Paul Clayton is a 46 year old Florida resident who, as a young man, made mistakes and paid the price. After serving nearly two decades in a federal penitentiary for a non-violent drug offense, Paul was released and now serves as a role model for others seeking to turn their lives around.
As a rehabilitated adult, Paul knows first-hand the barriers that remain in place for those saddled with old arrest and conviction records. These records often block access to employment, education, housing, and volunteer and community service making it even harder to turn one’s life around – even after years of living a clean and model lifestyle.
Paul has dedicated his life to helping others and has become the chief advocate for Futures Restored, an organization dedicated to reducing recidivism by restoring lives. Paul is an outspoken advocate of the Clean Slate Act, legislation that would automatically expunge misdemeanors and felonies from their records of people who have lived crime-free for a certain number of years.
Melissa McKnight has more than a decade of public sector experience. She previously served in leadership positions in a variety of District of Columbia government agencies focusing on education accountability and funding, workforce and economic development as well as data and systems development.
Prior to launching the Lincoln Square Group, she was the Director of College and Career Readiness for the District of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). In this role, Melissa was responsible for the development and implementation of all District-wide postsecondary and career awareness, access, readiness and completion initiatives. She also managed the development of data-driven tools including postsecondary education feedback reports, an online system to measure… District of Columbia student postsecondary outcomes, secure site for high schools to access critical academic data on incoming freshman and an innovative tool allowing high school staff to see student-level Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion in real time. In addition, she served as a subject matter expert in the development of the District of Columbia’s STAR Framework and the DC School Report Card and co-led the development of the District’s STAR framework for alternative education providers.
Prior to joining OSSE, Melissa served as the Chief of Staff for the District’s Department of Employment Services. In this capacity, she managed multiple divisions focusing on workforce opportunities for youth and adults, reforming the District’s unemployment compensation, measuring program performance and accountability and development of strategic partnerships with District employers. She also served as the Director’s chief liaison to the Office of the Mayor, the Council of the District of Columbia and other agency leadership.
Prior to her tenure at the Department of Employment Services, Melissa served in various capacities at the District’s Department of Energy and Environment, Department of Parks and Recreation and the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation. At each of these agencies, she served key roles in administering grants, creating and implementing new programs and coordinating leadership efforts across various District agencies.
Prior to her service to the District of Columbia, Melissa served as a Special Assistant to the Director of Domestic Policy for the White House.
Melissa is a graduate of the George Washington University in Washington, DC.
Johnny Pacheco is Managing Director at The Williams Group, with 25 years’ experience in business development, commercial lending, analysis, operational management, strategic goal setting, fiscal management, strategic planning, and implementation.
Prior to joining The Williams Group, Johnny’s experience included working at top-tier financial institutions as well as new entrant disruptors in the industry, where he has demonstrated success directing business transformation and delivering impactful results within the financial services industry.
Johnny received his undergraduate degree from The State University at Albany and his MBA from PACE University.
Ja’Ron K. Smith
Ja’Ron K. Smith
Ja’Ron Smith recently served as the Executive Director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity, which aims to move people living in fragile communities from promise to prosperity by developing research- based solutions to pressing issues such as education, entrepreneurship, criminal justice and overall economic conditions. For years, Ja’Ron has been a champion of pushing for policies that create positive change for forgotten Americans and deliver tangible results for impoverished communities. Prior to CAO, Ja’Ron was President Trump’s highest and longest ranking African-American advisor and served in the White House in many different roles. Most recently, he served as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and Deputy Director of the White House Office of American Innovation.
Ja’Ron played a key role in developing President Trump’s policies and has been a driving force in passing legislation aimed at helping the African American community. He was instrumental in passing the criminal justice reform bill that freed thousands of African Americans and reunited people with their families, helped give historically black colleges and universities the highest level of presidential funding they’ve received in 20 years, advocated for boosting the opportunity zone program that revitalized many minority and low-income communities, and also focused on aiding minority businesses impacted by COVID-19 and was behind the President’s recent executive order regarding law enforcement and use of force in America. Ja’Ron’s portfolio during his time at the White House included a wide range of other issues, including immigration, re-entry, economic revitalization of distressed communities, infrastructure, trade, economic growth and job creation, and more.
He previously served as a Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs and was the President’s liaison to the United States House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, Agriculture Committee, Education and Workforce Committee, Homeland Security Committee, Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Prior to serving as the Special Assistant to the President in the Office of Legislative Affairs, Ja’Ron served as the President’s Director of Urban
Affairs and Revitalization, where he was a chief policy strategist and manager of HBCU initiatives, crime and reentry, and the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. Before the President began his term in office, Ja’Ron also served Congressmen J.C. Watts, Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan, Jeb Hensarling, along with Senator Tim Scott and prior Chairman and Governor Mike Pence.
As evidenced by his personal and professional commitments, Mr. Smith has been a longtime advocate for economic development, crime prevention, entrepreneurship, and workforce development. Ja’Ron Smith was recently awarded the 2020 Bipartisan Justice Award.
Ja’Ron is a graduate of Howard University School of Business and Howard University School of Divinity.