Joint Center President
Spencer Overton is the President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank founded in 1970 that supports elected officials and policy experts who serve communities of color.
When he started in 2014, Spencer focused on restoring the fiscal stability of the Joint Center, and the organization is now debt-free, growing, and producing leading reports and programs on inclusion, economics, and innovation. The Joint Center’s report Diversity Among Top Senate Staff garnered widespread media attention and prompted the adoption of major U.S. Senate hiring reforms. Recent Joint Center speakers have included the U.S. Senate Majority Leader, U.S. House Majority Leader, the FCC Chair, and the Secretaries of Labor, Agriculture, Education, and HUD. In 2017, the Joint Center is producing reports, surveys, policy briefs, and policy videos on 5G and Smart Cities, mobile and businesses of color, and other issues related to innovation and the future of people of color. Click on the following for videos on the 2017 plan and 2016 accomplishments.
Spencer is also a tenured Professor of Law at George Washington University, where he teaches and writes on voting rights. He is the author of the book Stealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression and several academic and popular articles. He helped shape the contours of the modern Voter ID debate with his 2005 dissent from the Jimmy Carter-James Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform's photo ID recommendation, and his 2006 Michigan Law Review article "Voter Identification." He also served on the Commission on Presidential Nomination Scheduling and Timing, where he led an effort that resulted in Iowa restoring voting rights to 98,000 Iowans who had completed their sentences.
While working at the 2008 Obama-Biden Transition, Spencer chaired the Election Assistance Commission agency review team. In the first term of the Obama Administration, he served as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice, where he partnered with White House officials to lead the Administration's democracy work and co-chaired the Attorney General's reentry and alternatives to incarceration task forces (many of the groups' proposals have since been implemented). After leaving the Department, Spencer held several leadership roles on the 2012 Obama National Finance Committee, including teaching fundraising at Obama University and chairing a fundraising program that raised $25 million.
Spencer is an honors graduate of both Hampton University and Harvard Law School, and he clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Damon J. Keith.
Joint Center Chief Operating Officer
Clemmons comes to the Joint Center with a wealth of leadership and managerial experience, having spent over twenty years as an officer in the United States Navy. In that capacity, he served as the Commander of Destroyer Squadron 31, where he trained, developed, and motivated 2,000 personnel on eight ships deployed to Southeast Asia. He also served as the Commanding Officer of the USS Roosevelt (a warship of 31 officers and 282 enlisted personnel), transformed his ship from a satisfactory (75%) to outstanding (95%+) rating by focusing crew on superior standards, and won the Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale Award for inspirational leadership. Clemmons also worked for three years in the Department of the Navy’s Office of Legislative Affairs securing support for critical ship/submarine building program goals.
For the past three years, Clemmons served as the Vice President and Chief of Staff at UNCF, where he played a critical role in the transformation of the 70-year-old civil rights organization. Clemmons reorganized the management process to allow leadership to better monitor organization-wide performance, and led a team that secured UNCF’s single largest gift in the last 10 years.
Clemmons is a graduate of both Florida A&M University (BS in Business Administration) and Auburn University (MPA).
Director, Black Talent Initiative
Don Bell, a Connecticut native, has spent the last three years working on Capitol Hill. In that time, he worked as a fellow, judiciary legislative correspondent, and Counsel to three Senators, culminating with his time on the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Don was elected President of the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus (SBLSC) in April 2016. During his term, he conducted a groundbreaking Census of black Senate staffers that inspired the current diversity movement, and has been a leader in advocating for greater Senate staff diversity and organizing an inside/outside movement that has drawn national attention to the pervasive lack of diversity among Congressional staffers. As President, Don oversaw the development of additional employment resources for black Senate staffers, worked with the SBLSC Professional Development Committee to place members, and actively collaborated with House and Senate influencers to break down the barriers people of diverse backgrounds have to working on the Hill. Don is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and University of Connecticut School of Law.
