The CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) is a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination, which is the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists or bantu knots. California was the first state to sign the Act into law on July 3, 2019 followed by New York, New Jersey, and Colorado. It is our hope that Tennessee will soon join these states in passing the Act.
Join the MBA, NBA and AWA for this CLE on Wednesday, February 24, 2021 at 5:30 PM for a virtual webinar on The Crown Act, featuring Senator Raumesh Akbari, who is responsible for introducing a Bill in the Tennessee Senate that would amend the Tennessee Human Rights Act to prevent hairstyle discrimination based on race. There will be a discussion on the importance of this Bill among several members of the legal community, along with perspective from Human Resource Professionals.
Keynote Speaker: Senator Raumesh Akbari
Senator Raumesh Akbari
A proud Memphian and passionate advocate for justice and equality, Senator Raumesh Akbari serves in the Tennessee State Senate representing District 29, which includes downtown Memphis and parts of Shelby County. She was elected to the State Senate in 2018 after serving three terms in the State House of Representatives.
Senator Akbari serves as 2nd Vice-Chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee and is a member of the Commerce and Labor Committee, the Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and the Ethics Committee.
Currently the chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, Senator Akbari’s policy focus aims to improve student outcomes, reform outdated criminal justice rules, and to expand middle class security and opportunities to more Tennessee families. She stands up for the people who live in her district, as well as Tennesseans, from all walks of life.
Senator Akbari, who has represented the state of Tennessee as an envoy to Canada, Australia, China and Europe, recently joined the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network and was selected as a 2019 Marshall Memorial Fellow.
Her legislative work has garnered national and regional acclaim. Senator Akbari is the recipient of honors and awards from the Council of State Governments and its affiliated Southern Leadership Conference; Leadership Memphis; Leadership Tennessee; the National Council of State Legislatures; the State Legislative Leaders Foundation; National Black Caucus of State Legislators; the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women; the National Juvenile Justice Network; and Governing’s Women in Government leadership program. In 2019, the NewDEAL selected Akbari to join its national network of state and local elected Leaders.
The Democratic National Committee has twice bestowed a most special honor on Akbari. In 2016, she was invited by to address the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Penn. as a state representative. Four years later, Sen. Akbari was again invited to address the Democratic National Convention, this time as a keynote speaker among the party’s “rising stars.”
A graduate of Washington University and the Saint Louis University School of Law, Senator Akbari strives to represent the city of Memphis and her people with dignity and purpose.
Formerly, Senator Akbari served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators; national treasurer of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators; state director within Women in Government; and financial secretary of N.O.B.E.L, the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women.
Lani Lester is an experienced litigator whose practice areas include complex commercial and business litigation, premises liability, personal injury, and municipal litigation matters in both federal and state court. She is a native North Memphian and graduate of Central High School. Lani obtained her B.S. in Political Science and Print Journalism from Middle Tennessee State University, by way of Tennessee State University. Lani joined Burch, Porter & Johnson, PLLC after graduating from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in 2016. She is driven by the desire to pay forward the goodwill of the community who raised her and takes great pride in continuing Burch, Porter & Johnson’s legacy of service by fearlessly striving to meet the unmet legal needs of the greater Memphis community through her pro bono practice.
Professor D. Wendy Greene, J.D., LL.M
The daughter of American civil rights activists, Professor Doris “Wendy” Greene is a trailblazing U.S. anti-discrimination law scholar, teacher, and advocate who has devoted her professional life’s work to advancing racial, color, and gender equity in workplaces and beyond. Professor Greene’s legal scholarship and public advocacy, which illuminate how constructions of identity inform and constrain anti-discrimination law, have generated civil rights protections for victims of discrimination throughout the United States. A visionary, she is the architect of two legal constructs recognized within anti-discrimination law theory and praxis: “misperception discrimination” and “grooming codes discrimination.” Through her award-winning publications and activism in these areas, Professor Greene crafted the legal blueprint for historic civil rights legislation known as the C.R.O.W.N. Acts (Creating a Respectful World for Natural Hair Acts) while also shaping the enforcement stance of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), federal courts, administrative law judges, and civil and human rights organizations in groundbreaking civil rights matters.
Teen Vogue, Now This News, and BBC World News have celebrated Professor Greene for her pioneering role in increasing public awareness around as well as securing legal redress for grooming codes discrimination. From serving as a legal advisor and expert in civil rights cases challenging race-based natural hair discrimination, co-drafting federal and state level C.R.O.W.N. Acts, testifying in support of this legislation throughout the country, delivering public lectures around the world, to publishing seminal legal scholarship, Professor Greene’s advocacy has informed, to date, every legal pronouncement in the U.S.—on municipal, state, and federal levels—that discrimination African descendants systematically encounter on the basis of their natural hairstyles is race discrimination. One of the world’s leading legal experts on this global civil rights issue and founder of the #FreeTheHair campaign, she is currently writing her first book, #FreeTheHair: Locking Black Hair to Civil Rights Movements, under contract with the University of California, Berkeley Press.
