Distinguished Speaker Series

New York Edge’s Distinguished Speaker Series provides our staff with unique opportunities to hear from leaders across a range of topics and areas of expertise. Designed to inspire staff as they develop and deliver programming, the series is just one of the exciting ways we provide leadership and professional development. 

Please see below to read about past speakers. 


Pops Peterson

Pops Peterson is a Berkshire-based artist and writer who debuted Reinventing Rockwell, a series of artworks reimagining mid-century illustrations by Norman Rockwell, in a manner reflective of today’s times. Celebrating America’s rich diversity and embracing Rockwell’s sense of humanity, Peterson has created images that envision social change and express his desire for a positive, inclusive, and just world. His writings have been published in Andy Warhol’s Interview, Essence, The Village Voice, and The New York Times. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination named Peterson its first Artist in Residence; in this role, he lectures annually at the Fair Housing and Civil Rights Conference. His painting, “Freedom from Shame,” inspired the Massachusetts Office on Disability’s statewide art competition, “Breaking Barriers.” Peterson’s work has been presented at high schools and colleges, as well as such community arts institutions as The Spencertown Academy, The Foundry, and The Norman Rockwell Museum. Please Read more about Pops Peterson here.


Clover Hope

Clover Hope is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. She’s written for a range of publications over a 16-year career: Vibe, Essence, XXL, Elle, Billboard, Wired, The New York Times, Vogue, W, ESPN The Magazine, GQ, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, and Village Voice, among others. Hope has held staff writing and editing positions at Billboard, XXL, Vibe, and Jezebel. She’s currently a Contributing Editor at Pitchfork.com and an adjunct professor at New York University.


Kaitlin McGaw

Co-founded by Kaitlin and Tommy Soulati Shepherd, Alphabet Rockers creates brave spaces to shape a more equitable world through hip hop, as two-time GRAMMY nominees, Othering & Belonging Institute Fellows and industry leaders for change. As touring and resident artists, Alphabet Rockers has been featured by The Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, SXSW, Lollapalooza and festivals around the country, in addition to 50+ schools each year.

Kaitlin is a writer, listener and artist based in Oakland, CA on Ohlone lands. Her path in anti-racism and art began as a high school student in Belmont, MA, where community dialogue, activism, and poetry framed her purpose and relationship with the world.  Kaitlin is a graduate of Harvard University with a BA in Afro-American Studies. Kaitlin believes radical imagination begins with the way we read, sing, and ask questions of the world with our children. She is the mother of two creative children of her own, whom she is raising with her husband Adhi. Click here to read more about Kaitlin and Alphabet Rockers.

Juanita Ward

As given the name Juanita Ward, after her late Grandmother (Juanita Ward), dreams were formed. The gifts had to be filled and the blessing had to shine. Juanita was born in Jackson, Mississippi the daughter of Thomas and Mary Ward, where church, school and playing basketball was gladly practiced in her life.

Juanita came from a family of 5 were as Church, School, and basketball was a ground factor in the house. At the age of 3 she started playing basketball and never looked back. Playing against her sibling; one sister (Charlotte) and three brothers wasn’t easy. Things that she couldn’t do they taught her and prepared her not only for basketball but for Life. The most important lesson was that basketball is the reality of your Life. On the court you get to choose what you’re going to do as well as in Life. Making the right decision is only determined by you.

Growing up playing against her brother (Thomas Ward) that are very close in age, was always practice games, to see who was better. What they didn’t know was that their father was pushing them to get better. For Juanita it was a win situation because she was playing against a boy.

She went on to play on her first summer league team in the 4th grade and was invited to Nike team camp (also 5th-7th) and then to become an Adidas All American 9th-11th grade. From there skies were the limit, dreams started to unfold and basketball wasn’t just a sport, it truly became her Life and God got all the credit.

Goals had to be set and dreams had to be filled. Entering High School the number 1 goal was to graduate and become a McDonald All American. Goals were met, not only was she the first girl at the time from Mississippi to achieve the award, but the first brother (Jerod) and sister duo from the state. She was a two-time Clarion-Ledger First Team All-State, three-time Dandy Dozen selection. Also Nominated for the Naismith National Player of the Year Award, Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year, Two-time Parade All-American, Two-time Street and Smith All-American, Named an All-American twice by the All-Star Girls’ Report, Four-time all-district and all-metro player of the year, Nominated for the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, Averaged 26.5 points per game during her high school career, and Selected to the 2004 USA Women’s Youth Development Festival.

Seeing the look on her mom and dad’s face was priceless to not only have their baby girl ranked in the Nation, but to have 2 boys ranked #1(Jerod) #5 (Joseph).

Then soon off to college she had to go: Gulf Coast, then Odessa where she won a National Championship then to Syracuse (Alumni) and finally landing herself in the WNBA (Tulsa Shock), Overseas Player where she won MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in Bulgaria. Won a Professional Championship in Ukraine, History Record for Highest points in Israel. Top Leading Score Israeli League. Czech Republic playoffs.

Juanita has also played in WNBA, Tulsa Shock (2), Played in Stara Zagora Bulgaria, Sofia Bulgaria, Keiv Ukraine, Russia, Switzerland, Paris, Nice France, Israel, Czech Republic, Etc….

Click here to read more about Juanita.

Patricia Roberts

Over the past 20+ years, Patricia has held key legal and product management roles in the education savings divisions at major financial institutions and has designed and launched several philanthropic programs through which families receive seed money for their children’s college savings accounts along with financial education and incentives to save on their own.

In her current role, Patricia serves as Chief Operating Officer at Gift of College, Inc. In her favorite role of all as a mom, she made it a priority to save a little at a time for her son’s higher education expenses by directing contributions from her paycheck into 529 college savings accounts. After 18+ years of saving, she was extremely proud to see him graduate debt-free from college in 2021. 

Debra Fine

A former engineer, Fine is the author of bestselling books The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills—and Leave a Positive Impression (Hachette) and  Beyond Texting The Fine Art of Face to Face Communication for Teenagers (Cañon). Her books are translated and published in two dozen countries across the globe. A 25+ year member of the National Speakers Association, Fine presents programs to hundreds of audiences around the world that include National Electrical Contractors Association, Delta Airlines, COMERICA Banks, NASA, JP Morgan Chase and PCL Construction. Fine’s recent media appearances include The Today Show, The Toronto Sun, NPR Morning Edition, Fox Business News and CNN.  View additional information about Debra at DebraFine.com.