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Keynote Speaker

Dr, G.jpg
Dr. Shawn Ginwright is one of the nation’s leading innovators, provocateurs, and thought leaders on African American youth, youth activism, and youth development. He is Professor of Education in the Africana Studies Department and a Senior ResearchAssociate at San Francisco
State University.

Lunch Plenary

The lunch plenary will be an engaging panel of youth advocates and their parents talking about their multi-generational approaches to healing and advocacy. Join us as we journey through the stories of our panelists to learn what it is like as a young person navigating mental health and racial and generational trauma alongside your parent(s) and the various community supports available to young people and their families. 


Alton Hart, Jr., M.D., M.P.H., M.Div. (he/him/his)

District Health Director, Virginia Department of Health, Crater Health District

Dr. Alton Hart, Jr. has served as the District Health Director for the Crater District Health Departments/Virginia Department of Health since July 1, 2012.  He earned his Doctor of Medicine degree from the Medical College of Georgia and his Master of Public Health degree from the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, WA. While at the UW, he also completed the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, a research fellowship for physicians. Dr. Hart is a board-certified internist by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Currently, he serves on the Board of Directors for The Cameron Foundation and Thrive Birth to Five. Dr. Hart also co-hosts the Weekly Wellness Check on 91.3 FM WVST radio/Virginia State University.  


Amy Johnson (she/her/hers)

School Mental Health Clinical Supervisor, Henrico County Public Schools

Amy Johnson is a National Board Certified Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed School Counselor, and Registered Play Therapist. Amy has devoted her career to supporting children, adolescents, young adults, and parents overcome barriers that may be inhibiting them from reaching their true potential. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Richmond, her master’s degree in Counselor Education from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a post-master’s certificate in Professional Counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. Currently, Amy serves as the School Mental Health Clinical Supervisor in Henrico County Public Schools where she works to ensure equitable systems are being built to meet the needs of all students on their journey to be life ready.

Ashanti Jones (she/her/hers)

Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager, SchoolHouse Connection

Ashanti Jones received her MSW from Columbia University in 2018. Since then, she has tirelessly worked to pursue systems-level change by engaging impacted people in advocacy. Grounded by a deep belief in empowerment as the road to social change, Ashanti built coalition groups throughout the state of New Jersey whose advocacy centered the experiences of youth with dual experiences in juvenile justice and child welfare. Efforts resulted in an $8.4 million investment in restorative and transformative justice programming for justice-involved youth. She also authored "Investing in Youth, Not Incarceration: A Community-led Approach to Mental Health," which exposed significant cracks in the state's approach to the youth mental health crisis and offered community-based interventions. In line with Horace Mann’s premise of education being the great equalizer, Ashanti is using her role at SchoolHouse Connection as Sr. Policy and Advocacy manager to ensure an unimpeded path to security exists through education for youth experiencing homelessness. Ashanti is a professor of Community and Social Justice studies at William Paterson University and a doctoral candidate at Walden University.

Bob Nickles (he/him/his)

Director, Mental Health Services, ChildSavers

Bob Nickles is a clinical social worker who has been living and working in Richmond since 2015. He believes that communities always have more to offer than can be seen at a glance. He currently serves his community at ChildSavers ( and through board service at the Grace Covenant Child Development Center. Bob also teaches and performs at the Coalition Theater (

Cheryl Groce-Wright (she/her/hers)

Founder & CEO, Kaleidoscope Collaborative RVA

Cheryl Groce-Wright currently serves as Founder and CEO of Kaleidoscope Collaborative, a Richmond-based consulting firm serving as a proactive and effective champion for racial equity, empowered communities, and inspired citizens. Kaleidoscope’s mission is to co-create community empowerment alongside resident leaders, stimulate and facilitate racial justice and equity conversations and relationships, coaching individuals and leaders with an emphasis on positive intelligence and soul care for social sector professionals, and coaching and personal development experiences for women of the spectacular age of 50+. Throughout her career, Cheryl has worked in nonprofit management, fundraising, board engagement, and group facilitation to provide compassionate, transformational, and strength-based methods of intervention for educational and nonprofit organizations throughout the Richmond region.

