2018 Plenary and Conference Speakers

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar



Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and a six-time NBA champion. He is also one of a handful of influential and respected black men in America who has a national platform as a regular contributing columnist for The Washington Post and The Hollywood Reporter, where he shares his thoughts on some of the most socially relevant and politically controversial topics facing our nation today. After 50 years as an athlete, activist, and New York Times bestselling author, he offers his perspectives as a nationally recognized speaker who regularly appears on the lecture circuit. His new book, Becoming Kareem is an autobiographical account of his tumultuous spiritual and athletic journey from childhood through college and his first year in the NBA. It debuts November 2017.

His Emmy Award-winning HBO Sports documentary, "Kareem: Minority of One", debuted as HBO’s most watched and highest rated sports documentary of all time. Currently, Abdul-Jabbar serves as the chairman of his Skyhook Foundation whose mission is to “Give Kids a Shot That Can’t be Blocked” by bringing educational STEM opportunities to underserved communities through innovative outdoor environmental learning. His most recent projects include an action mystery series entitled Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock Holmes’s savvy older brother) which is being developed into a series of novels and comic books by Titan Publishing.

Before President Obama left office in 2016, he awarded Abdul-Jabbar the nation’s highest civilian honor, The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Photo credit: Dan Winters

Ramu Damodaran

Ramu Damodaran

Ramu Damodaran is Deputy Director for Partnerships and Public Engagement in the United Nations Department of Public Information’s Outreach Division and is chief of the United Nations Academic Impact initiative, which aligns institutions of higher learning and research with the objectives of the United Nations and the States and peoples who constitute it. He is also the current secretary of the United Nations Committee on Information. His earlier posts with the Organization have included the Departments of Peacekeeping and Special Political Questions, as well as the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.

Ramu Damodaran has been a member of the Indian Foreign Service, where he was promoted to the rank of Ambassador, and where he served as Executive Assistant to the Prime Minister of India as well as in the diplomatic missions in Moscow and to the United Nations, and in a range of national governmental ministries. He has been actively involved in mass media in India, including print, radio and television, and was a recipient of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union award for the best radio documentary.


T.W. Shannon


When T.W. Shannon took the oath of office in January 2013 at the age of 34, he made history by becoming the youngest speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, as well as being the first Chickasaw and first African-American to hold the post. In addition to breaking barriers in the reddest state in the union, T.W.’s election as speaker was also a nationally recognized feat, as he was the first African American republican in the country to head a legislative body since Reconstruction.

Even before leading the Oklahoma House, T.W. had a record of success as a history maker, becoming the first republican elected to the House District 64 seat in southwest Oklahoma. Heralded as a “Rising Star” by the Republican National Committee, Speaker Shannon utilized his platform to champion common sense solutions that aimed to advance minority communities in Oklahoma. T.W. was successful in Oklahoma’s fight to repeal affirmative action. He also successfully led the effort to overhaul the state’s welfare system by mandating a 20-hour work week for able-bodied adult recipients. Additionally, T.W. passed into law legislation that made Oklahoma the first state in the nation to provide a $5,000 tax deduction for parents of foster children.

Before serving in the legislature, T.W. was chief administrative officer at the Chickasaw Nation. In his role with the Chickasaw Nation, he also led the support functions for the most financially successful tribe in the country and worked on governmental affairs on both a state and national level. Additionally, T.W. has been an entrepreneur in his own public relations consulting operation for over a decade, and led the Investment Banking Division of Premier Consulting in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Currently, T.W. is the CEO of Bank2 in Oklahoma City, the only bank in the country wholly owned by a tribe, the Chickasaw Nation.  

T.W. has been featured on numerous national forums discussing race in America, including “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer,” “Fox and Friends,” Hannity” and “Varney & Co.” In this capacity, T.W. has often had a chance to add to the national dialogue from a young minority perspective.

He is an Aspen Institute Rodel Fellow and a part of the Young America Foundation’s Speakers Bureau. He was recently invited as a guest speaker on the campus of Amherst College in Massachusetts, where T.W. lectured to the student body concerning recent racial tensions on the campus and directly addressed the negative effects of affirmative action efforts. During the Spring 2017 semester, T.W. served as a Harvard University Institute of Politics Fellow.

T.W. also is the chairman of the Future Majority Project, a subgroup of the Republican State Legislative Committee. The mission of the project is to recruit diverse candidates across the country to run for office at the state level. T.W. also serves as a board member of CURE, the Center for Urban Renewal and Education. CURE is the Washington, D.C.-based think tank dedicated to culture, race and poverty.

T.W. has a Juris Doctor degree from Oklahoma City University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Cameron University. He has been married to his college sweetheart Devon, a college professor, for 15 years. They are the proud parents of 12-year-old Audrey Grace and eight-year-old Tahrohon Wayne, II.



Claudia San Pedro



Claudia San Pedro serves as President for the Oklahoma City-based national headquarters of SONIC®, America’s Drive-In®. Her responsibilities include franchisee relations, supply chain, franchise sales and development, business planning, and overseeing finance function. Most recently, San Pedro served the company as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. 

San Pedro joined Sonic in 2006 as Treasurer. She has also served as Vice President of Investor Relations since 2009. In that role, she directed financial planning, procurement and investment of funds for the organization and formulated investor relations strategy and oversaw communications with the investment community.

Prior to joining SONIC, San Pedro served as the Director for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance. Appointed by Governor Brad Henry in 2005, San Pedro was the first female and first Hispanic to serve as Director of State Finance (OSF) for Oklahoma. Before joining OSF and the Henry administration, San Pedro served as the Assistant Director of the Oklahoma State Senate fiscal staff and a staff budget analyst for the senate appropriations subcommittees on education, human services and general government.

San Pedro is currently a volunteer board member of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools and Downtown OKC. She holds an undergraduate degree from Smith College in Massachusetts and an MBA from the University of Oklahoma.

Born in Mexico City, San Pedro resides in Oklahoma City with her family.