Meet the Academy of Fellows

Every 18 months, the Institute invites people of remarkable accomplishments from a cross section of professional endeavors to join the distinguished Academy of Fellows chaired by renowned journalist and author Bankole Thompson. Invitees go through a rigorous process of selection through which their passion and specific interest and field of research are taken into consideration.

During the 18-month fellowship, fellows are expected to write four articles regarding inequality, inclusion and poverty that will be published on the PuLSE’s commentary section as the Poverty Matters blog, participate in at least three activities of the Institute and complete a personal project that helps to fight poverty.

All fellows are social impact volunteers driven by their interest and commitment to improving the lives of those who live in the shackles of poverty. Announcement of the 2020 cohorts will be made in September 2019.

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Mike Smith, Senior Fellow Labor and Economics

Mike Smith is currently the Johanna Meijer Magoon Principal Archivist at the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan. He is also archivist for the Detroit Jewish News Foundation.  He has 30 years of experience as an archivist and historian of Detroit and Michigan, including nine years as Director of the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University. Before earning his academic degrees, Mike worked as a truck driver, mechanic, pizza maker, and warehouseman in Detroit, and served in the United States Marine Corps.

Smith has presented and published extensively on such topics as Detroit history, Michigan History, African American History, Detroit Jewish History, and the history of the American Labor movement and automotive industry.  He has appeared in numerous local, national and foreign documentary films about Detroit, and has been quoted in such in local and national media as the New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, CNN, and The Detroit News and Free Press.  In 2009, Mike was nominated for Archivist of the United States.

Smith’s work in Detroit has provided him with the opportunity to meet many people and communities in Detroit.  He has been an advocate for the city and state, as well as such organizations as the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

At The PuLSE Institute, Smith, contributes to how poverty affects the economic prosperity of people, and how labor contributed to building the middle class in Detroit and the region.

Sam Riddle, Senior Fellow
Veterans and Poverty

The host of Riddle@Random on Detroit 910AM SUPERSTATION; Sam Riddle is an Honorably Discharged Viet-Nam Era Veteran that acquired a G.E.D. after dropping out of high school to enlist. 

A student activist organizer that shut down a Big Ten basketball game to protest racism Sam also led anti-war demonstrations and co-founded the Black Student Aide program at Michigan State University that enabled Black students to survive and thrive in a white academic environment . 

Sam Riddle earned a B.A. degree from MSU’s James Madison College with a major in ethnic and religious intergroup relations. Riddle received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School. 

Sam Riddle has over 45 years of experience in management, political and media consulting with an emphasis on crisis management.

Sam currently serves as a Senior Fellow with the internationally acclaimed anti-poverty think tank PuLSE Institute. Sam is Political Director for the Michigan Chapter of the National Action Network where he has confronted corporate welfare, systemic racism and advocated for single mothers.

Riddle was a columnist for The Michigan Citizen ‘Detroit Raw’; and was a founder of “The Flint Voice” newspaper with filmmaker Michael Moore whom Riddle worked with on the Academy Award winning film Bowling for Columbine. Sam still serves as spokesman for the family of Isaiah Shoels the only Black student slain the Columbine High School Massacre in 1999. Riddle met with President Clinton and the First Lady to discuss school violence solutions in the aftermath of Columbine.

Riddle appears as a political commentator addressing poverty, the Flint Water Crisis national and international issues for WVON Talk of Chicago and other mainstream TV & radio stations. 

At The PuLSE Institute, Riddle focuses on how veterans are struggling with economic inequality, political leadership and urban poverty.

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Dr. Ebere Azumah, Senior Fellow
Health and Human Services

Ebere Azumah MD FACOG is a Board-Certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist who resides in the Metro Washington DC area and works in DC at a Community Health Center. Dr. Azumah received her Bachelor of Science degree in both Biology and African American studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She went to Wayne State School of Medicine in Detroit Michigan for her medical degree. She then completed her Ob/Gyn training at Long Island Jewish Hospital in New York.

Although, Dr. Azumah is a practicing physician, she also has multiple passions but with one driving force: To help people improve their lives.

She is the founder of Hapatoma Wholistic Services LLC which provides affordable Professional Life Coaching services, Child birth Education and Doula services to her community. She believes through Life coaching people can begin to recognize the greatness that exists in them and then begin to live again.

Dr. Azumah is also a Dona internationally trained Doula. It is her desire to bridge the gap between Doulas and Obstetricians in a more formal way. Bridging this gap might empower women and possibly lead to a decrease in the maternal mortality rate in the United States.

In 2014, Dr. Azumah’s desire to help people was made concrete after she became a victim of a drunk driving. This accident left her with 30% skin burn.  Through faith, good medicine, friends and family support she was able to return to work and continue to enjoy life again. During this trial she realized that the strength we need lies within. She loves to share this mantra with many others.

When Dr. Azumah, isn’t working in the hospital or in the clinic, she is seen taking pictures, micro-blogging, writing, walking, visiting a museum or traveling.

At The PuLSE Institute, Dr. Azumah, contributes to how improving health and human services can help address poverty.

