Opening Plenary Keynote Speakers: Saving Our Democracy; Vote for Womxn’s Lives

Christian F. Nunes, President

Christian F. Nunes, MBA, MS, LCSW,  became NOW president in August 2020. She was previously appointed Vice President by the board in May 2019. As the second African American president in the organization’s history, the youngest person of color, and the youngest president in more than 40 years, Nunes is leading the organization through an intersectional lens, bringing a diverse coalition of grassroots activists to work against structural sexism and racism.

Christian is a former NOW board member and committee chair, as well as a licensed clinical social worker, consultant, and woman-minority business owner. She is an active community organizer and public speaker, regularly featured at events such as the March for Black Women, Women’s March Events, and rallies around the country in support of the Equal Rights Amendment and immigration rights.  Along with her activism for mental health, Christian has more than 20 years of experience advocating for children’s and women’s issues.

Since assuming a leadership role at NOW, Christian has launched key initiatives such as the Unlock the Future campaign, which demands humane treatment for detained immigrant families, in particular women and girls seeking refuge from sexual violence, assault, and poverty. She led the creation of a Bill of Rights for Immigrant Women and Girls, which has been signed by thousands of supporters and cosponsors. She is also spearheading racial equity training for all levels of the organization, including NOW’s grassroots membership.

Christian launched NOW’s Racial Justice Summit in 2020 and has recently launched the 100 days of the Feminist Agenda Campaign in partnership with Black Women’s Blueprint and is planning webinar training institute for NOW members that will cover various topics.

Throughout her career, Christian has played an integral role in the drafting of policy positions with local and national coalition partners, including a recent collaboration with the National Coalition for the Homeless to draft legislation to provide housing, childcare, and supportive services for individuals in need, with a particular focus on homeless women and girls.

Christian is the founder of a behavioral health and consulting practice, where she assisted social service and behavioral health companies, as well as provided direct mental health services to individuals and families. Her expertise in mental health helps her to understand the direct experience of constituents and understand where policy and legislation is disconnected from the real experience of the people. “It helps me become a better activist and advocate, as well as understand the pieces that are often missing in policy and legislation,” Christian says.

As an advocate for social justice and mental health policy, she took up the role as Chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues and co-authored a community survey on police response to crisis. Additionally, she has worked tirelessly to elect progressive candidates to school boards and local office positions.

Christian is often featured in media outlets including MSNBC, Business Insider, PRISM, Politico, the Huffington Post, Ebony, Black Enterprise magazine, Yahoo News, and many more national and local outlets. She received her bachelor’s degree in Social Work (BSW) from Northern Arizona University, her Master of Science degree from Columbia University, and her Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Phoenix.

Bear Atwood, Vice President

Bear Atwood is the Vice President of the National Organization for Women.   Prior to becoming Vice President, she was a civil rights lawyer in Jackson, Mississippi specializing in representing LGBT clients.  She is the former Legal Director for the ACLU of Mississippi and was the Executive Director for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s youth justice project.  Prior to moving to Mississippi, Bear was a Deputy Attorney General in New Jersey working for the State’s Division on Civil Rights.  She has also worked for Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey.

Bear is the current President of Mississippi NOW and a former President of NOW-NJ.  She was a member of the NOW National Board and has served on the PAC.

Governor Jay Robert “JB” Pritzker

“Throughout my life, I’ve taken on big challenges — and I’m proud to see how we’re making progress and moving Illinois in the right direction,” says Governor J.B. Pritzker, the current governor of Illinois. True to his word of taking on big challenges, Governor Pritzker has had a series of accomplishments since stepping into the gubernatorial position in 2019, including raising the minimum wage to a living wage; launching the largest program to build roads, bridges, schools, and broadband in Illinois history; expanding health care, childcare, and early childhood education; making college more affordable; and enshrining protections for reproductive rights into law. Governor Pritzker stepped into the world of politics in 2008 when he served as national co-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He was a delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention and the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Today, he continues to fight for the betterment of working families and the people of Illinois. 

Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot

The first LGBT black woman to be elected mayor of a major city in the United States, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has undertaken an ambitious agenda of expanding opportunity and inclusive economic growth across Chicago’s neighborhoods and communities. Since taking office in 2019, Mayor Lightfoot has led the city in increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour; advancing police reform; and investing in mental health care, public safety, and environmental justice. Prior to her election, Mayor Lightfoot served as senior equity partner in the Litigation and Conflict Resolution Group at Mayer Brown. Before that, she was President of the Chicago Police Board and Chair of the Police Accountability Task Force. In addition to other prominent roles in the city, Mayor Lightfoot also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. 

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Maya Wiley

Maya Wiley is the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund. A nationally respected civil rights attorney, Wiley has been a litigator at the ACLU, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc., and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. She has been a program creator in philanthropy, non-profits, government, and higher education. She helped create a criminal justice program for a major foundation in South Africa. Wiley co-founded and led a national policy advocacy organization, the Center for Social Inclusion, now a part of Race Forward, a national policy strategy organization working to end structural racism.

