Meet the Faculty

Full Name
Karen Black
Job Title
Principal
Company
May 8 Consulting
Speaker Bio
Karen L. Black is an attorney and the CEO of May 8 Consulting, Inc. a woman-owned social impact consulting firm. Black is also a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania and a Senior Research Fellow at Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation. Black is the author of over a dozen publications discussing strategies to reactivate vacant and deteriorated properties. Most recently Black co-authored a book just released by the American Bar Association called the ABA Vacant and Problem Properties Book: A Guide to Legal Strategies and Remedies. In addition, Black is actively working with dozens of communities across the country to address problem properties in order to revitalize communities and preserve critical housing. In Spring 2020, Black was named by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia as a Reinventing Our Communities Scholar. Black received a Bachelor of Arts from Williams College and a Juris Doctor from UCLA Law School. Prior to starting her own firm, Black was the founding director of the Metropolitan Philadelphia Policy Center, a region-wide policy center founded to research issues impacting the economy, environment and equity within the Philadelphia metropolitan region. Prior to that, Black spent 12 years as a practicing civil rights attorney.
Karen Black
Full Name
Christina Carter-Grant
Job Title
Program Officer
Company
Center for Community Progress
Speaker Bio
Christina Carter-Grant serves as the Program Officer for National Leadership and Education at the Center for Community Progress (Community Progress), America’s nonprofit leader for turning “Vacant Spaces into Vibrant Places.”

Carter-Grant’s background in community development and community engagement ties closely with her role helping to implement and grow the trainings, events, and programming of the organization. 

Prior to joining Community Progress, Carter-Grant worked as an Analyst for Krambo Corporation where she assisted in mortgage securitization for Habitat for Humanity affiliates nationwide. She has also served as a Grants Management Intern with the Michigan Suburbs Alliance where she aided in the early-stage development of a research tool that would identify and evaluate potential funding opportunities for Metro Detroit communities.

Carter-Grant received her Master of Urban Planning degree from the University of Michigan with a focus in Housing and Community Development. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in American Culture from the University of Michigan She is a native of Detroit, Michigan, and currently resides in Miami, Florida.
Christina Carter-Grant
Full Name
Justin Godard
Job Title
Senior Program Officer for National Leadership and Education
Company
Center for Community Progress
Speaker Bio
Justin Godard serves as Senior Program Officer for the National Leadership and Education division at the Center for Community Progress (Community Progress), America’s nonprofit leader for turning “Vacant Spaces into Vibrant Places.”

Godard works closely with the Director and Associate Director in developing unique and effective approaches for fostering collaborative problem solving and learning opportunities for practitioners and communities.

Prior to joining the organization, Godard studied at Virginia Tech, where he earned both a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning, with a focus on policies and frameworks surrounding community development, placemaking, and social equity. Now based in Washington, D.C., Justin has spent time in New York, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Justin Godard
Full Name
Brian Larkin
Job Title
Director of the National Land Bank Network
Company
Center for Community Progress
Speaker Bio
Brian Larkin is Director of the National Land Bank Network at the Center for Community Progress, America’s non-profit leader for turning “Vacant Spaces into Vibrant Places.”

A 20-year non-profit executive and local government leader, Larkin’s passion for community development was ignited at age 21 when he was appointed to serve as a neighborhood planner and vacant land program manager for his home community of Flint, Michigan, through LISC and AmericaCorp.

Since then, he’s served as a local government administrator and a program officer helping to build national community development strategies for improving resident quality of life. That work has included managing philanthropic efforts, programs, and partnerships for the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation (CS Mott), governors, local leaders, and midwestern land banks.

Larkin’s belief that “the built environment has a unique ability to transform lives” has guided his career focus and work. His diverse local government experience includes serving as Chief of Staff, Director of Planning and Development, and Director for local chambers of commerce in Genessee County and the City of Flint, Michigan. His unique perspectives and achievements have earned him recognition as a trainer, instructor, and public speaker for the American Planning Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and numerous universities including the University of Michigan and Florida State University.

Larkin is an alumnus of Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA, and Florida State University where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and a Master of Science in Planning, respectively. Larkin is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity incorporated and has served his hometown as a member of the City of Flint Charter Review Commission (2015), the City of Flint Receivership Transition Advisory Board (2015), and currently as the Vice President of the Flint Public Library Board of Trustees.

Today, Larkin leverages his experience as a local land banking and municipal planning leader to help more than 200 land banks connect with the education, funding, and networking to positively impact one of America’s fastest-growing community-development movements, the National Land Bank Network. The Network is a growing part of Community Progress’ commitment to growing strong, equitable communities where vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties are transformed into assets for neighbors and neighborhoods.
Brian Larkin
Full Name
Alan Mallach
Job Title
Senior Fellow
Company
Center for Community Progress
Speaker Bio
Alan Mallach is a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress (Community Progress), America’s nonprofit leader for turning “Vacant Spaces into Vibrant Places.”
Mallach is a city planner, advocate and writer, nationally known for his work on housing, economic development, and urban revitalization. He has worked with local governments and community organizations across the country to develop creative policies and strategies to revitalize cities and neighborhoods.

