About Us

The Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO) expands educational, social, and economic opportunities in our nation’s most fragile communities through original, educational programs and direct engagement with residents. By listening to different community voices and supporting scholars and students committed to making a positive difference, we work to empower people eager to put ideas into action and discover mutually beneficial solutions to bolster fragile communities across the US.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Center for Advancing Opportunity is a research and education initiative born out of a partnership between the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), the Charles Koch Foundation, and Koch Industries. CAO supports students and faculty at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other institutions in developing research-based solutions to the most pressing issues in fragile communities: education, entrepreneurship, criminal justice and overall economic conditions.

Our mission is to move people living in fragile communities from promise to prosperity.

We accomplish this by:

  • Listening to their aspirations, fears, and recommendations
  • Supporting researchers who are best-positioned to explore communities’ most pressing issues
  • Using their findings to inform public, private, and community-based solutions.
Learn about our research

Our Focus

We address our mission through three pillars of focus:


  1. Ensuring all students have access to quality education.
  2. Identifying barriers to entrepreneurship and job growth.
  3. Supporting research to better understand and solve challenges within the criminal justice system.
Learn About CAO Supported Centers

Our Philosophy

CAO believes the best way to advance opportunity is by listening to people in search of it and then equipping them with the intellectual and financial capital to create solutions. Opportunity should be available to everyone. We serve as a stakeholder in this important human endeavor.

Our Founding

In 2015, TMCF’s former President & CEO, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., heard Charles Koch giving a television interview about eliminating barriers to opportunity and sent him a letter about partnering with TMCF. Forty-eight hours later, the Charles Koch Foundation contacted Johnny to set up a meeting. Since then, this relationship has blossomed into the founding of CAO.


HBCUs are tightly connected to fragile communities, thus HBCU researchers are best positioned to gather and amplify the views of fragile community members across the country, to inform bottom-up, evidence-based solutions.

Harry L. Williams

President & CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund

Our Experts

Our experts are leaders and scholars at Historically Black Colleges and Universities working to find solutions to remove barriers to opportunities in criminal justice, entrepreneurship and educational success in fragile communities.

Harry L. Williams

President & CEO, Thurgood Marshall College Fund

Harry L. Williams serves as President & CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), the nation’s largest organization exclusively representing the Black College Community. TMCF’s 47 member-schools make up the publicly supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) which represent nearly 300,000 students. Under his leadership, TMCF has focused on creating innovative partnerships, increasing organizational sustainability, and advancing bipartisan advocacy.

As a strategic thinker and visionary, Williams has announced unique global partnerships with some of the nation’s most recognized corporations and brands such as The Boeing Company, Gucci, and Hennessy USA. He has also successfully reimagined long-term partnerships with organizations such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Lowe’s, the NBA, and Wells Fargo, cementing TMCF has the premier source of major employers seeking top diverse talent for competitive internships and corporate careers.

Previously, Williams enjoyed a successful eight-year tenure as President of Delaware State University, increasing student enrollment and forging new public/private multi-million dollar partnerships, grants, and investments into the campus. He has received many awards and accolades for his career in higher education, and previously held senior positions at the University of North Carolina General Administration, Appalachian State University, and North Carolina A&T State University. Dr. Williams earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Appalachian State University, a Doctorate from East Tennessee State University, and is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

Most importantly, he is a family man. His wife, Dr. Robin S. Williams, and he are the proud parents of two grown sons, Austin and Gavin. Austin and his wife Reagan both graduated from Howard University and Gavin is a current Howard University scholar-athlete.

Craig Richardson

Craig J. Richardson, Ph.D.

Founding Director, Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM), Winston Salem State University

Craig J. Richardson is the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Economics and the Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM) at Winston-Salem State University. Throughout his 30-plus year teaching career, Dr. Richardson has investigated the economics of property rights, regional economics, regulation and global economic development. He has worked for the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, the World Bank and the Urban Institute doing economic research. He has also consulted with Hanebrands, Inc. and been instrumental in helping the company better assess living wages by visiting their overseas factories and interviewing their workers.

