Justice in Action Conference Presenters


Melody McCurtis Deputy Director of Priorities/Organizer, Metcalfe Park Community Bridges Organizer, activist and fighter for the people

Ms. McCurtis grew up in Metcalfe Park, attended Ralph H. Metcalfe Middle School and gained her first job at Fitzsimonds Boys and Girls Club located in the community Melody serves as Deputy Director of Priorities/Organizer for Metcalfe Park Community Bridges. She works under the community’s directive. She deeply believes in community power for the sake of transformation. Her focus is community power that leads to community wealth. She believes community land trust, community co-ops and worker co-ops will be one of the catalysts for her people to thrive. Melody lives in a multi-generational household and believes her role as a ”dope single parent” of two children has been the catalyst to her organizing style.

Ms. Marisola Xhelili Ciaccio is the Associate Director of the Education Preparedness Program (EPP) at the Center for Urban Research, Teaching & Outreach (CURTO) and a doctoral candidate in Philosophy. Prior to her role with EPP, Ms. Cicaccio was a Carceral Studies Fellow at CURTO and an Arthur J. Schmitt Fellow. Her academic research focuses on decolonial criticism of social systems, social identity, and moral psychology.

Dr. Robert S. Smith is the Director of the Center for Urban Research, Teaching & Outreach and Harry G. John Professor of History at Marquette University. His research and teaching interests include African American history, civil rights history, and exploring the intersections of race and law. Dr. Smith is the author of Black Liberation from Reconstruction to Black Lives Matter in the Debating American History Series, and Race, Labor & Civil Rights: Griggs v. Duke Power and the Struggle for Equal Employment Opportunity. Dr. Smith also serves on the Board of Curators for the Wisconsin Historical Society, is the Resident Historian for America’s Black Holocaust Museum, and is Chair of the Milwaukee County Human Rights Commission.

Mia Valenzuela (she/her) is the Southeast Campus Organizer with Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) in Milwaukee, WI. LIT works to organize young people to build independent political power for social, racial, and economic justice through values-based issues and electoral organizing, direct action, public policy advocacy, and leadership development. Mia supervises the LIT college department fellows at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside. She is responsible for organizing UWM and UWP to mobilize and organize young people around civic, electoral and issue-based campaigns. Mia is particularly passionate about issues impacting the student experience as she has spent the past five years working with high school and college students.Mia graduated from the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a minor in Psychology where she further developed her passion for social justice. Her focus was in youth work, specifically within cities. During her field placement, Mia worked with Lead2Change and Milwaukee Public schools to deliver career readiness and community building programs to high school students. Mia is motivated by supporting youth of color in claiming their power and transforming their communities.

Jeanne Geraci has served as the Benedict Center’s Executive Director since August 2011. The Benedict Center provides services and advocacy for women in the criminal justice system so they can live safer, healthier lives for themselves, their children and the community we all share. Programs include Women’s Harm Reduction (community alternative to incarceration), Sisters (street outreach), and Justice Advocacy. All services promote a public health, trauma informed approach to helping justice-involved women. Jeanne Geraci has worked for more than 18 years in the nonprofit sector with a focus on advocacy and community organizing.

Kat Becker, Sessie Agbley, and the 414 Fellows The 414 Fellows are AmeriCorps members serving 300 hours in Early Head Start classrooms at the Next Door Foundation. Fellows participate in weekly reflections & trainings to engage more critically in community work. 

Amanda Smit, Program Coordinator and Eugene Nelson FSET Coordinator, Project Return

Corena Smith, Marquette University Junior - Majoring in Philosophy and minors in Criminology and Law Studies and Social Welfare and Justice

Alyssa Spies, Marquette University Junior - Majoring in Criminology and Law Studies, and Sociology with a minor in Social Welfare and Justice

Dr. Theresa W. Tobin is the Director of the Education Preparedness Program (EPP) at the Center for Urban Research, Teaching & Outreach and Associate Professor of Philosophy. She is also the Associate Dean for Student Development at Marquette University. Theresa's academic research focuses on contemporary ethics with a special focus on ethical questions that arise at the intersections of gender, sexuality, religion and culture. She has written articles on themes related to gender, moral trust, and the nature and moral significance of spiritual violence for Hypatia, Metaphilosophy, Social Theory and Practice, and Human Rights Review.

Black Student Council Our mission is to make a change, highlight our culture, and create an environment where Black Students can thrive and flourish. Most importantly we emphasize creating positive synergy in the Marquette and Milwaukee community. Our values are community service, togetherness, respect, integrity and, compassion for humanity. We ask that all members uphold these values to help further the cause and to create a beloved community here on campus.

Shar-Ron Buie was born in Madison, WI. Upon graduation from high school, he went on to serve with distinction in the Marine Corps. After his discharge, he had a conflict with a friend that resulted in his death. In 1994, after pleading no contest to the offense he was given a life sentence in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. While in prison, he founded the first American Legion Post in prison and served as its first elected Commander. Also, he served as a Veterans Service Representative and founded a Veterans Outreach Program that provides representative service to incarcerated veterans. As a Peer Tutor he assisted almost 300 men in obtaining their HSED’s since 2000. Finally, while in prison he earned 63 certifications and diplomas. On June 30, 2020, he was paroled from prison after serving 25 years. Since Shar-Ron's release from prison, he earned his Certification as a Peer Support Specialist. He also began completion of his Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice from UW Platteville. He will graduate in May 2022 with that degree. He currently works for Porchlight Inc. as a Certified Peer Support Specialist working with and for marginalized Veterans. He also works for the JustDane organization as the Health Navigator who specializes in promoting the Covid Vaccination amongst marginalized populations. Finally, he is the Community Liaison for the Education Preparedness Program at Marquette University. In this capacity he hopes to effectuate a systemic change in the criminal justice system by providing educational opportunities to justice impacted persons. He holds a paralegal degree, Associate degree in Electronics, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration with Honors from UW Platteville.