The Dialogue on Race Steering Committee

The Dialogue on Race was the result of years of hard work, “grassroots energy,” and long-term commitment of three groups: the Human Relations Council (HRC) of Montgomery County, The Community Group, and the Dialogue on Race steering committee.


The HRC, created in 1993 by the Board of Supervisors, and the Community Group, formed by the Reverend John Price and Penny Franklin in 2006, the first African-American to be elected to public office in Montgomery County, laid the foundation for our current work.  The HRC was created to address racial issues as they occurred. The Community Group’s goal is to help unify the African-American community and encourage other black residents to run for public office.  But neither group’s focus was on bringing a diverse group of people together to talk.  Thus the need for the third group: the Dialogue on Race steering Committee.


From 2010 until early 2012, a small steering committee—Penny Franklin, Andy Morikawa, Dave Britt, Ben Dixon, Jim Dubinsky, Ray Plaza, Wornie Reed, and Latanya Walker—worked to find a model that would accomplish the goal of bringing people together to talk about race and begin to address problems of inequality around education, pay, and employment opportunities.  A few of these fine folk moved on after retiring (Ben Dixon) or finding new jobs (Ray Plaza).  The Steering Committee for the first two Summits included Penny, Andy, Dave, Jim, Wornie, and Latanya.  Latanya stepped down in early 2014, and that is when Holly Lesko joined the group.  Late in 2014, Martha Ann Stallings and Lisa Garcia joined as Steering Committee members. In 2016, Holly Lesko stepped down from leading the White Privilege Issue Group and Debbie Sherman-Lee joined the Steering Group in her place. 

In 2020, Victoria Huber Cochran and Steve Cochran joined the Steering Committee - Victoria to lead the Limited Presence Issue Group and Steve the Employment and Wage Gap Issue Group. 

Current Steering Committee Members

Penny Franklin

Penny Franklin is a lift truck operator in Shipping Utility at Hubbell Lighting, and she serves on and is former chair of the Montgomery County Board of Education; member of the Virginia School Board Association Board of Directors; president of Local 82160 of the IUE/CWA; former board chair, now Area Chair of the Montgomery Count-Radford City-Floyd County NAACP; and member of the national Executive Council of the IUE.  She is co-founder of the Community Group, an African American civil society organization in Montgomery County; founding member of the New Mountain Climbers, the first giving circle in southwest Virginia, the first African American philanthropy in southwest Virginia.

Martha Ann Stallings

Martha Ann Stallings recently retired from The Virginia Tech Training & Technical Assistance Center which is funded through the Virginia Department of Education to support students with disabilities. Prior to working at TTAC she spent 25 years in Montgomery County Public Schools  where she taught at four schools and was the Supervisor of Staff Development for six years. While at the central office she provided professional development for PK-12 educators. In addition, she was a member of the Diversity Forum and was instrumental in organizing and supporting middle and high school student diversity groups and grants.

Lisa K. Garcia

  Community work has been a focus for Lisa since her graduation from Virginia Tech and first years working as a news reporter and photojournalist in a small town. It was there she said she learned that the community worked best when its members worked together. Today she develops business opportunities nationally and internationally for technology companies located in our region. She is a National Science Foundation Instructor for STEM tech commercialization at Virginia Tech and a startup technology entrepreneur coach at RAMP - the regional business accelerator.


She also currently serves on the Town of Blacksburg's Recreation Advisory Board and the New River Valley TimeBank. 

Victoria Cochran

Victoria Cochran has lived in the New River Valley since 1986.  She practiced criminal defense law as a Public Defender in southwest Virginia for 18 years.  She is the former Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security – Commonwealth of Virginia as well.


Concerned with the inequities of the justice system, she formed a small consulting business to develop a training and community engagement program to improve police response to calls involving individuals with mental illness.  The New River Valley Crisis Intervention Team program became a model for communities throughout Virginia.  As a result of this work, she became involved in developing state policy and programs for jail diversion and joined the Kaine administration as Statewide Coordinator for Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice.  In 2014, Governor Terry McAuliffe appointed Victoria to serve as  Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.  Throughout her career, Victoria has worked to help put the “equal” back in “equal justice under the law”.    She helped start and facilitate the Montgomery County Race Relations Workgroup and is a proud life member of the NAACP. She joined the Dialogue on Race Steering Group in 2020.

