Series Organizing Committee
Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs
Jenée Slocum, Ph.D.
Jenée Slocum is a dynamic public policy, communications and higher education professional whose passion lies in bringing people and resources together to advance the public good. Throughout her nearly 20-year career, she has worked with government entities, individuals and non-profit organizations. Jenée has helped her clients and employers build robust systemic structures that support long-term goals, overcome organizational challenges, and grow resilient coalitions to bolster a range of initiatives. She is most well-known for her ability to conceptualize and implement successful large-scale programs.
As the director of the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication, Jenée applies her extensive experience and enthusiasm for politics, public policy and communications to building and shaping the strategic direction of the Center and leading outreach and engagement for the Manship School. She has more than quadrupled Reilly Center activities, including public engagement in media and policy forums, as well as powerful research into race and gender in communications and politics.
Jenée previously served as the agency higher education liaison for both Louisiana Economic Development and the Louisiana Workforce Commission. While in those roles, she successfully collaborated with Louisiana’s higher education and PreK-12 community to adjust legislation and institutional policy focusing state resources on and encouraging state residents to pursue programs leading to high-demand, high-wage job opportunities available in the state.
Jenée is fiercely dedicated to improving communities, which drives her volunteer work as a board member for both WRKF-FM, the Baton Rouge NPR affiliate, and Celerity Louisiana Charter Schools.
Nearly a quarter of her life was spent living abroad, which gives Jenée a unique cultural perspective that informs her ability to build strong relationships and support on behalf of her clients. She speaks three languages fluently, including Portuguese and Spanish, thanks to her time living in Honduras, Argentina and Brazil.
Jenée is a 1999 graduate of LSU’s Manship School, where she earned a degree in public relations. While at LSU, she served as student body president. Jenée also holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. in higher education and organizational change from The University of California, Los Angeles.
Kelci Sibley is the Program Coordinator for the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs. In her role, Kelci is tasked with generating thoughtful programming that reflects the Reilly Center's three areas of focus: addressing contemporary media and public affairs issues, enabling civic engagement and leadership, and advancing diversity, equity & inclusion. These programs range from large-scale public symposia to student-oriented professional development opportunities. In addition to coordinating all Reilly Center events, she also contributes to Manship School annual events, including the 1913 Society Dinner and Hall of Fame ceremony.
A proud Manship School of Mass Communication alumna, Kelci brings nearly a decade of experience in public relations, event planning and marketing. Prior to joining the Reilly Center team, Kelci was the Marketing Coordinator at Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, a leading Louisiana law firm.
Taylor Barnett is graduate assistant for the Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs, assisting with the planning, management and media for the Reilly Center series, Racism: Dismantling the system. A 2019 graduate of Midwestern State University’s Lamar D. Fain College of Fine Arts, she earned her degree in Mass Communication with a focus on Public Relations and Advertising, and a minor in Business administration. She is now pursuing her master’s in Mass Communication with a concentration in Strategic Communication at LSU. Taylor previously worked as a Media Planner for The Richard’s Group, the largest independently owned advertising agency in the country.
Southern University Nelson Mandela College of Government and Social Sciences
Robyn Merrick, Ph.D.
Vice President of External Communications
Robyn Merrick, Ph.D. is Southern University's Vice President for External Affairs. Robyn previously provided leadership for the University’s 90,000 alumni serving as Director of Alumni Affairs and Executive Director of the Southern University Alumni Federation. Also at Southern, Robyn co-hosted the University’s radio show, Inside the Southern University System, and is the former co-managing editor of the Southern University System Magazine. Through her career in higher education, she has held several administrative positions as Executive Associate to the President, Director of Public Affairs, and Policy Development Coordinator. Robyn holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, Masters in Public Administration, and a Ph.D. in Public Policy. She has conducted and published research in the areas of women in government and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
In addition, Robyn has served as chair of the Board of Directors for Girl Scouts Louisiana-East, the Friends of Louisiana Public Broadcasting, and she currently serves as board chair for Volunteers in Public Schools in Baton Rouge.