Dr. Alex Wagaman (she/her/hers)

Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work

Dr. Alex Wagaman has over two decades of experience working with youth and young adults as an organizer, facilitator, advocate, educator and co-researcher. Over the last decade, she has worked with Advocates for Richmond Youth and other youth leaders to build knowledge and take action to end youth homelessness. Alex is a professor at VCU in the School of Social Work where she primarily teaches macro practice and community organizing.

Dr. Alexis Aplasca (she/her/hers)

Senior Clinical Advisor, Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Resources

Dr. Alexis Aplasca is a board certified pediatrician, adult psychiatrist and child and adolescent psychiatrist, and is the Chief Clinical Officer for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and is currently serving as the Senior Clinical Advisor for Governor Youngkin's "Right Help, Right Now" Behavioral Health Transformation Plan for Virginia.


Dr. Anjali Ferguson (she/her/hers)

Clinical Psychologist, Parenting Culture, INC  and Gowda Ferguson Psychological Services, LLC

Dr. Anjali Ferguson is a clinical psychologist with expertise in trauma-informed, culturally responsive care and parenting. Dr. Ferguson is an author, and global resource on social equity and racial trauma. In addition to consulting with organizations of all sizes, Dr. Ferguson's expertise is lent to outlets like Today, Romper, Healthline, Parents Magazine, Psych Central, and ongoing published academic journals. Her practice has focused on addressing racism and identifying avenues of care for under-resourced and marginalized communities in efforts to reduce barriers to appropriate interventions and alter systems to better meet community needs. In the last several years, Dr. Ferguson has created free resources for children and families including landmark contributions to Blindian (Black x Indian), and South Asian mental health. She is also the founder and president of Parenting Culture. INC, a research-informed, inclusive parenting community. Dr. Ferguson recently co-authored a children’s book, “An Ordinary Day” which is a resource for families for conversations around race, microaggressions, equity, and bias.

Dr. Shawn Jones (he/him/his)

Assistant Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University

Dr. Shawn Jones is an Assistant Professor in the Counseling Program in the Psychology Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to relocating to Richmond, Dr. Jones was a National Science Foundation SBE Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. He received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis on Children and Families from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a Child Clinical Psychology Predoctoral intern at UCLA. He also holds a Master of Health Science in Mental Health from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health (2010) and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University (2008). Dr. Jones endeavors to support the psychosocial wellbeing of Black youth and their families by: a) exploring mechanisms undergirding culturally-relevant protective and promotive factors; b) translating basic research into interventions that harness the unique strengths of the Black experience; and c) disseminating this research to be consumed, critiqued and enhanced by the communities the work intends to serve. Clinically, Dr. Jones is committed to the provision of culturally-informed child, couple and family therapy and assessment. Finally, Dr. Jones is passionate about eliminating racial health disparities, particularly those related to mental health services, which he sees as obtainable through stigma-reduction and mental health literacy. To that end, Dr. Jones, together with colleague Dr. Riana Anderson, has created a video series and podcast, “Our Mental Health Minute.”

Dustin Keith (he/him/his)

Prevention Technician, Cumberland Mountain Community Services

Dustin Keith is a native of Lebanon, VA in beautiful Russell County, the "Heart of Southwest Virginia." He works on the prevention team for Cumberland Mountain Community Services, serving Russell, Tazewell, & Buchanan Counties. Dustin is a part of collaborative efforts in multiple community coalitions on issues including substance abuse, mental health, suicide, chronic disease, and public health. Dustin also teaches prevention education programs in the classroom and works closely with school administration, staff, and students on special projects. Since competing himself in high school, Dustin has had a passion for quiz bowl and now coaches the Lebanon High School Academic Team. Since 2022, he has served on the board of Equality Virginia, the leading advocacy organization in Virginia seeking equality for LGBTQ people.