Andy Morikawa

IPG Senior Fellow at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Policy & Governance; board member of The Community Group of Montgomery County, the New Mountain Climbers giving circle, and the SustainFloyd Foundation. Founding member of the Dialogue on Race steering group.  He hosts the IPG podcast, Trustees Without Borders; and, the Academy for Global Engineering podcast, Engineers for the World.

Wornie Reed

Wornie Reed, Ph.D., is Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, and Director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center at Virginia Tech University.  Professor Reed has taught courses, conducted research, and published numerous articles and eight books on medical care, health and illness, urban communities, and criminal and juvenile justice.  In addition, he served a three-year term (1990-92) as President of the National Congress of Black Faculty, and he is past president of the national Association of Black Sociologists (2000-2001).

Debbie Sherman-Lee

  Debbie is a retired teacher from Montgomery County Public Schools. For 36 years, she taught health, physical education and driver's education. She currently leads the Jim Crow/White Privilege Issue Group for the Dialogue on Race. 

  As a member of Asbury United Methodist Church, she serves on the PPR Committee and is a member of the United Methodist Women's Group. She is also a member of the Community Group and New Mountain Climbers, in the local chapter of the NAACP she serves on the Awareness Committee. She is also a member of theChristiansburg Ruritan Club, member of the Executive Board for the Montgomery County Education Foundation of the NRV. 

Steve Cochran

Steve is a human resources professional with over thirty years of experience who works for HHHunt Corporation, headquartered in Blacksburg. He has lived in Montgomery County since coming to Virginia Tech in the mid 1970s and has been active in the community in various capacities. Steve has held elected positions in the Democratic Party at the local, state and national level. He is a life member of the Montgomery County-Radford City-Floyd County Branch of the NAACP and a co-founder of the Montgomery County Race Relations Workgroup. He served a four-year term on the Montgomery County Planning Commission and served on the board of directors of the Mental Health Association of the New River Valley. In 2014, Steve was appointed by Gov. McAuliffe to the Board of Trustees of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center where he served for five years.

Past Steering Committee Members

Holly Lesko

Holly Larson Lesko is currently the Program Director for VT PEERS, a STEM outreach project in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Her paid and volunteer work in the New River Valley has spanned 28 years. The focus of her energy has been in community and individual development through collaborative engagement, facilitated dialogue, fund seeking, and policy development that empowers and amplifies diverse voices and perspectives in the region. She has worked in health, education, housing and employment equity arenas throughout her career and her volunteer efforts span regional organizations and programmatic action. She served on the DoR executive committee from 2014-17 and remains active on the White Privilege/Jim Crow issue group.

John Sills

  John Sills retired in 2016 after 31 years with Corning, Inc. He worked at several plant locations in a variety of roles including manufacturing, engineering and operations management.  John transferred to the Corning plant in Christiansburg in 2006. 

Upon John’s arrival to Montgomery County he became actively involved at Blacksburg High School serving as the band booster president for three years.  He is a member of Asbury United Methodist Church and has served in several leadership roles within the church. John supports the Kairos prison ministry at the Pocahontas, Va. correctional facility.  Johan also serves on the Montgomery County Board of Elections. 

Jim Dubinsky

Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Writing in Virginia Tech's Department of English where he currently serves as Director of the Center of the Study of Rhetoric in Society. He is a retired US Army officer, father of four, and current Executive Director for the Association for Business Communication.  Jim has been involved in the NRV since moving here in 1998.  He was founding director of what is now VT-Engage, and he hosts a radio show and advises the student leaders at WUVT, Virginia Tech's radio station.

David Britt

Since my mid 20’s when I taught at Morehouse College, I’ve been committed to racial healing and justice.  The terms and some of the issues have changed over the years, but the basic inequities have persisted.  Working with the Dialogue group on behalf of Montgomery County has been a signal honor. 

Latanya Walker

Latanya Walker is currently the director of alumni relations for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement at Virginia Tech and is responsible for creating and maintaining supportive relationships between the university and multicultural alumni connecting them through university programs, services, and engagement. She previously held the role of assistant director in Virginia Tech’s Upward Bound program.