racial bias training strategy. Drawing from her policy expertise, original research and moving personal experience, McGhee motivates audiences to create a more dynamic and inclusive definition of what it means to be an American citizen.

 

2018 Constitutional Convention - Demos President Heather McGhee

 

 

“Diverse voices are key to the future of innovation.”

Margot Lee Shetterly wrote Hidden Figures—the bestselling book and Academy Award-nominated movie about the black female mathematicians who helped win the space race. She's a writer, researcher and entrepreneur who, in talks (like the one below), takes audiences through the gripping and unbelievable true story of NASA’s hidden figures, using it to prove the need for a greater diversity of voices in STEM. 

 

Hidden Figures: The Female Mathematicians of NACA and NASA

 

To book Titus Kaphar, Heather McGhee or Margot Lee Shetterly, contact The Lavin Agency. href=”https:>

“Fierce.” “Impassioned.” “Oscar-Worthy.” The Hate U Give Movie—Based on Angie Thomas’s #1 Bestseller—Opens Today.

Not content to spend 85 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list (where it’s currently enjoying a return to the #1 spot), Lavin speaker Angie Thomas’ phenomenon of a first novel is currently sweeping the nation as a feature film, collecting popular and critical praise—and even being touted as an “Oscar-worthy masterpiece” (Forbes). We’ve collected a bit of the buzz surrounding The Hate U Give as it heads into what’s sure to be a big opening weekend:

“This impassioned and incisive adaptation of the novel by Angie Thomas keeps a complex story and a wide array of characters in energetic, compassionate balance.” (The New Yorker

 

Forbes calls The Hate U Give “one of the best movies of the year … the kind of high-quality and well-made movie about a pressing social issue, that should be Hollywood’s bread-and-butter” and “one of the very best movies of the year” that “deserves to be an Oscar front-runner.”   

 

“Angie Thomas’s source novel has been a publishing phenomenon. The movie, directed by George Tillman Jr., could well follow suit, with its built-in following and a rising swell of critical acclaim,” says The Guardian, calling it “fierce [and] dynamic.” 

 

“It’s so gripping to watch—as well as being, in places, just delightfully funny—that you never feel you’re being preached to. It picks you up in one place and sets you down in another.” (TIME Magazine)

 

The Hate U Give | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX

 

Award-winning and bestselling author Angie Thomas speaks on the topics of Diversity and Race. To book her to speak at your next event, contact The Lavin Agency today, her exclusive speakers bureau.  

Nikole Hannah-Jones is “One of the country’s most distinctive and respected voices” says Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll

Columbia Journalism School has awarded Nikole Hannah-Jones, investigative reporter and author of the upcoming book The Problem We All Live With, the 2018 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism. Hannah-Jones’ groundbreaking reporting on modern segregation in American schools has already earned her a collection of prestigious awards, including the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. 

The John Chancellor Award is presented each year to a journalist who best embodies the legacy of pioneering television correspondent and longtime NBC News anchor John Chancellor, remembered for his distinguished reporting on civil rights, politics and election campaigns. “Her reporting on segregation in housing and education has performed a critical public service. She embodies the best of our profession and the spirit of the John Chancellor Award,” continued Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll. 
 

Watch Nikole Hannah-Jones explain the complexities of modern day segregation below:

Nikole Hannah-Jones:

 

To book Nikole Hannah-Jones for your next speaking engagement, contact The Lavin Agency. href=”https:>

“One of the Strongest Artists to Emerge in This Country, This Century.” New York Magazine Lead Art Critic on LaToya Ruby Frazier

LaToya Ruby Frazier—photographer, MacArthur “Genius” and one of Lavin’s most compelling speakers on the entanglement of race, labor, family, and the environment—was described by influential New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz as a, “36-year old oracle … one of the strongest artists to emerge in this country this century.” (Vulture).  

What do LaToya Ruby Frazier’s photos really document? “Everything,” says Saltz in his Vulture profile, “the entire postwar American Dream stacked against American blacks.” Hers is not a voyeuristic or predatory eye, observes Saltz; instead, Frazier gives a voice to her subjects, many of whom have written their own text, poetry or statistics, presented alongside their pictures. 

 

This radical leap—from subject to collaborator—is not only what makes Frazier one of the most important artists working today, but is also what gives her captivating keynotes such heart: “For me, it’s a duty to stand in the gap and advocate as an artist for the displaced, working-class people … I made my camera a weapon.”

 

LaToya Ruby Frazier: A visual history of inequality in industrial America

 

The Lavin Agency’s speakers on race and diversity are artists, professors, journalists, educators, and more. To learn about these keynote speakers, contact us today.   

