Keynote Speakers

Dennis imageAndrea L. Dennis is associate dean of faculty development and the John Byrd Martin Chair of Law at the University of Georgia School of Law where she teaches criminal law, evidence, family law, and juvenile law. Previously, she served as an assistant federal public defender in the District of Maryland. Her scholarship explores criminal and juvenile defense lawyering, race and criminal justice, and the impact of criminal justice on the lives of children and youth. Practitioners, courts, and media nationwide have cited her seminal legal article – “Poetic (In)Justice?” – on the use of rap lyrics as criminal evidence. She is co-author of Rap on Trial (The New Press 2019) (with Erik Nielson) that examines the issue in depth.





"EdvigeEdvige Jean-François is an award-winning multilingual global journalist and the inaugural executive Director of the Center for the Studies on Africa and Its Diaspora. The center focuses on elevating  scholarship, narratives, cultural and business engagement about Africa and the African diaspora. It furthers aims to foster global understanding and equity. During her more than 20 years as a journalist and television producer, including covering the White House. She has traveled extensively while documenting the stories of people in the United States and abroad. Much of her work has focused on exploring developments in Africa and the African diaspora, covering topics as wide-ranging as business and economics, geopolitics, natural disasters and crises, arts, culture, sciences, and technology. Jean-François believes in the power of storytelling to change lives and connect the world. She began her journalism career at ABC News in New York and went on to join the CNN Washington bureau, later becoming a Senior Producer for CNN International, where she produced documentaries, multi-platform news, and features for several flagship programs. She created, oversaw, partnered on several international sponsorships in CNN’s Africa programming, including African Voices, Marketplace Africa, and Inside Africa. She produced and contributed to news reports that aired on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, Vital Signs with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Heroes, among other brands. She also covered developments at the U.S. Congress, the State Department, and the Supreme Court. Her media background includes interviews with C-suite executives, high-level government officials, and celebrities. She has traveled extensively leading productions in North and South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Her field logistics experience extends to covering health outbreaks and natural disasters in crisis zones, such as during the Mexico earthquake in 2017, hurricane Matthew in 2016, and the catastrophic Haiti earthquake in 2010. Jean-François also worked for Associated Press Television News as a White House producer. As a writer and producer, she has garnered multiple, awards, nominations, and commendations for her work, including eight regional and national Emmy Awards nominations, several Telly Awards, and a NAMIC Vision Award. She was also a contributor to CNN’s 2010 CINE Golden Eagle Award for coverage of the Haiti Earthquake and the network’s Peabody Award for coverage of the 2008 Presidential Primary Campaigns and Debates that led to the historic election of President Barack Obama. In 2022, in partnership with her undergraduate alma mater, Hamilton College, she won a Council of Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Circle of Excellence gold award for a magazine she guest edited on racial injustice and inequality. Jean-François is also a public speaker and moderator who served as a specialist in journalism and conducted lectures organized under the auspices of the U.S. State Department and the Inter American Press Association. She holds a Master of Science in Journalism and postgraduate fellowship from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Hamilton College. In 2022, she delivered the Baccalaureate address during Hamilton’s rescheduled 2020 graduation ceremonies, as a result of the pandemic. She also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Jean-François’ international interests and pursuits began in college, when she studied language, literature, and art history at the Instituto Internacional in Madrid, Spain.

Dalton Higgins is a publicist, author of six books, National Magazine Award-winning journalist, and Toronto Metropolitan University’s Music-Prof-in-Residence. Higgins teaches the popular university course “Deconstructing Drake and The Weeknd” that has been featured on CNN, New York Times, NPR, and BET among many other media outlets. His best-selling books include Far from Over: The Music and Life of Drake which is carried in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame & Museum collection in Cleveland, and Hip Hop World which has been carried in Harvard University’s hip hop archive since 2009. Higgins’ pioneering work in the area of global music research and event production has taken him to Denmark, France, Australia, Germany, Colombia, England, Curacao, Spain, Cuba and across Canada and the USA. As the owner of an independent boutique publicity company, Higgins’ roster includes clients that have won Grammy Awards, BET Awards, Emmy Awards, The Mercury Prize (UK), Victoires de la Musique/French Grammy’s (France) and Juno Awards (Canada). As a longtime journalist, Higgins recently co-produced the New York Festivals award-winning “This Is Not A Drake podcast” series which explores the evolution of hip-hop and gender dynamics within the culture.  


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Erik Nielson is professor of liberal arts at the University of Richmond, where he teaches courses on African American literature, hip hop culture, and advanced writing. In addition to his scholarly work, he writes regularly for popular outlets, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Atlantic, and Rolling Stone, and is routinely interviewed by a wide range of national media organizations. He has been lead author on three amicus briefs for the U.S. Supreme Court–which included support from artists such as Killer Mike, Chance the Rapper, Meek Mill, T.I., Big Boi, and Luther Campbell—and he is frequently called to testify as an expert witness in cases involving rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases. His most recent book, Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America, co-authored with Andrea L. Dennis, was a finalist for the Library of Virginia literary awards, and winner of the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation’s First Amendment Award.