The Poverty Narrative Conference: Confronting Inequity Series Panelists

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Panelists and moderators

Matt Barnum
Matt Barnum is Chalkbeat’s national reporter, covering education policy and research. Previously he was a staff writer at The 74, the policy director for Educators for Excellence – New York, and a middle school language arts teacher in Colorado.


Jonathon Berlin
Jonathon Berlin is the leader of the data visualization team at the Chicago Tribune. He has been an adjunct teacher at Northwestern and Columbia College where he's taught infographics, data visualization and human-centered web design. Berlin was president of the Society for News Design (SND) in 2012.

His infographics work has been honored by SND, American Institute of Graphic Arts, Print, and the Chicago Headline Club. Before coming to Chicago in 2007, he worked at the San Jose Mercury News, the Rocky Mountain News and The Times of Northwest Indiana. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois' journalism school.


Bonnie Billups Jr.
Bonnie Billups, Jr., is the executive director of the Peace Neighborhood Center, a nonprofit in Ann Arbor that provides critical services for children and families. He began his career in supportive services for families and youth at a young age. He first became involved with Peace Neighborhood Center as a child enrolled in the agency’s youth programs back in the early 1970s. Proving himself to be a reliable and mature young man, Billups was hired on as a program assistant at Peace in 1976. He continued in that capacity through 1985, helping the agency expand and establish many long-standing services such as Peace’s Summer Day Camp program in 1982. Billups left the agency in 1985 to travel to California and pursue a career in music. While in the Los Angeles area, he continued to work in the youth development field as a Youth Lead Specialist at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services. In 1991, he returned to Ann Arbor and Peace Neighborhood Center as the agency’s program director, a role he took on to great success for over 15 years. In 2006, he took over for the retiring Rose Martin as Peace Neighborhood Center’s executive director and continues to lead Peace in its role as a pillar of the youth and family service nonprofit community in Washtenaw County. Billups also has continued in his musical career as an instructor at Washtenaw Community College in the School of Music and Performing Arts. Billips is a member of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Blue Ribbon Committee, where he helps to advise the school district on decisions and strategies to provide effective service to at-risk youth. He is also a founding member of the Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth, serving on its steering committee and helping to define that collaborative’s role in establishing the best possible safety net for young people in Washtenaw County along with the other member youth development agencies. Billups is proud to have served the youth and families of Washtenaw County for almost 40 years and to lead Peace Neighborhood Center into its fifth decade of its longstanding mission to break the cycle of poverty in our community.


Afton Branche-Wilson
Afton Branche-Wilson is the assistant director of community initiatives at Poverty Solutions at U-M, where she stewards initiative-wide community engagement activities and conducts research and evaluation projects in Detroit. Previously, she was the community and policy manager at Detroit City Council, where she advanced policy initiatives related to neighborhood beautification and community investment. She also led Council Member Raquel Castañeda-López’s Building Better Blocks program, building the capacity of grassroots leaders in underserved areas to advocate for community change. Before that, she worked at Thomson Reuters Foundation and the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy.

Branche-Wilson has earned an MPP from the University of Michigan, where she focused on nonprofit management, community planning, and program evaluation. She also is a passionate advocate for gender equity, serving as a volunteer for an anti-street harassment collective in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the president of Women and Gender in Public Policy while in graduate school. Currently, she is a member of the Women’s Caucus at the New Leaders Council and serves as an Alumni Vice Chair of the Detroit Chapter.


Ann Choi
Ann Choi is a senior data reporter at THE CITY, a news website covering New York City. Previously, she was a data and investigative reporter for Newsday and South Florida Sun Sentinel. Her investigations for Newsday on real estate agents' discriminatory practices against minority buyers and communities on Long Island won a Peabody and George Polk Award in 2020. She has taught at Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, Ohio University and St Joseph's College. She grew up in South Korea and is a graduate of University of Texas at Austin. She lives in Queens, New York with her husband, son and cat.


