Icon, Activist, Author and Speaker
Ruby Bridges is a civil rights icon, activist, author, and speaker who, at the age of six, was the first Black student to integrate an all-White elementary school alone in Louisiana. Bridges was born in Mississippi in 1954, the same year the United States Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision ordering the integration of public schools. Her family later moved to New Orleans, where, on November 14, 1960, Bridges began attending William Frantz Elementary School, single-handedly initiating the desegregation of public education. Her walk to the front door of the school was immortalized in Norman Rockwell’s painting “The Problem We All Live With,” in Robert Coles’ book “The Story of Ruby Bridges,” and in the Disney movie “Ruby Bridges.”
She established the Ruby Bridges Foundation to provide leadership training programs that inspire youth and community leaders to embrace and value the richness of diversity. Bridges is the recipient of numerous awards, including the NAACP Martin Luther King Award, the Presidential Citizens Medal, and honorary doctorate degrees from Connecticut College, College of New Rochelle, Columbia University Teachers College, and Tulane University. Bridges is also the author of “Through My Eyes,” “This Is Your Time,” “I Am Ruby Bridges,” and “Dear Ruby, Hear Our Hearts,” released January 2024.
Dr. Timothy Shriver
Chairman of Special Olympics, Co-founder and CEO of UNITE, Co-creator of The Dignity Index
Dr. Timothy Shriver is a husband, father of five, Chairman of Special Olympics International, and a co-founder of UNITE — an initiative to promote national unity and solidarity across differences. He is the co-creator of The Dignity Index, a tool designed to ease divisions, prevent violence, and solve problems. Tim began his career as an educator and subsequently co-founded and currently chairs the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the leading school reform organization in the field of social and emotional learning. He earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University, a master's degree from Catholic University, and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Connecticut. Tim has produced six films, including Amistad, The Loretta Claiborne Story, and The Peanut Butter Falcon. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Fully Alive — Discovering What Matters Most, and co-editor of The Call to Unite: Voices of Hope and Awakening.
Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) Signature Speaker
Teaching That Transforms: How to Cultivate a Classroom of Learners Who Believe, Read, and Achieve
Dr. Eddie Connor
Author, Speaker, and Professor
Empowering people to overcome obstacles and walk in their unique purpose is the real-life message shared by Dr. Eddie Connor. A survivor of stage 4 cancer, he transparently shares his health journey as a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society.
Dr. Eddie is an empowerment speaker, college professor, radio/television correspondent, and visionary of the Access Identity Conference. As founder of Eagles Academy, he facilitates master classes on faith, identity, relationships, and speaker training. He previously served as president of the National Entrepreneurs Association of Michigan.
Dr. Eddie is the founder of the mentoring programs Boys 2 Books and Gifted for Greatness, which empowers young men via literacy, leadership, and life skills enrichment. As an aide to former U.S. Congressman Hansen Clarke, Dr. Eddie assisted in crafting a bipartisan resolution to address the urgent illiteracy crisis in America. The resolution became the impetus for President Barack Obama’s My Brother's Keeper initiative.
Dr. Eddie is a best-selling author of 16 books and shares his story in The New York Times best-selling book “REACH: 40 Black Men Speak on Living, Leading, and Succeeding.” A recipient of the President Barack Obama Volunteer Service Award and the President Barack Obama Lifetime Achievement Award, he is recognized as one of the Top 35 Millennial Influencers in America.
Dr. Eddie grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, and lives in Detroit, Michigan.
National Connection Joint Council Luncheon Signature Speaker
Be #PRESENTE — Being an Advocate for Equity and Catalyst for Change
Maria J. Andrade
Board of Trustees, President Emeritus
Roseville Community Charter School
Maria Andrade, a resident of Newark, New Jersey, is fervently dedicated to the cause of social equality and its far-reaching implications. Over the past few years, she has played a pivotal role in conceiving, leading, and coordinating impactful projects across New Jersey. Maria's professional journey spans over a decade, encompassing diverse roles in urban classrooms—from serving as an Autism Instructor in a self-contained Special Needs Program to teaching biology in a Juvenile Detention setting. Presently, Maria proudly holds the position of Site Director of NJ GEAR UP/College Bound at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where she represents her alma mater GEAR UPr and serves as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers SHPE Jr. Chair.
As a first-generation Ecuadorian immigrant, woman of color, young mother, and advocate for social justice, Maria channels her passion into addressing issues related to social justice, equality, minority affairs, criminal justice reform, and education. She passionately believes in the transformative power of education, viewing it as the key to overcoming environmental challenges and paving the way for a brighter future.
Maria's commitment to social justice extends beyond the classroom. She has served as the Immediate Past President of the Roseville Community Charter School Board of Trustees. She holds distinguished certifications, including NJSBA Certified Board Leader Member and the groundbreaking NJSBA Master Certified Board Carole E. Larsen Master Board Certification (MBC). Recognized for her outstanding contributions, Maria has received the Distinguished 2023 Hazel Frank Cluck Award by NEW Leadership®, the 2023 LUPE Woman of Influence Award, and has been named one of the TOP 100 Latino Leaders in New Jersey for four consecutive years by the Latino Spirit Digital Annual Publication.
In addition to her local involvement, Maria holds an appointed position in the Hispanic Commission for the Office of International Relations and Diaspora Affairs in Newark. Her influence extends nationally, having earned certifications such as the Political Science Certificate from The Washington Center (TWA) and been recognized as a Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) Women in Global Policy Fellow Alumna in Washington, D.C.