Professor Greene is the first tenured African American woman on the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law faculty. Prior to joining the Drexel Law faculty, she was a faculty member at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law (Birmingham, Alabama) from 2007-2012 where she was one of the youngest women of color to earn tenure and full professorship. Since entering the legal academy, Professor Greene has garnered national and institutional awards for excellence in scholarship and teaching and recently, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute paid homage to Professor Greene’s scholarly activism by selecting her to present the Institute’s highest honor, the Fred L. Shuttleworth Human Rights Award, to civil rights icon Dr. Angela Y. Davis on Juneteenth 2020.
A globe trotter, Professor Greene has delivered over 100 presentations throughout the United states and in four continents while regularly providing commentary to media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and Bloomberg News. Also, as one of few U.S. legal academics engaged in the study of comparative slavery and race relations law in the Americas and Caribbean, she has delivered several keynote addresses: the Logan Lecture on the African Diaspora and/or Black History at Howard University; the Inaugural Black History Month Keynote Address at Washington and Lee University; the 2020 C. Clyde Ferguson, Jr. Lecture at Howard University School of Law; the Black History Month 2020 Opening Ceremony Keynote Address at McGill University Faculty of Law (Montreal, Quebec, Canada); the Black History Month Keynote Address at the University of South Carolina; and the Inaugural Inclusive Excellence Week Keynote Lecture for the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry.
A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Professor Greene is a graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana (B.A. cum laude with Honors in English and a double-minor in African American Studies and Spanish); Tulane University School of Law (J.D.); and The George Washington University School of Law (LL.M.)
Tressa Johnson is a founding partner of Johnson & Bennett. She has dedicated her career to personal injury recovery and employment law matters in Mississippi and Tennessee.
Throughout her studies and her legal career, Attorney Johnson has had a passion for helping others and the determination to find effective solutions. While earning her Juris Doctor degree from the Loyola University College of Law, Attorney Johnson helped found the Student Hurricane Network to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina in her native New Orleans. She organized 250 law students from 50 law schools in 2005 to provide legal aid to the victims of Katina. She increased the number of participants to 600 law students from 65 law schools in 2006.
Attorney Johnson started her career as a contract attorney for a healthcare facility in Memphis and soon became interested in employment matters. She moved to a boutique personal injury law firm in Memphis, TN, where she was made managing attorney just two years out of law school. She then became a partner at another boutique personal injury firm in Memphis, where she won approximately $12 million in settlements and verdicts, including a $1 million jury verdict.
Asia Diggs Meador
Asia Diggs Meador joined Meritan, Inc. in November 2013. In her role as General Counsel, Senior Vice President - Compliance & Human Resources, she directs human resources and compliance policy and procedures, serves as counsel on contract and transactional matters, and manages all litigation through the oversight of outside counsel.
Mrs. Meador brings over a decade of experience in business, contract, and employment litigation to Meritan, Inc. Prior to joining Meritan, Mrs. Meador was a Senior Associate at a labor and employment law firm representing clients nationwide in all facets of labor and employment litigation, matters relating to the misappropriation of trade secrets, non-compete agreements, breach of contracts, and constitutional civil rights issues. Mrs. Meador also instructs graduate-level courses in business law and human resources.
Mrs. Meador received her J.D. from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and her B.A. in Economics from The University of Texas at Austin.
Judicial Commissioner, Shayla Purifoy
Ever since he launched the Reaves Law Firm, PLLC in 2011, Henry E. Reaves III has operated it under a guiding precept: “We want to be loved by our clients, we want to be respected by our peers, and we want to be feared by our opposition.”
Reaves III had graduated from Indiana University School of Law two years earlier and landed his first job in a Memphis firm that defended insurance companies and corporations. He quickly came to realize that wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life. “Basically, what I was doing was keeping hurt people from getting paid, and I had conflicts with that,” Reaves III recalls. “It didn’t sit well with me.”
So he left that firm, intent on helping people who’ve been hurt — and he has been putting the knowledge that he attained during his stint with the defense firm to good advantage ever since. “It helps me because I got to see the other side,” he says. “I know their tactics and how they look at cases and evaluate cases. Just being on that side, living it and walking it, was priceless.”
For Reaves III, that experience and his compassion for injured people have equally contributed to his formula for success. From his early days as a solo attorney, the firm has continued to grow and build a reputation. He has recorded significant legal victories, including jury verdicts of $1.8 million and $1.3 million. Overall, his clients have recovered millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts.
