NRPA Opening General Session Featuring Secretary Deb Haaland and Jad Abumrad
Tuesday, September 21 | 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. CDT | Virtual*
*Please note: All general sessions and keynote presentations are taking place in the virtual platform this year.
Secretary Deb Haaland
U.S. Secretary of the Interior
Secretary Deb Haaland made history when she became the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. She is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican.
Secretary Haaland grew up in a military family; her father was a 30-year combat Marine who was awarded the Silver Star Medal for saving six lives in Vietnam, and her mother is a Navy veteran who served as a federal employee for 25 years at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As a military child, she attended 13 public schools before graduating from Highland High School in Albuquerque.
As a single mother, Secretary Haaland volunteered at her child's pre-school to afford early childhood education. Like many parents, she had to rely on food stamps at times as a single parent, lived paycheck-to-paycheck, and struggled to put herself through college. At the age of 28, Haaland enrolled at the University of New Mexico (UNM) where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and later earned her J.D. from UNM Law School. Secretary Haaland and her child, who also graduated from the University of New Mexico, are still paying off student loans.
Secretary Haaland ran her own small business producing and canning Pueblo Salsa, served as a tribal administrator at San Felipe Pueblo, and became the first woman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors, overseeing business operations of the second largest tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico. She successfully advocated for the Laguna Development Corporation to create policies and commitments to environmentally friendly business practices.
Throughout her career in public service, Secretary Haaland has broken barriers and opened the doors of opportunity for future generations.
After running for New Mexico Lieutenant Governor in 2014, Secretary Haaland became the first Native American woman to be elected to lead a State Party. She is one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress. In Congress, she focused on environmental justice, climate change, missing and murdered indigenous women, and family-friendly policies.
MacArthur Fellow and Host of the Peabody Award-winning Radiolab
Jad Abumrad is the creator and host of Radiolab, a public radio program broadcast on nearly 600 stations across the nation and downloaded more than 12 million times a month as a podcast. The show is co-hosted by Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser. Abumrad also hosts Everything. Together. Radio on Apple Music Hits. Each episode offers a kaleidoscopic mix of uptempo, electro, dance, funk, hip-hop, experimental noise, soul and everything in between.
Abumrad employs his dual backgrounds as composer and journalist to create what’s been called “a new aesthetic” in broadcast journalism. He orchestrates dialogue, music, interviews and sounds into compelling documentaries that draw listeners into investigations of otherwise intimidating topics, such as the nature of numbers, the evolution of altruism, or the legal foundation for the war on terror.
He’s won three George Foster Peabody Awards, and in 2011, Abumrad was honored as a MacArthur Fellow (also known as the Genius Grant). The MacArthur Foundation website says: “Abumrad is inspiring boundless curiosity within a new generation of listeners and experimenting with sound to find ever more effective and entertaining ways to explain ideas and tell a story.”
Abumrad also created and hosted three seasons of More Perfect, a series about untold stories of the Supreme Court, which The New York Times called “... possibly the most mesmerizing podcast.” And in 2019, he created Dolly Parton’s America (along with osm Audio’s Shima Oliaee) a Peabody Award-winning nine-part series that explores a divided America through the life and music of one its greatest icons.
NRPA Leadership Presenters
Michael P. Kelly
General Superintendent and Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Park District
Chair, NRPA Board of Directors
Read more details in his biography (listed under the heading "officers and executive committee").
President and Chief Executive Officer, NRPA
Read more details in her biography (listed under the heading "officers and executive committee").
National Gold Medal Award Presenter
The American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration Executive Director
Jane Adams retired as the Executive Director of the California Park & Recreation Society, Sacramento, California, in May 2014 after 26 years of service. Since her retirement Jane consults with associations and nonprofits on board governance and strategic planning and she speaks at state and national conferences. She became the Executive Director of the American Academy for Park & Recreation Administration in December 2016.
Day 2 General Session Featuring Mitchell Silver
Wednesday, September 22 | 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. CDT | Virtual*
Principal, Vice President of Urban Planning, McAdams
Mitchell Silver is principal and vice president of urban planning for McAdams; responsible for providing advisory services in urban planning, land-use, parks and public space planning with an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. He is an award-winning planner with more than 35 years of experience and is internationally recognized for his leadership and contributions to contemporary planning issues. He specializes in comprehensive planning, place making and implementation strategies. For McAdams, Silver acts as a visionary, thought leader and an advisor on current and future projects, and serves as an ambassador and leader for the company in regional and national organizations and events. Prior to joining McAdams, he served as the commissioner for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation; overseeing the management, planning and operations of nearly 30,000 acres of parkland, which includes, parks, playgrounds, beaches, marinas, recreation centers, wilderness areas and other assets.
"Climate Ready Parks: Understanding the Changing Climate and Working Towards Solutions"
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
Co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist, policy expert, writer, and Brooklyn native. She is co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for coastal cities, and co-creator of the Spotify/Gimlet podcast How to Save a Planet, on climate solutions. She co-edited the bestselling climate anthology All We Can Save and co-founded The All We Can Save Project. Recently, she co-authored the Blue New Deal, a roadmap for including the ocean in climate policy. Previously, she was executive director of the Waitt Institute, developed policy at the EPA and NOAA, served as a leader of the March for Science, and taught as an adjunct professor at New York University. Dr. Johnson earned a BA from Harvard University in environmental science and public policy, and a Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in marine biology. She publishes widely, including in The New York Times, Washington Post, and Scientific American. She is on the 2021 Time 100 Next List and was named one of Elle’s 27 Women Leading on Climate. Outside magazine called her “the climate leader we need.” Find her @ayanaeliza.
