Top 20 Inspirational Speakers at Chicago Ideas Week 2017

Chicago Ideas Week

On October 16, 2017, over 30,000 people will gather for the 5th annual Chicago Ideas Week! Chicago Ideas is a movement built on the central belief that when a broad array of thinkers and instigators come together, they have the power to transform the world. With 250+ speakers, 200+ events, and thousands of yearly attendees, Chicago Ideas Week 2017 encapsulates a wide range of speakers and looks at topics such as education, politics, health, music, and food from a variety of angles.  It promotes inclusiveness and diversity while engaging excellence of intellectual discourse.

Featured Speakers at Chicago Ideas Week 2017

1Alec Baldwin 
Acclaimed Broadway, Film, and TV Actor

Critically acclaimed actor Alec Baldwin was born in Massapequa, New York, and is the oldest, and the best-known, of the four Baldwin brothers in the acting business. In 1980, Baldwin he was cast in the daytime TV series The Doctors on NBC and has worked in nearly every venue as a professional actor ever since. He is best known for his performances on Saturday Night Live and for his role in 30 Rock, for which he won two Emmy Awards and two Golden Globes. Baldwin is an out-spoken supporter of various causes related to public policy, including environmentalism, the government’s support of the arts, campaign finance reform, animal rights, and gun control.

2Wayne Brady
TV Personality and Comedic Actor

After a brief stint in Las Vegas, Brady headed to Hollywood where appearances on episodes of the NBC series I’ll Fly Away and In the Heat of the Night helped him make his small screen entry. In 1997, he tried out for the British TV series Whose Line Is It Anyway and impressed producers, who would cast him in four of the season’s episodes. Brady was appropriately quick-witted and fast on his feet and excelled in the very popular singing and dancing events, quickly becoming an audience favorite with his dependably clever and uproarious take on events such as the storytelling “Hoedown” and “Greatest Hits.” He would go on to be a regular on the American version of the same show. Also a theater actor, Brady recently starred in Hamilton for the PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago.

3Patricia Churchland
Philosopher; Professor Emerita, University of California, San Diego

Patricia Churchland is a professor of philosophy (emerita) at the University of California, San Diego, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Research. She is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. As a philosopher, Churchland focuses on the interface between traditional philosophical questions and new developments in neuroscience and genetics. She calls this sort of interfacing “Neurophilosophy” and her 2011 book (Braintrust) links morality with the brain and its evolution. Her most recent book is Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain, published in 2013. Churchland has been president of the American Philosophical Association and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology. She won a MacArthur Prize in 1991 and the Rossi Prize for neuroscience in 2008.

4Arne Duncan
Managing Partner, Emerson Collective

 Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan now serves as Managing Partner at Emerson Collective. His current goal is to improve the lives and education of young adults in his hometown of Chicago. Duncan aims to partner with local businesses to create job and life opportunities for disconnected youth between the ages of 17 and 24. Before becoming secretary of education, Duncan served as the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), a position he held from June 2001 through December 2008. He advocates for education reform and improvement of public schools throughout the United States.

5Joi Ito
Director, MIT Media Lab

Joi Ito is a tech entrepreneurs and the director of the MIT Media Lab. He also works as a Professor of the Practice of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT and as a Visiting Professor at the Harvard Law School. Ito has won numerous awards for his work in technology, including the Golden Plate Award by the Academy of Acheivement and the IRI Medal. He was elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2017. Ito serves on the boards of the Knight Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, The New York Times Company, and Creative Commons. He was also the founder of Digital Garage in Japan.

6Danielle Sered
Director, Common Justice

Danielle Sered is the co-founder and director of Common Justice, a project aimed at creating practical solutions to violence that advance racial equity, meet the needs of those harmed, and avoid incarceration. Before building Common Justice, Danielle served as the Deputy Director of Vera’s Adolescent Reentry Initiative, a program for young men returning from incarceration on Rikers Island. She is the author of The Other Side of Harm: Addressing Disparities in our Responses to Violence, and teaches about restorative justice at the CUNY Silberman School of Social Work.

7Bobbi Brown
Make Up Artist and Founder, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics

Bobbi Brown is the founder of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. As a successful makeup artist with access to everything in the market, Brown found nearly all products looked too artificial, making it impossible to create a gorgeous, no-makeup look. She started with a line of lipsticks and soon expanded, catching the attention of cosmetics empire Estée Lauder, who bought Bobbi Brown Cosmetics in 1995, just four years after the company’s inception. Today, Brown retains creative control of the brand. In addition to running her company, Brown continues to pursue her craft by creating the runway looks for New York Fashion Week.

8Neil Stevenson
Executive Portfolio Director, IDEO Chicago

Neil Stevenson is the Executive Portfolio Director of IDEO Chicago, a global design firm. His work focuses on creativity and storytelling. He has worked on a wide variety of projects with IDEO – from food and beverage work to video game interfaces. Stevenson gives regular talks on emerging trends and future scenarios, with an emphasis on the tension between new technology and our relatively un-evolved brains. Before IDEO, Stevenson studied the human brain and behavior at Oxford University, graduating with Master’s degrees in psychology and social anthropology. He also worked as a magazine editor for The Face in London before joining IDEO.

9Jill Tarter
Bernard M. Oliver Chair, SETI Institute 

Jill Tarter holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and serves as a member of the Board of Trustees. As the former Director of the SETI Institute prior to retirement in 2012, Tarter’s work focused on astronomy and the search for civilizations and life on other planets. Tarter has been recognized as an exceptionally influential scientist, with two public service medals from NASA. In 1989, she was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by Women in Aerospace and in 2009 she received a TED Prize.

