Joint Center President
Spencer Overton is the President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which was founded in 1970 as the Black think tank. Today, the Joint Center focuses on the impact of innovations like artificial intelligence and automation on the future of work and economic development in places like Detroit, Memphis, and the rural Black Belt of the South. The Joint Center also works to increase diversity among congressional staff.
Spencer chaired Government Reform Policy on the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, and on the Obama transition, he served as a lawyer in the General Counsel’s office and as a member of the Technology, Innovation, and Government Reform (TIGER) policy team. During the Administration, Spencer served as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Legal Policy, the “think tank” of the Department of Justice. After leaving the Department, Spencer held several roles on the 2012 Obama National Finance Committee, including teaching fundraising and chairing a fundraising program that raised $25 million.
Spencer is also a tenured Professor of Law at George Washington University, where he teaches race and the law, property law, and election law. He is a co-author of 5G, Smart Cities, and Communities of Color (2017), and the author of the bookStealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression and several academic and popular articles. Through his work on national election law commissions, Spencer helped shape the contours of the modern voter ID debate and he led an effort that resulted in Iowa restoring voting rights to 98,000 Iowans who had completed their sentences.
Spencer is an honors graduate of both Hampton University and Harvard Law School, he clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Damon J. Keith, and he represented large companies for four years practicing law at the firm Debevoise & Plimpton.
Senior Fellow, Diversity and Inclusion
Dr. LaShonda Brenson currently serves as the Senior Fellow of Diversity and Inclusion at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies where she leads its congressional staff diversity efforts. Prior to her current role, she served as a Civil Rights Analyst at the U.S. Commission for Civil Rights. At the Commission, Dr. Brenson organized national briefings and wrote reports on municipal fines and fees and its impact on minority communities, minority voting rights, and women in prison. Previously, she was the Research Director at Project Vote, a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded on the belief that an organized, diverse electorate is the key to a better America.
Dr. Brenson earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and Political Science from the University of Rochester, and her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Using qualitative interviews with congressional staffers and quantitative methods, her dissertation research provides evidence that the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), as institutions, matter. One way she demonstrates the added value of the CBC and CHC is by illustrating that when caucus members serve as caucus leaders, they introduce more bills because of their additional staff capacity.
A self-described data nerd, Harin Contractor loves working on problems, looking for creative solutions, and helping people make connections to enhance their goals. Previously, Harin worked at a tech start-up that used government data to empower communities and worked in the Obama Administration at the U.S Department of Labor as the Economic Policy Advisor to the Secretary. Harin is a graduate of the University of Georgia and the University of Chicago. You can follow him @harincontractor.
Director, Economic Policy
Jessica Fulton is the Economic Policy Director at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies where she engages in research and analysis to identify policies that advance the socioeconomic status of the Black community. She also manages the Joint Center’s Policy Incubator. Prior to joining the Joint Center, she served as External Relations Director at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. She has also held positions at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and the Chicago Urban League. Jessica is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and serves as Board Chair of The Black Swan Academy. Jessica earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of Chicago and a Master’s Degree in Economic Policy Analysis from the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at Depaul University.
Digital Communications Specialist
Victoria Johnson joins the Joint Center team as the Digital Communications Specialist. She’s a former journalist with robust newspaper and magazine experience including reportage on policy and arts for New York Daily News, New York Amsterdam News, Mashable, Vulture, and more. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in communications at CUNY: City College of New York and a Master’s degree in urban reporting at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism (formerly CUNY: Graduate School of Journalism). She also volunteers for ScholarCHIPS, a program dedicated to helping college-bound teenagers with incarcerated parents.
Dr. Ismail White
Director of Survey Research
Dr. Ismail 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.