Dr. Richardson has also published articles for The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Forbes and many other media outlets as well as many peer-reviewed academic journals. His research topics range from economic mobility to healthcare to African economies and he is a frequent national and international speaker.

Dr. Richardson earned a B.A. with honors in economics from Kenyon College, and his Ph.D. in economics with specialties in labor economics and comparative economic systems from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Howard Henderson, Ph.D.

Founding Director, The Center for Justice Research (CJR), Texas Southern University

Howard Henderson, Ph.D., serves as the Founding Director for The Center for Justice Research (CJR), Barbara Jordan – Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University. He is a professor of justice administration and former graduate program director in the Administration of Justice Department and an expert on culturally responsive criminal justice research, program evaluations and assessment instrument validations. He serves as an advisory board member of the Vera Institute’s Rural Jail Research Policy Network and as a member of the National Scientific Advisory Committee at the Institute of Justice Research and Development at Florida State University.

Under his leadership, CJR created the National Police Reform Advisory Group, to provide evidence-based reforms for American policing. He also serves on the Mayor’s Task Force for Policing Reform in the City of Houston, and is Chairman for the Committee on Body Camera usage.

Recently, Dr. Henderson served as the chair of the data subcommittee for Houston Racial/Ethnic Disparities Committee Data Workgroup supported by the MacArthur Foundation. He completed the National Science Foundation-funded project with the Baylor College of Medicine’s Initiative on Neuroscience and Law that designed an iPad risk assessment application that determined decision-making characteristics of the criminal justice involved through a range of cognitive traits. He has also developed a multi-university research collaborative that provides mentoring opportunities for minority graduate students and university-level faculty. This program seeks to develop a synergistic pairing of mentee-mentor through mutual professional interest and technical expertise.

Dr. Henderson is a former member of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Multidisciplinary Advisory Board overseeing the U.S. Department of Justice – U.S. Department of Labor’s Prison Reentry Initiative. He also was an instructor in the United States Department of State’s International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA). In previous work, he has examined the effect of perceived procedural justice and legitimacy on inmate behavior, predictive equity among risk assessment instruments, and a host of culturally-responsive criminal justice program evaluations.

Dr. Henderson’s research on predictive bias and program evaluation has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Department of Justice, He has also served as an expert advisor for state and federal legislators and a host of criminal justice agencies along with reform-oriented non-profit organizations.

Dr. Henderson received his B.S. in Criminal Justice Administration from Middle Tennessee State University, his Masters of Criminal Justice from Tennessee State University, and his Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from Sam Houston State University in 2006.

Kathaleena Monds, Ph.D.

Founding Director, The Center for Educational Opportunity (CEO), Albany State University

Kathaleena Monds, Ph.D. serves as the Founding Director for The Center for Educational Opportunity (CEO) at Albany State University, an initiative to research ways families in fragile communities may obtain greater access to high-quality K-12 education.

Dr. Monds is professor of management information systems. She served as co-director of the Center for Economic Education from 2007-2018 to improve economic and entrepreneurship education to under-served communities. She helped students and K–12 teachers deploy creative skills, design thinking, and problem-solving skills in developing the economic and entrepreneurial way of thinking.

Dr. Monds is a 2012 graduate of the Georgia Academy of Economic Development, Region 10. She served on the Georgia Department of Education Steering Committee researching open-source economics education curriculum. She is a graduate of Babson College’s Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators (SEE) and Oklahoma State University’s Experiential Entrepreneurship Program.

Recognized for her contributions to teaching and leadership, Dr. Monds has received the following awards: Ignite the Flame Award (Oklahoma State University), Teacher of the Year (Albany State University), Faculty Technology Training Award (National Urban League), and Faculty of the Year (Albany State University). She was also named a Fulbright Professor at the Universiti of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, along with Researcher of the Year and the Teacher of the Year by Grambling State University.