Memorializing America’s Black Working Class: LaToya Ruby Frazier, Artist/Archivist, is “A Public Figure the Country Needs”

In a New Yorker feature this week: “LATOYA RUBY FRAZIER can capture the decline of an entire economy; the vulnerable cycles of American industry, within a single human face.” In Frazier’s expansive new photography exhibit, On the Making of Steel Genesis, the single human face is Sandra Gould Ford—long-time secretary at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company in Pittsburgh, and archivist of black working-class life. 

Once she started photographing the self-appointed archivist, Frazier couldn’t stop. But, says The New Yorker, “theirs was not the conventional dynamic of artist and muse; both photographer and subject are black women at work,”—Frazier as portraitist, and Ford as documenter of “the human traces of the factory infrastructure.” This represents an important complication to the conventions of portraiture, and a natural extension of Frazier’s award-winning collection, The Notion of Family, which explores the legacy of racism and economic decline in America’s small towns.      

 

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The show is currently on view at the August Wilson Center, in Pittsburgh. LaToya Ruby Frazier is a MacArthur Fellow, one of Ebony’s 100 Most Powerful Women of All Time, and award-winning photographer and documentarian. She speaks on the power of the artist as an agent of transformative change and social justice. To book her for your next speaking engagement, contact The Lavin Agency.    

“Who is represented? Who is invisible?” A Public Sculpture by Titus Kaphar Confronts a University’s Past

Controversy around America’s public sculptures has swept the nation—how should such a complex legacy be represented? Enter Titus Kaphar, the visual artist and standing-O garnering TED speaker, whose newly unveiled campus sculpture has been described by The Atlantic as, “a bold, exquisite way to visually confront what research has revealed about Princeton’s roots in slavery.”

The sculpture has been strategically erected on the lawn of the Maclean House, where former university presidents (like the depicted Reverend Samuel Finley) lived and owned slaves. With etched glass and layered photographs of Finley and black actors representing his slaves, Kaphar aimed to create a visual experience similar to a manual-focus camera, in which perspectives slide in and out of view. “I don’t want my work to erase history,” he told The Atlantic, but rather to ask viewers to contend with competing images. “There’s so much power that happens when we shift our focus or our gaze—just slightly, momentarily—and confront the unspoken truth.”

 
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Kaphar’s powerful Jerome Project explores a similarly arresting perspective shift. He dips mug shots of African American men, dubbed ‘Jeromes,’ in tar, a visual representation of the number of years they’ve spent incarcerated. 

 

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To book Titus Kaphar for your next speaking event, contact The Lavin Agency, his exclusive speakers bureau.

I Can’t Breathe: Matt Taibbi’s Gut-Wrenching Account of the Life and Police Killing of Eric Garner Is out Today

Matt Taibbi is one of the smartest chroniclers of the American spectacle. All of his books are New York Times bestsellers and his column in Rolling Stone (largely dedicated to the rise of Trump alongside the decay of truth) earned a National Magazine Award. His latest is a riveting exposé on the infamous police killing of unarmed black man Eric Garner.

The title, I Can’t Breathe, is what Garner repeated as he was wrestled the ground and held in a chokehold by an NYPD officer until he turned limp. The 43-year-old father of 6 was later pronounced dead at hospital. An early Kirkus (starred) review calls Taibbi’s book, “a searing exposé … what emerges from the author’s superb reporting and vivid writing is a tragically revealing look at a broken criminal justice system.” This week Taibbi talked to NPR about Eric Garner, and Rolling Stone published an excerpt. The book is out today.

 

Author Matt Taibbi: Eric Garner Death Symptom Of

 

To book Matt Taibbi, or another award-winning journalist like Nikole Hannah-Jones or Wajahat Ali, contact their premiere speakers bureau, The Lavin Agency

 

Nikole Hannah-Jones Has Been Named a MacArthur Fellow for Her Reporting on Racial Resegregation in American Schools

Nikole Hannah-Jones’ investigations into the re-segregation of the American education system have earned her a National Magazine Award, the Peabody, the George Polk Award, and, today, a 2017 MacArthur Genius Grant Fellowship—a distinction awarded to those who are forging truly significant progress towards “building a more just, verdant and peaceful world.” 

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones | 2017 MacArthur Fellow

 

“When we look at racial inequality, police violence for instance, it’s very visible, and it’s very visceral and it’s very easy to have a reaction to that,” says Hannah-Jones. “But it’s much harder to see why neighbourhoods are segregated, who’s pulling the strings, how did this happen. And I see my job as exposing how things are working behind the scenes to create the reality that we all live in.” Through historical analyses, insightful policy research, and generous personal narratives, she continues to produce and speak on this important work. 

 

To book Nikole Hannah-Jones, or a similar speaker such as Angela Davis, contact The Lavin Agency

A Town Wants to Secede From Its School District: Nikole Hannah-Jones’ NYT Mag Cover Story Probes the Return of Segregation

In her recent, rigorous, and heart-stopping cover story for The New York Times Magazine Education Issue, National Magazine Award-winner Nikole Hannah-Jones delivers a probing view into the black population of Jefferson County, Alabama, as they try to live freely in a town looking to resegregate the school systems.   

