The Black Solidarity Conference Keynote Speakers

2024  Conference Speaker

“Rhythms of Resilience: One Soul, One Sound”
Melanie Bullock Harris (she/her) 
Director of the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement, American University

Melanie Bullock is a higher education administrator committed to developing people who will in turn transform their organizations, their communities, and the world. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Spelman College and her Master of Education degree in College Student Personnel Administration from James Madison University. In her career, Melanie has developed teams to plan diverse events and programs. She’s provided leadership for various departments, offices, and teams that include Leadership Engagement programs, Student Organizations, First-Year Experience programming, Student Government, Alternative Break experiences, and multiple programming boards.

Melanie currently serves as the Director of the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement at American University. In her role, she leads the strategic development and delivery of campus and community-wide, inclusive community engagement, service, and leadership programs that enhance the student experience, and support the university’s commitment to experiential learning. Beyond her immediate role, Melanie serves as a docent for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and a Subject Matter Expert Curriculum Design Specialist with Chegg Skills. Melanie also owns Jackie’s Jamboree, a company committed to curating celebrations centered on the beauty of Black Joy.

Originally from North Carolina, Melanie currently lives in the Northern Virginia area with her husband Gerald, one-year-old little leader August Ellington, and their dog Mika.

2023 Conference Speaker

“Renaissance Revived”
Alexandre Bohannon (he/him)
Human Resources Professional, Agent of Change, Equity Architect
Vice-Chair of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education

­Alex Bohannon, an Elon Alum, class of 2017, and the founding President of the Black Student Union. Alex is a connector of both people and ideas. He is an Agent of Change, a People Professional, and an Equity Architect. Alex also currently serves as Vice-Chair of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education. Alex was a 2018 Candidate for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board, District 1, he placed third in the primary out of five candidates. Coming from a family of educators, advocates, & public servants, Alex was raised understanding the importance of possessing a spirit of gratitude, humility, & patience in all you do. He applies this approach to all of his work especially currently as a Human Resources Professional. It is very clear that we continue to live in a very polarized time, especially when discussing how our school districts should respond to the pandemic. Alex believes he would make a positive contribution to the students, faculty, and staff of the district as well as the community at large.

2022 Conference Speaker

“A Black Joy Love Letter”
Jaki Shelton Green (she/her)
Ninth Poet Laureate of North Carolina

The Ninth Poet Laureate of North Carolina appointed in 2018, is the first African-American and third woman to be appointed as the North Carolina Poet Laureate and reappointed in 2021 for a second term by Governor Roy Cooper. She is a 2019 Academy of American Poet Laureate Fellow, 2014 NC Literary Hall of Fame Inductee, 2009 NC Piedmont Laureate appointment, and 2003 recipient of the North Carolina Award for Literature. Jaki Shelton Green teaches Documentary Poetry at Duke University Center for Documentary Studies and the 2021 Frank B. Hanes Writer in Residence at UNC-Chapel Hill. Additionally, she received the George School Outstanding Alumni Award in 2021. Her publications include: Dead on Arrival, Masks, Dead on Arrival and New Poems, Conjure Blues, singing a tree into dance, breath of the song, published by Blair Publishers. Feeding the Light, i want to undie you published by Jacar Press, i want to undie you English /Italian bilingual edition published by Lebeg Publishers. Juneteenth 2020, she released her first LP, poetry album, The River Speaks of Thirst, produced by Soul City Sounds and Clearly Records and released a CD, i want to undie you in 2021. Jaki Shelton Green is the owner of SistaWRITE providing writing retreats for women writers in Sedona Arizona, Martha’s Vineyard, Ocracoke North Carolina, Northern Morocco, and Tullamore Ireland. 2021, The Arts Club of Chicago premiered a commissioned body of work in collaboration with Flutronix for the Black Is Series. April 2022, the poem will be performed by Flutronix and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

2021 Conference Speakers

Creating a Black Future through Media and Social Change
Carol Cunningham (she/her)
VP, Consumer Insights and Business Strategy, BET

With more than two decades of research experience, Carol Cunningham joined BET Networks’ Corporate Market Research team in September 2007. Cunningham’s responsibilities include leading the charge on all consumer insights, trend spotting, questionnaire design, and primary analysis for all qualitative and quantitative studies.