Patrick Cooney
Patrick Cooney is the assistant director of economic mobility at Poverty Solutions at U-M, overseeing the Partnership on Economic Mobility between the University of Michigan and the City of Detroit. In this role, he manages existing projects between U-M and the city and fosters new opportunities to deploy U-M resources to help evaluate, enhance, and inform city initiatives to promote economic mobility and alleviate poverty. Prior to joining Poverty Solutions, Cooney worked as a policy associate at Michigan Future, Inc. (MFI), where he contributed research, policy analysis, and writing to MFI projects focused on influencing state economic and education policies. At MFI, Cooney also managed the college success program for the Michigan Future Schools initiative, which funded and supported new college-prep high schools in Detroit. Cooney taught middle school math at Uncommon Schools in Brooklyn, New York; was a Teach for America corps member in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas; and was an Education Pioneers fellow at Chicago Public Schools. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics and history from Boston College and a master’s in public policy from the University of Michigan.


Margaret Dewar
Margaret Dewar is professor emerita at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. She focuses on how urban planners can address issues facing cities that have experienced substantial population and employment loss. Her research projects investigate remaking cities following abandonment and strengthening deteriorated neighborhoods. Dewar’s recent book is “The City after Abandonment” (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), co-edited with June Manning Thomas. Over the last few years, she has analyzed the challenge of preserving affordable housing where incomes are low, the ways residents and community-based organizations can succeed in saving some neighborhoods from the disinvestment mortgage foreclosures caused, and the slow land use transition from derelict structure through demolition to new green uses that enhance neighborhoods. She is evaluating Detroit programs to sell tax foreclosed houses to their occupants, analyzing why Detroit’s tax foreclosure problem is so hard to solve, and assessing ways to prevent evictions as the pandemic continues. Dewar received a Ph.D. in urban studies and planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Master of City Planning from Harvard University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Wellesley College.


Debra Furr-Holden
Dr. Debra Furr-Holden is the associate dean for Public Health Integration, C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health, and director of the Division of Public Health at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. She is also the director of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. She is an epidemiologist and classically-trained public health professional with expertise in behavioral health equity and health disparities research. Furr-Holden’s community-based, action-oriented research has been well received by community stakeholders and driven multiple policy interventions to address some of the nation’s greatest public health challenges, especially among racial and ethnic minorities and in racially- and economically-segregated communities. Furr-Holden’s research is grounded in the rubrics of epidemiology and consistent with principles and practices for understanding and intervening on the social determinants of health and health equity.

Among her many awards, she was the recipient of the 2006 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (Office of the White House) and received the 2020 Community-Academic Partnership Award from the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center. Furr-Holden attended the Johns Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts and Sciences (BA Natural Sciences and Public Health, 1996) and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (PhD, 1999).


Rebecca Labov
Rebecca Labov is a program analyst in the Policy Development and Implementation Division of the Housing and Revitalization Department for the City of Detroit. In this role, she manages strategic initiatives related to multifamily housing, including the preservation of affordable housing and development of strategies for displacement prevention. Most recently, she managed the city’s application for a federal Choice Neighborhoods grant for Greater Corktown, which would support inclusive neighborhood revitalization through key initiatives in areas of housing, community improvements, and supportive services for residents. Prior to her current role, she served as an educator with Detroit Public Schools, developing expertise in teaching, instructional coaching and professional development, and curriculum design. Outside of the classroom, she served as a coach for her schools’ dance team and robotics team and helped launch a community garden with her students. Previously, she worked as an architectural designer of multifamily affordable housing. Her work in diverse fields has been connected and guided by a deep commitment to racial equity and social justice.

Labov holds master’s degrees in urban and regional planning as well as educational leadership and policy from the University of Michigan. She holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture and urban studies from the University of Pennsylvania.