She became the first Black woman to be Counsel to a New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, where she worked to protect and expand civil rights, Minority and Women-Owned Business contracts and broadband access. Wiley became a Senior Vice President for Social Justice at the New School University, where she also founded the Digital Equity Laboratory. While there, she chaired the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). As chair, she led the release of the “hold” on proceedings against Daniel Pantaleo whose illegal chokehold killed Eric Garner, and Co-Chaired the Mayor’s School Diversity Advisory Group that authored two major reports on integrating New York City public schools. Wiley has received numerous awards, and has been a public voice for rights, justice, and democracy, through written opinion editorials and as a legal analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.

Shree Mehrotra

Shree holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science and Human Rights. She has conducted research on how climate change affects gender violence in India; has presented on this topic on numerous occasions and has advocated for New Jersey’s environmental justice legislation, the strongest statewide environmental justice law in the nation. 

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Representative Jan Schakowsky

NOW Woman of Impact Awardee

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9) has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly 24 years and has consistently advocated for progressive reform. Rep. Schakowsky is a remarkably active and involved member. Currently, she serves as the Senior Chief Deputy Whip in the House Democratic Leadership. She is a member of the House Budget Committee, the House Energy Commerce Committee, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, the Environment and Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee, and serves as the chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee. 

Jan Schakowsky is a lifelong champion for women’s rights and a leading advocate for women’s issues. In past years, she has served as the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues and is a member the House Pro-Choice Caucus where she has sponsored several groundbreaking legislative initiatives to secure access to reproductive healthcare, including the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act of 2021.   

In the 116th Congress, Rep. Schakowsky sponsored the International Violence Against Women Act of 2019, an initiative to prioritize the safety and economic empowerment of women and girls abroad as part of the United States’ foreign policy agenda. She has worked to aid women immigrants who have suffered violence, advocating for more transitional housing and support services.  Jan co-sponsored of the Paycheck Fairness Act which passed the House as well as the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act which is now signed into law.  

The Congresswoman is a strong proponent of accessible and affordable healthcare for all and has addressed systemic deficits in the nation’s healthcare system. She was a leader in several historic legislative accomplishments, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Patient Protection Act. In 2010, Schakowsky was appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, where she bravely opposed other more conservative initiatives, advocating for her own fiscal strategy that would not negatively impact Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.  

As a former director of the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens, Jan champions seniors’ issues and was able to include provisions in the Affordable Care Act that required review of insurance premiums, nursing home quality protections, and initiatives to increase the number of health care providers.  Known for her leadership on progressive issues, Rep. Schakowsky offered the Fairness in Taxation Act that would create higher tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires and has sought legislation to reward companies that do not ship jobs overseas. Earlier in her career, she worked to improve consumer safety such as mandatory standards and testing for infant and toddler products and requiring strict car safety measures to protect children. 

Rep. Schakowsky has consistently asserted that the needs of the middle class should be a top priority in Congress. Her actions have aligned with this belief, and she has continually supported working Americans. Most recently, she introduced the Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights Act, which establishes workplace protections and strengthens the economic security of working families. As evidenced by her legislative initiatives and policy priorities, Rep. Jan Schakowsky is deeply dedicated to justice and equality, and has faithfully advocated for women’s rights and championed the policies that aid America’s working middle class.    

Patti Tototzintle

Patti identifies as a Latina with Mexican roots and has been in executive leadership at Esperanza United, formerly Casa de Esperanza, since 2002, where she oversees all organizational programming, administrative and financial operations, and key collaborations and partnerships. She is passionate about developing the strengths of Latin@s and is recognized as a national expert on leadership development.

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Dr. Aimee Julian

Dr. Aime´e LaFollette Julian’s work is a testament to the success of Title IX as it promotes equal opportunity for all students in schools and programs receiving federal funding. The 50th anniversary of this important civil rights law is being celebrated this year. Dr. Julian is the Director of the Illinois Center for Specialized Professional Support (ICSPS) at Illinois State University, focusing on access, equity, and support for all learners with attention on students pursuing nontraditional fields, students with ASD transitioning to postsecondary and the workplace, and equity for under-represented learners. She works extensively with the implementation of the Perkins legislation in coordination with the Illinois Community College Board and the Illinois State Board of Education. Dr. LaFollette Julian is an experienced lecturer and facilitator, a certified DACCUM trainer, and has taught for 17 years as an Instructional Professor in the Educational, Administration, and Foundations department at Illinois State University. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE) Board, where she strives to build educators’ capacity to implement effective solutions for increasing student access, educational equity, and workforce diversity.