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“If there is a benefit to having to fight for civil rights over so many decades, it’s that it makes you presciently aware of the way that racism does not so much go away but adapts to the times.”

— Nikole Hannah-Jones, The New York Times Magazine

Headlining the magazine’s education issue, the feature follows Hannah-Jones’ other Times magazine cover story—the viral, and National Magazine Award-winning, “Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City,” in which she drew on her own personal experience with school selection, highlighting the battle over which children benefit from a separate and unequal system.

 

Hot on the thematic trail of that piece, “The Resegregation of Jefferson County” reveals one town in the American South’s beleaguered efforts to keep their schools integrated. As Hannah-Jones reports, this is not a new issue. The white communities looking to reinforce segregation haven’t gone away: they just utilize new tactics. Featuring in-depth interviews with Jefferson County residents and beautiful photographs of life in action, the cover story offers an expansive and humbling look at the the insidious – and very contemporary forces – that threaten the “the fragile progress of racial integration in America” enabled by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education trial of 65 years ago.  

 

Hannah-Jones’ widely read (and award-winning) articles on segregated housing and schools, as well as her deeply personal reports on the black experience in America, expose how racial inequality is maintained through official policy. As in her writing, her talks offer a compelling case for greater equity, compassion, and justice.

 

The Lavin Agency is proud to represent speakers at the forefront of contemporary, real world thinking. If you are looking to book a speaker, visit our Diversity & Race topic page to read about speakers like Hannah-Jones, as well as  living legends like Angela Davis.   

Khalil Gibran Muhammad: Race, Education, and Rewriting the Legacy of the Invisible Man

“If we only search for a narrative that is most convenient to us, then we ourselves may be part of this nation’s going over the cliff,” says new Lavin speaker and Harvard professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad. Obscuring the nastier parts of American history may seem politically correct—but it also denies truths that encourage social growth.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, is an eloquent voice working to make visible the shared facts of racial injustice that mar America’s past and present. “You replace one kind of authoritarianism with another kind of authoritarianism,” he explained, citing the need to show history in it’s truest form. 

 

Former Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and Harvard professor of Race, History, and Public Policy, Muhammad’s words come from a place of scholarship and hope for a better future. A frequent contributor to The New York Times, Muhammad recently discussed the history of incarceration and race in a Times Book Review cover story on two new books, titled “Power and Punishment.”

 

In the following episode of Cape UP, Muhammad discussed the legacy of racial erasure with host Jonathan Capehart, continuing a conversation begun at an event celebrating Ralph Ellison’s seminal 1952 novel, Invisible Man. As Capehart explains, it was “a conversation that got into what happened when he did a deep dive on his daughter’s assignment and pushed back on the narrative taking hold among African Americans.” 

Muhammad’s recent quest for transparency in action was a grade-school history lesson in Colonial America that turned his daughter’s South Orange, N.J., class into international news. Among the assignment options was creating a visual representation of the period. Some students made posters advertising a slave auction. He was troubled to find community resistence to the posters.  “It seems to me that our legitimate fear cannot manifest itself in shutting down debate and nuance and complexity and working through ideas in a public arena where we then come to terms, where we agree on shared facts,” he told Capehart. 

 

One of the most respected authorities writing about and speaking on racial justice in America, Muhammad is redefining our understanding of diversity. Muhammad’s talks argue for why institutions should reconcile past with present—and how it begins with education.

 

Listen to Khalil Gibran Muhammad on Cape UP here:

 

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To book Khalil Gibran Muhammad for your next event, contact the Lavin Agency today .

Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures Is a #1 NYT Bestseller and the #1 Film in America

Huge congratulations to Margot Lee Shetterly—her book, Hidden Figures, is a #1 New York Times bestseller, and its movie adaptation was #1 at this weekend’s box office! It’s an epic Civil-Rights history, but also a story of innovation, technology, and women breaking through in STEM fields.

Hidden Figures follows Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, black female mathematicians at segregated, Space-Race-era NASA. The women were pioneers in their field, and were instrumental in achieving some of NASA’s greatest triumphs—including John Glenn’s orbit of the Earth. Grossing $22.8 million in its opening weekend, the film adaptation is “a huge win for the notion that movies about women, women of color no less, can be not just critically acclaimed and award-worthy but also multiplex-friendly box office hits, ” reports Forbes.

 

Hidden Figures | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX

 

“It’s not a ‘first’ or an ‘only’ story,” Shetterly told CBS This Morning last fall. “It’s the story of a group of women who were given a chance, and who performed, and who opened doors for the women who came behind them.” Hear the fascinating story yourself—one of overcoming racial and gender prejudice, but also one of science, innovation, and the American spirit—by booking Shetterly to speak at your next conference or event.