Jennifer Erb-Downward
Jennifer Erb-Downward is a senior research associate at Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, developing new projects and proposals related to family homelessness. She also oversees several other research projects and assists with the analysis and translation of research findings to inform local, state, and federal policy recommendations. Erb-Downward joined Poverty Solutions from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness in New York, where she was the principal policy analyst for initiatives aimed at bringing awareness to family homelessness and for framing the city’s policy agenda on this issue. She has extensive experience in policy analysis, program implementation, and best practice research around family homelessness, behavioral health, chronic illness, and the reduction of health disparities. She has been involved in the development of novel research programs in mental health and cancer prevention, and she is passionate about addressing child homelessness here in Michigan, where she grew up. Erb-Downward holds a master’s degree in public health from New York University.


Harley Etienne
Harley Etienne is an assistant professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan. He teaches in the areas of urban community development, inner-city revitalization, neighborhood change, urban poverty, and qualitative research issues in planning. Etienne’s research focuses primarily on the intersection of social institutions and their relationship to processes of urban neighborhood change. He is keenly interested in the role that colleges and universities play in contributing to neighborhood-level change and regional economic development. In 2012, he released, Pushing Back the Gates: Neighborhood Perspectives on University-Driven Change in West Philadelphia on Temple University Press. After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, he worked on several projects examining the role of land tenure policy and land rights in the post-earthquake recovery of Port-au-Prince. In 2014, he co-edited a volume, Planning Atlanta which surveys the history, challenges and successes of planning in that city from its earliest beginnings to the present day.

His current projects include quantitative and qualitative studies of the adaptation and survival strategies of community development corporations (CDCs) in Baltimore, Cleveland and Detroit. He is also expanding on his work in West Philadelphia with studies that evaluate the long-term impact of college students on housing affordability and displacement in college and university-adjacent neighborhoods. Prior to pursuing a PhD, Etienne worked in Philadelphia in the public policy and economic development sectors for Greater Philadelphia First (now merged with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce) and the Pennsylvania Economy League and the 21st Century League where he worked on various policy issues including university-industry partnerships, K-12 school reform, health care access, and welfare policy. Before coming to the University of Michigan, Etienne taught at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the School of City and Regional Planning and the School of Public Policy. He holds a PhD from Cornell University, a master’s from Temple University, and a bachelor’s from Morehouse College.


Kristin Seefeldt
As associate faculty director at Poverty Solutions, Kristin Seefeldt oversees educational programs and promotes student engagement, with an emphasis on involving doctoral students in research opportunities. She also is an associate professor of social work and public policy.

Seefeldt’s primary research interests lie in exploring how low-income individuals understand their situations, particularly around issues related to work and economic well-being. Her most recent book, “Abandoned Families: Social Isolation in the 21st Century” examines the ways in which political and economic changes have altered the pathways of opportunity for low-income families. Through in-depth interviews over a six-year period with women in Detroit, Seefeldt charts the increasing social isolation of many low-income workers, particularly African Americans, and analyzes how economic and residential segregation keep them from achieving the American Dream of upward mobility. In addition to numerous journal articles, she also is the author of “Working After Welfare,” which discusses employment and work-family balance challenges among former welfare recipients, and a co-author of “America’s Poor and the Great Recession.”

Seefeldt has a PhD in sociology and public policy and an MPP from the University of Michigan as well as a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University.


H. Luke Shaefer
H. Luke Shaefer is the founding faculty director of Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, and associate dean for research and policy engagement at U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Through his role at Poverty Solutions, Shaefer acts as a special counselor on anti-poverty policy to the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Shaefer’s research on poverty and social welfare policy in the United States has been published in top peer-reviewed academic journals in the fields of public policy, social work, public health, health services research, and history, and his work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and U.S. Census Bureau among other sources. He has presented his research at the White House and before numerous federal agencies, has testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, and has advised a number of the nation’s largest human service providers.