Plenary 2 Keynote Speakers: Activism in the Wake of Post-Roe

Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton

With the focus on improving public safety and building stronger communities, Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton leads the Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative, and chairs the Illinois Council on Women and Girls, the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, the Military Economic Development Council, and the Illinois River Coordinating Council. She is also the Treasurer of the Executive Committee of the National Lieutenant Governors Association. As a lifelong advocate for youth and creating safe spaces for our young people, Lieutenant Governor Stratton is a restorative justice practitioner and trained peace circle keeper. She was also a founding board member of the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center and served on the Board of Directors of the Juvenile Protective Association. 

Loretta Ross

Loretta Ross is an award-winning, nationally-recognized expert on racism and racial justice, women’s rights, and human rights. Her work emphasizes the intersectionality of social justice issues and how intersectionality can fuel transformation.

Ross is a visiting associate professor at Smith College (Northampton, MA) in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender, teaching courses on white supremacy, race and culture in America, human rights, and calling in the calling out culture.

She has co-written three books on reproductive justice: Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice, winner of the Outstanding Book Award by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights; Reproductive Justice: An Introduction, a first-of-its-kind primer that provides a comprehensive yet succinct description of the field and puts the lives and lived experience of women of color at the center of the book; and Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundations, Theory, Practice, Critique. Her current book, Calling In the Calling Out Culture, is forthcoming in 2021.

Ross appears regularly in major media outlets about the issues of our day. She was recently featured in a New York Times piece, “What if Instead of Calling People Out, We Called Them In?”

She was a co-founder and the National Coordinator, from 2005 to 2012, of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, a network of women of color and allied organizations that organize women of color in the reproductive justice movement. Other leadership positions have included:

  • National Co-Director of the April 25, 2004, March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C., the largest protest march in U.S. history with more than one million participants.
  • Founder and Executive Director of the National Center for Human Rights Education (NCHRE)
  • Program Research Director at the Center for Democratic Renewal/National Anti-Klan Network where she led projects researching hate groups and working against all forms of bigotry with universities, schools, and community groups
  • Founder of the Women of Color Program for the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the 1980s
  • Leading many women of color delegations to international conferences on women’s issues and human rights.

Ross is a rape survivor, was forced to raise a child born of incest, and is a survivor of sterilization abuse. She is a model of how to survive and thrive despite the traumas that disproportionately affect low-income women of color. She is a nationally-recognized trainer on using the transformative power of Reproductive Justice to build a Human Rights movement that includes everyone.

Ross serves as a consultant for Smith College, collecting oral histories of feminists of color for the Sophia Smith Collection which also contains her personal archives.

She is a graduate of Agnes Scott College and holds an honorary Doctorate of Civil Law degree awarded in 2003 from Arcadia University and a second honorary doctorate degree awarded from Smith College in 2013. She is pursuing a PhD in Women’s Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. She is a mother, grandmother and a great-grandmother.

Michele Goodwin

Woman of Courage Award

“Achieving equality for women is fundamental to a healthy democracy,” says Professor Michele Bratcher Goodwin, an extraordinary feminist global thought leader, advisor, and advocate. As an award-winning author, distinguished scholar, host of the popular podcast, On the Issues with Michele Goodwin, at Ms. magazine, and frequent contributor to platforms like the New York Times, LA Times, and Politico, Prof. Goodwin has devoted a lifetime of work to address pressing matters of law, society, and global health.  Prof. Goodwin is the founding director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy, an elected member of the American Law Institute, and an elected Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and the Hastings Center. She is also an American Law Institute Adviser for the Restatement Third of Torts: Remedies, and she serves on the executive committee and national board of the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Prof. Goodwin is an intersectional feminist at heart and in practice. Upon earning her juris doctorate, she guided one of the largest southern school districts in the United States through desegregation, equity and inclusion efforts across 52 K-12 schools, more than 35,000 students, with an operating budget exceeding $350 million. She later served as an assistant dean at the University of Wisconsin to help galvanize equity and inclusion efforts, followed by directing university programs and institutes. Prof. Goodwin was a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Committee on Issues in Organ Donor Intervention Research and appointed an observer by the United States National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. She chaired several sections of the Association of American Law Schools, served as a trustee of the United States Law and Society Association, and was the first woman to be elected Secretary General of the International Academy of Law & Mental Health.  

Currently she is a Chancellor’s Professor at the University of California, Irvine, where she has examined pressing legal questions related to freedom of speech, religious exercise, equal protection, due process, race and sex discrimination, reproductive rights, slavery, and LGBTQ equality. An inspiration to feminists everywhere, Prof. Goodwin has been a dedicated advocate for reproductive justice, women’s equal rights, and fundamental liberties. 

