Leslie Odom Jr.
Tony and Grammy Award-winning actor and musician
Leslie Odom Jr. is an award-winning actor and singer, best known for his breakout role as Aaron Burr in the Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton” for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical and a Grammy Award as a principal soloist on the original cast recording. Odom Jr. made his Broadway debut in “RENT” at the age of 17. He recently released his third full-length album and first of original material, entitled “Mr” and also starred alongside Cynthia Erivo and Janelle Monae in the Harriet Tubman biopic “Harriet.” In 2018, he added author to his resume with the release of his book, Failing Up: How to Rise Above, Do Better, and Never Stop Learning.
Odom Jr. stars in the film “One Night in Miami,” directed by Regina King, where he portrays legendary singer Sam Cooke and performs all of his original songs, as well as “The Many Saints of Newark,” the much-awaited prequel to the HBO series “The Sopranos.” In addition, he lends his voice to the Josh Gad-animated musical-comedy series “Central Park” for Apple TV+. Odom Jr.’s previous film and television roles include “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Red Tails,” and “Smash.” He is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Fine Arts.
Award-winning journalist documentarian, author, and philanthropist
Soledad O’Brien is an award-winning journalist, documentarian, author, and philanthropist who anchors and produces the Hearst Television political magazine program Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien. The founder and CEO of Soledad O’Brien Productions, she also reports for HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, PBS NewsHour, and WebMD. She has appeared on broadcast networks Fox, Oxygen, and Nat Geo, and hosted shows and reported for NBC, MSNBC, and CNN. Her work, including coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, and the series Kids and Race, has earned her journalism’s most prestigious awards, including the George Foster Peabody award, an Alfred I. DuPont prize, three Emmys, and a Gracie award from the Alliance for Women in Media. A graduate of Harvard University, she has served as a director on the boards of the Rand Corporation and the foundation for the National Archives. In 2013-14, she was a Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Distinguished Visiting Fellow. Newsweek named her one of the “15 People Who Make America Great.” She is the author of two books, Latino in America, and her memoir, The Next Big Story. With her husband, O’Brien created the PowHERful Foundation to help young women get to and through college.
Positive psychology researcher and best-selling author of The Happiness Advantage
Shawn Achor is the New York Times best-selling author of The Happiness Advantage, Big Potential, and the children’s book, How to Make a Shark Smile, about choosing happiness and the ripple effect of a positive mindset. Achor spent 12 years as a professor at Harvard University, where he won over a dozen distinguished teaching awards and delivered lectures on positive psychology in the most popular class at the university. He earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard and his master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School in Christian and Buddhist ethics.
Achor has since become one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between happiness and success. He has worked with over a third of the Fortune 100 companies and with organizations such as the NFL, the Pentagon, and the U.S. Treasury. Through his work, Achor has traveled to more than 50 countries, speaking to farmers in Zimbabwe, CEOs in China, doctors in Dubai, and schoolchildren in South Africa. In addition to a two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey on the science of happiness and its meaning, Achor’s research made the cover of Harvard Business Review, his TED talk is one of the most popular of all time with over 22 million views, and his lecture airing on PBS has been seen by millions of viewers.
Equity Councils Signature Speakers
Eddie S. Glaude Jr. — April 10
Author, scholar, and educator
This session is sponsored by the National Black Council of School Board Members (NBC)
Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is a scholar who speaks to the black and blue in America. His most well-known books, Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul, and In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America, take a wide look at Black communities and reveal complexities, vulnerabilities, and opportunities for hope. His 2020 New York Times Bestseller, Begin Again, is about the legendary writer James Baldwin and the history of American politics. Glaude is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. He is the former president of the American Academy of Religion. Glaude turns to African American literature in his writing and teaching for insight into African American political life, religious thought, gender, and class. He is a columnist for Time magazine, regularly appears on NBC’s Meet the Press, and is a contributor to Morning Joe and other MSNBC programs.
Sonia Nazario — April 8
Award-winning journalist and author
This session is sponsored by the National Hispanic Council of School Board Members (NHC)
Sonia Nazario's stories have tackled some of this country's most intractable problems—hunger, drug addiction, immigration—and have won some of the nation's most prestigious journalism and book awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes. Nazario is best known for Enrique's Journey, her account of a Honduran boy's harrowing struggle to reunite with his mother in the United States. Published as a series in the Los Angeles Times, it won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2003. Expanded into a book published by Random House, it became a bestseller. In 2016, the American Immigration Council gave Nazario the American Heritage Award. She grew up in Kansas and in Argentina and has written extensively from Latin America and about Latinos in the U.S. Nazario began her career at The Wall Street Journal. She is at work on her second book and is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.
Tony Plana — April 9
Actor, director, producer, and activist
This session is sponsored by the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE)
Born in Cuba, raised in Los Angeles, and professionally trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, Tony Plana has performed in more than 70 feature films and numerous television programs. Among his recent films was Bombshell, where he portrayed Fox News' Geraldo Rivera. He will perhaps always be best known for playing Ignacio Suarez, the father on the TV sitcom Ugly Betty. Plana morphed his experience as an actor into producing and directing for television and film. He co-founded and was producing artistic director of East LA Classic Theatre (ECT) for over 20 years. Plana's adaptations of classic Shakespearean plays were specifically conceived for students with little or no theater-going experience. They were set against curriculum-relevant historical backgrounds that served as catalysts for studying psychology, race and cultural relations, and world history. Plana is an affiliate faculty member of the Center for Equity for English Learners at Loyola Marymount's School of Education.
Stephen Sroka — April 9
Author, teacher, and educational consultant
This session is sponsored by the National American Indian/Alaska Native Council of School Board Members (AIAN)
Stephen Sroka grew up in poverty in a single-parent family. His third-grade report card read, "Parent notified boy is retarded." In elementary school, he was mocked for having a crossed eye and a speech impediment. His high school counselor told him that he didn't have the "IQ" to go to college. His childhood disabilities and experiences were "gifts" or "grit" that offered unique opportunities that helped him become a better person and an educator. Today, Sroka is a motivational speaker and consultant on health education, school safety, brain-based learning, dropout prevention, and leadership building. His message emphasizes that The Power of One and The Power of Many are needed to make lasting change. Sroka is an adjunct assistant professor for the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. A former Disney Outstanding Health Teacher of the Year, he was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.