Robyn is committed to public service and volunteerism with more than 35 years of experience working with religious, civic and nonprofit organizations.
Albert Samuels, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science
Dr. Albert L. Samuels is a native of Shreveport, LA. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and a M.A. in Social Sciences (both from Southern University) and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Louisiana State University. He has taught political science at Southern University since 1999 and is the Chair of the Department of Political Science and History. During the Spring Semester of 2014, he was elected by his faculty colleagues to the office of Vice President of the Southern University Faculty Center. In the Spring Semester of 2018, he was elected by faculty colleagues to be President of the Faculty Senate. His research interests include American politics, black politics, Louisiana politics, educational policy, and voting rights.
LSU Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Dereck J. Rovaris, Sr., Ph.D.
Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer
Dereck J. Rovaris, Sr. is the Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and CDO at Louisiana State University. He serves as principal advisor to the president, provost, and campus community on matters involving DEI. He serves as an institutional spokesperson on issues of diversity and inclusion and is responsible for developing and implementing strategic initiatives and policies aimed at cultivating a campus environment that embraces individual difference, sustains inclusion, and enhances institutional access and equity.
Previously, he was the Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic and Multicultural Affairs at the LSU Health Sciences Center at New Orleans. In 2008, the American Council on Education selected Rovaris as a presidential fellow. He served his ACE fellowship year at DePaul University in Chicago. He returned to Xavier University of LA to serve as Special Assistant to Academic Affairs. In 2007 Rovaris completed a Council for Opportunities in Education professional development tour in England and The Netherlands. In 2006 he completed the Management Development Program at Harvard University.
He has served as an educational consultant, conducted workshops, and been a featured speaker on the local, national, and international level. Rovaris has traveled throughout North America, and in Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. He serves on a variety of educational and non-profit boards. Among other leadership roles, he is currently the National President for the American Association for Blacks in Higher Education and a Council of Fellows Board Member with the American Council on Education.
Emmy Hicks, M.P.A.
Assistant Director, LSU Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Emmy Hicks is the Assistant Director of Development for the LSU ODEI. She serves as the principal liaison to the LSU Foundation and Office of Strategic Communications for matters involving DEI and the LSU Roadmap to Diversity.
She also serves as an expertly trained NCBI facilitator and works with LSU faculty, staff, and students on developing cultural competency and inter/intrapersonal skills.
Previously, she worked as an events manager and curator for the Louisiana State Museums in New Orleans, as the Vice President of Membership for the Friends of the Capitol Park Museum, and with the LSU AgCenter Louisiana 4-H Office. In 2019, she was named an American Society for Public Administration Founders’ Fellow. She holds a Masters in Public Administration and is currently a student in the Higher Education Leadership Ph.D. and Applied Research, Measurement & Evaluation Masters programs at LSU with an expected graduation date of August 2023.
Her research, publications, and academic presentations focus on social advocacy, awareness, and utilizing collaborative efforts across multiple disciplines as an engine to promote social change.
Louisiana Budget Project
Jan Moller is director of the Louisiana Budget Project, which monitors and reports on state government spending and how it affects Louisiana’s low- to moderate-income families. He is an award-winning journalist formerly with the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s state capital bureau, where he covered the state budget, health-care policy, higher education and races for Louisiana governor and U.S. Senate seats.
Before moving to Louisiana in 2003, he covered local and national politics at the Las Vegas Review-Journal and worked as a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., primarily with the syndicated columnist Jack Anderson. As an investigative reporter, Moller’s work led to reforms in Louisiana’s nursing home regulation and uncovered ethics violations by city officials in Nevada. Born in Sweden, Moller was raised in Pittsburgh, PA, and is a graduate of The American University in Washington, D.C.