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Stephanie Shannon, Associate Fellow 
Veteran Affairs

Sgt. Stephanie J. Shannon has over 28 years of experience in the fields of business, social work, community development, leadership, ministry, collaborations, work shops and seminars. She is an honorably discharged disabled U.S. Army veteran who has served her county for eight years including in the 1990-1991 Desert Storm/Desert Shield Persian Gulf War I.

She is the Founder/CEO of Michigan Women Veterans Empowerment a non-profit faith based organization that empowers women veterans in the eighth dimensions of wellness. Shannon is the best selling author of “Battling the Storm Within” a memoir about her military experience and a second book “Our Voices United: Women Veteran Anthology.” She is an inspirational speaker and a veterans advocate. She is also an licensed and ordained minister since 2017.

As The PuLSE Institute, Shannon, contributes to how poverty affects women veterans in Detroit and Wayne County.

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Luba Lukova, Senior Fellow
Arts and Social Justice 

Internationally renowned, New York-based Luba Lukova is regarded as one of the most original image-makers working today. Whether by using an economy of line, color and text to pinpoint essential themes of humanity or to succinctly visualize social commentary, her work is undeniably powerful and thought-provoking.

In Lukova’s art, less is more. More effect, more message, more expression; all while doing it with less. The graphic elements are bold with few fine details but the intent is clear. Her messages reflect the human condition, fundamental fairness, and justice. Yet while it is easy to focus solely on the messages of her provocative works, it is important to take a step back to appreciate the artistic merit in her simplicity. Her use of striking, metaphoric images gives the viewers art to not only appreciate visually but intellectually.

Lukova’s work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Denver Art Museum; Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris; Hong Kong Heritage Museum; Centre de la Gravure et de l’Image imprimée, La Louvière, Belgium; the Library of Congress; and the World Bank, Washington, D.C. Her solo exhibitions include UNESCO, Paris; DDD Gallery, Osaka, Japan; La MaMa Gallery, New York; the Art Institute of Boston; and the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA).

Reflecting on complex social issues has been Lukova’s career-long focus because of her firmly held belief that art is central to human existence and that morality and creativity are aligned. In 2008 she released her Social Justice portfolio, addressing themes such as peace, censorship, immigration, ecology, hunger, and corruption. The twelve iconic images soon became a best-selling publication and requests for exhibits and reproductions in magazines, newspapers and books came from around the globe. The collection was included in the prestigious art exhibition at the first inauguration of President Obama in Washington D.C. and has been exhibited widely in the U.S., France, Turkey, Greece, Israel, and Mexico. Nine years since its publication, the series is as relevant as ever and the artist continues to create new social commentary work. In her words, she has “plenty of topics to tackle in the future.”

​Lukova has received commissions from Adobe, Sony Music, Canon, The New York TimesTime, and Harvard University, among others. Her drawings grace the Verve Records CD box set Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington at the Cote D’Azur, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for best recording package design. Lukova has collaborated with some of the visionaries of the contemporary theater, creating striking posters for the productions of Judith Malina and the Living Theatre, Ellen Stewart and La MaMa Theater, and Sir Peter Hall. The first theater poster she ever designed, There Is No Death for the Songs, is now included in the permanent collection of MoMA, New York. Lukova’s many awards include the Grand Prix Savignac at the International Poster Salon in Paris; the Gold Pencil from The One Club in New York; Honor Laureate at the International Poster Exhibition in Fort Collins, CO; and a grant from the Reisman Foundation. She holds an honorary doctoral degree from the Art Institute of Boston. At The PuLSE Institute, Lukova focuses on arts and social justice.  

Rabbi Syme, Senior Fellow, Faith and Poverty

Daniel B. Syme, a graduate of the University of Michigan and Columbia University Teachers College, is the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth El, the oldest Jewish congregation in Michigan. Syme, is a transcending voice for multi-racial justice, who was inducted in 2010 into the Martin Luther King Jr. International Board of Preachers at Morehouse College is one of the most revered voices in the Jewish community in Michigan. 

Lifestyle magazine’s readers once voted Syme one of the 18 North American Jews “who will be most influential in shaping the future of the Jewish community in the 21st Century,” draws on his life’s experiences to bring compassion, caring and determination that accomplishments alone cannot convey.

Rabbi Syme’s intense drive has led to numerous accomplishments as both an author and executive television producer.  He is a published author or co-author of 24 books, on topics such as Jewish parenting, youth suicide prevention, Christian-Jewish relations, Jewish social action, ritual, theology and Jewish education.

Rabbi Syme sits on the boards of numerous organizations including the Detroit Economic Club. He was one of the first chairmen of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, a board member of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Executive Boards of the National Council for Jewish Education, and the Ecumenical Institute, and was Co-Chairman of the Coalition for Jewish Unity. He was honored as a Knight of Charity by the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (P.I.M.E. Missionaries) in 1997. He also served on the board of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums and Humble Design and continues his work in suicide prevention.  In 2012, he was presented with the Community Leadership Award by the American Jewish Committee and in 2019, was designated a “Distinguished Warrior” by the Detroit Urban League.

Rabbi Syme is the founder of the Single Soul Suicide Prevention program of Jewish Family Service. 