 

To hire Hidden Figures author Margot Lee Shetterly as your next keynote speaker—or for more speakers on science, innovation, or diversity & racecontact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

 

The Real Strength of American Diversity: Wajahat Ali on Unity in the Age of Trump

As the Trump era dawns, how can we preserve our welcoming nation? To renowned playwright and journalist Wajahat Ali, we can combat racism and Islamophobia. But we need to think beyond partisanship, he says, and celebrate the differences and commonalities that make our country great.

Modern Islamophobia, Ali argues, is rooted in age-old anxiety—the fear of the “unknowable other.” And post-Trump America—divided and confused, full of tremendous uncertainty—seems like yet another tired remake. From mosque protests to anti-Sharia laws, white supremacy to widening polarization, America can often feel like an intolerant space, where regular Muslims and other diverse communities are the frequent targets of bigotry and far-right ideology.

 

But Ali imagines an America remade—united over our shared values, not torn apart by racism or hate. Our country can achieve its pluralistic potential, he says. But first, we’ll need to emerge from our partisan cocoons, reach across the aisle, and build lasting partnerships. We need to see religious and cultural difference as the ideas that can bring us together, not rip us apart. And we have to create what he calls a “Multicultural Coalition of the Willing”: a sort of Justice League of diverse Americans who can unite over commonalities. We can resist the forces of bigotry, Ali insists; and in this keynote, he imagines a way to achieve the American Dream for everyone.

 

Ali is one of the foremost chroniclers of the Muslim American experience today. In his writing for The Washington Post and other outlets, and in his role as video host for The Huffington Post, he works to dispel damaging stereotypes and persistent myths about Islam and Muslim culture. And as a speaker, he’s surprisingly upbeat, witty, and optimistic—in contrast to the serious material his lectures tackle. In the clip below, he helps define terms that have been subject to considerable media distortion—words like sharia, hijab, and jihad—and normalize them as part of the nonthreatening vocabulary of a major American demographic (3+ million and counting). 

 

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The same charm, wit, and clear-eyed poise define Wajahat Ali as a keynote speaker. To book him for your organization or school’s next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

 

When Civil Rights Met the Space Program: Margot Lee Shetterly Reveals the Untold History behind Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures, the true story of the black female mathematicians instrumental to the Space Race, hits theaters Christmas day, based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name. In a recent panel, Shetterly joined BUILD Series to illuminate some of the real-life hardships faced by NASA’s “human computers.”

“It was really important to me in writing the book and conveying, as the movie was being developed, the ordinariness of everything, the quotidian segregation, the banality of it, this thing that sort of dogs you all the time,” Shetterly during the panel, which also featured NASA historian Bill Barry, astronaut (and second African-American woman in space) Stephanie Wilson, and astronaut engineer Sheila Nash-Stevenson.

 

“We often see the civil-rights heroes, and we see the people in these great moments,” she continued. “And these women were at the intersection of the Civil Rights Movement, of the space program—they were the ones, the footsoldiers, making those moments possible. You need those leaders doing the great things, but those great moments are supported by hundreds and thousands of people like the women in this book.” 

 

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The movie centers on Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, three African-American women working in NASA’s segregated West Area Computing Unit. Behind the scenes, their work was paramount—including making crucial calculations like the launch trajectory for John Glenn’s historic orbital flight. But while Glenn’s flight and other space-race milestones were highly publicized, the everyday discrimination faced by these women of color was not.

 

Shetterly also starred in a pre-release featurette, “Breaking Boundaries,” where she tells how her father, a NASA Langley retired researcher, helped her discover the story behind the film (watch below). To truly hear the Hidden Figures story come to life, book Shetterly for a keynote at your next event or conference.

 

Hidden Figures Featurette - Breaking Boundaries (2017) - Taraji P. Henson Movie

 

Hidden Figures, the movie, will see a limited release on Christmas, followed by a full theatrical release on January 6, 2017.

 

To book Hidden Figures author Margot Lee Shetterly as a keynote speaker, contact The Lavin Agency, her exclusive speakers bureau.

 

“We need new heroes”—Time Features Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, the Untold Story of NASA’s Black Female Mathematicians

Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, the incredible true story of the black women mathematicians who helped America win the space race, is the subject of a lengthy feature in the latest issue of Time. The book is an instant bestseller, the film a star-studded affair out this Christmas, and the story—one of science, innovation, race, gender, and unsung heroes—“defies what we think we know about American history.”

Time’s two-page piece kicks off the magazine’s Holiday Film Preview. But it’s Shetterly’s fascinating true story that sits front-and-center. 

 

Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia, in a tight-knit community of black scientists who worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center, including her father. It was from him that she first heard of the women who toiled behind the scenes in the 1950s and 60s, calculating launch trajectories and other computations for American milestones like John Glenn’s orbital flight. 