PETER C. GROFF
Peter C. Groff works on the Joint Center's Roundtables for elected officials in leadership positions. Groff served as the 47th President of the Colorado State Senate and was the first African American in Colorado to ascend to the post, and only the third African American in the nation’s history to hold the gavel as State Senate President. Senator Groff, who was renowned as the “Conscience of the Senate,” served in the Colorado General Assembly for nine years and passed landmark legislation creating visionary education reform measures, prohibiting racial profiling and requiring booster seats for children. Groff’s more than 25 years of public service includes serving as a Visiting Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education and President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS). Prior to his tenure at NAPCS, he was the Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education in the first administration of President Barack H. Obama. Groff is currently serving on the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, and is the Principal at MCG2 analyst. He has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Redlands (Calif.), a Juris Doctorate from the University of Denver College of Law, and an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Denver. Groff is married to the Rev. Dr. Regina C. Groff and they are parents to two children.
DR. ISMAIL WHITE
Director of Survey Research
Dr. White is an Associate Professor of political science at George Washington University. He received his B.A. in political science from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan. He previously held positions at the University of Texas at Austin, The Ohio State University, and Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Democratic Politics. Dr. White studies American politics with a focus on African-American politics, public opinion, and political participation. His research in these areas has appeared in the American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics, Public Opinion Quarterly, Journal of Black Studies,Race and Social Problems, Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law, and a number of edited book volumes. He is co-editor of the book African-American Political Psychology: Identity, Opinion, and Action in the Post-Civil Rights Era. He also works on the development of survey and experimental methods for better understanding political and social issues. He has published work in these areas in the American Journal of Political Science and Political Analysis, and previously worked on surveys through the Detroit Area Study and as a fellow for the American National Election Study.
Marcus Littles is an experienced social entrepreneur with expertise in racial justice, community engagement and social innovation. He is the Founder and Senior Partner at Frontline Solutions, a national consulting firm that offers clients in the nonprofit and public sectors a full range of services to enhance impact. Frontline’s expertise includes, strategy, project management and assessment, and in each FS engagement, it seeks to apply a critical understanding of race, place, class and gender.Specifically, Frontline supports organizations in areas such as organizational and program development, coalition-building, developing backbone organizations, evaluation and communications support. Under Marcus’ leadership, Frontline has provided support services to numerous social change organizations, including philanthropic foundations, affinity groups and support organizations, as well as nonprofits advocacy groups and social enterprises. Frontline has three offices, in Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Durham, NC, and 17 full-time staff. Littles has worked for 20 years in the social sector, as a consultant for TCC Group, a Program Associate at the Ford Foundation, a policy analyst at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, an educator at a middle school in South Africa, a youth service provider, and as a part of the organizing community in Brooklyn and Washington DC. Marcus has authored and contributed to numerous publications. Littles holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Delaware’s School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy. He concentrated his studies in nonprofit management, community-based and youth development. Littles received a BA in Public Relations and Marketing from Auburn University.
Program Manager, Innovation and Opportunity
Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Alejandra attended New York University (NYU), where she obtained her B.A. in Politics and Latino Studies, with a minor in Mathematics. She received her M.A. in Educational Technology from Columbia University, Teachers College, and a second M.A. in Teaching, Bilingual Education from the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares. Alejandra has spent over seven years working in the technology sector at Apple and the Guggenheim Museum’s IT department in Manhattan and worked as an ESL teacher abroad. Alejandra has spent the past year as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Secondary Education Graduate Fellow, working for the Office of Ben Ray Luján (NM-03) and for the Center for American Progress's K-12 Education team. Her commitment to social and racial justice has led her to focus on broadening participation and creating opportunities for Latina/os interested in STEM fields, particularly within computer science and technology.
Lydia Munn, a native of Detroit, Michigan, is currently serving as the Development Associate for the Joint Center. She graduated from the University of Michigan where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics with a minor in Afro-American and African Studies. While at the University of Michigan, Lydia was very involved in organizations established to support students and communities of color. She worked in the Trotter Multicultural Center as well as the Office of Academic Multicultural Iniatives, where she was both an Academic Success Partner and Student Assistant for the university’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium. Upon graduation, Lydia moved to Washington, DC and worked at Civic Nation as a Civic Engagement Intern, where she focused on increasing democratic participation on campuses across the nation. In the future she plans to continue her academic pursuits in a JD/MBA program.