A distinguished scholar and lawyer, Prof. Goodwin’s work in equity and inclusion has certainly carried over to her work in helping to establish and shape the health law field.  She directed the first ABA accredited health law program in the nation and established the first law center focused on race and bioethics. Trained in sociology and anthropology, Prof. Goodwin has conducted field research in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, focusing on human trafficking (marriage, sex, organs, and other biologics). Her books include Policing The Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood (2020); Biotechnology, Bioethics, and The Law (2015); Baby Markets: Money and the Politics of Creating Families (2010); and Black Markets: The Supply and Demand of Body Parts (2006). Prof. Goodwin has also authored or co-authored amicus briefs submitted to the United States Supreme Court as well as the Second, Third, Sixth, and Ninth U.S. Courts of Appeals.  She has provided testimony to state and federal lawmakers and legislative committees and worked with state attorneys general or their staff on health-related matters in California, Illinois, Minnesota, and New York. Altogether, Prof.  Goodwin’s publications include six books and over 100 articles, essays, book chapters, and commentaries.  With a lifetime of accomplishments, it is no wonder that Prof. Goodwin has been the recipient of numerous national awards. Recently, she received the 2020-21 Distinguished Senior Faculty Award for Research, the highest honor bestowed by the University of California. Gov. Paul Patton of Kentucky commissioned her a Colonel, the state’s highest title of honor for her outstanding contributions to K-12 education. In 2020 Orange Coast Magazine named her one of 35 Kickass Women. In 2019 she received the Be The Change Award. In 2018 she was bestowed the Sandra Day O’Connor Legacy Award by the Women’s Journey Foundation. That same year, Prof. Goodwin was named Teacher of the Year by the Thurgood Marshall Bar Association and received a commendation from the United States House of Representatives for Outstanding Teaching. It is our pleasure to add to this impressive list by awarding Dr. Goodwin NOW’s Woman of Courage Award.

Patricia Ireland

Patricia Ireland served as NOW’s president from 1991 to 2001. She began her ten years as NOW president by celebrating NOW’s 25th anniversary in January 1992 with a Global Feminist Conference that brought together women from more than 45 countries. Simultaneously, she was organizing a history-making 750,000 person March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C. Marchers massed behind a banner that declared “WE WON’T GO BACK! WE WILL FIGHT BACK!” At that time, it was the largest march and rally ever held in the nation’s capital.  

Throughout her term at NOW, Ireland forged strong links with allies, welfare rights activists, civil rights leaders, and LGBT rights groups. As part of NOW’s work as a founder of the Up and Out of Poverty Now! coalition, Ireland delivered testimony, and NOW organized lobby days, news briefings, and protests on behalf of poor women. In 1993, she was a co-convener and keynote speaker for the 30th anniversary march on Washington commemorating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Ireland’s efforts on behalf of lesbian and gay rights included organizing to fight punitive ballot initiatives around the country, being arrested at the White House over the continued ban on gays and lesbians in the military, and serving as a speaker and major organizer for the 1993 March on Washington for Gay, Lesbian and Bi-Equal Rights. 

In 1996, Ireland organized a NOW hunger strike in front of the White House, dubbed “Hungry for Justice” protesting passage of a punitive welfare “reform” bill and appealing to President Bill Clinton to veto the measure. That same year, she published her autobiography entitled What Women Want. Active since 1975 in international women’s rights and human rights work, Ireland was the prime architect of NOW’s Global Feminist Program.  

Plenary 2 Panelists: Activism in the Wake of Post-Roe

Terry Cosgrove

Terry Cosgrove is the President and CEO of Personal PAC.  He, along with the Board of Directors, has been instrumental in developing Personal PAC’s sophisticated strategy for electing pro-choice candidates.  This strategy incorporates an intensive paid telephone program that has identified more than 3/4 million pro-choice voters across Illinois, plus a sophisticated voter contact program and comprehensive campaign consulting.

Terry’s campaign consulting is a real plus in implementing Personal PAC’s political strategy.  He works closely with numerous candidates to make sure they have the nuts-and-bolts tools to win on Election Day.  Among other things, he assists candidates in selecting pollsters, media consultants, direct mail firms, and paid campaign staffers.  He also helps them recruit volunteers, execute fundraising plans, and any other activities necessary to ensure their success. 

Over the past 31 years, in addition to his Personal PAC responsibilities, Terry has also managed many political campaigns and has lent assistance to NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country, NOW, National Pro-Choice Resource Center, Voters for Choice, Women’s Campaign Fund, Emily’s List, and the Emergency Abortion Loan Fund. 

Terry played a pivotal role in the 1992 restoration of abortion services for low-income women at Stroger Cook County Hospital, one of the largest public hospitals in the nation, as well as the 2017 passing of HB 40, the 2019 passing of the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) and the 2021 repeal of the dangerous Parental Notice of Abortion (PNA) law.  Terry has been honored with the “Freedom of Choice” award by the Chicago Abortion Fund and “Ally Award” by the Lake County Democratic Women.

In 2011, Governor Pat Quinn, with confirmation of the Illinois Senate, appointed Cosgrove to the Illinois Human Rights Commission. In 2014, Cosgrove was inducted into the Chicago LGBTQ Hall of Fame, in part for his 1980 role in filing the first ever successful national lawsuit challenging discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations. 

Terry holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, a Master’s degree in Labor and Industrial Relations and an MSW in Social Policy.