Director of Public Affairs and Outreach
Davante Lewis is the director of public affairs and outreach for LBP, focusing on higher education policy, monitoring legislative developments and working with advocacy groups and coalitions partners in forging a common agenda and action plan to advance LBP’s policy agenda. Prior to joining LBP, he was an elementary school teacher in the Coweta County School System in suburban Atlanta. He is currently a 2020 National Leaders Council Louisiana fellow.
Davante is a graduate of McNeese State University with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Communications. While there, he served as a two-term Student Body President, the Chair of the Louisiana Council of Student Body Presidents and a Board Member of the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors. Davante also served as one of the first members of the Louisiana Legislative Youth Advisory Council, serving as the Vice Chair.
LSU Black Faculty & Staff Caucus
Brandon Smith, M.P.A.
Director, LSU Office of Community University Partnerships; Program Director, President’s
Millennial Scholars Program, LSU Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Brandon M. Smith, M.P.A., is an LSU alum and native of the Greater Baton Rouge area. As the Director of Community and Education Partnerships, Smith is the liaison and communications officer between LSU and external constituencies including, the city-parish government, local school districts, nonprofit and faith-based organizations; and the historic, Old South Baton Rouge community. He also works with the LSU Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion as Director for the President’s Millennial Scholars Program. Prior to LSU, Smith was a fourth-grade educator with the EBRP School System through Teach for America. He is an ordained minister and serves as a lead pastor.
NAACP Louisiana State Conference
Michael McClanahan, Ph.D.
Michael McClanahan is best known for his political astuteness. Over the last 30+ years he has successfully worked on several campaigns. That experience was beneficial in him being elected then as the NAACP Baton Rouge Branch President. Michael now serves in the capacity of NAACP Louisiana State Conference President. As State President, Mike oversees the coordination of over 40 adult branches and 18 youth and college chapters all over the great state of Louisiana. As State Conference President, Mike travels the length of this state advocating for the voiceless, hopeless, jobless, fighting bigotry, hatred and discrimination. His opening greeting is “there is no rest for the weary.”
Of all his many accomplishments, he is most noted for his service and countless efforts to the community as the Director of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center. And in initiating and organizing the peaceful press conference and protest after the killing of Alton Sterling by the BRPD.
Michael is a 1983 graduate of Zwolle High School, a 1986 and 1987 graduate of The Southern University and a 1990 graduate of The Southern University Law Center.
Stephen C. Finley, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies and African & African American Studies (AAAS)
Program at LSU, and Director of AAAS
Stephen C. Finley is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and African & African American Studies (AAAS) Program at LSU, and Director of AAAS, which the Board of Supervisors recently approved to become a Department. For the purposes of this panel, he loves collaboration with his co-panelists. With Lori L. Martin the published “Complexity of Color and the Religion of Whiteness.” In Color Struck. Ed. Hayward D. Horton, Lori Latrice Martin, Cedric Herring, et al. The Netherlands: Sense Publishing (2017) and “Lifting as We Climb: #BlackLivesMatter and the Resurrection of Black Studies in America?” [Feature article]. Western Journal of Black Studies 40.4 (2017). With Biko Mandela Gray he published “God Is a White Racist: Immanent Atheism as a Religious Response to Black Lives Matter and State-sanctioned Anti-black Violence.”[Special Issue, Lead Article].Journal of Africana Religions. 3.4 (October 2015) and Africana Esoteric Studies and Western Intellectual Hegemony: A Conversation with Western Esotericism in History of Religions, one of the top journals in the professional study of religion. With both Biko and Lori, he has published several articles, which congeal in the book, Ivory Towers, Regulatory Technologies, and the (Re)Production of Anti-Black Violence in the Academy: Introducing Black Faculty Studies. (Under Advance Contract, Johns Hopkins University Press) and co-edited The Religion of White Rage: White Workers, Religious Fervor, and the Myth of Racial Progress. (Edinburgh University Press, 2020). Finally, he has published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, considered the top journal in the study of religion, and his monograph, In and Out of this World: Material and Extraterrestrial Bodies in the Nation of Islam is expected late 2021 with Duke University Press.