I am Associate Professor of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond where I have taught since 2005. My teaching focuses on the theory and practice of social justice, with a primary but not exclusive focus on urban communities and the City of Richmond. In addition to introductory leadership studies classes and the core “Justice and Civil Society” class for sophomores, I regularly offer classes on urban politics, social movements, contemporary democratic theory, American political thought, and sports and society.

My scholarship, public writing, and activism and engagement are focused on building a practical politics of social justice and deepened democracy in the United States. This writing and engagement ranges in scale from the relatively granular (looking at how specific policies and practices play out on the ground) to the systemic (considering how entire institutional systems could be made more effective and more just).

Scholarship:  I have authored, co-authored, or co-edited five academic books and numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Broadly speaking most of this work falls into four categories: Urban politics (including Sprawl, Justice and Citizenship: The Civic Costs of the American Way of Life, published by Oxford in 2010, and Making a Place for Community: Local Democracy in a Global Era, published by Routledge in 2002);  Property-owning Democracy (including Property-Owning Democracy: Rawls and Beyond published by Wiley in 2012 and numerous associated journal articles); Democratic Theory (with a particular focus on the tension between leadership and democracy); and Policy and Governance (including various writings on public administration, social capital, and policymaking).  

Public Writing:  I write regularly for a wide variety of publications at both the local and national level. At various times I have been a frequent contributor to Dollars & Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice; Tikkun Magazine; Style Weekly (Richmond, Virginia); Independent Weekly (Durham, NC);  and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. My work has appeared in a host of other newspapers and publications including The Nation and The New York Times. In 2014, I won an award from the Virginia Press Association for opinion writing published in Style Weekly

Activism and Engagement: Since 2011, I have been deeply involved in City of Richmond policy and governance in a variety of capacities. In 2011 I was appointed by Mayor Dwight C. Jones to both the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Redistricting and to the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission. I was lead author of the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission Report delivered in January 2013, which established five key policy priorities for addressing Richmond’s 26% poverty rate in a comprehensive fashion (workforce development, economic development, education, housing, and transportation). I was subsequently named Co-Chair (with Councilwoman Ellen Robertson) of the Maggie L. Walker Initiative for Expanding Opportunity and Fighting Poverty which took responsibility for translating the Commission’s main recommendations into practical action steps.

 In 2014, I took a leave of absence from the University of Richmond to serve as the first Director of the newly-established Office of Community Wealth Building, a new agency developed to lead the City’s poverty reduction efforts at both the strategic level (focused on policy) and the operational level (focused on providing holistic workforce development services to hundreds of City residents). The bold goal of the Office is to reduce overall poverty in Richmond 40% and child poverty 50% by 2030. In December 2015, the Office of Community Wealth Building was ratified as a permanent city agency in legislation that also requires the city’s mayor to provide an annual update on progress in the effort according to a system of established goals and metrics. (For more detail, see this timeline: )

In June 2016, I returned to teaching at the University of Richmond. During the 2016 municipal elections, I worked with mayoral candidate Levar Stoney to help develop his policy platform, and following his election in November 2016 served as Transition Director for the Mayor-elect. Between January 2017 and June 2018, I served as senior policy advisor to Mayor Stoney in a part-time capacity while continuing to teach at the University. During that time period I led the development of the RVA Education Compact, a structured collaboration between the Mayor’s Office, School Board, and City Council to address the needs of schools and families in Richmond; also led the development of the City’s new Performance Management Office aimed at facilitating improved operations for all City agencies and implementation of Mayor Stoney’s “One Richmond” agenda.

I continue to remain engaged in the City of Richmond through service on the boards of Richmond Opportunities, Inc., which works with public housing residents in Richmond, and the Richmond Public Schools Education Foundation, which operates the RVA Future Centers and other initiatives supporting RPS students.

Current Projects: I am currently engaged in two major projects. The first project is focused on community wealth building as a national policy paradigm capable of developing practical solutions to long-standing, racialized inequalities of wealth and power which have undermined democracy in the United States. The first publication from this project, an op-ed with Melody C. Barnes of the Aspen Institute, was published in The Hill in July 2018.

The second project is a book-length study of contemporary Richmond, in collaboration with Dr. Amy Howard at the University of Richmond. The book will assess the role of leadership in addressing the city’s most pressing problems over the past generation.

 Background and Influences:

I earned my doctorate in political science from Harvard University in 2004; my doctoral thesis, Sprawl, Justice and Citizenship , was co-directed by Professors Michael Sandel and Robert Putnam. While a doctoral student I published two additional books—Making a Place for Community: Local Democracy in a Global Era (with Gar Alperovitz and David Imbroscio) and More Than a Game: Why North Carolina Basketball Means So Much to So Many.  I also was an active member of the editorial collective of the Boston-based economic justice magazine Dollars & Sense, contributing dozens of articles between 1998 and 2005.

I earned a master’s degree in religion from Union Theological Seminary in 1998. My master’s thesis, on the decline of mainline Protestantism in the United States, was directed by my mentor and advisor Larry Rasmussen. I was also deeply influenced and mentored by the late Beverly W. Harrison during my time at Union. The Union community of faculty and students committed to love and justice continues to hold a special place in my heart.

Between 1992 and 1996 I worked for two closely aligned organizations in Washington, DC, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and the National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives, as a research associate for the “Good Society Project” directed by Gar Alperovitz. The Good Society Project focused on developing a positive vision of American democracy capable of addressing long-term trends of heightened inequality and environmental destruction. This work led to publication of my first book, What Comes Next? Proposals for a Different Society. I also contributed to Alperovitz’s book The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (Knopf, 1995) as an associate co-author. 

My undergraduate degree, completed in 1992, is from Brown University. I majored in History and Religious Studies, and was mentored by the late Professor Wendell S. Dietrich. I was also influenced by numerous other faculty including historians L. Perry Curtis and William G. McLoughlin, and the entire faculty of the Religious Studies department. At Brown I engaged in numerous activist activities and began my public writing career as the first political columnist for the College Hill Independent, which launched in 1990 (and is still going strong today!)

I grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with my parents and older brother and sister. Chapel Hill in the 1970s and 1980s was an amazing place to grow up: progressive politics, cutting edge music and culture, great teachers and classmates at school, and the best college basketball anywhere. I write extensively about my childhood and the collective experience of growing up as a Tar Heel fan in Chapel Hill in part one of More Than a Game: Why North Carolina Basketball Means So Much to So Many.  


I have been married since 1999 to Dr. Adria L. Scharf, my partner, frequent collaborator, and best friend. She has been Executive Director of the Richmond Peace Education Center since 2005. We have one daughter who is a middle-school student in Richmond Public Schools.

Random fact one: I covered college basketball as a journalist from 1996 to 2005 and again from 2011 to 2013 for the publication Inside Carolina, which covers North Carolina Tar Heel basketball. In that capacity I published hundreds of game reports, commentaries, and interviews.

Random fact two: I play trombone, piano, guitar and harmonica, and have been to over 50 Bob Dylan concerts.