 

Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson—portrayed in the film adaptation, respectively, by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe—were pioneers in their field, and until Shetterly's book, have gone largely unrecognized. “We need new heroes,” says Monáe, “And these women are new heroes for us.”

 

Hidden Figures | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX

 

“It’s cognitive dissonance,” Spencer tells Time. “Black women being recruited to work as mathematicians at NASA’s southern installation defies what we think we know about American history.” And that’s what makes Hidden Figures so refreshing. As we begin to embrace diversity more thoroughly, we can seek it out, equally, in our past.

 

Grab a copy of Margot Lee Shetterly’s instant NYT bestseller, Hidden Figures, anywhere books are sold. See the film when it comes out, December 25th. And for a remarkable story of science, innovation, race, gender, and an update on the American dream, book Shetterly to speak at your organization’s next conference. Contact The Lavin Agency, her exclusive speakers bureau.

 

Jelani Cobb Explores Mass Incarceration in the New Netflix Documentary 13th

The much-talked-about Netflix documentary 13th shines a moving, galvanizing light upon the state of criminal justice in the U.S. Specifically, it examines a loophole in the 13th Amendment, ostensibly abolishing slavery, that has since allowed for the forced labor and mass incarceration of Americans (2.2 million, currently, and one in every three black men). Exploring brutality, the prison-industrial complex, and the very nature of freedom, the film also consults a number of leading experts on race—including Lavin speaker, New Yorker staff writer, and Columbia professor Jelani Cobb.

“Premised as a historical survey that maps the genetic link between slavery and today’s prison-industrial complex,” writes The Atlantic, “13th explodes the “mythology of black criminality,” as The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb at one point in the film refers to the successive and successful measures undertaken by political authorities to disempower African Americans over the last three centuries.”

 

13TH | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

 

Fortune describes it as “incendiary.” Slate says it’s the kind of film that “both makes us gasp and not stop gasping.” The Atlantic is calling it “a gorgeous, evocative, and maddening exploration of words: of their power, their roots, their permanence. It’s about those who wield those words and those made to kneel by them.” Complex calls it, simply, “the most important movie you’ll see this year … both informative and exhilarating,” while Entertainment Weekly says “it should be required viewing for every American citizen.”

 

Receiving standing ovations at press screenings, it’s also the first documentary to open the NY Film Festival in over 50 years. Check it out now on Netflix, and watch for Jelani Cobb (and famed activist Angela Davis!) throughout.

 

In his keynotes, Cobb inspires audiences to work toward a dream of equity—of genuine democracy. He shows us that not only are the levers of justice in our hands, but that we can move them in the direction we see fit. And he reminds us that the only obstacle holding us back is the comforting illusion that we’ve already achieved our goals.

 

For moving commentary and reflection on the state of race, racism, and equity in America, turn to keynote speaker Jelani Cobb. Contact The Lavin Agency, his exclusive keynote speakers bureau, and continue the conversation within your school or organization.

Margot Lee Shetterly and NASA’s Black Women ‘Human Computers’ in NYT

Alan Shepard, John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong are the heroes of the Space Race, but soon a less-heralded, equally deserving set of names will join them: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. Yes, all three are women. They’re also African-American—and the subjects of Margot Lee Shetterly’s upcoming book, Hidden Figures. And this week, both The New York Times and CBS This Morning help bring Shetterly’s story to life.

 

In the 50s and 60s, when America’s space program was in full swing, roles needed filling behind the scenes. There were numbers to crunch, complex equations to model, trajectories to calculate. And when labor shortages opened the door, women and African-Americans stepped in, becoming known as NASA’s ‘human computers.’ 

 

In Hampton, Virginia, home of NASA’s Langley Research Center, Margot Lee Shetterly grew up surrounded by black scientists, engineers, and professors—far from the American norm. And when her father, one such scientist, told her of the women mathematicians who were crucial to NASA’s heyday, she knew that the stories merited sharing. Katherine Johnson, for one, was a certified savant—in high school by age 10 and finished college by 18. Just last year, President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor (“For other women,” Shetterly says, quoted in the NYT, Johnson “was a revelation”).

 

Johnson’s is a story of science, innovation, and shattering norms—and one captured flawlessly by Shetterly’s new book Hidden Figures (out September 6 from William Morrow/HarperCollins). It’s also soon to be a film: the big screen version of Hidden Figures, which sees limited showing on Christmas and a full theatrical release on January 13, 2017, stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Kevin Costner, and is already drumming up plenty of Oscar buzz.

