On February 14, 2018, seventeen people lost their lives after a gunman opened fire on the students, faculty, and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Many more were wounded, including Samantha Fuentes. She was left with shrapnel permanently embedded in her legs and behind her eye, and currently manages symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But her story of strength and courage began before surviving one of the deadliest school shootings in United States history. Samantha has endured bullying, racist attacks, physical abuse, and domestic abuse. Transforming tragedy into action, Samantha Fuentes has become an advocate for those who have been silenced and works to remind us that we have the power to change the world.
Tena Clark, a Mississippi native and Southern Miss alumna, is a Grammy-winning producer and entrepreneur. Clark began her career as a drummer and engineer in rural Mississippi before she was discovered by Stevie Wonder. Over the course of her career, Clark has written and produced for Aretha Franklin, won a Grammy for her work with Natalie Cole, and has collaborated with artists such as Leann Rimes, Dionne Warwick, Chaka Khan, and Maya Angelou. A pioneer in the field of creating sound for corporate branding, she is the CEO and chief creative officer of DMI Music & Media Solutions and has developed promotions for McDonald’s, AMC Theatres, and Walgreens. In addition to her work in music, Clark is a civil rights activist and a champion for women’s rights. Her recent memoir, Southern Discomfort, is a “Southern gothic tale of growing up in 1950s Waynesboro, Mississippi, a lesbian raised by a womanizing father, an alcoholic mother, and a household of African-American help whom she’d sooner call family.” (Kirkus Review)
Sonia Shah is an investigative journalist who writes about science, human rights, and international politics. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, and Foreign Affairs. Shah’s most recent book, Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, explores the origins of epidemics and draws parallels between the story of cholera and the pathogens that threaten humankind today. Pandemic was a finalist for the 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in science/technology, the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the National Association for Science Writers’ Science in Society Award. It was also a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice. Shah has been featured on CNN and her TEDTalk, “Three Reasons We Still Haven’t Gotten Rid of Malaria,” has been viewed over one million times. Shah is currently working on her fifth book, The Next Great Migration.
Mississippi-native Angie Thomas writes young adult literature. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was a New York Times bestseller and won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, a Coretta Scott King Honor, a William C. Morris Award, and was on the National Book Award Longlist. In 2018, a film adaption of The Hate U Give, was released starring Amandla Stenberg. Thomas’ second novel, On the Come Up, was published in February 2019 and is already slated to be adapted into a film. Thomas, a former teen rapper, places authenticity and visibility at the forefront of her work. In her novels and speeches, she champions diversity in literature and the politics of finding one’s voice.
Marjorie Spruill is a historian acclaimed for her work on the American women’s rights movement. Her book, New Women of the New South: The Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States, explores the lives of eleven of the most prominent leaders of the women’s suffrage movement in the South and their views on race and states’ rights. Her most recent book, Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women’s Rights, delves into the rise of the modern women’s rights movement in the 1970s and the way it contributed to the polarization of American politics. Dr. Spruill is a former Southern Miss history professor and served as the University Forum director from 1986 to 2000. She is the first University Forum director to be asked to return as a Forum speaker. Dr. Spruill is professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina.
In October 2017, investigative journalist and author Jodi Kantor helped ignite a movement. Kantor was part of a reporting duo that broke the story of decades of sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a prominent figure in the film industry. Their work helped spark the #MeToo movement and has led to new laws and standards of accountability concerning sexual harassment. In 2018, Jodi Kantor, along with her colleague Megan Twohey and the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Kantor has written about the aftermath of the Weinstein story in She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement. Previously, Kantor covered Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and wrote a best-selling book, The Obamas, that delved into the behind-the-scenes challenges Barack and Michelle Obama faced as they became President and First Lady. Kantor is currently a contributor to “This Morning” on CBS.