A Dynamic Network of Leaders

Compassionate and capable leaders unite us on the path to a more equitable future for all.

WKKF Community Leadership Network fellows are an inspiring, talented and diverse group of 80 leaders who are dedicated to working with their communities for authentic change. Fellows reside in the foundation’s priority places of Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans. Together, they move us forward toward justice by encouraging new pathways for collaboration and bringing people together around solutions.

“I am excited about co-creating a learning space with visionaries and changemakers to take our collective dreams and energies and make the world a better place for all children and families.”

— Corrine Sanchez, San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico

MEET CLASS Three FELLOWS

Class three fellows of the WKKF Community Leadership Network are the most recent to complete the program. The “family” they found through the fellowship proved critical in navigating the global pandemic, increasing climate disasters, and continued racial injustices. Today, they are running for office, shaping policy, starting nonprofits, mentoring youth, transforming institutions and much more.

Select a cohort and meet the Class Three fellows.

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Portrait of Charlene Bencomo
Reproductive Justice Advocate

Charlene Bencomo

Portrait of Victoria Dominguez
Socio-economic Equalizer

Victoria Dominguez

Portrait of Lisa Leverette
Change Orchestrator

Lisa Leverette

Portrait of Blanca Adriana Ontiveros
Community Voice Amplifier

Blanca Adriana Ontiveros

Portrait of David Kemp III
Community Innovator

David Kemp III

Portrait of Yilin Wendland-Liu
Literacy Advocate

Yilin Wendland-Liu

Portrait of Cavin Davis
Youth Mentor

Cavin Davis

Portrait of Jennifer Larino
Equitable Storyteller

Jennifer Larino

Portrait of Alexandra Melnick
Community Educator

Alexandra Melnick

Portrait of Michelle Salazar
Community Resilience Champion

Michelle Salazar

Portrait of Ericka Thompson
Self-expression Encourager

Ericka Thompson

Portrait of Natane Ollin Tochtli Lim
Children Nurturer

Natane Ollin Tochtli Lim

Portrait of Todd Wackerman
Education Collaborator

Todd Wackerman

Portrait of Tomika L. Bell
Native Food Sovereignty Advocate

Tomika L. Bell

Portrait of Jose Orozco
Inclusion Promoter

Jose Orozco

Portrait of Karissa Culbreath
Science Education Advocate

Karissa Culbreath

Portrait of Devon Wilson
Food Justice Advocate

Devon Wilson

Portrait of Omar Stanton
Inequity Dismantler

Omar Stanton

Portrait of Raymonda Delaware
Technology Innovator

Raymonda Delaware

Portrait of Sonya Lara
Social Impact Champion

Sonya Lara

Portrait of James Forte
Education Ally

James Forte

Portrait of Paheadra Robinson
Community Advocate

Paheadra Robinson

Portrait of Widad Luqman
Educational Justice Advocate

Widad Luqman

Portrait of Ashnee Dunning
Strategic Visionary

Ashnee Dunning

Portrait of Mary Kay Murphy
Educational Equity Strategist

Mary Kay Murphy

Portrait of Laura Sessum
Health Philanthropist

Laura Sessum

Portrait of Jarvis Dortch
Democracy Protector

Jarvis Dortch

Portrait of Melanie Richardson
Early Childhood Advocate

Melanie Richardson

Portrait of Kieth Plessey
Social Impact Storyteller

Keith Plessy

Portrait of Lorena Aguayo-Márquez
Community Connector

Lorena Aguayo-Márquez

Portrait of Olga Osby
Systems Healer

Olga Osby

Portrait of Allisyn L. Swift
Community Healer

Allisyn L. Swift

Portrait of Corrine Sanchez
Movement Weaver

Corrine Sanchez

Portrait of Allytra Perryman
Power Builder

Allytra Perryman

Portrait of Virginia Necochea
Earth Protector

Virginia Necochea

Portrait of Dillon Shije
Tribal Leader

Dillon Shije

Portrait of Neema Pickett
Community Investor

Neema Pickett

Portrait of Huong Nguyen
Community Builder

Huong Nguyen

Portrait of Kelsey Wabanimkee
Cultural Reclaimer

Kelsey Wabanimkee

Portrait of Micah Briggs, Sr.
Equity Ambassador

Micah Briggs, Sr.