 

Hidden Figures | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX

 

As Hidden Figures gains traction, so does the story of NASA’s human computers. On today’s edition of CBS This Morning, the station interviewed Shetterly as part of a fascinating five-minute Hidden Figures feature (watch below!). “It’s not a ‘first’ or an ‘only’ story,” said Shetterly. “It’s the story of a group of women who were given a chance, and who performed, and who opened doors for the women who came behind them.” Here’s hoping there are many more.

 

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To book Hidden Figures author Margot Lee Shetterly as a speaker, contact The Lavin Agency, her exclusive keynote speakers bureau. 

 

“The M Word”: American Muslim Storytellers Ali, Aslan, Farsad Speak Out

A brand-new initiative from PEN America will showcase American Muslim storytellers and their allies, focusing on intersecting topics of identity, race, politics, and media representation. The series, called “The M Word,” is co-curated by Lavin speaker and award-winning playwright Wajahat Ali, and will comprise six events over a period of two years that also involve two other Lavin speakers: Reza Aslan and Negin Farsad. The first event, “Muslim-American Comedians on the Right to Joke,” takes place September 21 in New York.  

Behind the scenes, the series will benefit from a star-studded panel of advisers: bestselling author Reza Aslan, Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Ayad Akhtar, novelist Zia Haider Rahman, and Sana Amanat, a creator of the highly touted Ms. Marvel comic reboot.

 
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Panelists for the first instalment of “The M Word” include The Daily Show’s Hasan Minhaj, social justice comedian and author of How to Make White People Laugh Negin Farsad, and Ali as moderator. And if Farsad’s and Ali’s past work is any indication, the show should be informative, stereotype-smashing, and laugh-out-loud funny. Here’s how PEN America describes the series:

 

For centuries, Muslim Americans have played a vital role in building America’s varied and inspiring cultural landscape. But throughout history, their voices have often been marginalized through ignorance, isolation, and violence. Misinformation, fear mongering, and the normalization of hate speech in mainstream media today have given rise to divisive presidential campaign rhetoric and rampant Islamophobia. Many Muslim-American writers and artists are thus increasingly pigeon-holed by editors, producers, and audiences into explaining or defending their faith and its followers, rather than recognized for their own creativity and unique contributions to American culture.

 

At this critical moment, PEN America will embark on a groundbreaking program to elevate, amplify, and celebrate Muslim voices in America. 'The M Word,' a new series funded by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art's Building Bridges Program, will provide a platform for Muslim American writers to address audiences on their own terms—highlighting the art forms, narratives, and identities that influence their work—and to challenge the prevailing narrow representations of highly diverse Muslim communities comprised of more than three million Americans.

 

Over the next two years, PEN America will bring together some of the most bracing and original voices from both Muslim and non-Muslim communities in conversation on the challenges of self-identification and self-expression in today’s social and political climate. Each program will center on a different genre of writing—including fiction, comedy, script-writing, punditry, and more.

 

Tickets are sure to vanish quickly, so grab yours today ($30 general admission, $24 for PEN members). And if you miss the show, no need to worry—The Lavin Agency exclusively represents Wajahat Ali, Reza Aslan, and Negin Farsad for speaking engagements. Just call or send an email to inquire about bookings. In the meantime, here’s Wajahat Ali speaking on the dangers of Islamophobia:

 

Discussion Series - Episode 1: Islamophobia & #IStandWithAhmed - Wajahat Ali

 

To hire author Reza Aslan, Affinis Labs creative director Wajahat Ali, or The Muslims Are Coming! director Negin Farsad for your next conference or event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

Watch: Jelani Cobb Examines Newark, NJ Law Enforcement in Policing the Police

Jelani Cobb’s new Frontline documentary, Policing the Police, is now available online. The film follows Cobb as he profiles the Newark police force, a department known for its brutality despite being one of the most diverse units in the nation. 

One Encounter, Two Perspectives | Policing the Police | FRONTLINE

 

Frontline also interviewed Cobb—one of the country’s most prominent voices on race and injustice—about his experience making the film. When asked about meaningful change for race relations and discriminatory policing in America, he said:

 

“I am a congenital optimist — even though it’s kind of a realistic optimism. I think that these things can change. I think that this is going to take a long time, and just like any other kind of meaningful institutional change that we’ve seen in this country. Like at one point it was nothing for someone to get drunk and get behind the wheel of the car, but those things have just plummeted. We think of these things much differently. We think about violence towards women much differently than we used to. And none of those things were easy to change, but I think that our relationship with police could possibly change. It’s a matter of diligence and consistency and people who are committed to making it happen over the very long haul.”

 

​For the interview in its entirety, follow the link to Frontline.

 

Jelani Cobb is a staff writer at The New Yorker and one of our most vital speakers on diversity, race, and the American cultural moment. To hire Jelani Cobb for your next keynote or conference, contact The Lavin Agency, his exclusive speakers bureau.

