2017 Keynote Speakers

Andy Berke

Mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee 

Mayor Berke Headshot

Born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Andy Berke served as State Senator for Tennessee’s 10th District from 2007 to 2012 before becoming the 65th Mayor of Chattanooga in 2013. As Mayor, Andy is focused on growing the local economy, ensuring every child has the opportunity to succeed, making Chattanooga’s streets safer and neighborhoods stronger — all while running a high-performing and effective government. Under Mayor Berke’s leadership, Chattanooga has maximized their gigabit infrastructure and become a leader in the 21st century economy. In 2014, Mayor Berke established the first Innovation District in a mid-sized city and has since focused his efforts on digital equity, to ensure more citizens have the opportunity to participate in this burgeoning tech sector. To increase connectivity in the home, Mayor Berke has partnered with Chattanooga’s local fiber optic provider, EPB, to offer reliable, low-cost, high speed broadband to all families with a child on free or reduced lunch. In addition to digital equity, Mayor Berke works hard to strengthen Chattanooga families through a variety of initiatives, including Baby University which provides new parents with the tools and resources they need to get their child off to a great start in life and a Pre-K Scholarship program to increase access to early learning for families caught in the gap. In 2017, Mayor Berke established an Office of Workforce Development in City Hall to help build paths to the middle class for more Chattanoogans. Mayor Berke was named 2015’s Municipal Leader of the Year by American City and County magazine for these innovative initiatives and for his leadership during a domestic terror attack on July 16, 2015, that took the lives of four Marines and a Naval Officer.


Peggy Shepard

Co-Founder and Executive Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Peggy Shepard

An environmental crusader and tireless champion for ecological equality on behalf of inner cities, Peggy raised her voice – and later an army – against a systemic form of racism that threatens the environmental health of poor urban areas. She is co-founder and Executive Director of WE ACT For Environmental Justice, which has successfully integrated grassroots organizing, advocacy and health research to become one of the nation’s most highly respected environmental justice organizations. WE ACT has been a pioneer for advancing the perspective of environmental justice, in urban communities, that all are entitled to clean air, water and soil. WE ACT has evolved from a grassroots volunteer organization focused on West Harlem environmental issues into a professionally-staffed nonprofit with a membership base throughout Northern Manhattan. WE ACT’s Washington, DC office provides a voice for vulnerable communities on federal air and climate change policy, and coordinates the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change, a 40-member network across 19 states.

WE ACT’s first victory for government accountability was achieved by mobilizing community support to retrofit the North River sewage treatment plant. Through organizing and litigation, WE ACT vs. NYC DEP, resulted in a $55 million odor abatement plan and a $1.1 million North River Environmental Benefit Fund. WE ACT’s community-based planning achieved the West Harlem Piers waterfront park, and the nation’s first LEED-rated bus depot. Its translational research achieved the retrofit of NYC’s diesel bus fleet and contributed to city, state and federal policy on diesel retrofits, air quality regulations, pesticides, toxins, lead poisoning, climate change, and environmental justice.

Peggy is a recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Achievement, the 10th Annual Heinz Award for the Environment, the Dean’s Distinguished Service Award from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and an Honorary Sc.D from Smith College.