Building Coalitions for Positive Change was a virtual event focused on how communities can create a more just future. Featuring a keynote address by Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former President of Liberia), a question-and-answer period, and a panel discussion with community leaders, the event explored how, together, we might bring about systemic change to build a better world. 

Date: February 22, 2021 Time: 1-3pm EST

This event was made possible by the generous support of the Broyhill Family Foundation. 

Thank you to the members of the planning committee—Liz Peeples, Adam Sampieri, and Tonya Smith—and to Heidi, Darya and Earl Bernard and family for their support and guidance.

Highlights from President Sirleaf's Address

Highlights from Panel Discussion

Spencer Platt—Getty Images 

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the first democratically elected woman president in Africa, leading Liberia from 2006-2018. A promoter of freedom, peace, justice, women’s empowerment and democratic rule, she led Liberia through reconciliation and recovery following the nation’s decade-long civil war, as well as the Ebola Crisis. 

In 2011, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in bringing women into the peacekeeping process and has garnered further acclaim for her achievements fostering economic, social, and political change. Recognized as a global leader for women’s empowerment, President Sirleaf has an unwavering commitment to improving the lives of Africans. 

She is also the founder of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development, which brings together her past accomplishments with a platform for the future.

Panel Members

NC Representative vernetta Alston

Vernetta was born and raised in North Carolina. She received her B.A. in Political Science from North Carolina State University in 2004 and a J.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law in 2010. Vernetta practiced criminal law for several years, primarily at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, North Carolina. While there, she represented individuals sentenced to North Carolina’s Death Row and advocated for abolition of the death penalty. In 2017, she was elected to the Durham City Council. She served on the council for 2 years before being appointed to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2020. She was recently elected to her first full term in the House representing District 29. Vernetta and her wife, Courtney Alston, are raising their two children, Reese and Davis, at their home in southwest Durham.

Mandy Carter

Mandy Carter, 72,  is a southern African-American lesbian activist with a 54-year movement history of social, racial and LGBTQ+ justice organizing since 1967. Ms. Carter attributes the influences of the Quaker-based  American Friends Service Committee and the pacifist-based War Resisters League for her intentional sustained multi-racial and multi-issue organizing. Ms. Carter helped co-found two ground-breaking organizationsSoutherners On New Ground (SONG) and the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC).  Ms. Carter is also a member of the National Council of Elders. In 2005, Ms. Carter was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as part of the “1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005” in order to recognize, make visible and celebrate the impressive and valuable, yet often invisible peace work of thousands of women around the world. In 2011, Ms. Carter was chosen as the American Civil Liberties Union-North Carolina’s Frank Porter Graham Award winner.

Zack Fowler

Zack Fowler is the Executive Director for WISER International; a nonprofit organization focused on supporting holistic approaches to girls' education and health in rural Kenya. A nonprofit professional with a focus on localized partnerships, Zack has experience in health and education initiatives in Africa, Asia, and North and South America. He holds undergraduate degrees in Global Health and Cultural Anthropology from Duke University as well as a post-baccalaureate certificate in Nonprofit Management. Zack is a former Benjamin N. Duke Scholar and a previous winner of the Paul Farmer Award for Justice and Social Responsibility. He currently sits on the board of directors for the NC School of Science and Mathematics Foundation, the North Carolina chapter of the New Leaders Council, and the AMPLIFY Girls collective. He is a proud NCSSM alum ('12) and is happily engaged to fellow NCSSM alum, Madelaine. 

Barbara Lau

Barbara Lau connects her commitment to justice with her belief in the power of community practice through her work as the lead developer of the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice. Barbara’s 20 years experience as a folklorist, curator, professor, media producer and author include curating the exhibition Pauli Murray: Imp, Crusader, Dude, Priest; producing To Buy the Sun, an original play about Pauli Murray; co-directing the Face Up: Telling Stories of Community Life community mural project; and teaching documentary courses about Durham history and culture. She is a recipient of the 2014 faculty award from the Samuel Dubois Cook Society at Duke University and the 2012 Carlie B. Sessoms Award from the Durham Human Relations Commission for her leadership. She earned a B.A. in Sociology/Urban Studies from Washington University in St. Louis and an M.A. in folklore at the University of North Carolina. She has written many journal articles, exhibit catalogues and a children’s book.

Dr. Pamela Scully

Pamela Scully is Professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Professor of African Studies, and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs at Emory University. She has her Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on comparative women's and gender history and biography. Her latest book is Writing Transnational History co-authored with Professor Fiona Paisley (Bloomsbury Academic UK  2019). Other books include Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Ohio University Press, 2016); Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: a Ghost Story and a Biography, co-authored with Clifton Crais (Princeton, 2009, 2010). Professor Scully’s teaching focuses on the history of rape in wartime and gender violence and gender justice in the context of truth commissions in Africa. She is the co-convener of the Coursera MOOC course Understanding Violence.  Among her professional appointments, Professor Scully has served as the Deputy Editor of the Women’s History Review, and as Treasurer and Secretary of the International Federation for Research in Women's History. She currently is chair of the Committee on Gender Equity of the AHA.


Adam Sampieri is Chair and Instructor of Humanities at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics where he joined the faculty and founded the school’s curricular theater program in 2008. In addition to teaching and producing theatrical work for the NCSSM Fine Arts Discipline, he has developed interdisciplinary course offerings in the study of English including Shakespeare Now: Page, Stage, and Screen and STEM and the Stage. As an administrator and consultant, he routinely employs design and systems thinking approaches to solve organizational challenges and help well-intentioned teams reconnect with their goals, their values, and each other.  A professional theater artist since 1992, Mr. Sampieri has more than 100 credits to his name as an actor, director, designer, playwright, and composer.  Away from teaching, consulting, and performing, he is a joyful father, amateur chef, and relentless hockey fan.

We hope you enjoy the recording of the event.