The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau

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

These Three Speakers Explain Exactly What Diversity Means and Why You Should Care About It

Companies do better when they embrace and support diversity. But diversity isn’t just about ethnicity. It’s about gender, age, ability, perspective and it’s different for every industry. Lavin’s diversity and inclusion experts—Ritu Bhasin, Minette Norman, and Ashton Applewhite, to name a few—come from the worlds of corporate law, theater, and social justice. These differences demonstrate just how complicated this subject can be.  

At leading software tech company Autodesk, the person who led 3,500 engineers through a corporate culture transformation wasn’t another male engineer. It was Minette Norman, a liberal arts major and living proof that traditionally “female” qualities, like radical empathy and communication are the best tools to demolish silos and dislodge entrenched attitudes. 


Transformational Leadership: Why We're Wired for Empathy



Companies flourish when employees can bring their whole selves to work, and Ritu Bhasin, diversity expert and consultant, has the proof that when employees are able to bring their true, unfiltered, authentic identities to work, without fear of judgement or reproach, workplace culture, and productivity, improves.


Ritu Bhasin: The Three Selves



What if discrimination based on age were viewed as any other “ism”? Like racism and sexism, ageism is a completely unacceptable bias that hurts not only older people (which we’ll all become one day) but also everyone who isn’t benefiting from the wisdom and experience that comes with getting older. Ashton Applewhite’s TED talk below garnered a standing ovation and has been viewed almost two million times.


Let's end ageism | Ashton Applewhite


These are just a few of the top diversity speakers represented exlusively by The Lavin Agency. To learn more about this subject visit our diversity page. 

A Classroom Divided: Nikole Hannah-Jones on School Segregation

It’s been 62 years since Brown v. Board of Education, but school segregation in America is very much alive. In a recent long-form feature for NYT Magazine, Nikole Hannah-Jones—winner of a 2015 George Polk Award for radio reporting for her This American Life story on school segregation—gives an intensely personal account of choosing a Brooklyn public school for her daughter.

The piece delves into the systemic issue looming behind Hannah-Jones’s decision: while wealthier, white public schools often adopt a sort of curated diversity—accepting a handful of black, Latino, and Asian students—real integration appears to have been left off the agenda, with most schools remaining predominantly poor, black, and Latino, or predominantly affluent and white. “While Brown v. Board targeted segregation by state law, we have proved largely unwilling to address segregation that is maintained by other means, resulting from the nation’s long and racist history,” she argues. Ultimately, she believes that “true integration, true equality, requires a surrendering of advantage,” but admits that “when it comes to our own children, that can feel almost unnatural.”

Nikole-Hannah Jones tackles contemporary civil rights issues in personal, accessible, and thoroughly compelling ways, with a particular focus on education, housing, and broader policy decisions. To hire Nikole Hannah-Jones—or another education speaker such as Paul Tough or Angela Duckworth—for your next keynote event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

NC’s “Bathroom Bill” and Segregation: Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker

Bill HB2 should jog your memory, says Jelani Cobb—and not in a good way. The controversial North Carolina bill—which requires citizens to use the restroom that corresponds to their assigned sex at birth—has drawn the ire of many, including businesses, other state governments, and popular musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam. And in The New Yorker, Cobb makes an eerie and telling comparison: HB2 recalls the segregation policies of the Jim Crow South. 

Cobb finds many similarities between HB2 and segregation. He calls it “a tableau of states’-rights populism, an embattled minority seeking equality, a conflict over who is allowed to use public facilities, and a Southern governor committed to resisting federal executive authority.” Grounds for supporting the bill are thin, he says; most proponents cite a potential for sexual violence, despite no transgender individual being convicted of such a crime in North Carolina. But HB2 represents a chance at redemption. “This time,” Cobb writes, “states should act not out of fear and misunderstanding but out of the values of inclusion, diversity, and regard for all which truly make America great again.”

For the full article, or to read more of Cobb’s writing, head over to The New Yorker.

Jelani Cobb is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where his articles on race, diversity, and injustice continue to spark meaningful discussion. To book Jelani Cobb for your next conference or event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

Negin Farsad Is One of“10 Feminist Comedians You Should Be Paying Attention To”

TED Senior Fellow Negin Farsad has made Paper magazine’s “10 Feminist Comedians You Should Be Paying Attention To.” The list showcases Farsad as a “rising feminist comic” who combines “intellectual acuity with endearing delivery.” However, as an ambassador of ‘social justice comedy,’ she also packs a sincere, yet truly hilarious, message: that laughter, art, and design might be the best weapons to combat Islamaphobia and bigotry—that is, if censorship doesn’t get in the way. 

