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DHS Deputy Director Keesa Smith named Aspen Institute 2021 Ascend Fellow

10/08/2021

For Immediate Release:
October 8, 2021


Media Contacts
Amy Webb, Chief of Communications & Community Engagement
amy.webb@dhs.arkansas.gov

Gavin Lesnick, Deputy Chief of Communications
gavin.lesnick.dhs@dhs.arkansas.gov

Keesa Smith, DHS Deputy Director for Youth and Families

(LITTLE ROCK, Ark.) — The Aspen Institute has announced its 2021 Ascend Fellows, and Arkansas Department of Human Services Deputy Director for Youth and Families Keesa Smith is included in this year’s class. This vanguard of 19 changemakers are committed to reinventing systems, unlocking potential and breaking barriers, so children and their families can thrive.

Each fellow is a groundbreaker in their own right, pursuing bold change on a host of challenges and opportunities families encounter, many still reeling from the pandemic and the nation’s racial reckoning. Fellows are spearheading efforts, from combatting the erasure of Native voice and visibility, growing a movement fueled by the strength of historically undervalued communities, and working shoulder-to-shoulder with whole communities to co-design new care paradigms that give all children the opportunity to thrive, learn, feel safe, known, and loved.

“For our families to be the backbone of strength our nation needs, we must eradicate insecurity as the status quo for too many families. This requires visionary leadership that can not only reimagine an America where more families thrive but also have the courage to remake our society, dismantle discrimination, and make opportunity a destiny we all share.” said Anne Mosle, vice president, The Aspen Institute. “Our 2021 class joins forces with 80 other fellows who have the talent and drive to do better for our families and an unstoppable aspiration to succeed.”

Over the next 18 months, fellows will inspire, challenge, and support each other as they work across sectors that all impact the prosperity and wellness of families, from reinventing systems of care and learning and unlocking capital that opens doors for economic inclusion and justice, to breaking ground with research that changes the course for policies and practices directly affecting communities.

“Our future as a country is inextricably tied to how well we do by our families. This new class of fellows is dedicated to creating a nation where every child is set up to prosper and where every family has access to the education and opportunity to do better than the previous generation. At the Aspen Institute, we cultivate and celebrate leaders who help society live up to its ideals. The new class of Ascend Fellows joins an extensive global network of such individuals who are doing just that,” said Dan Porterfield, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute.

The 2021 class joins more than 80 Aspen Institute Ascend Fellows selected for their visionary leadership and readiness to make a quantum leap forward toward breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty for families in America. Below is a list of all 19 Ascend Fellows:

● Gayatri Agnew – Senior Director, Opportunity, Walmart (AR)
● Christine Norbut Beyer – Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Children and Families (NJ)
● Melanie Bridgeforth – President and CEO, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham (AL)
● Jay Chaudhary – Director for the Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (IN)
● Janeen Comenote – Executive Director, National Urban Indian Family Coalition (WA)
● Michael Flores, PhD – Chancellor, Alamo Colleges District (TX)
● Craig Garfield, MD – Professor of Pediatrics and of Medical Social Sciences, Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine (IL)
● Jesús Gerena – CEO, UpTogether (CA)
● Ron-Li Liaw, PhD – Cannon Y. & Lyndia Harvey Chair in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Chair of the Pediatric Mental Health Institute and Professor, Vice Chair of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Division Director of Child and Adolescent Mental Health at the Children’s Hospital Colorado and University of Colorado School of Medicine (CO)
● Alicia Mousseau, PhD – Vice President, Oglala Sioux Tribe (SD)
● Aysha Schomburg – Associate Commissioner of the United States Children’s Bureau in the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DC)
● Rinku Sen – Executive Director, Narrative Initiative (TX)
● Keesa Smith – Deputy Director for Youth and Families, Arkansas Department of Human Services (AR)
● Greg Taylor – Executive Director, NBA Foundation (NY)
● Ebony Underwood – Founder & CEO, WE GOT US NOW (NY)
● Joe Waters – Co-Founder and CEO, Capita (SC)
● Atiya Weiss – Executive Director, Burke Foundation (NJ)
● Daniel Williams, EdD – President and CEO, Steelcase Foundation (MI)
● Daria Willis, PhD – President, Everett Community College (WA)

Ascend at the Aspen Institute is a catalyst and convener for systems, policy, and social impact leaders who are working to create a world where every family passes a legacy of economic and educational success and well-being from one generation to the next. We serve as the hub for two-generation (2Gen) solutions and an amplifier of innovations that create pathways to economic mobility. ascend.aspen institute.org.

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.

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