3:15 – 4:00 pm

SESSION THREE: Activism, Organizing—and Hope

Driving Out Hate: What We Can Learn from Chili and Pittsford

Join us for a roundtable discussion that spotlights local community members who have made efforts to eliminate hate, call out prejudice, and build understanding in Chili and Pittsford. They will share effective practices and ideate ways to build cross-community dialogues in the Greater Rochester region. Moderated by Dr. Taj Smith, Director of Diversity Education at RIT. 

Workshop Goals: The goal of the workshop is to present participants with examples of positive, concrete solutions already being developed in the greater Rochester area.


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Dr. Taj Smith is Director of Diversity Education at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Before moving to Rochester, he worked at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio as the Director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Prior to that, Taj was Assistant Director of the Davis Center at Williams College in western Massachusetts, where he coordinated the Intergroup Dialogue Program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. In 2007, he co-founded Phallacies, a performing arts education and dialogue program that invited young men to think critically about unhealthy masculine attitudes and behaviors. Taj earned his doctorate in Social Justice Education from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, a Masters degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and a Bachelors in Journalism and Mass Media Studies from Rutgers University. 



Marvin Stepherson is an Adjunct Professor with Roberts Wesleyan College (Accelerated Adult Degree Completion Program). This opportunity allows him to continue educating and serving adult students. His own educational journey began in the late ’80s at Monroe Community College and continued at Roberts Wesleyan, where he completed both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the mid-2000s. 

Marvin’s professional highlights include creating the two-time recognized and award-winning independent film “Too Blue to be Black, Too Black to be Blue”. Marvin is a frequent guest on NPR addressing law enforcement issues from a cultural perspective. He retired as a police sergeant with 25 years of service and as a dual service veteran of 27 years with the United States Marines Corps and the United States Coast Guard Reserve.


Considered to be a "civil rights movement baby,” Sherry Jackson grew up in an interracial family, spending part of her formative years in the rural south, where she had to quickly learn to discern and navigate racist attitudes and behavior. Today, she works as a marketing and business development director and is co-founder of the newly-formed Rochester Anti-Racism Action Coalition (RARAC), an organization devoted to dismantling systemic racism through education, advocacy, and community organizing. ​


Lindsay Swanson serves as the Lead Founder of the proposed Innova Girls Academy, an all girls STEM-focused middle school. The school is currently in the charter application process with the state and hopes to open in Rochester in the fall of 2021. Lindsay believes that all students should have access to a high-quality STEM education that inspires confidence and leadership. Before moving to Rochester, Lindsay was the Science Department Chair and Computer Science Curriculum Specialist at Democracy Prep Public Schools. Previously, she served as a Science Lead Mentor Teacher with Teach For America and the Operations Director for the Teach For America New York City Regional Institute. Lindsay received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Psychology from Carnegie Mellon University and holds a Master of Science in Teaching, Adolescence Education from Fordham University.

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Shawna Lusk is a higher education professional with more than 20 years of infusing values of inclusion and equity through work at three distinctly different institutions. Shawna is also the co-founder of the Westside Inclusion Initiative and has been a resident of Chili, NY for 13 years. As a community organizer and recent graduate of the Leadership Rochester program, Shawna is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and fair representation in her community. She serves as the chairperson of the Ministry of Justice and Outreach at Community Christian Church and was recently selected to serve as a member of the Mental Health and Addiction Services working group for the City of Rochester's Commission on Racial and Structural Equality (RASE). Shawna is a proud Wisconsinite, animal lover, and stewards the Barbara and John Lusk Sr. Memorial Little Free Library on White Birch Circle. 


Gwen Clifton is a community activist who is a strong and responsive leader with the heart and vision to create change. She is the co-founder of Westside Inclusion Initiative, a grassroots community organization with a goal of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in our suburban westside communities. In 2020, as part of the Westside Inclusion Initiative, Gwen was the lead organizer of the Westside To End Racism Rally targeting racial disparities in education, business, voting, and law enforcement. The rally set a precedent for neighboring towns and received an Executive Proclamation “condemning and standing against racism, discrimination, and hatred in the Town of Chili”. 


Gwen has been employed by Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Service Office for over 20 years, where she serves as the Rights Advocate for a ten-county region. She is a proud graduate of the Rochester City School District and holds a Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Nazareth College. Gwen has served on the board of the American Association of University Women and on the committee for Women Helping Girls, whose mission is to address equity in education, economic security, and self-determination for disadvantaged women and girls across Monroe County.