Farsad made headlines recently for having posters for her award-winning docu-comedy, The Muslims Are Coming!, banned by NYC’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which forbade all ads with political messages after (ironically) losing a lawsuit to stop an incendiary right-wing ad aimed to “attack Islamic fundamentalists” (NY Post).

Much like Farsad’s irreverent off-Broadway show, Bootleg Islam, and her two-person Edinburgh Fringe musical, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Romantic Comedy, her latest movie lampoons stereotypes and helps “Middle America understand Muslims through humor” (NY Daily News). In suit, the posters were cheeky and endearing attempts to humanize Muslim people—“Beware,” one stated, “The Muslims are coming! And they shall strike with hugs so fierce, you’ll end up calling your grandmother and telling her you love her.”

Apparently, this was far too political for the MTA. “One of our posters says that grown up Muslims can do more push-ups than baby Muslims. I dare you to find the political nature of that ridiculous statement,” Farsad said. “It’s funny, it’s comedic.”

Whether she’s reporting from the frontlines of prejudice, winning Visionary Awards for her activism, or offering a hilarious prescription for change, Farsad has a unique knack for making public policy meaningful and relevant for people from all walks of life. She’s the kind of comedian who’s redefining the rules of the genre, and will be worth ‘paying attention to’ for years to come.

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 event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau

Video: Comedian and Diversity Speaker Negin Farsad on Moral Courage

Social justice comedian Negin Farsad uses humor to talk about serious issues. In a video for the Moral Courage project, Farsad—who is a TED Fellow and the director of comedy documentary The Muslims are Coming!—takes on gender issues, sex, and women's equality in the Muslim community:

I want to be a part of the culture that says it’s okay for women to speak their minds. And it’s okay for women to speak their minds in exactly the same way we’re used to men speaking their minds.

In her talks, Farsad brings real world activist comedy experience to an engaging and hilarious look at issues like Islamophobia, immigrant rights, and women's sexuality. To book Negin Farsad as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

Preview: Black History Month Speakers Angela Davis & Minnijean Brown Trickey

Lavin has a powerhouse lineup of Black History Month speakers and diversity speakers perfect for your upcoming event. Whether you're celebrating this month (in The United Kingdom) or in February (for Canada and The United States), our keynote presenters deliver powerful and inspiring speeches that will surely resonate with your crowd. These speakers will also make a perfect match if you are looking for someone to keynote your Martin Luther King Day event in January. Today, we'll spotlight two of our speakers, Angela Davis and Minnijean Brown Trickey, and the unique takeaways they can bring to your event.

Angela Davis is an internationally renowned human rights advocate and has given lectures on achieving social change to audiences across the globe. She challenges people to think critically about the world we live in and to come together to forge a 21st century abolitionist movement. And it's not just talk—Davis draws from her own unique experiences and the material in her books to drive the message home. Spending a year and a half in the prison system herself, she's become an advocate for fighting judicial system inequalities and finding new and viable solutions. In her books, Abolition Democracy, Are Prisons Obsolete?, and her forthcoming Prisons and American History, Davis questions the effectiveness of a world where we lock citizens behind bars. In her writing and her public lectures, Davis dares to ask tough questions about our justice system in order to push for a world that is not only safe to live in, but also puts freedom at the forefront. The lessons she presents are not only relevant for discussions during Black History Month, but for all of us, any time.

Minnijean Brown Trickey recently received a standing ovation when she walked through the doors of Carlmont High School in California to deliver a speech. That reaction is a much different one than the civil rights legend received when she walked into the school in 1957—as one of only nine black students integrating into all all-white school. As a living witness to history―and as an active participant who has helped shape it―she delivers a fascinating exploration of social change, diversity, and the battle against racism throughout the decades, from the beginnings of her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement to the present day. Unerringly hopeful, but realistic, she is a stately speaker who helps today's students understand both how far we have come and how far we still have to go in the battle for freedom and equality.

To book a Black History Month speaker or diversity speaker, contact The Lavin Agency and we'll help you select the best keynote presenter for your event. 

The Muslims Are Coming!: Negin Farsad Debuts Her Social Justice Comedy

“After September 11, being Muslim almost became an accusation,” comedian and diversity speaker Negin Farsad told Policy Mic. “It was almost like, 'How dare you be Muslim!'” She adds: “The idea of 'being Muslim' was used to galvanize another group of people.” Policy Mic calls Farsad “courageous” for her efforts to combat Islamophobia. In her new film, The Muslims are Coming!, Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, fellow comedian and co-director, travel across America doing stand-up. They also take to the streets with their “Ask a Muslim,” booth, hold signs urging passersby to “Hug a Muslim,” and arrange a “Bowl with a Muslim” event. The film, which has been premiering at cinemas across the country starting last week, explores diversity and the power of comedy. (Check out the film's official website to get a full listing of showtimes across the United States). The film has already received a wealth of positive praise. Entertainment Weekly named it as an “Editor’s Pick—Fall Previews,” it received the Audience Award at the 2012 Austin Film Festival and was the recipient of the 2012 Khalil Gibran Humanitarian Award, The Arab-American Institute.