Program/Grants Management Associate
Keith Rogers was born in Gary, Indiana and grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. He attended Grand Canyon University, a private christian school in Phoenix, where he majored in Justice Studies. His interests lie in politics, sports, and fashion. He is currently preparing to attend law school within the next few years. Eventually, Keith hopes to become involved in a kind of public service that will help make America even stronger socially.
Public Policy Fellow
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Will Searcy is currently serving as a Joint Center Public Policy Fellow. He graduated with from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a concentration in American Government and distinction in the major. Will has plans to attend law school in the near future with the potential of pursuing a joint JD/PhD. After law school, he hopes to pursue a career in creating policy decisions that are informed in history, sociology, and political science. While at Yale University, Will was involved in a number of extracurricular activities: President of the Yale Black Men's Union, Senior Interviewer at the Yale University Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Co-director for the Youth Leadership Initiative of the Yale Leadership Institute, Member of the Yale Undergraduate Advisory Committee for the Department of Political Science, Co-Founder of the Yale Undergraduate Black Pre-Law Association, Assistant Lead Coordinator of the Black Church at Yale, a Dwight Hall Urban Fellow, and a Yale Student Ambassador.
Morgan Butler is currently serving as the Digital Media Associate for the Joint Center. She is from Carrollton, Texas, and graduated magna cum laude from Grambling State University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communications. While there, Morgan pursued a focus in broadcasting as well as public relations. During her time at Grambling, Morgan played for the university's softball team and worked for the university's television center and newspaper. She is a member of Sigma Alpha Pi honor society and the National Association of Black Journalists. Morgan hopes to one day be a television or film director after she obtains her masters degree. Morgan comes to the Joint Center, having spent her last four summers working for Project Transformation - a Dallas non-profit that provides summer literacy programs to low-income communities. For all press inquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Executive and Staff Administrative Assistant
Stephanie Wong is currently serving as the Executive and Staff Administrative Assistant for the Joint Center. Born and raised in Orlando, Florida, Stephanie attended the University of Florida where she majored in Political Science and double minored in English and Asian American Studies. While at UF, Stephanie was involved in a number of organizations and served as president of the Asian American Student Union, Senator for Student Government, and Programming Director for the Southeast Regional Conference of Asian American Leaders. Stephanie has been involved with the Asian Pacific American community since her youth and has focused on issues such as bringing Asian American Studies to campus, political participation, and mental health awareness. Competitively selected by the Asian Pacific American Institute of Congressional Studies, Stephanie interned for the Office of Congresswoman Bordallo. Stephanie is passionate about working with communities of color and served on UF's President's Council on Diversity and is a Multicultural Scholar.
Adzi was raised in Atlanta, GA and has always had an interest in policy and politics. Prior to joining the Joint Center, Adzi spent 7 years at Women’s Action for New Directions in a variety of roles. Most recently she served as Senior Program Associate and was responsible for planning and implementing programmatic activities including national conferences, regional trainings, receptions, in-district congressional lobby meetings, membership recruitment, outreach to state legislators, and assisting with federal PAC endorsements and fundraising. Adzi earned a B.S. in Public Policy from Georgia State University and is pursuing an M.P.S. in Political Management at The George Washington University.
Neville DePass is responsible for the Joint Center's accounting, grants and contracts. He has served as the Joint Center’s Controller and Grants/Contracts Manager, which included developing, implementing, and managing the Center’s domestic and international financial systems. During this time, he established and oversaw financial operations for the Center’s South Africa office. He has done extensive grants and contracts management work in West and South Africa with multiple international funding sources. Prior to joining the Joint Center in 1993, Mr. DePass served as an accounting consultant for Datanamics, Inc where he led the analysis and auditing of government contracts. Mr. DePass holds a B.S. in accounting from the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, where he also completed Masters courses in accounting.