Cunningham served as head of Strategic Research for Scripps Interactive (HGTV, Food Network, GAC, DIY, and Fine Living) where she worked on all aspects of brand and media engagement, emerging technologies, streaming media and custom research special projects. She was instrumental in selecting Simmons Market Research to spearhead Scripps’ engagement research endeavors, owning the design of their Engagement & Emotional Attachment cable marketplace initiative. Prior to her stint at Scripps Networks, she also led all affiliate strategic initiatives for A&E Television Networks, ESPN, Univision’s WLTV, Fox Broadcasting’s KTTV, NBC Universal’s NBC 4, and as Director of Syndication Research for MGM United Artists.

Award-winning, Cunningham received the Next Generation Market Research Disruptive Innovator Award (for Individual Achievement) at the Market Research Event conference and in 2013, she was selected as the ‘Research Executive of the Year’ honoring her contributions, innovations and research expertise by MAXX AWARDS editors, writers and contributors at Target Market Research. At BET, Cunningham designed several seminal and ground-breaking studies—AFRICAN AMERICANS REVEALED: LIFESTYLES SEGMENTATION STUDY, REEL FACTS- EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT AA MOVIE GOERS & STREAMING MEDIA, AA DIGITAL CYBER BEHAVIOR & ATTITUDES STUDY, THE COLOR OF BEAUTY, THE BLACK FAMILY STUDY requested by the WHITE HOUSE and current studies making the rounds nationally, INSIDE THE AA MILLENNIAL MIND and BRAND LOVE—it was a banner year for BETN business insights utilizing learnings from BETher’s TODAY’S BLACK WOMAN, AA REVEALED 2.0 Update with a focus on influencers, trendsetters and culture catalysts / culture igniters, DAY IN THE DIGITAL LIVES OF AA CONTENT CREATORS, REEL FACTS 2- AA MOVIE GOER TRUTHS, and, most recently AA STYLE & BEAUTY REVOLUTION and STATE OF COVID 19: AFRICAN AMERICAN MINDSET (EMOTIONAL OUTLOOK, SPENDING PATTERNS & WHAT’S NEXT).

Cunningham works on the Diversity Alumni Task Force, Office of Program Development and the Newhouse Network Board of Directors at Syracuse University; she’s also on the National Board for Elon University’s Communications School. She completed these programs VIACOM’S RISING STAR THRIVE, CTAMU’s Executive Leadership Program at Harvard Business School, and the NAMIC Executive Development Leadership Program at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.

Rochelle Ford, Ph.D., APR (she/her)
Dean and Professor, Elon University School of Communications

In June 2018, Rochelle L. Ford, Ph.D., APR, became the dean of the School of Communications at Elon University, with about 1300 students majoring at the undergraduate level in strategic communications, media analytics, journalism, sport management, communication design, and cinema and television arts and in corporate communications, organizational analytics, and interactive media at the graduate level. From 2014-2018, she was a tenured professor and the chair of the Public Relations Department in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, responsible for all undergraduate and graduate public relations programs at this PRWeek top-ranked university. She also served as a Provost Faculty Fellow at Syracuse University responsible for co-chairing the University’s Middle States Accreditation process and implementing aspects of the Academic Strategic Plan. Having served as a faculty member at Howard University for 16 years, Dr. Ford has mentored hundreds of African American public relations professionals and championed the diversity agenda within the public relations industry through her research, grants, teaching, and service. She is the co-editor of a two-volume book series through IGI Global about the sustainability of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In August 2014, she was inducted into Arthur W. Page Society and completed, with grant funding from the PRSA Foundation, an award-winning research study about diversity and inclusion best practices at Page Society member organizations.

A nationally sought-after speaker, she has given hundreds of special presentations on multicultural communications and diversity, coordinated a series of teleconferences and podcasts on diversity and inclusion, and served as a Fulbright Specialist in the Gambia West Africa. Dr. Ford has established and has written a monthly column “Diversity Dimensions” for Public Relations Tactics, an award-winning trade newspaper. Her scholarship on diversity has appeared in the New York Times, book chapters and refereed business and communication journals. She has received the Public Relations Society of America National Capital Chapter’s Diversity Champion Award, PRSA’s national D. Parke Gibson Multiculturalism Award for pioneering work in diversity in public relations, The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations’ Milestones in Mentoring Award and the National Black Public Relations Society’s Founders Award. She attended Howard University (BA ’93), University of Maryland at College Park (MS ’95), and Southern Illinois at Carbondale (PHD ’99). She holds a graduate certificate in higher education administration from Harvard and in gerontology from University of Maryland. She is the mother of two sons, Michael and Malik Larkin, and a daughter, Raven Ford.