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2019 MBK Symposium Speaker Bios

Michael Smith

Keynote Speaker

Michael serves as Director of Youth Opportunity Programs at the Obama Foundation and Executive Director of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. In these roles, Michael leads the Foundation’s efforts to scale the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative and aligned programs to expand opportunity for underserved youth.

Michael was part of the team that launched MBK, President Obama's cross-sector call to action to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and to ensure that all youth can reach their full potential. As Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of Cabinet Affairs for MBK, Michael became the first and only White House director of the initiative.

Prior to joining the White House, Michael was an appointee in the Obama Administration, serving as director of the Social Innovation Fund (SIF). He reinvigorated and expanded the initiative, managed its largest funding competition, introduced its first Pay for Success grant program, and oversaw a portfolio of more than $700 million in public-private investments, supporting more than 200 nonprofits.

Before joining the Obama Administration Michael served as SVP of Social Innovation at the Case Foundation, where he oversaw the Foundation's giving and program strategy, and guided numerous global public-private partnerships. Earlier in his career, Michael helped build national initiatives aimed at bridging the “digital divide” at the Beaumont Foundation of America and PowerUP, served as a senior staff member at the Family Center Boys & Girls Club, was an aide to U.S. Congressman Richard E. Neal and has a B.A. in Communications from Marymount University.

In 2014, Michael was inducted in Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Alumni Hall of Fame, the organization's highest honor. Prior to his appointment, Michael served for many years on the boards of Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), Idealist.org and Public Allies.

Ronald F. Ferguson, Ph.D.

Ron Ferguson is an MIT-trained economist who joined the faculty at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1983 and for the next two decades focused most of his teaching and research there on state and local economic development. Even by the late 1980s, however, his work had expanded to include education and youth development, because growing skill requirements were increasing wage disparity in labor markets.

Ron is a faculty associate at Harvard’s Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy and director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University. In 2014, he co-founded Tripod Education Partners, Inc., which provides research support to public school systems, and shifted into an adjunct role at the Kennedy School. He consults widely and is a member of several national research and policy networks, committees, and commissions. Ron holds an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from MIT, both in economics. He is happily married and has two adult sons.

Principal Baruti Kafele

A highly-regarded urban educator in New Jersey for over twenty years, Principal Baruti Kafele distinguished himself as a master teacher and a transformational school leader. As an elementary school teacher in East Orange, NJ, he was selected as the East Orange School District and Essex County Public Schools Teacher of the Year; he was a New Jersey State Teacher of the Year finalist; and he received the New Jersey Education Association Award of Excellence.

As a middle and high school principal, Principal Kafele led the transformation of four different New Jersey urban schools, including “The Mighty” Newark Tech, which went from a low-performing school in need of improvement to national recognition, which included U.S. News and World Report Magazine recognizing it three times as one of America’s best high schools.

Principal Baruti Kafele is one of the most sought-after education speakers in America! He has delivered over two thousand conference and program keynotes, professional development workshops, parenting seminars and student assemblies over his 32 years of public speaking. An expert in the area of “attitude transformation,” Principal Kafele is the leading authority for providing effective classroom and school leadership strategies toward closing, the “Attitude Gap,” a term he coined.

Principal Kafele has written extensively on professional development strategies for creating a positive school climate and culture, transforming the attitudes of at-risk student populations, motivating Black males to excel in the classroom and school leadership practices for inspiring school-wide excellence. In addition to writing several professional articles, he is the author of eight books which include his national best-sellers, Closing the Attitude Gap, Motivating Black Males to Achieve in School and in Life, The Principal 50 and The Teacher 50.

Cornelius Minor

Cornelius Minor is a Brooklyn-based educator. He works with teachers, school leaders, and leaders of community-based organizations to support equitable literacy reform in cities (and sometimes villages) across the globe. Whether working with educators and kids in Los Angeles, Seattle, or New York City, Cornelius uses his love for technology, hip-hop, and social media to bring communities together. As a staff developer with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Cornelius draws not only on his years teaching middle school in the Bronx and Brooklyn, but also on time spent skateboarding, shooting hoops, and working with young people.