Staff Profiles

Barbara Ransby


Professor Barbara Ransby is an historian, writer and longtime community activist. She received her B.A. from Columbia University and her M.A. and Ph.D in History from the University of Michigan. Barbara Ransby is currently a Professor of African American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies (director, 2008-2013), and History at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) where she directs the campus-wide Social Justice Initiative. She previously served as Interim Vice Provost for Planning and Programs (2011 -2012). Her highly acclaimed biography, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision received eight national awards and recognitions. Professor Ransby is also winner of the prestigious Catherine Prelinger Prize for her contributions to women’s history. Her most recent book is Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson (Yale University Press, 2013).

Professor Ransby has also published in numerous scholarly and popular publications and lectures widely. She serves on the editorial boards of The Black Commentator, (an online journal); the London-based journal, Race and Class; the Justice, Power and Politics Book Series at University of North Carolina Press; and the Scholar’s Advisory Committee of Ms. Magazine, as well as the National Advisory Board of “Imagining America”. In the summer of 2012 she became the second Editor in Chief of SOULS, a critical journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society published quarterly since 1999. In addition to her scholarship, Professor Ransby is a public historian who works with many community based and activist Emaiorganizations.

Email Barbara Ransby at

Prudence Browne

Associate Director

Prudence Browne is a Ph.D. Candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and former Managing Editor of Souls Journal. She has over 15 years of experience working with community based organizations and schools in New York City and Chicago. She is a core organizing member of Teachers for Social Justice in Chicago and a member of the Urban South Grassroots Research Collective. Her own scholarly research is focused on post-hurricane education reform in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Email Prudence Browne at

Photo of Charlotte Jackson

Charlotte Jackson

Business Manager

Charlotte is the Business Manager for SJI. She received a B.A. in History from University of Illinois at Chicago. Having assisted with the West Side Women in Action project several years ago, Charlotte is interested in examining the legacy of Chicago’s west side Lawndale Community in the aftermath of the King Riots of 1968. Charlotte is currently enrolled in the M.S. in Library and Information Science at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, concentrating in Community Informatics.

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Essence McDowell

Digital Media & Communications Strategist

Essence is a communications and digital media strategist with a love for community organizing. Her background includes media relations, multi-platform marketing, writing, editing, and web design. Essence holds a M.A. in Journalism & New Media from DePaul University and a B.A. in Communications from Bethune-Cookman University. In addition to her role at the Social Justice Initiative, Essence is a communications consultant for educational institutions and non-profit organizations in throughout Chicago.

Email Essence McDowell at