10Bassem Youssef
Comedian and TV Host

Bassem Youssef, dubbed the “Jon Stewart of the Arab World,” was the creator and host of popular TV show Al- Bernameg— the first political satire show in the Middle East. Al-Bernameg became the most watched show across the Middle East with 30 million viewers every week. In 2013, Youssef was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People and was awarded the International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). In 2015 Youssef hosted the Emmy Awards and in 2016 he produced a digital series called Democracy Handbook with Bassem Youssef.

11Tricia Bobeda
Nerdette Co-Host and Senior Editor of Digital, WBEZ

Tricia Bobeda is the Senior Editor of Digital at WBEZ and the co-host of the “Nerdette” Podcast. She leads the team of producers, reporters and editors responsible for WBEZ’s website, apps, and social media. “Nerdette” has featured guests like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Gillian Anderson, and Caitlin Moran. Bobeda also served as a reporter for WBEZ. She studied journalism at Northwestern University and was a finalist in the KCRW 2013 Radio Race.

12Kim Foxx
State’s Attorney, Cook County

Kimberly Foxx is the State’s Attorney in Cook County, Illinois. She is the second African American to hold the position in the county, and the first African American woman to do so. The Cook County State Attorney’s Office is the second largest prosecutor’s office in the United States. Foxx took office as the top prosecutor in 2016 and aims to reform the justice system into a fairer process that promotes community safety.

13Marcelo Gleiser
Professor, Dartmouth College

Marcelo Gleiser is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College. He is a physicist and author of five popular science books: The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected (2016), The Island of Knowledge (2014), A Tear at the Edge of Creation (2010), The Prophet and the Astronomer (2002), and The Dancing Universe (1997/2005). Gleiser joined Dartmouth college as a professor in 1991 and recieved the Presidential Faculty Fellows Award from the White House and the National Science Foundation in 1994. He is the co-founder of the science blog 13.7.

14James Vincent Meredith
Actor, Steppenwolf Theater Company

James Vincent Meredith has been working on Chicago stages for almost 20 years. Meredith recently completed a three-year national tour as Mafala Hatimbi in The Book of Mormon. He is an ensemble member at Steppenwolf, where some credits include Between Riverside and Crazy, Clybourne Park, The Crucible and Superior Donuts, which also played at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre.

15Johnny Perez
Safe Reentry Advocate, Urban Justice Center

Johnny Perez is the Safe Reentry advocate at the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project (MHP), a nonprofit law firm that provides pro bono legal services in NYC. He works with people with mental illness and histories of incarceration to help them recover and renter society. Perez himself served 13 years in prison, with 3 of those years being in solitary confinement. Now, Perez is a member of the NY Advisory Committee to the United States Civil Rights Commission, a member of the NYC Bar Association’s Correction and Reentry Committee, and a member of the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC).

16Jamil Smith
Senior National Correspondent, MTV News

Jamil Smith was a Senior National Correspondent for MTV News who covered politics during the 2016 presidential election. His time at MTV included work on sports, race and society in addition to politics. Previously, he was a senior editor at New Republic, as well as the host of the magazine’s first podcast, “INTERSECTION.” He also served as a producer for MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Melissa Harris-Perry, and won three Sports Emmy Awards during his six years with NFL Films. In 2015, Smith was named to The Root‘s list of top 100 black influencers.

17Lena Waithe
Emmy Award-Winning Screenwriter & Actress

One of Hollywood Reporter’s “TV Breakouts”, Lena Waithe expertly taps into emerging cultural sensibilities with a sharp wit, speaking to myriad experiences from her unique perspective and challenging audiences to think outside of conventional norms. Waithe first made headlines in front of the camera as Denise, friend to Dev (Aziz Ansari) in the critically acclaimed Netflix series Master of None. She recently won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the same program.

18Julia Stasch
President of the MacArthur Foundation

Julia Stasch is President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the twelfth largest nonprofit in the United States. The MacArthur Foundation has assets of more than $6.3 billion, and offices in Chicago, Mexico City, New Delhi and Abuja, Nigeria. Stasch has served as the Foundation’s President since March 2015. She joined the Foundation in 2001 as Vice President for U.S. Programs, responsible for programs centering on justice, education, social and economic policy, and more within the United States.

19Nick Turner
President, Vera Institute of Justice

Nick Turner has been the President of the Vera Institute of Justice, since 2013. Vera strives to better jail conditions and reform current justice systems, especially in relation to minorities. Turner leads the company in its effort to reduce the number of inmates in solitary confinement, minimize crime, and “treat prisoners with dignity.”  Turner also sits on the advisory council of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and serves on the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, as well as the Advisory Board to New York City’s Children’s Cabinet.

20John Wetzel
Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

In December of 2010, John Wetzel was selected as the 11th Secretary of Corrections for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by Governor-elect Corbett. His tenure there saw an elimination of a 24-year average growth of 1500 inmates per year, presiding over the first population reduction in Pennsylvania in more than four decades. Additionally, he oversaw the restructuring of the Community Corrections system, the mental health system, and a re-engineering of internal processes to yield a more efficient system of program delivery. Secretary John Wetzel is widely recognized as one of the thought leaders in corrections today.

For inquiries about booking one of these speakers from Chicago Ideas Week 2017, or other global thought leaders for your next event, please contact us.

Chicago Ideas Week 2017


All American Entertainment (AAE) is a full-service talent booking agency dedicated to representing the interests of meeting and event planners. AAE has helped thousands of the most respected companies, organizations, and universities identify and secure high-profile keynote speakers and celebrity talent for personal appearances, speaking engagements, promotional campaigns, and a wide range of other functions. AAE’s talent base includes professional business and motivational speakers, best-selling authors, top athletes, award-winning comedians, TV personalities, musicians, celebrity chefs, and many others.


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