A Memphis native, Reaves III enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after high school, specializing in military intelligence. He served from 1998 to 2002 and received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal, and was recognized for his contributions to Operation Enduring Freedom.
Reaves III traces his interest in the law to his childhood, when he watched TV shows like Perry Mason and Matlock with his grandmother. However, after his honorable discharge from the Air Force, it would be a few more years before he was able to pursue that goal.
As a student at Indiana University School of Law, Reaves III realized his passion for trial work and participated in moot court. He extended in the felony division of the Indianapolis prosecutor’s office and then clerked for Judge Carr L. Darden in the Indiana Court of Appeals.
Reaves III says his goal for the firm is to provide service to the community in every possible way. The firm has sponsored youth sports teams and helped to feed furloughed government workers when they couldn’t work due the shutdown.
“I enjoy many aspects of what I do,” he says. “But at the end of the day, it comes down to people and having the opportunity to be their voice. Many times, the people we represent are going through the worst time of their lives, and we want to go through that with them.”
“What I tell my clients is: ‘I can’t make you better physically; I’m not a doctor; I can’t bring back a loved one. The one thing I can do is get you compensation.’”
Luther Mercer joined Whole Child Strategies in January of 2018, bringing with him more than 15 years of background and experience working in education, government relations, and policy and more than 20 years’ involvement in state politics.
His career includes tenure as the Memphis Advocacy Director for the Tennessee Charter School Center, where he worked with school operators, the Shelby County School Board, the Shelby County Commission, and other community partners to advance policy efforts in alignment with the needs of Tennessee charter schools.
In addition to receiving degrees from Tennessee Technological University and the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Mr. Mercer studied International Trade Law, International Criminal Law, and the Islamic Legal System at American University in Cairo, and he has certifications in TEFL Methodology and Mandarin Chinese and Culture from Beijing University, as well as an Instructor’s License in Entrepreneurship Training from the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri.
Judge Jayne Chandler
Judge Jayne Chandler has been serving the citizens of Memphis for over 25 years as one of our Municipal court judges. She graduated from Tennessee State University in 1987, and she graduated from the Thurgood Marshall School Law in 1992. She is a huge advocate for community service, and she is a member of several bar associations such as: The Ben F. Jones Chapter of the National Bar Association, the Tennessee Bar Association, Memphis Bar Association, and the National Association of Women Judges to name a few. Her community outreach involves Feed the Homeless initiatives, a Back-to-School Shoe Driver, South Memphis 5K, and she has served as a motivational speaker at many events throughout long and impressive career.
Alex Smith currently serves as the Chief Human Resources Officer for the City of Memphis. Alex is the visionary and architect behind the city’s talent management, training, employee relations, compensation, benefits, and diversity initiatives. As a member of the senior leadership team, she is also the “Chief Change Officer,” focused on evolving the City of Memphis’s culture to enable the Mayor’s mission and position the City of Memphis as a model for a 21st century city. Prior to her service for the city, she served in HR management roles for industry leaders, including Brightstar Corporation, Target Corporation and Microsoft Corporation, building a career of being a strategic HR partner for key business leaders. Alex is also a strong believer in community service and currently serves on the First8 Non-Profit Board, focused on providing pre-k education to the Memphis community. She has previously served on the Youth as Resources and University of Minnesota Carlson HRIR Alumni Boards. Alex holds a bachelor's degree from Duke University in Economics and earned a master's degree in Human Resources and Industrial Relations from the University of Minnesota. She currently resides in Memphis with her two daughters. Alex is also CEO of Smith Human Capital Management Group, a boutique HR crisis management firm focused on helping individuals, businesses, and non-profits. For more information go to www.consultalexsmith.com.
Desiree Lyles Wallace
Desiree Lyles Wallace is a proven HR leader with more than 20 years of experience in corporate America and the non-profit sector and currently holds both the PHR and HR-CP certifications. She is the Chief Human Resources Officer for Agape Child & Family Services, Inc. She has experience in human resources management, including strategic management, policy development, performance management, leadership development, employee relations, learning and development, and employee engagement, with a passion for moving organizations from good to great.
Before her work in human resources, Desiree was an educator in what was then Memphis City Schools. She intertwines her love of learning and teaching with her desire to strengthen the human capital within organizations.
Desiree is a native Memphian and is a champion for choosing 901! She currently serves on the Shelby County Land Use Control Board (Vice-Chair) and the Board of Directors for the Cordova YMCA, Freedom Preparatory Academy Charter Schools, and Innovative Counseling & Consulting.
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D'Onna James, Project Coordinator
Lauren Gooch, CLE Director
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