Khadine Bennett

Khadine Bennett is the Director of Advocacy and Intergovernmental Affairs with the ACLU of Illinois. A recognized advocate inside the State Capitol, Khadine is responsible for advancing a wide range of issues under the ambit of the state and federal constitution, from privacy and technology issues, to policing, criminal and juvenile justice, first amendment, LGBT, and reproductive justice matters. As part of her work in the legislature, Khadine has drafted a number of pieces of legislation that have been successfully moved to the Governor and signed into law. She regularly testifies before Committees in both the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate. And, she works with individual members of both bodies, both as sponsors and in seeking support for the ACLU’s initiatives and priorities.

Khadine has led ACLU efforts to win passage of the freedom to marry for all Illinoisans, a measure to place modest regulations on so-called Stingrays (cell site simulators), drones and other location tracking devices and a modernization of comprehensive sexual health education in the State of Illinois. Khadine has been recognized for her efforts by legislators and other organizations.

Khadine began her ACLU of Illinois career as a Legal Fellow with the Reproductive Rights Project where she was involved in the Project’s litigation and advocacy efforts.

Khadine began her social justice career in the California Bay Area where she worked as an organizer, program director, consultant and director of various human rights, juvenile justice, youth development and reproductive justice organizations including WILD for Human Rights, Youth Force Coalition and the California Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

Khadine has serves on the boards of Restore Justice Illinois and the Juvenile Justice Initiative, and previously served on the boards of the Third Wave Foundation, WILD for Human Rights, Exhale, and the Chicago Abortion Fund.

Brigid Leahy

Brigid has been lobbying for Planned Parenthood since 1993.  During her years with Planned Parenthood she has been involved in numerous successful campaigns for expanding access for reproductive health care including passing the Reproductive Health Act, repealing the bans on coverage of abortion in Medicaid and state employee health insurance, repealing the forced Parental Notice of Abortion law, as well as the passage of the Illinois contraceptive coverage law, the EC in the ER law, and ensuring the rights of patients are protected when they are refused health care because of religious or moral objections.

Brigid Leahy graduated from Knox College with a double major in History and “Race and Gender in Culture and Society”. She went on to post-graduate studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in American Studies. In her free time, Brigid fosters dogs for the Animal Protective League in Springfield.

Plenary 3 Keynote Speakers: LGBTQIA+ Community in the intersectional feminist movement.

Dr. Traci Kurtzer

Victoria J. Mastrobuono Award for Women’s Health

As the Medical Director of Trauma-Informed Care and Education, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Northwestern Medicine, Dr. Traci Kurtzer works to improve health equity by providing trauma-informed gynecology services and trains other health care professionals on the impact of interpersonal violence and lectures on Domestic Violence, Human Trafficking, the Neurobiology of Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care. She participates on many professional and civic committees in Cook County and nationally, including work against human trafficking, sexual violence, domestic violence, and gun violence prevention.  

From 2018-2020, she was a board member and Treasurer for the Chicago Chapter of the National Organization for Women and has organized events around the NOW Love Your Body campaign to encourage political engagement relating to women’s health issues. She was an invited speaker at the Young Feminist Conference in 2018 and the Find Kierra Coles and End Violence Against Chicago Women and Girls press conference in April 2019. In 2021, she was invited to speak at the Chicago Ruth Bader Ginsburg memorial about patient and provider trauma caused by political interference in abortion medical care. In January 2022, she was elected as President and Co-chair of the American Medical Women’s Association’s Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans (AMWA-PATH).   

In her spare time, Dr. Kurtzer is active in the anti-violence movement integrating gun violence prevention with her expertise in interpersonal violence, working with survivors and trauma-informed care. Since 2013 she has been an active member of Moms Demand Action, contributing to efforts to reduce gun violence by educating others about responsible practices and measures important for firearm safety and by both organizing and participating in community events to remember the lives lost to gun violence and their survivor families. As a member of the Community Health and Prevention/Gun Violence Prevention Committee for Doctors for America, she speaks on the connection between gender-based violence and gun violence and trains healthcare professionals on how to counsel patients about Extreme Risk Protection Orders. She has helped pass legislation to expand economic and job security to all survivors of violent crimes in Illinois and was most recently invited to be a member of the One Aim Illinois Public Safety Task Force chaired by Attorney General Kwame Raoul. To support her Chicago community in violence prevention, she created the Northwestern team “Scrubs for Peace” to fundraise for Strides for Peace in 2021 and 2022. 

In addition to her health and anti-violence advocacy efforts, Dr. Kurtzer volunteers a few hours on Saturdays in the summer for the Austin Garden Collective to help develop community gardens in the underserved areas of the west side of Chicago. In the fall and winter, she volunteers at the St. Elizabeth food bank in Bronzeville on the near south side of Chicago. It is because of her restless pursuit to better the community that Dr. Traci Kurtzer has been chosen for the Victoria J. Mastrobuono Award for Women’s Health. 