A native of Detroit, Dr. Monds holds a Ph.D. in instructional technology from Wayne State University, a M.A. in economics and entrepreneurship for educators from University of Delaware, an M.S. in computer science from Wayne State University, and a B.S. in computer science from Spelman College.

Dr. Monds is a first-generation college graduate and mother of four—two sons who graduated from Morehouse College, one daughter at Spelman College and one 13-year old son. Monds is wife to John H. Monds, a Morehouse College graduate and 2010 Libertarian candidate for Governor in the State of Georgia.

Our Staff

CAO Executive Director Ja’Ron Smith

Ja’Ron Smith

Executive Director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO)

Ja’Ron Smith has joined TMCF as Executive Director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO).

Ja’Ron comes to TMCF from the White House, where he served in several roles, including Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, Deputy Director for the Office of American Innovation, Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, and Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and Director of Urban Affairs and Revitalization for The White House Domestic Policy Council.

During his tenure at The White House, Ja’Ron authored the Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities in response to the protests around police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Ja’Ron also managed the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council’s response to underserved communities severely affected by COVID-19 by implementing the $60 billion set-aside for the Paycheck Protection Program for minority-owned businesses. He established the Joint Taskforce between FEMA and HHS in order to expand hospital capacity to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and he organized and led the White House Opportunity Now Summit and over 60 roundtables and convenings focused on creating more economic mobility for impoverished communities.

Ja’Ron was a critical force in securing passage of the Formerly Incarcerated Re-Enter Society Transformed – Safely Transitioning Every Person (FIRST STEP) Act of 2018, for which he served as chief White House negotiator. He also served as chief policy strategist for enactment of the “Opportunity Zones” provision of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Ja’Ron was a key negotiator in helping to secure permanent funding for HBCUs under the FUTURE Act.

Prior to his post at The White House, Ja’Ron worked for Senator Tim Scott and served on the staff of the House Committee on Financial Services, the Republican Study Committee, and the House Republican Conference under then-Rep. Mike Pence. Ja’Ron holds a BBA from Howard University, and a Masters of Divinity from the Howard School of Divinity. He is a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha.

Faculty Grantees

Dr. Fred A. Bonner II, Ed.D.

Prairie View A&M University

Research Grant Topic: Education

The research project supports two signature initiatives at the Minority Achievement, Creativity and High Ability (MACH-III) Center at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU): The Building on Resilience Lecture Series and the Framing and Maintaining a Research Agenda Institute.

Dr. Fred A. Bonner II, Ed.D., is Professor and Endowed Chair in Educational Leadership and Counseling and founding Executive Director at the Minority Achievement, Creativity and High Ability (MACH-III) Center at Prairie View A&M University, Prairie View, TX.

He is an accomplished scholar in the field of education and research that examines gifted African American males, Millennials, and African Americans in STEM.

Before Prairie View A&M University, Dr. Bonner was Professor and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair in Education at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey. Prior to this appointment, he was Professor of Higher Education Administration in the Educational Administration and Human Resource Development Department at Texas A&M University — College Station

Dr. Bonner earned a B.A. in Chemistry from the University of North Texas, an M.S. Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction from Baylor University, and an Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration & College Teaching from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville.

Dr. Bonner’s work has been featured both nationally and internationally and he has been the recipient of numerous awards including the American Association for Higher Education Black Caucus Dissertation Award and the Educational Leadership, Counseling, and Foundation’s Dissertation of the Year Award from the University Of Arkansas College of Education. In 2010, Dr. Bonner was awarded the 2010 Extraordinary Service Award from the Texas A&M University College of Education and Human Development, College Station and the 2010 Faculty Member of the Year, Texas A&M University Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education (SAAHE) Cohort, College Station. He has been elected to membership of several National Honor Societies.