One Giant Leap: Introducing New Speaker Margot Lee Shetterly

Margot Lee Shetterly’s forthcoming book Hidden Figures goes behind the scenes of the Space Race to reveal some of its unheralded—but instrumental—contributors. It’s the true story of NASA’s female African-American mathematicians who helped achieve some of America’s proudest moments in space. And while the book is set to launch this fall, it’s also being adapted into a major motion picture (January 2017) starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Kevin Costner. Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures” keynotes—stories of norms shattered (both gender- and race-wise), of unlikely heroes, and of science, innovation, and the spirit of American exploration—takes the history we thought we knew, and rewrites it from a much-needed perspective.

 

With the onset of WWII, labor shortages saw women embracing non-traditional jobs—at which they quickly proved more than adequate. And as airplane technology emerged as a deciding factor in the war, the aeronautics industry expanded, rapidly. This meant hiring the best person for the job, gender and race aside. Together, these cultural shifts enabled African-American women to take up active, crucial roles in aeronautics. 

 

And Shetterly’s enthralling account centers on a few of these trailblazers, each working at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia: Katherine Johnson, who calculated the trajectory of the original Moon landing and recently earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom; Dorothy Vaughan, the head of NASA’s all-African-American female sub-branch West Area Computers; and Mary Jackson, an aeronautical engineer and a champion of women’s rights in STEM fields. 

 

Hidden Figures: The Female Mathematicians of NACA and NASA

Having grown up in Hampton—with a NASA research scientist for a father, no less—Shetterly was granted direct access to both NASA executives and many of the women featured in the book, making Hidden Figures an impressive testament to their work. Beyond the book, she’s the founder of the Human Computer Project, an extensive digital documentation of NASA’s African-American “Human Computers” from WWII through the Cold War and the Space Race. She is also a graduate of The University of Hampton, and in 2014, was awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship.  

 

The will to innovate, to explore, and to push the boundaries of what is possible transcends race, gender, age, and background. It's universal. And as Shetterly reveals in her talks, no one better illustrates this point than NASA's unseen human computers. 

To hear Margot Lee Shetterly's “Hidden Figures” talk—the fascinating true story of NASA's unsung heroes—contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

 

Dispelling Islamophobia, One Word at a Time: Wajahat Ali in The NYT

In his Sunday op-ed for The New York Times, Wajahat Ali reports on how a college student was recently escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight for making “potentially threatening” comments—which turned out to be nothing more than an ordinary Arabic expression: “Inshallah,” which roughly translates as “God willing.”

It’s a common utterance, and serves a multitude of purposes. According to Ali, it’s “used to escape introspection, hard work and strategic planning and instead outsource such responsibilities to an omnipotent being, who somehow, at some time, will intervene and fix our collective problems.” In other words, “I’ll take out the garbage, inshallah,” means you might get around to it. Ali even refers to it as the “Arabic version of ‘fuggedaboudit’,” emphasizing its harmless, everyday quality.

In the piece, Ali reinforces that Arabic is simply a language, and that we must move past post-9/11 paranoia and embrace our Muslim American neighbors. Citing anti-Muslim sentiments made in the recent U.S. primaries—most prominently on the Republican side—he reminds us that Islamophobia is still a very real threat to cultural harmony.  

Playwright, lawyer, TV host, public intellectual—Wajahat Ali is a man of many talents. But what he does best (in his talks and in practice) is fight Islamophobia. In his play The Domestic Crusaders, he examines a Muslim American family navigating American life in the wake of 9/11. And as a National Correspondent for Al Jazeera America, he worked tirelessly to highlight the stories of marginalized and underrepresented individuals and communities. In keynotes that are witty yet serious, Ali debunks the myths surrounding Islam and shows audiences how to combat Islamophobia—one phrase at a time.

To hear Wajahat Ali’s keynote on overcoming Islamophobia, or his unlikely success story—from shy, overweight son of Pakistani immigrants to popular TV host and award-winning playwright—contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

First Look: Negin Farsad’s New Book, How to Make White People Laugh

This May, TED Senior Fellow, comedian, and filmmaker Negin Farsad adds another title to her list of accolades: debut author. In her forthcoming memoir How to Make White People Laugh, Farsad describes the unique challenges of growing up as an Iranian-American woman in a post-9/11 world. Exploring timely themes of racial politics, political correctness, and the power of comedy to confront and overcome prejudice, How to Make White People Laugh is an uproarious take on what it means to have a hyphenated identity in a world where Islamophobia (sadly) still persists.

Named one of the “53 Funniest Women” by The Huffington Post, one of “10 Feminist Comedians You Should Be Paying Attention To” by Paper magazine, and selected as a TED Fellow for her work in social justice comedy, Farsad has also been generating a devoted following for her work in film. In The Muslims Are Coming!, she takes a group of Muslim-American comedians on the road in Middle America to perform live shows, meet local residents, and counter Islamophobia—all through jokes, empathy, and uncomfortable compassion. Now, in How to Make White People Laugh, she’s exploring a more personal side of the cross-cultural experience, and looking hard at race and iconography in America at a particularly important time to do so.