About the Victoria J. Mastrobuono Award

Thanks to a generous bequest from Victoria J. Mastrobuono, the NOW Foundation presents the Mastrobuono Award each year to a physician, researcher, health advocate, or person of note who has made a substantial contribution to women’s health. Ms. Mastrobuono joined NOW in 1985 and remained a faithful and generous supporter until her passing in 2009. Also, an avid patron of the arts, Mastrobuono endowed many theaters, operas, and emerging artists programs in her home state of New Jersey. As a caring philanthropist, she made women’s health a top priority and ensured through her bequest that outstanding health care providers, researchers, and advocates will receive the recognition they deserve. 

Amanda Brown Lierman

Amanda Brown Lierman is the Executive Director of Supermajority, an organization aimed at training and organizing women across age, race and background to push for women’s equity. At the helm, Amanda has leveraged her experience as an organizer to build a coalition of women who harness their collective power for lasting change.

Amanda draws from her personal experiences in her commitment to building a multiracial coalition of women that can enact major political change. As a young woman, she understands the importance of bringing in the next generation of voters. As a Black woman, she grasps the power of intersectional allyship in the fight for both racial justice and gender equity. As a mother to three young girls, she knows what it means to be a working mom during the pandemic. With this unique perspective, Amanda is able to lift up many of the experiences and issues of young, black women and mothers across the country, from paid leave to the Black maternal health crisis.

Before her time at Supermajority, Amanda was the National Political Director for Rock the Vote, Executive Director of the White House’s National Women’s Business Council, Campaign Director at For Our Future, and Organizing Director for the Democratic National Committee during the 2018 midterms. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and lives in Maryland with her husband, Kyle, and their three daughters.

Joni Madison

Joni Madison is the Interim President of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization. Driven by an ethic of service and a passion for progressive change, Madison brings seasoned, people-centric leadership to the work of achieving LGBTQ+ liberation. During her tenure so far, she’s launched innovative programs and initiatives, including the Reality Flag Campaign, which seeks to bring national awareness and action towards passage of the Equality Act. Drawing on her business background and acumen, she has established new programs to help companies deepen and strengthen their advocacy while pushing for greater transparency and accountability. Joni Madison is concurrently serving as Chief Operating Officer, a role she has held since 2016. Madison came to HRC from a tenure at McKinney, a national advertising agency, where she served as the Chief Operating Officer. Through this position, she oversaw over 200 employees and cultivated an office environment that was named one of Advertising Age’s “Best Places to Work” in 2010. As a long-term supporter and volunteer for HRC, Madison served on the Board of Directors from 2007 until 2014, and served as a Board Co-Chair from 2012-2014. She also served on the HRC Board of Governors from 2001 until 2006, coordinating fundraising efforts and managing volunteers throughout the country. As a volunteer, Madison has helped develop strategic plans for HRC and has been active in her community as a lead organizer for HRC’s North Carolina Steering Committee. She has also led several diversity initiatives and organizing efforts, including a women’s leadership initiative

Plenary 3 Panelists: LGBTQIA+ Community in the intersectional feminist movement

Terry O’Neill, Moderator

Terry O’Neill, a feminist attorney, professor, and activist for social justice was elected president of NOW in June 2009. She is also president of the NOW Foundation and chair of the NOW Political Action Committee and serves as the principal spokesperson for all three entities. O’Neill oversees NOW’s multi-issue agenda, which includes: advancing reproductive rights and justice, promoting racial justice, stopping violence against women, winning civil and human rights for the LGBTQIA community, ensuring economic justice, ending sex discrimination and achieving constitutional equality for women.

O’Neill’s feminist activism began in the 1990s, fighting right-wing extremists in the Deep South, including David Duke. She has served as president of Louisiana NOW and New Orleans NOW and as a member of the National Racial Diversity Committee. She is a past president of Maryland NOW and served on the NOW National Board twice, representing the Mid-South Region (2000-2001) and the Mid-Atlantic Region (2007-2009). O’Neill was NOW’s membership vice president from 2001 to 2005, when she oversaw NOW’s membership development program as well as the Finance and Government Relations departments.

A former law professor, O’Neill taught at Tulane in New Orleans and at the University of California at Davis, where her courses included feminist legal theory and international women’s rights law, in addition to corporate law and legal ethics. She has testified before committees in the Maryland House of Delegates and has written federal amicus briefs on abortion rights for Louisiana NOW, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.

O’Neill is a skilled political organizer, having worked on such historic campaigns as Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, and the campaign leading to the election of Louisiana’s first woman U.S. senator, Mary Landrieu. She also worked to elect women’s rights supporters to judgeships and the state legislature in Louisiana, as well as the successful campaign to elect former Maryland NOW president and NOW National Board member Duchy Trachtenberg to the Montgomery County (MD) Council.

O’Neill holds a bachelor’s degree in French with distinction from Northwestern University and a law degree magna cum laude from Tulane University. She has one child, a daughter who is a proud feminist.

