KEYNOTE: Dismantling Racist Systems and Creating A Vision for Our Country's Future

Thursday, June 25, 2020
11:30 a.m. EDT

About this Session

Racism is the common denominator in our most vexing public problems, and its legacy and impact in the United States are deep and profound for everyone. Racist lenses have infiltrated and negatively impacted every system we rely on—including many of those inside the creative economy, philanthropy, and cultural enterprise—and ultimately, make all of these systems poorer. In this keynote conversation, thinker, commentator, and well-known public policy and economic justice scholar Heather McGhee breaks down the far-reaching and detrimental effects of racism in both public and private policy, and then lays out a vision for how we can collectively move towards something that is more equitable and just, and that serves all of us, including those of us carrying the most privilege, better.


Heather McGhee, Demos
Ted Russell, Kenneth Rainin Foundation

This session is a part of the 2020 Annual Convention and Public Art & Civic Design Conference

Heather McGhee

What if, in the middle of your live TV appearance, someone called in and asked for advice in overcoming racial prejudice? For public policy expert HEATHER C. MCGHEE, the response was natural: she helped. In the wake of that exchange (viewed over 8 million times), Starbucks approached her to institute a company-wide anti-bias training program. From the personal to the corporate, McGhee kickstarted a much-needed cultural effort towards putting systemic repair into action—with urgency, the latest research, and sensitivity to all involved.

As the former president of the inequality-focused think tank Demos, she drafted legislation, testified before Congress, and became a regular contributor on shows like Meet the Press and Real Time with Bill Maher. She also led Demos’ own racial equity organizational transformation, resulting in a doubling of the organization’s racial diversity and growth across all measures of organizational impact. McGhee’s riveting talks communicate this with passion and seriousness, “challenging the paradigm of racial competition in this country.” Racism doesn’t just hurt us on a personal level. It divides and alienates companies and their employees, employees and their clients, clients and brands. The trickledown, explains McGhee, is far-reaching. In her upcoming book The Sum Of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone And How We Can Prosper Together (February, 2021), McGhee will explore the self-destructive bargain of racism, and the rising cost to all of us.

 Not long after McGhee’s television appearance went viral, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz asked her to advise the company as it designed an anti-bias training for 175,000 employees in the wake of the unjust arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia store. McGhee co-authored a report with recommendations for how Starbucks can apply a racial equity lens to their businesses, and how other companies both large and small can benefit from doing the same thing. Her talks address this with clear takeaways, like how to make the process mission-critical, how to get buy-in from your teams, and how to do it all with joy. For the latest updates on Heather's writing, speeches, and media appearances, visit

Now a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, McGhee holds a B.A. in American Studies from Yale University and a J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Civic Participation, and serves on multiple boards of trustees, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Indivisible.  

Ted Russell

Associate Director, Arts Strategy & Ventures for the Kenneth Rainin Foundation

Ted Russell is Associate Director, Arts Strategy & Ventures for the Kenneth Rainin Foundation. He works in close partnership with the Director of Arts Strategy & Ventures to develop and implement new initiatives. Ted manages elements of the Arts Program’s portfolio and advances learning and evaluation processes, including documenting and sharing knowledge about promising practices.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Ted was an organizational consultant who specialized in working with arts and cultural organizations and funders. He also served as the Senior Program Officer for the Arts Program at the James Irvine Foundation from 2005-2016. Earlier in his career, Ted was Director of Marketing at Montalvo Arts Center, Audience Development Manager for the San Francisco Symphony, Annual Fund Director at the La Jolla Playhouse, and Managing Director of Malashock Dance. In 2016, Ted was named a Faces of Theatre Bay Area 40@40 Celebration Honoree as one 40 community members who have changed the face of theater in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ted is president of the board of Grantmakers in the Arts and is on the advisory councils of the Center for Cultural Innovation and California College of the Arts’ Center for Art + Public Life, and the advisory board of Our City. Ted is also a founding board member of 43rd & 44th Street Garden, a community garden in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood.

Ted has a BA in Mechanical Engineering from Yale University and an MBA in Arts Management from the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles.


  • Registration Closed


Keynote: 2020 Annual Convention
Live event: 06/25/2020 at 11:30 AM (EDT) You must register to access.