Hyacinth Bellerose (they/them/theirs)

Director, Friendly City Safe Space

Hyacinth Bellerose is a queer fat crip community organizer, poet, and aspiring abolitionist. They are the founder and director of the Friendly City Safe Space, an LGBTQ+ community center in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and the lead organizer in a regional effort to create a network of LGBTQ+ centers across Appalachia. Hyacinth is passionate about community building, liberation from binaries and systems of oppression, and social healing, and have devoted their life to learning more about how to positively impact their community through liberation and movement work. Their debut book, Shadow Magic: Poetry, Essays and Spells for Queer Healing and Liberation, is due to be published next year.

Isha Weerasinghe (she/her/hers)

Senior Policy Analyst, Mental Health, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

Isha Weerasinghe is a senior policy analyst focused on mental health and well-being, and is a part of CLASP’s youth team. Ms. Weerasinghe previously was the director of policy and advocacy at the Association for Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO). She led and participated in city and national coalition building and provided policy guidance on the local and national-levels, for AA&NHPI-serving community health centers and AA&NHPI-serving organizations, in health access and equity. Ms. Weerasinghe conducted community based participatory research, as well as local and state policy advocacy at New York University’s Center for the Study of Asian American Health (CSAAH), working within New York City and New York state. She started her federal policy career in policy advocacy to improve the lives of people living with hepatitis B. She is the Vice Chair of the board of Fihankra Akoma Ntoaso and also sits on the board of 9to5.

John Frazier (he/him/we)

Program Coordinator, Virginia Civic Engagement Table

John Frazier currently resides on occupied Monacan and Tutelo land in what is now called Roanoke in Southwest Virginia. A recent graduate of Virginia Tech, John joined the Virginia Civic Engagement Table in September as Program Coordinator. As a queer Appalachian (a·puh·la·chun), John strives to center love, connection to place, and recognition of relatedness in all that he does, and brings his experience in facilitation from helming a leadership development program at Virginia Tech and contributing this past summer to the Virginia Progressive Leadership Program (VAPLP). He is passionate about quilts, space-making, and leadership, and his role models include Robin Wall Kimmerer and Winnie the Pooh.

Joseph Wharff (he/him/his)

Director, Office of Specialized Student Services, Virginia Department of Education

Joseph Wharff has been with the Virginia Department of Education for 15 years. Currently, he is the Director in the Office of Student Services. His duties include leadership of staff in key areas that support instruction, which include student safety, attendance, school counseling, school social work, school psychology, school health, postsecondary access, and military children. Former positions at the Department included Career Connections Specialist in the Office of Career and Technical Education and School Counseling Specialist in the Office of Instruction. Joseph has been recognized statewide for his work with attendance and was instrumental in leading the work with the Board of Education in establishing K-12 academic and career plan requirements for all Virginia students. Joe has worked as a school counselor and director at Hermitage High School in Henrico County. He earned his undergraduate degree from Ohio University and his Masters and Post-Masters degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University, where he has also served as an adjunct faculty member.

Kelly Evans (she/her/hers)

Program Manager, Institute for Public Health Innovation (IPHI)

Kelly Evans is an experienced problem solver where she has proven outcomes within the education, housing, and healthcare systems. As an authentic leader, she is known for her ability to encourage, train, and motivate staff and stakeholders in local communities across the state of Virginia. Kelly considers herself an out of the box thinker who thrives to build confidence and camaraderie amongst those she encounters. In her current role as the Program Manager assisting Community Health Workers (CHW) with the Institute for Public Health Innovation, she has been driving community connections through an interpersonal approach to networking, resource allocation, and identifying proactive partnerships statewide. Kelly is a facilitator, reflective listener, and cheerleader to those she meets. Kelly earned a Master of Health Care Administration from the University of Phoenix. She loves spending time with family and friends, laughing and enjoying great food.

Kim Young (she/her/hers)

Program Director, The Hive

Kim Young is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with an unwavering commitment to working alongside at promise youth, families, and communities. Beyond The Hive, Kim is passionate about mentoring the next generation of Black social workers, reclaiming rest, moving with ease, and trap music.

