Keynote Speakers

Headshort of Starlee Skyes

Park Cannon

Democratic State Representative for Georgia House District 58     

My name is Park Cannon, and I’m proud to be the Democratic State Representative for Georgia House District 58. I’m out and proud that my family and I are long-time Old Fourth Ward residents.

I’m a Georgia girl born to my father, a Vietnam veteran who retired Master Sergeant at the Albany Marine Corps Logistics Base, and my mother, a pharmaceutical rep from Camilla. I was born at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, near Albany State College, and from very early on, I studied the civil rights movement and frequented the spots visited by Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m a proud Georgia public school kid, just like my older brother. It was there I had one of my earliest political memories: watching local residents drive around with confederate flags and KKK materials.

When my parents divorced and my mother was awarded custody, she moved us to Brooklyn to be closer to her parents. We lived in Brownsville, Bed Stuy, and Crown Heights. I attended a Catholic school across the water from The World Trade Center and discovered my love for language from the nuns born in other countries. I attained my Spanish and Portuguese fluency from my years at Poly Prep by thriving on the intensive academic and extracurricular activities offered there. As a member of the Oasis Society, I spent 12 hours on campus daily. As Captain of the Dance and Step Teams, I was in all 6 musicals. Additionally, I was on the track and field team and ran cross-country.

I was a young, publicly politicized, African-American woman before President Obama was first elected. In celebration of his nomination I created an original modern dance piece entitled “Yes, we can!” and performed it in front of the school. It was normal to have Meryl Streep and Al Sharpton’s kids in my class.

I graduated high school and attended Chapman University in Los Angeles. It was a huge culture change for me, and like many 18 year olds who are out on their own for their first time I hit some bumps along the way.

The most memorable event took place during my first year at Chapman where I heard two people loudly pounding on my dorm door. When I opened it they had written “Nigger” all over it. I went outside and confronted the two people I had been able to identify; I filed a report with the university and the black student union. These individuals’ actions, coupled with the community’s inaction, sent me aback.  After the conduct violation, I moved back home to Georgia with my mother who was now in the Old Fourth Ward.

That situation strengthened my desire for social justice and broadened my view of the world. I got a job at Lenox Mall where once again I met people from all over the world, and loved the global influences they brought me.

After a year, I decided to go back to college and enrolled in the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. I would go on to graduate with two majors – Hispanic Linguistics and Linguistics – and a minor in women’s and gender studies. While at Chapel Hill I spent my summers in Ecuador, Mexico, Portugal, and in the Old Fourth Ward. I graduated with a job offer from The Feminist Women’s Health Center, located in the heart of Atlanta. Immediately after graduation, I began work in Black Women’s health promotion, and lobbied as a health advocate.

At the clinic, I used my Spanish fluency daily, and met Rep. Simone Bell, a staunch pro-choice ally at the Capitol. When Rep. Bell announced she was accepting a new position at Lambda Legal, she personally called me to ask if I would run for her seat. Since we share a profound love for people and advocacy, we both knew this was an opportunity to realize my dream of helping people through policymaking.

I ran for this seat because I represent what is lacking at the Capitol. Women are dramatically underrepresented. We make up 54% of the state’s population yet are only 18% of the elected officials. The statistics involving African-American women are even worse. I have locked hair. I identify as queer. I grew up in a single parent household that was shaped by domestic violence. I love my middle class multi-generational home. I grew up with celebrities’ kids and kids who went home to no lights. I was even homeless for a semester in college. I think that where you come from and what you have seen along the way matters, as we are made of these experiences. There is not ONE District 58 – there is a rainbow of experiences and needs. There is not ONE Georgia – there is a sea of working families and small businesses that need a voice.

As your State Representative, I will fight to ensure the changes at Turner Field are good for our families. I will advocate for growth in the Old Fourth Ward to be balanced, smart and neighborhood-approved. I will work every day to for more good jobs for our neighborhoods and continue to be a strong ally to our kids’ schools.

When I’m not working, I’m dancing. I love modern dance and use it as a healing practice. I have toured with NYC dance companies and created reproductive justice pieces. Today, I live in the Old Fourth Ward in the condo my grandparents bought many years ago. I am two blocks from Emory Hospital, the Civic Center, and most importantly: Krispy Kreme. Most days I will choose to have meetings at Krispy Kreme.

I’m also a proud doggie-mom. Nellie is a three-year-old black Whippet I adopted from the Atlanta Humane Society. She loves kids. She has a very curly tail. She thinks she is a lap dog and she is the world’s fastest couch potato.

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Starlee Sykes

Vice President Deep Water Projects at BP  

Starlee Sykes is responsible for a portfolio of 30 projects with teams based across the world. Recently, she has been the Vice President Global Projects, Deepwater and Vice President, Projects Performance where she was responsible for performance management, project controls and finance. Prior to this, she was the Vice President, Developments for the Gulf of Mexico Region.

Sykes has 20 years’ experience in the oil and gas industry; holding a variety of positions across several disciplines including project management, operations, and finance. She has also worked in BP corporate headquarters in London. She began her career as a subsea operations engineer, has worked on most of BP’s Gulf of Mexico projects, and led a redevelopment project onshore. Sykes was accountable for building the Global Subsea Hardware organization, which delivers subsea hardware for projects worldwide. She serves as a member of the BP Exploration & Production Inc. Board of Directors and the US Benefits Committee. Additionally, she holds several leadership positions in industry organizations and is active in supporting development of women and girls in STEM careers.

Sykes is a graduate of Texas A&M University with a B.S. in mechanical engineering.

Starlee Sykes stands out. A woman in a man’s industry. An operations expert in a sea of financial gurus. An executive who spends more time in Angola, Brazil, and Trinidad than in her Houston office. Her job? Extract oil from some of the world’s trickiest spots. The gig puts Sykes—one of six kids and a Texan—in charge of 14 deepwater drilling projects and, in turn, BP’s future. Says Sykes: “I’ve never said no to a challenge.” —Stacey Higginbotham