John Mogk
Senior Fellow, Municipal Government & Urban Development

John Mogk,  a leading expert on land use and urban development, is a professor of law at Wayne State University Law School, where he is also the chair of the Levin Center at Wayne Law Faculty Committee.

Following graduation with distinction from The University of Michigan Law School in 1964, where he served on the law review and was elected a member of the Order of the Coif, Professor Mogk practiced law with Shearman & Sterling in New York City. In addition to corporate law and litigation, his practice included providing legal counsel to the pioneering program revitalizing the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

He joined the Wayne Law faculty in 1968, one year after Detroit’s major civil disturbance, to focus upon critical issues facing America’s distressed urban communities. His work has included research, teaching and engagement in the field of urban law and policy on such issues as economic development, neighborhood rehabilitation and intergovernmental cooperation. Professor Mogk frequently contributes editorial commentary on critical urban issues to the major media outlets.

He joined the Wayne Law faculty in 1968, one year after Detroit’s major civil disturbance, to focus upon critical issues facing America’s distressed urban communities. His work has included research, teaching and engagement in the field of urban law and policy on such issues as economic development, neighborhood rehabilitation and intergovernmental cooperation. Professor Mogk frequently contributes editorial commentary on critical urban issues to the major media outlets.

He has received special commendations from the Michigan Legislature and Detroit Common Council and was selected Outstanding Professor by the law school student body in 1979, 1983 and 1994, 1997, 2003 and 2016 by the alumni in 1993. Professor Mogk was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men in the Unites States (U.S. Jaycees) in 1973.

He teaches courses in Property, State and Local Government Law, Land Use Planning, and Urban Development. Professor Mogk was a visiting fellow at the University of Warwick in England during 1985-86, and the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, in 2001. He has served as editor of the Michigan International Lawyer, published by the State Bar of Michigan, and a member of the State Bar’s Land Title Standards Committee.

Dr. Massood Omrani
Senior Fellow, Business and Poverty

Dr. Massood Omrani is a lecturer in the MBA Program at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield. He is also the managing director of CADFEM Americas, Inc., a European engineering consulting company in the U.S. He has worked in different industries for over 30 years as a Technical & Business Manager in companies such as Schulmbergere, Ford, Magna, ESI and CADFEM. He obtained his B.S., M.S. & Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from State University of New York at Buffalo and then later obtained his MBA from Michigan State University. At The PuLSE Institute, Omrani will contribute columns and analyses about how Wall Street should be an ally in the fight against poverty.

Samuel Bagenstos
Senior Fellow, Civil Rights, Health and Housing law

Samuel Bagenstos, the Frank G. Millard Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, where he specializes in constitutional and civil rights litigation. From 2009 to 2011, he was a political appointee in the U.S. Department of Justice, where he served as the principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, the No. 2 official in the Civil Rights Division. His accomplishments included the promulgation of the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act regulations—the first comprehensive update of those regulations since they were first promulgated in 1991—and the reinvigoration of the Civil Rights Division’s enforcement of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C., which guarantees people with disabilities the right to live and receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate. He led the negotiations of significant Olmstead settlements with the states of Delaware and Georgia, which guarantee appropriate, community-based services to thousands of people with disabilities. He also personally argued major cases in federal district courts and courts of appeals.

Pursuant to an appointment by Gov. Whitmer, he serves as chair of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, the state agency that enforces the rights of public employees to unionize and collectively bargain.

As an academic, Professor Bagenstos has published articles in journals such as the Yale Law Journal, the Stanford Law Review, the Columbia Law Review, the California Law Review, the Virginia Law Review, the Cornell Law Review, the Georgetown Law Journal, and many others. He also has published two books: Law and the Contradictions of the Disability Rights Movement(Yale University Press, 2009) and Disability Rights Law: Cases and Materials (Foundation Press, 2010), and he has written articles for non-academic audiences in publications such as Democracy: A Journal of IdeasThe American ProspectThe Washington Monthly, and The New Republic.

Professor Bagenstos frequently consults with civil rights organizations and remains an active appellate and U.S. Supreme Court litigator in civil rights and federalism cases. He has argued four cases before the Supreme Court, including Young v. United Parcel Service, 135 S. Ct 1338 (2015), which established new protections for pregnant workers, and United States v. Georgia, 546 U.S. 151 (2006), which upheld, as applied to his client’s case, the constitutionality of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Professor Bagenstos also has testified before Congress on several occasions, including in support of the Fair Pay Restoration Act, the ADA Amendments Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, as well as on the application of the ADA to advancing technology and the problem of mental illness in prisons.

Prior to joining the Michigan Law faculty, Professor Bagenstos was a professor of law and, from 2007 to 2008, also associate dean for research and faculty development at Washington University School of Law. He has been on the faculty of Harvard Law School and was a visiting professor at UCLA School of Law. He clerked for the Hon. Stephen Reinhardt on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for one year, then joined the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Following that position, he served as a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1993, Professor Bagenstos earned his JD, magna cum laude, from Harvard, where he received the Fay Diploma and was articles office co-chair of the Harvard Law Review. He received his BA, with highest honors and highest distinction, from the University of North Carolina.