Above: Here's a shot of Farsad doing stand-up for a scene in her film, The Muslims are Coming! (To view the trailer, click on the embedded video above).

Here's what some of the early reviews are saying about Farsad's film:

“Mostly funny, sometimes poignant and often telling.” —The Huffington Post

“[The Muslims are Coming!] packs a funny but trenchant punch . . . the best of it provides a perspective, and a punch, transcending the same old punch lines.” —The Chicago Tribune

“They try to keep it light, even a little cheesy, in the face of at-times infuriating anti-Muslim attitudes—an approach that best serves their goal of giving America “this big Muslim hug.”—The Los Angeles Times

Negin Farsad is at the forefront of social justice comedy—a field that she insists totally exists (or should). As one of few Iranian-American Muslim female comedian/filmmakers, this TED Fellow uses humor—full-scale ridiculousity—to bridge the racial, religious, social, and immigrant gap. Negin has devoted large parts of her career to social justice comedy, particularly as it relates to Islamophobia, immigrant rights, bigotry, and any general lameness foisted on people because of race, religion, socio-economic class, sex, gender, etc. and she relays what she's learned in hilarious, but informative, keynotes. To book Negin Farsad for an event, contact The Lavin Agency.

Ethics for a Connected World: Kwame Anthony Appiah On Cosmopolitanism

In Cosmopolitanism, the award-winning book by Kwame Anthony Appiah, a new set of ethics was laid out that both celebrates our common humanity, and offers a practical way to manage our differences. It was this idea of global connectedness, combined with accepted difference, that Appiah discussed in a recent Huffington Post article. The opinion piece was part of a new series that coincides with the Carnegie Council's Centennial Thought Leaders Forum. As one of the Thought Leaders taking part in the forum—which, this year, focused on the theme of “Ethics for a Connected World”—Appiah offered his insight on morality in a globally interconnected world.

Cosmopolitanism, he explains in the article, centers on the following ideology: “We're all one thing, we're all a single community; on the other hand, we have forms of difference that are ok.” Since we are all connected, our moral responsibilities for others extends beyond our state lines, he explains. However, while there is a universality that exists between all of us, it doesn't mean that we are all the same. In fact, Appiah says: “It's actually part of the joy of being human that you know that there are other humans who are doing it in different ways.” The world can—and does—run smoothly even if we are not all acting in unity on every issue. “Look, there are things we have to agree on that are basic, that are human rights, and we don't compromise on those,” he explains. “But beyond that there's a wide range of things where it's up to each human being and each community of human beings to make up their own minds about how they are going to do it.”

Appiah explains that there is a key difference between tolerating and celebrating difference. We are morally obligated to tolerate and grant difference, but we do not necessarily have to celebrate it. The key to getting along, from a cosmopolitanism standpoint, is that we respect the differences of others (even if we don't agree) and do our duty to help others. His ability to provide sweeping and insightful explorations of social problems is why he's often called “a postmodern Socrates.” The Carnegie Council, for example, selected Appiah as a Thought Leader because of his influence on global opinions of ethical issues, and his positive contributions to human development. He is also the President of the PEN American Center (the world's longest-standing human rights organization), where he tackles global ethical quandaries. In his talks, he delves into how we can live harmoniously without getting caught up in our differences. And, he provides audiences with the tools to live a happy and moral life.

Being The “Other”: Director Mira Nair On Cultural Identity

“Living in America, in the 10 years since 9/11, it has been very disturbing to see how little we know of the other side,” says film director Mira Nair in an interview with the BBC News. In her new film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the diversity speaker shines a light on that “other side”, and addresses issues of identity and what it feels like to be “the other.” While Nair personally says she did not experience a great degree of hostility after the 9/11 attacks, living in New York City around that time made her aware of the rising suspicion directed at multi-cultural communities in America. It was this experience that inspired the film. “I wanted very much to speak of this time that we have gone through, but to speak of it from both sides,” Nair explains. “The other side is constantly either demonised or presented in a most reductive, simplistic and hysterical way. But actually the reality is so far from that, and it's the human being that is at the centre of both worlds—and that is forgotten.”