Throughout his career, Dr. Bonner’s work has consistently been centered on microcultural populations developing attitudes, motivations, and strategies to survive in macrocultural settings. This social justice philosophy has led him to publish numerous articles, books and book chapters related to: academically-gifted African American male college students in varying postsecondary contexts (Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Predominantly White Institutions, and Community Colleges); teaching in the multicultural college classroom; diversity issues in student affairs; diverse millennial students in college; success factors influencing the retention of students of color in higher education and in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields in particular; and faculty of color in predominantly White institutions (PWIs).

Dr. Bonner has completed three summers as a research fellow with the Yale University Psychology Department (PACE Center) focusing on issues that impact academically gifted African American male college students. Bonner has completed a book that highlights the experiences of postsecondary gifted African American male undergraduates in predominantly White and Historically Black college contexts (Academically Gifted African American Male College Students). Bonner spent the 2005-2006 year as an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow in the Office of the President at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. In 2011, he published his book “Diverse Millennial Students in College.”

Among his many professional service-oriented activities, Dr. Bonner serves in different editorial capacities for various journals; he sits on the board of the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education (AABHE) where he serves as a board member and Vice President for Research and is currently leading the AABHE Research Consortium, an effort to enhance and increase the professional research, scholarship, and publishing opportunities for the members of that organization. His work and philosophy ties directly into the vision he has for the Samuel Dewitt Chair in Education position in which his aim will be to promote potential through campus, local, national, and global community partnerships.

Dorothy Lockwood Dillard, Ph.D.

Delaware State University

Research Grant Topic: Criminal Justice Reform

The research project involves the development, design and administration of the Riverside Criminal and Juvenile Justice Reform Needs Assessment. The project will address Wilmington, Delaware’s high crime and violence rates among young people through the identification of what residents believe is causing the violence and solutions to address it. Kingwood Community Center has agreed to work with Dr. Dillard to support the implementation of suggested results to help reduce violence among youth.

Dorothy Lockwood Dillard, Ph.D., is Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice and Director of the Center for Neighborhood Revitalization and Research, Delaware State University, Dover, DE.

Dr. Dillard was principal investigator on two large-scale National Institute on Drug Abuse demonstration research projects, with primary supervision of research assistants.

She began her research and evaluation career as a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Delaware in 1987. Her doctoral dissertation examined gender differences in a sample of juvenile delinquents heavily involved in crime in Miami. While working on her doctorate, Dr. Dillard was a research associate with the Center for Drug and Alcohol Studies (CDAS). After completing her doctorate in 1993, she continued to work at the CDAS as the Associate Director. She also served as Co-Principal Investigator on several multi-million dollar NIDA funded research grants, including an effectiveness study of a prison based therapeutic community continuum of treatment (Key-Crest).

In 1994, Dr. Dillard launched a consulting business working with federal and state governments as well as nonprofit agencies. As an evaluation consultant, she evaluated 8 CSAT funded grants serving substance abusers; consulted on program development, proposal writing and facilitated contracting processes; and provided small-scale evaluation efforts for numerous nonprofit agencies.

Dr. Dillard joined the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Delaware State University and in 2013 was promoted to Chair.

Bahiyyah Muhammad, Ph.D.

Howard University

Research Grant Topic: Criminal Justice Reform

Children of Incarcerated Parents: Exploring Pathways to Resiliency and Success is a new research project that has the potential to advance knowledge in the broad area of criminology regarding the resiliency of children of incarcerated parents by using a control and treatment group metric to answer two research questions: What factors contribute to resiliency in the lives of children of incarcerated parents? And what internal and external barriers do children of incarcerated parents overcome in their pursuits to success? Dr. Muhammad will interview 35 children with connections to their incarcerated parent, and 35 children who are not connected to their incarcerated parent, living in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Arizona, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia.