Victor Dover, FAICP, LEED-AP, CNU-Accredited
Principal-in-charge, Victor Dover is nationally recognized as an innovator in city planning, neighborhood design and street design. He has led more than 200 charrettes. Victor lectures widely around the world on the topics of livable communities and sustainable development, and has served as national chair of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). He coauthored, with John Massengale, the breakthrough book Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns (Wiley 2014). Victor has been awarded the John Nolen Medal for contributions to urbanism, is a Fellow of both the American Institute of Certified Planners and CNU, and is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Miami. Victor also serves as vice-president of the Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade. Victor is also a member of the National Recreation and Park Association’s Board of Directors.
Day 3 General Session Featuring Kwame Alexander
Thursday, September 23 | 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. CDT | Virtual*
Author, Speaker, Educator
Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, publisher, and New York Times Bestselling author of 35 books, including SWING, BECOMING MUHAMMAD ALI, co-authored with James Patterson, BOOKED, which was longlisted for the National Book Award, REBOUND, which was shortlisted for prestigious UK Carnegie Medal, The Caldecott Medal and Newbery Honor-winning picture book, THE UNDEFEATED, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, and, his NEWBERY medal-winning middle grade novel, THE CROSSOVER. A contributor to NPR's Morning Edition where he regularly creates community crowdsourced poems, Kwame is the recipient of numerous awards, including The Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, The Coretta Scott King Author Honor, Three NAACP Image Award Nominations, and the 2017 Inaugural Pat Conroy Legacy Award. In 2018, he founded the publishing imprint VERSIFY, and opened the Barbara E. Alexander Memorial Library and Health Clinic in Ghana, as a part of LEAP for Ghana, an international literacy program he co-founded. He is the writer and executive producer of THE CROSSOVER TV series on Disney Plus.
Youth Sports Panel
"A Fair and Just Future for Youth Sports"
This keynote panel brings together some of the top minds in youth sports to explore how park and recreation professionals can increase engagement in their programs by centering on equity.
Project Director & Senior Staff Attorney Fair Play for Girls in Sports
Kim works with the Fair Play for Girls in Sports Project. Through litigation, education and policy work, Kim advocates for equality, with a specific focus on athletic opportunities for female youth — particularly in low-income communities.
NRPA Director of Park Access
Rachel Banner is the Director of Park Access at the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), where works to ensure fair and just access to high quality parks and green space, recreation facilities, youth sports and programs that create healthy, resilient and economically vibrant communities. Through her work at NRPA and prior positions, Rachel has extensive experience in developing strategies and partnerships to advance health and equity through systems-level change. Rachel received her Master’s in Public Health from Tufts University and her BS in Exercise Science from Elon University, both focused on health equity, chronic disease prevention and the built environment.
CEO of RISE
Diahann Billings-Burford, who has spent her career working in and lifting up diverse communities, is CEO of RISE. Billings-Burford most recently worked at Time Warner, as executive director, cultural investments, vice president of the Time Warner Foundation and for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as the city’s chief service officer, where she headed NYC Service, a division of the mayor’s office, engaging more than 1.3 million New Yorkers in a range of volunteer activities.
She serves on the National Board of Directors for buildOn, as well as on the boards of Philanthropy New York and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, and in 2021 she was recognized on Crain's Notable Nonprofits and Philanthropy list and in 2019 was named one of Crain's Notable Women in Sports. Billings-Burford earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yale University and a law degree from Columbia University School of Law and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Vice President, Programs and Partnerships, Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation
José is a social entrepreneur who has built a reputation as a visionary leader, strong manager, innovator and relationship-builder. He has been recognized for building mindful and creative organizational cultures and convening public, private and community people and resources to solve complex community, business and public sector problems.
Currently, as Vice President of Programs & Partnerships, José leads all grantmaking, partnership and programmatic efforts for Stephen and Ayesha Curry’s Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation – a new foundation the Currys launched in 2019 that is becoming one of the country’s most innovative and impactful philanthropic organizations through its commitment to creating equal opportunities and bright futures for every child. In 2020, Eat. Learn. Play. was able to play a major role in the fight against rising hunger, helping to provide more than 17 million meals to children and families in the foundation's hometown of Oakland. This strategy included engaging over 130 local restaurants who were able to rehire 850 of their employees in order to prepare and deliver over 2.5 million meals to those who needed meals during the pandemic.
Groundbreaking Transgender Athlete
Chris Mosier is a trailblazing hall of fame triathlete, All-American duathlete, and a 6-time member of Team USA. In 2015 he became the first known transgender man to represent the United States in international competition, and was the catalyst for change for the International Olympic Committee policy on transgender athletes. He is also a 2x National Champion and the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympic Trials in any sport in a category different than their sex assigned at birth.
In 2016, he was sponsored by Nike and featured in his own Nike commercial which debuted on prime time during the Rio Olympics. Chris was the first trans athlete featured in the ESPN Body Issue.
Chris is known as the go-to source for policy and information on transgender people in sport. In 2013, Chris created the site transathlete.com, a resource for students, athletes, coaches, and administrators to find information about trans inclusion in athletics at various levels of play. He has mentored transgender athletes around the globe, from high school and recreational to the professional levels, and helped teams, leagues, and professional sports leagues create gender-inclusive policies.
Motto: Be who you needed when you were younger