The Economist recently had high praise for Nair's ability to eloquently handle these sensitive issues of politics and cultural identity. Her “inquisitive nature and social conscience,” the review reads, “combined with a healthy appetite for storytelling has proved to be a potent mixture on screen.” She provides an alternative view to this controversial subject, stressing the fact that the human element to these stories is the most important message to get across. In her work and in her speeches, Nair opens the floor to a compelling discussion about current events. Never forcing a political agenda, she explores issues of culture, race, and gender, as a vehicle to dispel common stereotypes and promote understanding.

Building Bridges: Reza Aslan Honored For Improving East-West Relations

Reza Aslan, a New York Times bestselling author and diversity speaker, doesn't pull any punches when tackling misconceptions about Muslims and Islam. His well-researched representations of these commonly misunderstood groups are accessible and provide clarity. In short, he builds bridges across gaps in understanding—mainly between the Eastern and Western worlds. That's why the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding is presenting him with the aptly named Media Bridge-Builder Award this month.

The award is presented to “journalists and media personalities whose work focuses public attention on issues of human rights and intergroup relations.” Joyce S. Dubensky, the CEO of Tanenbaum, says Reza is a perfect fit for the distinction in a recent news release. “All of Reza’s accomplishments—from his books, to his media efforts, to his activism and interfaith work—share a theme,” Dubensky says. They “all inform, build bridges of respect and enable greater understanding of Islam and religious extremism.” Further: “We are particularly excited about honoring Reza. He is tackling hard issues and does it in a way that allows people to listen and learn. And that’s both unusual and critical if we are to achieve mutual respect.”

Aslan, is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the founder of AslanMedia.com. His online journal for news and entertainment about the Middle East and the greater world provides a platform for understanding the key issues dividing society today. He appears regularly on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, and authored the international bestseller No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. In his talks, he addresses the key issues presented in his research and his writing, and shows audiences that achieving peaceful understanding comes from moving beyond irrational fears to find commonalities between people across the world.

A Standing Ovation For Civil Rights Legend Minnijean Brown Trickey

In 1957, diversity speaker Minnijean Brown Trickey was one of nine other black students to become the first to integrate into what was once an all-white school. In a new keynote, she says that the experience was hostile, at best. However, her reception was far more favorable years later when she walked through the doors of Carlmont High School in California. When Trickey entered the school to give a talk on civil rights recently, the audience greeted her with a standing ovation—a testament to the impact her work has had on young people even generations later. That, Trickey said in the talk, is why she tells stories about diversity and civil rights.

She refers to the stories of herself and other civil rights activists as “beautiful tragedies.” They may not have won when they first stood up against oppression, but the ramifications of their efforts eventually made for a better life for future generations. “They are stories about social responsibility,” she told the audience during the speech. “They are stories of people who stepped forward when it wasn't popular, people who knew it wasn't really about us, it is about you.”

When Trickey transferred to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, she would end up making history. She was one of the first black students to enter a formerly whites-only school after the passing of the Brown v. Board of Education verdict that struck down segregation—thus becoming a member of the Little Rock Nine. In her talks, she recounts the lessons learned not just from being a living part of history, but also from witnessing the massive shifts that have occurred throughout the decades afterward. As hopeful and she is realistic, Trickey shows students how far we've come—and how much further there is still to go in the fight for equality and freedom for all.

Aboriginal Speaker Waneek Horn-Miller On Embracing Her Heritage [VIDEO]

“For so long the Canadian public, and the world, have seen it as a craft, and it's not,” Waneek Horn-Miller says of the work that goes into aboriginal clothing and footwear. As a First Nations issues speaker, she promotes the importance of embracing her culture and sharing it with the world. In her role as the spokesperson for the Manitobah Mucklucks brand of footwear, she talks about the importance of buying aboriginal products. In a new commercial, she shares stories of her own heritage and explains why she is proud to wear things that reflect her identity as a Mohawk from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory.

As she says in the video, it is important to always “stand tall and walk tall,” and be proud of who you are. Even despite tremendous adversity, it is crucial that you stand up for your heritage. In her keynotes, she shares this message with her audiences of both native and non-native descent. During the Oka Crisis of 1990, when she was only 14, Horn-Miller was stabbed by a Canadian soldier. While she could have easily let the trauma take over her life, she overcome her hurdles and thrived by first becoming co-captain of Canada's Olympic women's water polo team, and now as one of the leading voices on aboriginal issues. Whether it's working toward mending the relationship between natives and non-natives, or encouraging people to be who they are and achieve their dreams, she says that she “always tries to inspire [people] to know that they have the potential to reach the stars.”