Megan Hollis (she/her/hers)

Child CReST Supervisor, Richmond Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA) - Crisis Response & Stabilization Team (CReST)

Megan Hollis is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who supervises Region 4 Child CReST (Crisis Response & Stabilization Team) at RBHA. Megan is a Richmond native who has a passion for enhancing crisis support services to children in the region through her role. Megan has been with CReST from the program's development in January 2016 and has previously served in the roles of clinician and team lead. She has a Masters in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University, and she has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Spanish from the University of Virginia.

Nico Climaco (they/them/theirs)

Leadership Development Manager, Virginia Civic Engagement Table

Nico Climaco currently resides on occupied Nacotchatnk land (Washington, DC), and runs a cohort-based leadership development program for BIPOC and diverse social change leaders called the Virginia Progressive Leadership Program. Passionate about social justice, collective liberation, and community solutions, Nico finds home in collective and visionary spaces woven together by queer and trans people. Nico learned some of their most important political lessons outside the classroom and was first politicized by their own Filipinx and Puerto Rican diaspora. As a facilitator, Nico draws on the teachings of Paulo Freire and bell hooks with a lens of popular education and experiential learning. They are invested in co-creating loving spaces and considers relationships & community to be the basis of their work. Nico’s biggest role models are Gizmo the gremlin, HIM from Powerpuff Girls, and the nerds from Nerds candy.

Nina Marino (she/her/hers)

Acting Assistant Commissioner, Community Behavioral Health, Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services

Nina Marino, MSW, LCSW, is the Interim Assistant Commissioner of Community Behavioral Health at the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. She has previously served as Director of the Office of Child and Family Services at DBHDS since 2018. During her time at DBHDS, she has led initiatives including expanding school-based mental health through public/private partnerships, mobile crisis workforce development, expansion of an adolescent system of care for substance use treatment and recovery services, expanding youth focused evidence-based practices and developing the infrastructure to create the VA Mental Health Access Program. She comes to DBHDS with extensive experience in both mental health and child welfare settings with expertise in the areas of trauma-informed care, program development and implementation and best practices in adoption and foster care. Previously, she worked as a national consultant for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Child Welfare Strategy Group where she worked to improve permanency outcomes for dually involved older youth and supported implementation of a trauma-informed, skill-building curriculum for foster and adoptive parents. Nina started her career as a therapist, providing trauma-focused services to children and adolescents in a community mental health center. She has presented extensively on trauma, trauma-informed care and adoption-competent practices. Nina received her Master of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University and is a licensed clinical social worker. When not working, she can be found hiking, biking and enjoying the trail system around the James River in Richmond, spending time with her two small dogs, her partner and their two kids.

Rachel Douglas (she/her/ours)

Executive Director, The Innerwork Center

Rachel Douglas came to The Innerwork Center in 2015 (when it was Chrysalis) as its first Executive Director. She has volunteered for many formal nonprofits and informal grassroots organizations and believes the issues, while vast, are all connected. Rachel earned a BIS (now known as GSXS) and MSW from VCU and considers herself a lifelong learner, holding multiple personal and professional development certificates, including Koru Mindfulness at Duke University. None of her formal education compares to what she has learned by doing her inner work through The Innerwork Center.