Bahiyyah Muhammad, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor, in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, College of Arts & Sciences at Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Dr. Muhammad received her B.S. in Administration of Justice from Rutgers University-New Brunswick Campus with a minor in Psychology and a Criminology Certificate. As an undergraduate, she became a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and a Minority Academic Career Program (MAC) Undergraduate Research Fellow. She also spent a semester as a research intern at the University of Natal, in Pietermaritzberg, South Africa where she interviewed natives on their attitudes toward the criminal justice system. Dr. Muhammad went on to receive her M.S. in Criminal Justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. As a graduate, she presented research findings at numerous professional conferences including those held by the Academy of Criminal Justice Science (ACJS), American Society of Criminology (ASC), Sisters of the Academy (SOA), and the American Correction Association (ACA).

Dr. Muhammad received her Ph.D. from Rutgers University’s School of Criminal Justice, where she specialized in families and communities affected by mass incarceration. Her particular area of expertise rests in the lived experiences of children of incarcerated parents. Dr. Muhammad has spent the last decade of her criminal justice career conducting ethnographic work about children ages 7 – 18, living in urban communities throughout New Jersey, who have experienced the loss of one or both of their parents to the prison system. She is currently founding a non-profit organization to address the dynamic concerns faced by children of the incarcerated.

Dr. Muhammad has taught numerous undergraduate courses at the Rutgers University, West Chester University, and The New School in New York City. She has also taught classes in prisons, including Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women (EMCF) in Clinton, NJ, and Northern State Prison, Newark, NJ. Dr. Muhammad also served as director of the College Bound Consortium, a prisoner education program facilitated at EMCF through a partnership between Drew University and Raritan Valley Community College.

Dr. Muhammad recently signed a publishing contract for children’s books and parenting resources for families affected by incarceration.

Walter Stroupe, Ed.D.

West Virginia State University

Research Grant Topic: Criminal Justice Reform

The Viable Impact on Recidivism Assessing Levels of Evidence-Based Practices-West Virginia (VIRALE-WV) is a first of its kind research project to explore the relationship between current evidence-based programs implemented in West Virginia Correctional Institutions for substance abuse and state recidivism rates. As the entire state of West Virginia is designated as rural, this project will be address research in rural areas, as well as research at a state-wide level.

Walter Stroupe, Ed.D., is the Director of Graduate Studies, Law Enforcement & Administration and Professor, Department of Criminal Justice, West Virginia State University, Morgantown, WV.

He is a native of McDowell County West Virginia and is currently a Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at West Virginia State University. Dr. Stroupe’s academic awards consist of Professor of the Year and the Retention Connection Award.
Dr. Stroupe is also a retired First Lieutenant, West Virginia State Police.

Dr. Stroupe holds a B.S. degree in Criminal Justice from West Virginia State College, an M.S. degree in Criminal Justice from Marshall University, an Ed.S. Graduate Degree from Marshall University and a Doctorate of Education degree from Marshall University.

Dr. Stroupe has put forth various presentations at National and State Conferences on topics in the Criminal Justice Field and has published 10 articles. He has served as past President of the West Virginia Criminal Justice Educators Association and is currently a member of the Governor’s Committee on Crime, Corrections and Delinquency. In 2016, Dr. Stroupe was awarded the Governor’s Civil Rights Award.

Our Logo

Our logo depicts a bird with wings up, ready to soar. Why this symbol? To begin flight, a bird must first overcome the force of gravity. Then, using the power of its wings, it rises up toward a bright, expansive sky, where new experiences and opportunities await.

The Center for Advancing Opportunity seeks to lift up people living in fragile communities, first by listening and understanding the forces at work against them. Through this understanding – collected from top researchers, scholars and students – we develop research-based solutions to address obstacles and bolster these communities so they can rise above their current situation and soar toward new opportunities and a brighter future.

Koch Industries owns a diverse group of companies integral to creating life’s basic necessities: food, shelter, clothing and transportation.


Formed in 1987 and named for the U.S. Supreme Court’s first African American Justice, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) represents all Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and its member-schools.


The Charles Koch Foundation has been working to help people improve their lives by advancing an understanding of the benefits of free societies since its founding in 1980.