2024 Annual Luncheon – Featured Speakers

Congresswoman Becca Balint is the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent her home state of Vermont. While Majority Leader of the Vermont State Senate, she led the passage of the first gun safety laws in the state’s history, aimed at keeping Vermont children, communities, and survivors of abuse safe. Congresswoman Balint has also worked tirelessly in the state senate to secure the largest housing investment in Vermont in decades to rebuild housing stock and expand middle income housing. In Congress, Balint serves as Congressional Progressive Caucus Vice Chair for New Members and as a Co-Chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus. She is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, and the Budget Committee. 

Congresswoman Balint received her BA from Smith College in Northampton, MA, graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. She earned her masters in education from Harvard University in 1995 and her MA in history from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2001. 

Congresswoman Andrea Salinas is the proud daughter of a Mexican immigrant, a first-generation American, and dedicated public servant working for the people of Oregon’s sixth district. Her father immigrated to the United States as a child and picked cotton and tomatoes in the fields of the Rio Grande Valley before eventually going on to serve as a police officer. Her family’s story is an American story – one where hard work can provide a path to a better life.

A first-generation college student, Andrea decided to pursue a path of public service after graduation and worked as a US congressional aide and policy advisor to Senator Harry Reid and Congressman Pete Stark. Later, Andrea fell in love with the communities of the Willamette Valley while serving as a district aide for Congresswoman Darlene Hooley.

After her work with Congresswoman Hooley concluded, Andrea stayed in Oregon and went on to serve as an advocate for labor unions, environmental groups, and reproductive rights organizations. In 2017, she was appointed to the Oregon House of Representatives and served through the end of her term in 2022. In the Oregon House of Representatives, she served as House Majority Whip and was the Chair of the House Health Care Committee. 

Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, Congresswoman Emilia Strong Sykes grew up on the city’s west side and has dedicated her career to strengthening her community. For 8 years, Emilia served as the State Representative for Ohio House District 34, otherwise known as the “Birthplace of Champions.” During that time, she served for four years in Democratic leadership, including three years as the House Minority Leader. In her first year as the leader of the House Democratic caucus, despite serving in the minority, the percentage of bipartisan bills passed in the Ohio House was nearly double each of the previous four years combined.

In 2022, Congresswoman Sykes became the first Black person elected to represent Ohio’s 13th Congressional District, where she has committed to fighting for economic opportunity, safer communities and affordable healthcare for Northeast Ohioans, bringing along a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to get things done for those she serves.

Congresswoman Sykes has received numerous awards for her advocacy, including the EMILY’s List national Rising Star award, Legislator of the Year from the Ohio Minority Business Enterprise, the Champion for Children award from Summit County Children’s Services, and 30 for the Future award from the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce. Outside of elected office she engages her community as a lifelong member of her church, a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and a life member of the NAACP.

Congresswoman Sykes graduated with high honors from Kent State University with a B.A. in Psychology and later went on to the University of Florida, where she earned a Juris Doctor with a Certificate in Family Law and a Master of Public Health.

Since taking office, Secretary Jena Griswold, who currently serves as Secretary of State for Colorado, has overseen eight statewide elections, protected Coloradans Constitutional right to vote and supported the State’s business community by cutting red tape and the cost of starting a business. Griswold also launched a statewide system so every voter can track their ballot, increased mail ballot drop boxes by over 65%, and passed automatic voter registration, registering more than 350,000 eligible Coloradans.

Griswold grew up in a working-class family in rural Colorado and was the first person in her family to attend a four-year college and then law school. She knows first-hand how important it is for every vote to count and for every Coloradan’s voice to be heard, no matter their background or income. She has been, and continues to fight to protect our right to vote, improve elections, and ensure every voter can have their voice heard, Republican, Democrat and Unaffiliated alike. 

Before assuming office, Secretary Griswold had practiced international anti-corruption law, business law, election law, and ran a small business. She also served as the Director of the Colorado Governor’s DC Office, where she helped bring back hundreds of millions of relief dollars to help the Colorado communities hit by the 2013 flood.

Serving as the 45th Mayor of San Francisco, Mayor London Breed is the first Black woman, second Black person, and second woman to be elected as mayor of San Francisco. She has passed legislation to increase housing along transit corridors and prioritize neighborhood residents for the affordable homes in their community, as well as transform unused public housing units into homes for homeless families, and is leading the effort to renovate thousands more. She is also working on improving mental health services for all San Franciscans.

Raised in the Western Addition neighborhood of San Francisco, Breed worked in government after college. She was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2012 (taking office in January 2013), and elected its president in 2015. As president of the Board, she became the acting mayor of San Francisco following the death of Mayor Ed Lee. She served in this role from December 12, 2017, to January 23, 2018.

Breed earned a bachelor’s degree in political science–public service from the University of California, Davis in 1997 and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of San Francisco in 2012.