Portrait of Nkechi O. Mbanu
Racial Equity Promoter

Nkechi O. Mbanu

Portrait of Josue Olivares
Empowerment Architect

Josue Olivares

Portrait of Daphne Littlebear
Indigenous Educator

Daphne Littlebear

Portrait of Mari Kempton
Consumer Protector

Mari Kempton

Portrait of Ricardo Benavidez
Cause Mover

Ricardo Benavidez

Portrait of Kim Lanoy-Sandoval
Educational Ecosystem Designer

Kim Lanoy-Sandoval

Portrait of Parthenia Fields
Community Voice Amplifier

Parthenia Fields

Portrait of Deeneaus Polk
Workforce Innovator

Deeneaus Polk

Portrait of Kiana Calloway
Abolitionist Artist

Kiana Calloway

Portrait of Sharde McClure
Equity Strategist

Sharde McClure

Portrait of Jazmín Irazoqui-Ruiz
Movement Lawyer

Jazmín Irazoqui-Ruiz

Portrait of Alison McCrary
Movement Strategist

Alison McCrary

Portrait of Scott Rumpsa
Social Innovation Leader

Scott Rumpsa

Portrait of JJ Townsend
Social Entrepreneur

JJ Townsend

Portrait of Steven Randle
Poetic Life Sculptor

Steven Randle

Portrait of Dondrea Brown
Narrative Shifter

Dondrea Brown

Portrait of Shay Everitt
Early Childhood Advocate

Shay Everitt

Portrait of Jourdan Barnes
Voice Amplifier

Jourdan Barnes

Portrait of Asya Howlette
Systems Reimaginer

Asya Howlette

Portrait of Kamilah Henderson
Mental Health Supporter

Kamilah Henderson

Portrait of Rachel LaZar
Community Organizer

Rachel LaZar

Portrait of Meshawn Siddiq
Maternal Health Advocate

Meshawn Siddiq

Portrait of Lori Martinez
Systems Restructurer

Lori Martinez

Portrait of Chauncey Spears
Disruptive Educator

Chauncey Spears

Portrait of Jaqi Baldwin
Social Justice Entrepreneur

Jaqi Baldwin

Portrait of Nikki Elder
Education Bridge Builder

Nikki Elder

Portrait of Bennetta Thomas
Community Health Advocate

Bennetta Thomas

Portrait of Gina Womack
Systems Reformer

Gina Womack

Portrait of Kierre Rimmer
Youth Mentor

Kierre Rimmer

Portrait of Shannon Brown Joseph
Workforce Developer

Shannon Brown Joseph

Portrait of Caitlin Brooking
Bridge Builder

Caitlin Brooking

Portrait of Liz Broussard Red
Food Systems Steward

Liz Broussard Red

Portrait of Nadeane Cattrell
Family Advocate

Nadeane Cattrell

Portrait of Adam Schumaker
Arts Advocate

Adam Schumaker

Portrait of Darlene Gomez
Indigenous Rights Activist

Darlene Gomez

Portrait of Warlance Chee
Cultural Sustainer

Warlance Chee

Portrait of Jessica Reed
Mindful Healer

Jessica Reed

Portrait of Stacy Stout
Systems Change Navigator

Stacy Stout

Portrait of Karen Garcia
Health Equity Champion

Karen Garcia

Reproductive Justice Advocate

Charlene Bencomo

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Charlene Bencomo is a proud New Mexican, wife, mother, Chicana and former bilingual special education teacher. Charlene currently serves as the executive director of Bold Futures, a state-based reproductive justice organization led by and for women and people of color. Her work aims to increase equitable access to the information and resources community members need to make decisions about their own bodies and lives.