Zoe Nicholson 

NOW Lifetime Achievement Award

On any given day you can hear Zoe Nicholson, “I have been straight, gay, bi and lesbian; I have had two abortions and fasted for the ERA. I hang out at the intersection of feminism and equality. For me, there is no place else to be.” From a distance, it could appear that her life is a wild ride but below the surface, it is clear: activist, author, and speaker Zoe Nicholson has never taken her eyes off her goals: liberation and equality. Collecting experiences in church reform, feminism, civil rights, LGBTQ and Peace Movements, Nicholson has funneled it all into a refined understanding of intersectionality. 

Early professional computer training set her on a solid path for using social media at the start. 

Nicholson began her professional life teaching high school for five years. In 1976, she opened and operated The Magic Speller Bookstore, a women’s bookstore in Newport Beach, CA. In 1982, she joined six women in the State Capitol, Springfield, Illinois., in a public and political fast for 37 days in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Her memoir is The Hungry Heart ~ A Women’s Fast for Justice, from Lune Soleil Press.  Nicholson went on to finish The Engaged Heart, which contains many of her speeches and 125 personal photos. After the closing of her independent bookstore, she served for a year as Director of the Orange County Free Clinic. In 1985, she completed the professional computer program at Computer Learning Center and worked in high tech, software development, and recruiting for fifteen years.  

Nicholson is the founder of ERA Once and for All, a member of the National ERA Roundtable, a lifelong member of NOW and president of Pacific Shore NOW, and an outspoken voice for LGBTQ rights. Featured in the films, March On and An American Housewife, her heroes are Gandhi, Alice Paul, and the activists she has met along the way. She has been the target of POTUS’ ire, escorted out by the Secret Service, and champion of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She stood in front of U.S. Supreme Court in protest, March 2013.  

Often described as a “strong cup of coffee,” Nicholson is intense, inspiring, and a true change maker, and it is our distinguished pleasure to present Zoe Nicholson with NOW’s Lifetime Achievement Award

LaSaia Wade

LaSaia Wade is an open Afro-Puerto Rican indigenous Trans Woman, founder of TNTJ Tennessee Trans Journey Project, and member of Chicago Trans Gender-Nonconforming Collective and the Trans Liberation Collective, and CEO of Brave Space Alliance. Recently, she was honored at the Chicago LGBTQA Black History Recognitions ceremony and is the first Trans woman in Illinois history to be celebrated in Women’s History month for the work she’s doing, not limited to community organizing. Her role in organizing ranges between and beyond as a central organizer for the Trans Liberation Protest Chicago, the largest march for trans rights in Midwestern history.

LaSaia graduated in 2012 with a Master of Business Administration degree in Business Management from Murfreesboro Tennessee State University and has 10+ years of experience in organizing and advocacy work with black, indigenous, trans, and gender-nonconforming people around the world. Her role in organizing ranges between and beyond as a central organizer for the Trans Liberation Collective Chicago, the largest march for trans rights in Midwestern history, and being a leader in Midwest Ballroom The International Legendary House of Moncler.

Mony Ruiz-Velasco

Mony Ruiz-Velasco is a human rights advocate, an attorney, and the Deputy Director at Equality Illinois where she works to advance a more equitable Illinois for all LGBTQ+ communities.

For nearly three decades, Mony worked to advance immigrant justice combining organizing, advocacy, and legal efforts. Before joining Equality Illinois, Mony was the Associate Director for Network Power at Alianza Americas, a transnational human rights organization. She was also Executive Director of PASO – West Suburban Action Project where they advocated for local and statewide policy change, provided legal services, and organized local communities for systemic change. Mony also worked at the National Immigrant Justice Center for nearly thirteen years, where she became the legal director. Mony has been advocating for LGBTQ+ families for decades.

She has also provided legal counsel and representation to thousands of immigrants and their families focusing on women, LGBTQ immigrants, survivors of crimes and other vulnerable populations. She advises and assists legislators and their staff regarding policy and legislation at the federal, state, and local levels. Her work includes the Violence Against Women Act, the Illinois Trust Act, RISE Act, VOICES Act, and previous efforts on immigration reform. She is currently on the board at NIJC and the advisory board for Define American. She served as the Board President at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights and was on the board of Equality Illinois. She has a J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas and a B.A. in English from Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi.

Mony grew up in Mexico and in South Texas. She is queer, lives with her partner, Denise, and is the proud mother of three beautiful children, Christopher, Emma and Liam.

Nancy Mullen

Nancy Mullen is the executive director of Youth Outlook, the first not-for-profit organization serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and non-binary youth and working to increase visibility and understanding of LGBT youth issues in the suburbs and rural areas west of Chicago. Nancy is in her 24th year with Youth Outlook, coming to the agency when it was only 6 months old. During her tenure, Youth Outlook has grown from a volunteer-run social group with a single drop-in center to a recognized social services agency with drop-in centers and services in seven counties including a thriving professional development program.