A former director of housing & economic development in Trenton, New Jersey, Mallach currently teaches in the graduate city planning program at Pratt Institute in New York City. He has worked at the Brookings Institution and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. He has spoken on housing and urban issues in the United States, Europe, Israel and Japan. He was a visiting scholar at the University of Nevada Las Vegas for the 2010-2011 academic year.  

Mallach’s most recent book is The Divided City: Poverty and Prosperity in Urban America, which charts the course of change in shrinking Rust Belt cities, and the uneven effects of urban revival on lower income residents and communities of color. Among his other books include  A Decent Home: Planning, Building and Preserving Affordable Housing, and  Bringing Buildings Back: From Vacant Properties to Community Assets, which has become a resource for thousands of planners, lawyers, public officials and community leaders dealing with problem property and revitalization issues.

Mallach is a member of the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners and holds a B.A. degree from Yale University.
Alan Mallach
Full Name
Janell O'Keefe
Job Title
Senior Program Officer for Michigan Initiatives
Company
Center for Community Progress
Speaker Bio
Janell O’Keefe serves as the Senior Program Officer for Michigan Initiatives at the Center for Community Progress (Community Progress), America’s nonprofit leader for turning “Vacant Spaces into Vibrant Places.”

O’Keefe supports the organization’s technical assistance, leadership and education, research, and policy work throughout Michigan. Through this place-based program, she helps communities across the state better understand their vacancy challenges and develop new approaches to address and prevent vacant and deteriorated properties.

O’Keefe also spearheads the organization’s emerging research and education work on vacant land maintenance and stewardship. Through this work, Community Progress aims to inspire and foster the necessary systems-level policy changes to support long-term, large-scale reuse of vacant land that will build healthier, more resilient communities across the nation.

This work follows on O’Keefe’s experience as co-founder of Keep Growing Detroit (KGD), an organization dedicated to fostering food sovereignty. While there, O’Keefe led internal program evaluation efforts and provided gardeners and farmers with land acquisition and ordinance compliance technical assistance, along with supporting the organization with a variety of planning and policy related initiatives.

O’Keefe also worked at the University of Michigan School of Social Work Technical Assistance Center, where she piloted the successful Real Estate Essentials program (now known as “Better Buildings, Better Blocks”), which equips Detroit residents with the basics of real estate development and empowers them to become neighborhood based real estate developers. The program was a 2017 Knight Cities Challenge Winner.

O’Keefe earned a Master of Urban Planning degree, Master of Social Work degree, and Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology and Psychology from the University of Michigan. She is a licensed residential Realtor in the state of Michigan.
Janell O'Keefe
Full Name
Akilah Watkins
Job Title
President & CEO
Company
Center for Community Progress
Speaker Bio
A 25-year national thought leader, conference speaker, and non-profit executive, Dr. Watkins’s work began at the age of 14 when she led efforts to convert a vacant lot and abandoned home into a community center in Roosevelt, New York.

Since then, she’s served as an executive leader for non-profits and community development initiatives which includes work with the Obama administration, NeighborWorks America, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Center for the Study for Social Policy.

Her career’s work has focused on helping people, communities, and local and federal government drive impactful reform for key issues including land banking, property vacancy, childhood obesity, community health, and economic development.

From California to Long Island and Puerto Rico, Dr. Watkins’s thought leadership on diversity, inclusion, racial equity, and community development have been featured by America’s leading authorities and helped hundreds of communities. Those presentations and features include recognition by CNN, the New York Times, and Essence for her contributions to the field of community development.

Dr. Watkins is an alumna of the University of Illinois at Chicago where she received her Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology and a Master of Arts in Sociology. She is also a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University where she received two Master of Science degrees in Education and Community Economic Development. Dr. Watkins received her Bachelor of Science in Community and Human Services from the State University of New York, Empire State College.

Today, Dr. Watkins’s work as an equity advocate includes leading work in more than 300 communities in 48 states at Community Progress. Collaboratively, Community Progress works to grow strong, equitable communities where vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties are transformed into assets for neighbors and neighborhoods.

In addition to her work at Community Progress, Dr. Watkins serves as Vice President for the Board of Directors of Grounded Solutions Network and serves as a member of the National Center for Black Philanthropy.
Akilah Watkins
Full Name
Brittany J. Williams Davis
Job Title
Code Enforcement Prosecutor
Company
City of Memphis
Speaker Bio
Brittany J. Williams Davis is a Code Enforcement Prosecutor for the City of Memphis. In this position she advises Code Enforcement on legal issues and processes as well as litigates on behalf of the City of Memphis in cases involving blighted properties. Previously she was the Neighborhood Preservation Clinic Staff Attorney at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. In this position she represented the City of Memphis in Environmental Court matters and helped manage and facilitate the Neighborhood Preservation Clinic at the law school. Mrs. Davis has written on vacancy and abandonment in Memphis and the effect of property loss on communities. She helps coach the Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial team at the University of Memphis School of Law and volunteers as a mentor with STS Enterprise Corporation, a youth leadership development organization. Mrs. Davis earned her Juris Doctorate in 2015 from the University of Memphis School of Law, and her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 2012 from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Brittany J. Williams Davis