The Institute’s leadership works in partnership with an eight-member advisory board:
Otis Sanford is The Institute’s co-founder and chairman. He also holds the Hardin Chair of Excellence in Economic and Managerial Journalism at the U of M. Sanford worked at The Commercial Appeal for 35 years in various capacities from reporter to managing editor and political columnist. He also worked at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Pittsburgh Press and the Detroit Free Press. In addition to his role at the U of M, Sanford is a political columnist for The Daily Memphian, political analyst and commentator for WATN TV Local 24 News and political analyst for WKNO-FM 91, the NPR station in Memphis. He is also a board member of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and author of the 2017 book, From Boss Crump to King Willie: How Race Changed Memphis Politics. He is also co-author of the 2020 book, In a Colorful Place: Seasoned Opinion About Memphis, About Home, About Life.
Gayle S. Rose has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life in Memphis for the past three decades through business and economic development and her visible advocacy for the poor. She has founded five charitable organizations and two for-profit businesses in her successful career. She is founder and CEO of a leading technology company, EVS Corporation. Rose is also the founder and Chairman of the Rose Family Foundations private charity as well as Team Max, named after her late son, Max Rose. She serves on the Board of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the Clayborn Temple Transition team.
Meribah Knight is a senior reporter and producer at Nashville Public Radio and creator of the Peabody Award-winning podcast, opens in a new windowThe Promise, an immersive series from Nashville Public Radio about inequality and the people trying to rise above it. Her reporting on race and inequality in public schools prompted a wholesale shift in enrollment and attitudes toward school choice in one Nashville neighborhood. And her reporting on the juvenile justice system in Rutherford County, Tenn., was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the Goldsmith Award, and a National Magazine Award. She is currently a fellow in ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. Her writing has appeared The New York Times and The New Yorker. Her radio and multimedia work has been featured on NPR and The PBS News Hour. A native of Cambridge, Mass., Knight has a Masters of Journalism from Northwestern University and a BA from New York University. She lives in Nashville with her husband, a photojournalist with the Tennessean, their toddler son and the family’s five cats.
Ruby Bright is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis (WFGM). Since 2004, Bright’s leadership has helped the City of Memphis leverage $120 million in federal HOPE VI grants by raising nearly $10 million to support wrap around case management services for more than 3,200 former public housing families. WFGM launched the Vision 2020 Strategic Plan to reduce poverty by five percent in zip code 38126, one of the poorest areas of the city. WFGM is in the third year of Vision 2020, and has invested $3.5 million of a nearly $10 million commitment to 38126 in case management, employment training, early childhood education, youth development, and financial literacy. Bright previously served as board chair of the Women’s Funding Network, an organization of Women’s Funds from around the world. Bright has received many leadership awards, including the 2017 Living Legends Award, 2017 National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women (NOBEL Women) Shining Star Award, 2016 Memphis Heritage Trail Trailblazers Award, 2014 Memphis Business Journal Super Women in Business, 2013 Memphis Theological Seminary Henry Logan Starks Award, 2011 International Changing the Face of Philanthropy Award presented by the Women’s Funding Network.
Lucian T. Pera is a partner with the Memphis office of Adams and Reese LLP. His practice includes media law, commercial litigation, and legal ethics and lawyer professional responsibility. A Memphis native, he is an honors graduate of Princeton University and Vanderbilt University School of Law. Pera has represented Tennessee and national media outlets in legal matters, ranging from claims and lawsuits for defamation or invasion of privacy to access to courtrooms, public records and meetings of government bodies. He has litigated several key media access cases, including a Tennessee Supreme Court case extending access under the Tennessee Public Records Act to records of private companies that are the “functional equivalent” of government (Memphis Publishing Co. v. Cherokee Children & Family Services, Inc., 87 S.W.3d 67 (Tenn. 2002) and expressly confirming the constitutional right of public and press access to attend civil trials in Tennessee (King v. Jowers, 12 S.W. 3d 410 (Tenn. 1999)). A long-time member of the Media Law Resource Center’s Defense Counsel Section, he also has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government since 2007 and has been President since 2016.
Daphene R. McFerren is the executive director of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis. She grew up in Fayette County, Tennessee, where she completed public high school. She attended Yale College and Harvard Law School. Before joining the Hooks Institute, McFerren was in private practice in Washington, DC; was senior counsel in the Office of General Counsel at the United States Securities and Exchange Commission; was counsel to the late Attorney General Janet Reno; and was later Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Maryland prosecuting, among other cases, forced labor and involuntary servitude cases involving foreign victims. McFerren is also an award-winning documentary filmmaker and has produced films that include a documentary on the life of civil rights activist Benjamin L. Hooks. She is one of the executive producers and producers of the documentary, Facing Down Storms: Memphis and the Making of Ida B. Wells which premiered in Memphis on April 19, 2022 at the Halloran Centre for the Performing Arts in Memphis. Ida B. Wells was a civil and women rights activist whose experiences in Memphis in the late 1800s led her to lead an international anti-lynching crusade to protect the lives of African Americans. In December 2016, McFerren was named one of the “100 Women to Watch in the United States” by BizWomen’s (a publication of the Business Journals). In September 2016, the Memphis Business Journal selected McFerren as one of the twenty-five “Area Leaders in Business, Nonprofit, and Education in Memphis.”
Dr. Joe Hayden, a former television news writer, reporter and producer, specializes in media history and politics. He is the author of two books on presidential-press relations (Covering Clinton and A Dubya in the Headlights), a third on American journalists at the end of World War I (Negotiating in the Press) and a fourth on Southern editors during the Civil War (Journalism in the Fallen Confederacy). In 2018, he co-produced a documentary on civil rights activism in Memphis, Once More at the River. He is currently at work on a history of disinformation in the U.S. (Routledge, 2023). He has taught writing for more than 20 years and published two books on the subject: The Little Grammar Book (Marion Street Press, 2012) and a companion volume, The Little Style Book (Marion Street Press, 2015). In 2008, he received the Thomas W. Briggs Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 2015, Dr. Hayden received a Faudree Professorship, a three-year appointment. He has also taught in Germany, Egypt, and China.
Dan Norwood has been a public interest and employment law attorney in Memphis for the past forty-four years. Over his career he has represented numerous individual whistleblowers and victims of employment discrimination, as well as the Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Unions Council, the Memphis Education Association, the Memphis Newspaper Guild, and other labor organizations. He has received the highest “AV” rating a lawyer can receive in the national Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory of attorneys; he’s been listed for over twenty years in Superlawyers and Best Lawyers in America in labor and employment law. As a public interest attorney, Mr. Norwood has represented major corporations, national organizations and citizens groups in successfully fighting arbitrary and illegal government actions at both the national and local level. He has helped stop everything from federal regulations imposing unreasonable and expensive demands on businesses to unwanted garbage dumps, malls and cemeteries proposed to be built in residential neighborhoods. In his hometown of Memphis he has filed and won public interest lawsuits that on one occasion stopped the members of the Memphis City Council from illegally raising their pay and on another occasion forced the City to hold an election to fill a vacancy in the Mayor’s office. Norwood has been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints since 1984 and has served in numerous callings in his church, including five years as the bishop of a local congregation. He is the husband of Debra Chaves Norwood, who is also an attorney, and the father of four children.