A transplant to the Midwest, Nancy holds a Master of Social Work degree from Syracuse University, where she focused on family mental health. Outside the world of social work, Nancy is 10 credits away from a culinary degree to become a pastry chef and published her first book, a memoir entitled Urban Tidepool in 2020 and is currently working on her second book. Nancy has requested that their pronouns be interchangeable.

Plenary 4 Keynote Speakers: PAC

Dr. Kimberly Adams

Dr. Kimberly S. Adams is an accomplished political scientist and activist with more than 15 years of experience in academia and the private sector. She has a track record of success in publication and public speaking and served as a political analyst on national and local news programs. She has presented research and given over 95 talks across the world on women, race, and politics. Dr. Adams serves on NOW’s board of directors and is a member of NOW’s political action committee (NOW PAC).

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Regina Lewis Ward, Georgia State Representative

Representative Regina Lewis-Ward is a native of Brooklyn, New York, and the first African American elected to represent Georgia’s 109th District. 

Lewis-Ward grew up with her mother, father, and siblings in New York City public housing and attended public schools. While in New York, Lewis-Ward served as shop steward for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union (AFSME) to help protect employee rights. After more than twenty years as a manager with NYC Transit, Representative Lewis-Ward retired and relocated to Georgia.  

In 2014, Lewis-Ward joined the Stockbridge City Council, secured federal funds to upgrade two public parks with adaptable playground equipment and created the first Stockbridge Citizens Academy.  

Elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 2020, Representative Lewis-Ward became a Stacey Abrams Fair Fight Action Senior Fellow to advocate for free and fair elections for all. 

As a freshman legislator, Representative Lewis-Ward cosponsored bipartisan legislation, HB 676, signed by the Governor Kemp, and presided over the Henry County Democratic Committee, leading to two historical Democratic wins for mayoral seats in November 202. Lewis-Ward partnered with Gordon State College Foundation to establish an Empowerment Scholarship for females interested in American politics. The scholarship helps address the underrepresentation of African American women in public office.  

A chartered member of the National Council of Negro Women, Representative Lewis-Ward, served in leadership roles throughout Henry County and worked with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovative Institute and Advance Technology Development Center to determine the feasibility of a technology incubator in Henry County; Clayton County Courts (CASA); Southern Crescent American Business Women’s Association; League of Women Voters of Georgia; Ratify ERA Georgia; National Women in Agriculture Association; Atlanta Regional Commission-Global Panel; Metro South Association of Realtors; and former Governor Sonny Perdue’s Graduation Coach Initiative. Impacts on the community were through engagement, education, and events. 

Representative Lewis-Ward earned a BBA in computer systems from Bernard M. Baruch College and an MA in political science from Clayton State University. She is a political science adjunct instructor and the Northwest Regional Director for the National Organization for Women-GA Chapter.  Lewis-Ward has two adult children and one grandchild. 

Shamaine Daniel, Candidate PA-10

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Krystal Leaphart, Black Girls Vote

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Ellie Smeal

Ellie Smeal was elected three times as president of NOW, first in 1977 when conference delegates also established a Political Action Committee to elect feminist candidates and authorized a NOW ERA Strike Force to campaign for ratification. Months later, at the Houston Women’s Conference attended by more than 20,000 women, Smeal spearheaded the effort to pass the gay rights plank in the National Plan of Action to be submitted to the U.S. government.

After hearing a novel theory that the ratification deadline for ERA could be extended, Smeal convinced Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY) to bring the proposal to Congress. Smeal was a key organizer of the 1978 March for the ERA, which brought over 100,000 marchers, and Congress soon voted to extend the deadline to June 30, 1982. In 1979, Smeal was reelected and NOW testified against restrictions on abortion funding for military personnel and their dependents. NOW organizers helped stage the 1979 National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Smeal focused on making Social Security fairer to women, calling the system “institutionalized sexism at its worst,” and testified in Congress for the Family and Medical Leave Act. When Reagan was elected president in 1980, Smeal analyzed in the National NOW Times the difference between women’s and men’s votes—making her the first person to define and name the “gender gap.” That January, NOW coordinated three days of ERA actions around the inauguration and launched a national campaign to stop Reagan’s anti-abortion “Human Life Amendment.” However, NOW supported his nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court, and Smeal testified at her confirmation. NOW worked tirelessly for the ERA, but the Amendment fell three states short of passage in June, 1982.

Smeal was again elected president in 1985. NOW Foundation was established, and NOW filed federal lawsuits against anti-abortion leaders and sought a nationwide injunction against clinic violence. Smeal led the first March for Women’s Lives in 1986, which drew over 150,000 people to Washington and Los Angeles in support of women’s reproductive rights, and she testified against the Supreme Court nominations of Antonin Scalia and William Rehnquist. In 1987, Smeal founded the Feminist Majority and still serves as its president.