Another Lavin keynote speaker, bestselling author Reza Aslan, calls the book “a hilarious and personal take on the complexities of being non-white in America today. This book makes racial politics a bit easier to swallow.” And celebrated comedian Janeane Garofalo calls it a “long overdue book [that] not only ‘sets the record straight’ but also improves the whole structure of society.” 

In her talks, Farsad drops the mic on a number of urgent issues. She speaks about what it means to be a woman, and non-white, in comedy and media: two industries still dominated by men. She can speak with a wealth of experience (and jokes!) about the challenges women face entering any workforce, offering valuable lessons for people of all genders. And based on both personal experience as an Iranian-American, and her work in policy for the city of New York, she confronts how xenophobia (and, more specifically, Islamophobia) operate in our culture. With a unique comedic philosophy and a strong background in social justice, Farsad reports from the frontline of prejudice, and in so doing offers a compelling prescription for change.

Until the official launch date of May 24th, here’s the jacket copy from the publisher, Hachette:

From the acclaimed writer, director, and star of the hit documentary The Muslims are Coming! comes a memoir in essays about growing up Iranian-American in a post-9/11 world and the power of comedy to combat racism. 

Negin Farsad is an Iranian-American-Muslim female stand-up comedian who believes she can change the world through jokes. And yes, sometimes that includes fart jokes. In this candid and uproarious book, Farsad shares her personal experiences growing up as the “other” in an American culture that has no time for nuance. In fact, she longed to be black and/or Mexican at various points of her youth, you know, like normal kids. Right? RIGHT?

Writing bluntly and hilariously about the elements of race we are often too politically correct to discuss, Farsad takes a long hard look at the iconography that still shapes our concepts of “black,” “white,” and “Muslim” today—and what it means when white culture defines the culture. Farsad asks the important questions like, What does it mean to have a hyphenated identity? How can we actually combat racism, stereotyping, and exclusion? Do Iranians get bunions at a higher rate than other ethnic groups? (She’s asking for a friend.)

How to Make White People Laugh tackles these questions with wit, humor, and incisive intellect. And along the way, you might just learn a thing or two about tetherball, Duck Dynasty, and wine slushies.

Writer, director, producer, comedian, and visionary Negin Farsad makes stand-up comedy both side-splittingly funny and a transformative experience, combating racism and prejudice with irreverence and wit. To book Negin Farsad for your next keynote event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau

Civil Rights, Today: Introducing New Speaker Shaun King

Today, there are crucial conversations rippling across North America—conversations happening on social media, on campuses, in the streets and around dinner tables. In greater numbers, people are talking about real empowerment and liberation for historically disadvantaged groups. When it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, they’re talking specifically about human dignity for African Americans. And for this movement, journalist, humanitarian, and author Shaun King is amongst the most compelling voices: a humane and passionate advocate for justice and families, and an extremely visible fundraiser for victims of brutality and discrimination.

Sometimes people wonder who they might be, and what role they might play, if they were alive druing the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. Mass marches. Signs reading “I AM A MAN.” Fire hoses, police dogs, and bloody batons. Distant history, but not as removed as we might think: 2015 saw the deadliest hate crime against African Americans in our lifetimes (via Charleston). It saw more African Americans shot and killed by American police than in any year since 1922. We have ten times more African Americans in jail today than in 1955. 

Leaders like Shaun King help us see how racism is not dead and forgotten, but merely a mutating virus, and one that manifests in different forms in every age. Racism, mass incarceration, policies that criminalize blackness in the twenty-first century—these problems won’t solve themselves. And that’s why King’s voice and perspective are so important. As a magnetic element of the Black Lives Matter movement, King helps us see our present place in the larger current of American history. He’s adopted social media to rally and unite people of disparate backgrounds. He uses his platform as Senior Justice Writer for New York Daily News (and previously, Daily Kos) to help us stay informed, to unearth the truth beyond local media, and to organize in purposeful and directed ways. Moreover, he reminds us that we can take whatever we do best—whether we lobby, speak, litigate, organize, write, or more—and tilt that practice toward justice.

As a speaker, Shaun King offers an articulate and historically grounded take on the most pressing problems of the day. This generation has its own challenges—challenges for which we need real and applicable solutions. Instead of wondering who we’d be and what we’d do if we were alive in the 60s—or assuming progress will just march along, without our help—King asks us to see our present place in the modern movement for a more equitable world. If every generation operates on a set of principles, then we need to judge our own by looking, clearly and without rose-colored glasses, on the values we live by. As King argues, it’s not enough to be just a little bit better. In fact, that’s never been enough.

To book Shaun King as the keynote speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.