Reina “Rei” Palencia, she/her/they/them 

Founder, Musiq Cultura RVA

Reina “Rei” Palencia, also artistically known as MusiqReIV (pronounced MUSIC- RAE-V), is a classically trained Guatemalan multidisciplinary artivist, music producer & sound engineer, as well as a SHRM HR & People strategist, and founder of Musiq Cultura RVA, a small interdisciplinary development hub and handcrafted ARTwear e-store in Richmond,VA. Among some of MusiqReiV’s most notable musical performances are: opening up for Uruguayan Artist Juan Wauters' North American Tour 2022, Rhythm on the River at VMFA, headlining for Salvadoran Artist Swey Diaz, and playing the bass for Stayathomedad's Album Live Video Performance. Additionally, some of Rei’s most passionate, life-fulfilling (and challenging) work has been creating a safe-for-all after-school programming space for the Youth of Richmond Public School Systems, through Art Facilitation. They are dedicated to creating & maintaining a constant space where the Youth can come together as they are, and exist interculturally and intersectionally, and where they can safely explore & develop their emotional intelligence, and their own individual connectivity through the power of various multimedia arts including music. If you’re ever in Richmond’s Scott’s Addition neighborhood, lookout for Rei’s very own mural, which is dedicated to leaving a mark everywhere she goes!. The mural is painted by local muralist and friend, Nico Cathcart.In Rei’s words: "Grab a seat; stay a little."


Dr. Ram Bhagat (he/him/We)

Executive Director, Drums No Guns Foundation​

Dr. Ram Bhagat is a longtime educator, arts innovator, peacemaker, and community healer. Dr. Bhagat is an Afro-Indigenous circle keeper, international conflict resolution trainer, mindfulness instructor, restorative justice specialist, and emotional emancipation conductor. Dr. Ram offers Mindfulness Based Restorative Practices and Trauma Responsive Engagement through yoga and communal rhythm to those seeking healing in an arts-integrated environment. Ram is the founder and director of Drums No Guns Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to helping individuals and communities heal from gun violence trauma. Dr. B. brings an abundance of experience in education, health, and social justice to his current position, as the Director of the Clinton Global Initiative to expand Holistic Life Foundation's mindful moment program across the nation.

Shannon McKay (she/her/hers)

Co-Founder and Executive Director, He She Ze and We

Shannon McKay has been doing grassroots work in the community for over a decade. As a parent of a transgender child, she worked with other families to create a support network based out of Richmond in 2012. Now, He She Ze and We is Virginia's go to organization to learn more about gender diversity. Beyond program support, Shannon brings valuable expertise to education, resources and community partnerships. She spreads awareness of the needs of the community and educates about the complexities of gender identity, believing that knowledge leads to understanding and acceptance.

Shari Wiltshire (she/her/hers)

Coordinator, Greater Williamsburg Trauma-Informed Community Network

Shari Wiltshire's experience is in managing community projects, by way of organizing adolescent and adult populations. She is a grassroots advocate for social justice. She spearheads community needs assessments and speaks on behalf of, and alongside, the voiceless to impact practices and policies, and to honor a human's right to dignity and worth. "I like to best support progress through purposeful and conscious dialogue with all stakeholders, so I advocate for both groups and individuals as a mental health professional and as a writer." Shari helps structure narratives so that when others share their stories they are told from a place of strength and security, and she's found strength and security as a writer crafting stories from a filmmaking perspective.

Sophia Booker (she/her/hers)

Advocacy and Engagement Manager, Voices for Virginia's Children

Sophia is a longtime youth advocate who leads Virginia's Youth in Action (VAYA), Voices' youth development and leadership cohort. Before joining Voices, Sophia served as the Youth Development Coordinator for Project Life at United Methodist Family Services for nearly nine years.

Stefanie Bass (she/her/hers)

Assistant Director, Resident Services, AHC Inc.

Stefanie Bass has a background in clinical social work and has worked in Northern Virginia in the homeless services and affordable housing fields for the last 20 years. She is passionate about the intersection of health and housing, and about taking care of our teams on the front lines so that they can better support and empower our communities through direct services and community building efforts.

Tiara Whitfield (she/her/hers)

Founder & Creative Director, AdoLESSONS LLC

Known for charismatically connecting people and resources, Tiara Whitfield, who often goes by just "T", is a creative professional who brings perspicacity, research, grit, and customer service to each role she fills and project that she is a part of. Her specializations include course design and facilitation, DEI strategy development and implementation, and both Andragogical and Pedogogical learning approaches. She is a native of Pittsburgh, PA and currently resides in Henrico with her daughters.

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