Project Coordinator & Research Associate
Yosef Getachew is the Project Coordinator and a Research Associate for the Joint Center. He manages a team of research associates and assistants focused on supporting research projects and roundtables on issues relevant to innovative elected officials of color. In addition, he is responsible for researching media, telecommunications, and technology issues that impact communities of color. Mr. Getachew is currently a second year law student at the George Washington University Law School. During law school, he has served as a law clerk in the Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission. Mr. Getachew is interested in regulatory law with a focus on communications law and policy.
Lisette Washington is a native of Chicago, Illinois. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science. While at the University of Illinois, Lisette served as a member of the Minority Association for Future Attorneys, Women of Color, the Daily Illini, and the Illinois Student Senate. Upon graduation, she went straight to law school. Lisette is currently a second-year student at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. She is the secretary for the GW Black Law Students Association and a financial comptroller for GW’s Student Bar Association. Ms. Washington has interned for the Champaign County Public Defender’s Office, the Legal Services Corporation, Illinois State Senator’s Michael Frerichs’ District Office, and the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Lisette enjoys reading, writing, and travelling in her spare time.
Ian O’Keefe is a first year student at The George Washington University Law School. Ian graduated from Appalachian State University, magna cum laude, in 2014 with a degree in Political Science. Ian has extensive experience working on local and state political campaigns in rural North Carolina. His legal interests focus on election and voting rights law, and government relations and regulatory law.
Shane A. Bryan, a native of Ft. Lauderdale Florida, is a second-year law student at the George Washington University Law School. Prior to law school, Mr. Bryan graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelor of Science in legal studies with minors in political science and business administration. Mr. Bryan is a member of GW Law’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Board.
Chimso Okoji is currently a second year law student at George Washington University Law School. Mr. Okoji is originally from the Washington, D.C. area and attended Brown University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Prior to law school, he worked as the senior legislative staffer to a member of Congress from New York and served as a policy advisor on issues ranging from national security to financial services. He is particularly interested in financial services, housing, and consumer protection law.
Keturah A. Brown, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, is a second-year law student at the George Washington University Law School. Prior to law school, Ms. Brown attended Florida State University where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in African-American Studies and Political Science in 2012 and a Master of Public Administration in 2013. While pursuing her master degree, Ms. Brown was selected as a Florida Gubernatorial Fellow assigned to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. While there, she wrote Florida’s position on the Endangered Species Act. She is an associate of International Law and Domestic Courts Journal and a member of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Board and Street Law student advocacy group. She also serves as student director for the D.C. Superior Court Domestic Violence Clerk’s Office Pro Bono Project and student inn advisor for the GW Law Inns of Court Program. Ms. Brown plans to pursue a legal career in energy and environmental law.
Genette Gaffney is a law student at the George Washington University Law School. Ms. Gaffney, originally from Long Island, New York, graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2013 with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and minors in Africana Studies and Japanese. She hopes to work in the human rights or environmental law field.
ALEJANDRA HERNANDEZ IRIZARRY
Alejandra M. Hernández Irizarry is a research associate at the Joint Center. Ms. Irizarry was born and raised in Puerto Rico and has been involved in Hispanic student associations since she moved to Waltham, MA where she attended college. She began her studies at the University of Puerto Rico and transferred to Bentley University during her junior year. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Bentley University in 2013 with a B.S. in Accountancy. She also has a MBA with a concentration in accountancy and a Certificate in Fraud and Forensic Accounting where she graduated with High Distinction Honors from the same University. She is currently a student at George Washington University Law School. Ms. Irizarry is currently a Thurgood Marshall Scholar at GW Law and is very interested in the Financial Services industry, Securities Regulation, and Compliance. As a student at GW Law, she is the Treasurer of the Anti-Corruption and Compliance Association and the Vice President of Operations for the Banking and Securities Law student association. She is also a first-year representative for the Hispanic Law Student Association and a member of the Student Bar Association.
Lendon Alexander is currently a rising second year student at the George Washington University Law School. He completed his undergraduate study at the University of Georgia, where he earned a B.A. in Political Science, and an A.B.J. in Mass Media Arts in December of 2012.