His work has been cited in media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, The Atlantic, and Los Angeles Times, and he has been featured on such programs as Marketplace and CNBC’s Nightly Business Report. His book with Kathryn Edin, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, was named one of the 100 Notable Books of 2015 by the New York Times Book Review, and won the Hillman Prize for Book Journalism among other awards. He was recently named to an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship. Shaefer received his BA in politics from Oberlin College and master’s and PhD from the University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration.


Kat Stafford
Kat Stafford is a national investigative writer, focused on race and inequity at The Associated Press. She investigates how structural racism has fueled inequity in America through the lens of politics, government health, environmental justice and more. She was elected to a two-year term in 2020 on the Board of Directors for the Investigative Reporters and Editors, the industry's leading nonprofit organization focused on investigative journalism. She is also the chair of IRE's Member Services Committee.

An award-winning journalist and Detroit native, Stafford was previously an investigative journalist at the Detroit Free Press and has received several awards for her work. Stafford was part of a two-person reporting team that won Michigan's Associated Press Media Editors 2019 First Amendment Award, for the Free Press' “Make Your Date” investigative project. She was named a 2019 Ida B. Wells Investigative Fellow and received the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2017 Young Journalist of the Year Award from the organization's Detroit Chapter. Stafford was also a 2016 Fellow of the Loyola Law School, Los Angeles’ prestigious Journalist Law School. Stafford is the vice president of the SPJ Detroit chapter and is a board member of Eastern Michigan University’s student newspaper, The Eastern Echo. Stafford has also made several television appearances and regularly hosts and moderates events.

Stafford is a leading voice on inclusion, representation and equity and has led or participated in several training sessions and panels, including for the Ida B. Wells Society, Poynter and the Maynard Institute. She's also participated on international panels and events, including for the U.S. Embassy Paris, France and the Global Investigative Journalism Network.


Celeste Watkins-Hayes
Celeste Watkins-Hayes is the Jean E. Fairfax Collegiate Professor of Public Policy, University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor, and professor of sociology at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and Department of Sociology. She is an author and educator widely credited for her research at the intersection of inequality, public policy, and institutions, with a special focus on urban poverty and race, class, and gender studies.

Watkins-Hayes has published two books, numerous articles in journals and edited volumes, and pieces in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Chicago Magazine. She has been widely quoted in the popular press as a national expert on social inequality and HIV/AIDS. Her books — Remaking a Life: How Women Living with HIV/AIDS Confront Inequality (2019, University of California Press) and The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform — both won numerous awards and distinctions. Watkins-Hayes holds a PhD and MA in sociology from Harvard University and a BA from Spelman College, where she graduated summa cum laude. She served on the board of trustees of Spelman College for over a decade in various leadership roles, leading the search process for the college’s 10th president. She currently serves on the board of directors of the Detroit Institute of Arts.


Camille Wilson
Camille M. Wilson, Ph.D., is a University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor and Professor of Educational Foundations, Leadership and Policy at the University of Michigan. She explores the intersections of school-family-community engagement, urban educational reform, and transformative leadership. Dr. Wilson’s work highlights the educational advocacy, activism, and school choices of marginalized families of color and the equity-based efforts of school-based leaders striving to serve those families better. She considers these issues—and their interconnections—from critical, gendered, and culturally relevant perspectives. In addition, she addresses how racial and economic inequality intersect in education and explores ways that youth and families of color impacted by poverty can be politically empowered to challenge systemic education inequity.

Dr. Wilson has published extensively in leading national and international journals, and she is co-editor of the book Advancing Equity and Achievement in America’s Diverse Schools: Inclusive Theories, Policies, and Practices (Routledge). She has presented her work throughout the United States and at many international venues, including as an invited guest lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa and as a visiting professor at the University of the West Indies-Cave Hill in Barbados. Her work and commentary has also been featured in prominent media outlets like the New York Times and Harper’s Bazaar. Additionally, she actively collaborates with youth, family, and community activists in national and regional educational improvement initiatives. In 2020, she founded the University of Michigan School of Education’s CREATE Center. The CREATE Center fosters community-based research on equity, activism, and transformative education.



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