Moving within this moment: Strategies for overcoming structural barriers

Efforts to advance equity in today’s environment face major structural setbacks, including the recent Supreme Court decision overturning affirmative action and reduced corporate commitment to DEI. Panelists representing a range of fields, including transportation, housing, and the civic sector, will reflect on how they are continuing to center equity in the face of these challenges.

Check out the full Equity Summit agenda

Meet the panelists

Shanti Abedin

Shanti Abedin is the Vice President of Housing and Community Development at the National Fair Housing Alliance. In this role, Shanti is responsible for providing strategic direction, thought leadership, and programmatic planning and management for NFHA’s Housing and Community Development division, including the Inclusive Communities and Keys Unlock Dreams Initiatives. She oversees NFHA’s investments and work in communities throughout the nation to increase affordable housing, reduce barriers to equitable housing opportunities, increase quality amenities and services in communities of color, and broaden the network of organizations working to advance fair housing goals.

Kathy Flanagan-Payton

A Houston native, Kathy Flanagan-Payton is currently President and CEO for the nationally acclaimed Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation (FWCRC) where she oversees the implementation of the Comprehensive Community Revitalization of Houston’s Historic 5th Ward. FWCRC catalyzes resource to build and preserve an inclusive 5th Ward Community by developing places and opportunities for people to live, work, and play!


Wawa Gatheru

Wawa Gatheru is a GenZ climate activist passionate about cultivating a climate movement that is made in the image of all of us. In 2019, Wawa made history as the first Black person in history to receive the Rhodes, Truman, and Udall scholarships. She is the founder and Executive Director of Black Girl Environmentalist, the only national organization dedicated to addressing the pipeline and pathway issue for Black girls, women, and gender expansive individuals in the climate sector. With a membership of over 1,200, BGE is one of the largest Black youth-led climate organizations in the country. She sits on boards and advisory councils for the Environmental Media Association, Climate Power, Sound Future, National Parks Conservation Association, and EarthJustice. Wawa is also an inaugural member of the National Environmental Youth Advisory Council of the US EPA – the first federal youth-led advisory council in US history. For her work, Wawa has been recognized as a Glamour College Woman of the Year, a Forbes 30 under 30 recipient, a Grist 50 fixer, a Young Futurist by The Root, a Climate Creator to Watch by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a Public Voices Fellow by Yale, and was featured on the January 2023 digital cover of Vogue alongside Billie Eilish and 7 other climate activists.

Ayesha Hudson

Ayesha Hudson is the Chief Executive Officer of A-Peace, LLC. In her role, Ayesha has managed the company’s rental portfolio for the past 23 years and is a real estate developer focused on providing housing and resident programming for those of modest means. She is a native Washingtonian and product of DC Public Schools. Ayesha began her public service career with DC Fire and EMS and later retired from the Prince George’s County Fire and EMS Department (PGFD) in May 2021. During her tenure with PGFD, Ayesha served as the Director of the Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office and established the Mediation Program as a tool to foster greater communication during employee disputes. She continues her work as an alternative dispute resolution consultant and instructor.

Toccarra Nicole Thomas

Toccarra Nicole Thomas, AICP, is the Director of Land Use and Development at Smart Growth America. Her role includes leading the Form-Based Codes Institute (FBCI) as well as other projects and initiatives. In this role, Toccarra leads thought leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance work to further our mission to create prosperous, resilient, and healthy communities.



The Equity Summit gathers housing, transportation, and community development advocates and leaders to learn from one another and identify tools to advance racial equity through smart growth. The dynamic two-day program will be held in person for the first time on March 27-28, 2024, in Washington, DC, at the iconic Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

The Equity Summit will uplift strategies to advance racial equity in smart growth amidst growing political uncertainty in 2024 and beyond, as well as a shift away from explicit equity initiatives by elected officials, state agencies, and the private sector.


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