Click here to watch a video on her story

Allie Phillips is a 28-year old mother, advocate, and candidate for TN State House 75 in Montgomery County, TN. After being denied the right to a medically necessary abortion by Tennessee state abortion laws, in which terminating a pregnancy is prohibited in nearly all cases, Phillips has been highly public about her story on social media platforms such as TikTok. She has gone on to join a multi-state lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights with the intention of clarifying the “medical emergency” exceptions to abortion bans. 

Currently, she is campaigning to win a Tennessee state house seat that has not been represented by a Democrat in more than a decade. Further, while she continues to fight for increased access to abortion, Phillips also feels strongly about increasing public school funding and staffing, background checks for firearms and supporting LGBTQ+ families and their rights.

A’shanti Gholar is the President of Emerge. In this role, she leads the organization and steers its overall strategy and direction, overseeing a national staff as well as affiliates across the country. Her relationship with Emerge started in 2006 when she was a founding board member of Emerge Nevada. She then joined the national staff as our first Political Director and was the architect of Emerge’s national expansion from 15 to 27 states. Today, A’shanti is a nationally recognized political strategist with over two decades of experience as a grassroots organizer and activist for women, communities of color and progressive causes. Prior to coming to Emerge, A’shanti served as the National Deputy Director of Community Engagement and Director of African American Engagement for the Democratic National Committee. A’shanti has also served as the Manager of National Partnerships for United Way Worldwide, as a political appointee in the Obama Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor and as the Director of Public Engagement for the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee in Charlotte, NC.

In all her spare time, she is also the founder of The Brown Girls Guide to Politics, an award-winning podcast that was featured as one of the top political podcasts by Time Magazine, Teen Vogue, and Vanity Fair. She also sits on the Engagement Committee of Heart of a Nation, an organization that empowers the next generation of American, Israeli, and Palestinian change-makers to embrace better, together.

Pre-Luncheon Panel Discussions

Representing South Carolina’s District 75, State Rep. Heather Bauer entered office as a strong proponent of women’s reproductive rights. She sits as a member of the House Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environmental Affairs Committee.

She attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania on a volleyball scholarship. In 2007 she moved to Columbia to pursue her master’s degree at the University of South Carolina and made Columbia home. She loves Columbia’s arts community, and is a member of many local boards, worked in the non-profit space, and contributed to local tech startups. Heather has a passion for Columbia and loves living in the Rosewood neighborhood, and fights for a South Carolina where every child who works hard has the same opportunity she has had.

The first Peruvian American to serve in the Oregon House of Representatives, State Rep. Valderrama currently represents Orgeon’s 47th district, and helped to bring a women majority to the House for the first time in Oregon’s history. While serving as Chair of the David Douglass School Board, she championed and passed comprehensive birth control dispensing in the district health clinics, and currently she advocates for affordable housing, quality education, accessible healthcare services, and more.

Valderrama also served as liaison to the City of Portland Budget Office and Housing Bureau and oversaw DDSD’s budget and policies as a former Senior Policy Advisor to the Mayor and current Chair of the David Douglas School Board, respectively. In addition to her legislative duties, she currently serves as the Strategic Planning and Initiative Director with the ACLU of Oregon.

Running to Represent California’s 12th Congressional District, BART Board Director Lateefah Simon is a veteran organizer and recognized advocate for civil rights and social justice. Born legally blind, she relies solely on public transportation to go about her day and sought to make BART more affordable for working families and transit-dependent people like herself.

Simon began her career of advocacy at age 16 as an outreach coordinator for the Young Women’s Freedom Center. At age 18, she gave birth to her eldest daughter, Aminah, and quickly learned as a young single mother that the government wasn’t working for people like her. A year later, she became Executive Director of the Young Women’s Freedom Center and spent the next decade earning national acclaim for her advocacy on behalf of marginalized young women. In 2003, at age 26, Lateefah became the youngest woman to receive a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Foundation, on the Advisory Committee for Human Rights Watch U.S, as an Oxfam Ambassador, and the Board of Directors for Rosenberg Foundation and Tipping Point Foundation.

Simon graduated from Mills College with a B.A. in Public Policy, and was selected as her class commencement speaker. She later earned her MPA from the University of San Francisco.

Edwards is a former At-Large Houston City Council member who has led citywide efforts to cultivate technology, innovation, and public transit. As a Houston City Council Member, she created the City of Houston Women and Minority-Owned Business Task Force to facilitate fair access to capital and supportive resources. Edwards also supported the adoption of higher wages and improved protections for workers on City of Houston construction projects. She now leads BEAMW (the Business Ecosystem Alliance for Minorities & Women) to provide a wide array of support, including one-on-one financial counseling services for small business owners, among other things.

Edwards earned a B.A. in Political Science from Emory University in 2004. While at Emory, she served as a Community Building and Social Change Fellow, and she worked in six Community Development Corporations (CDCs) to achieve comprehensive community-based results. After graduating from Emory, she worked for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in Washington, D.C., before earning her J.D. from Harvard Law School, where she was a student attorney for the Criminal Justice Institute.