Charlene is also co-founder of Crossroads City Derby, a flat-track roller derby league committed to the leadership and development of female identifying athletes through the sport of roller derby. She is the co-creator and co-host of the Pocha Podcast, a bimonthly and publicly available podcast addressing the complexities of living at the intersection of Latine traditions and the pressure to assimilate into the dominant culture. Charlene holds a bachelor’s in psychology from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, and a master’s in guidance and counseling from New Mexico State University.

Socio-economic Equalizer

Victoria Dominguez

Cuba, New Mexico

Victoria Domiguez is enthusiastic about empowering students and families of color, especially those who are living in extreme poverty, and exploring opportunities that will support them in their day-to-day living. In her hometown of Cuba, Victoria serves as the community schools director for the Cuba Independent Schools District, where she engages community stakeholders to support students’ success.

Victoria is committed to public service because she believes everyone has unique strengths and abilities to thrive, not just survive. Victoria is the founder of “Cuba Cares,” a school resource that provides basic necessities for students and families in need. In 2021, TIME magazine recognized Victoria for her innovative creation. Victoria is a graduate of New Mexico Highlands University.

Change Orchestrator

Lisa Leverette

Detroit, Michigan

A provocateur for radical change, Lisa Leverette serves communities, leaders and organizations that develop and practice alternative, transformative approaches to liberating groups marginalized by society. She generates awareness of how oppressive thoughts and actions can unwittingly disrupt progressive change work and embraces democratic participation to identify equitable paths forward. Lisa is the executive director of the Community Connections Grant Program that centers participatory grantmaking as an equity-driven approach to philanthropy, civic engagement and leadership development.

Lisa currently is on the board of Leadership Learning Community. She previously served on the boards of Grassroots GrantMakers and on Self Development of People, where she led grantmaking efforts in Belize.

Community Voice Amplifier

Blanca Adriana Ontiveros

Las Cruces, New Mexico

As a first-generation immigrant, Blanca Adriana Ontiveros has devoted her career to defending the rights of her people and serving as a resource liaison. She works with school districts, educators and community members to amplify the voices of immigrant and refugee communities across the country through advocacy. With a career in social justice spanning over 15 years, her experience includes local and federal campaigns, education administration, program and project management, bilingual and special education pedagogy, and public policy analysis. As the director of educator engagement at When We All Vote, she works to close the race and age gaps among first-time voters across the country.

Blanca Adriana holds a master’s in public policy and administration from Northwestern University, a bachelor’s in political science and Spanish from the University of New Mexico, and a K-12 Bilingual Education and Special Education Teaching and Administrative License.

Community Innovator

David Kemp III

Battle Creek, Michigan

David is passionate about entrepreneurship and economic opportunity to stabilize families in the Battle Creek area. He currently serves as a relationship banker at Old National Bank, helping families and business owners with their banking and lending needs and developing solutions to alleviate financial stress.

David also serves as volunteer executive director with Agape Mentorship, which recently launched with an event to inspire over 1,000 inner-city middle and high school students to pursue entrepreneurship. David majored in finance and graduated with a bachelor’s in business administration from Western Michigan University.

Literacy Advocate

Yilin Wendland-Liu

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Yilin Wendland-Liu is a firm believer in the transformative power of education and is dedicated to ensuring equitable access to learning opportunities within her community. Currently, she directs the Adult Tutoring Program at the Literacy Center of West Michigan, where she supports English language learners and native speakers of English in improving their English literacy skills. She considers equitable access to literacy advancement a fundamental human need, given that academic achievement, employment opportunity, financial health, community involvement and belonging all rely heavily on literacy. Previously, Yilin served as provost and principal of the Grand Rapids Chinese Language School.

She contributes her skills and expertise serving as the board secretary of the West Michigan Asian American Association, as well as by participating in the Grand Rapids Community Foundation Scholarship Selection Committee; Kent County Welcome Plan Committee’s Engaged Community Workgroup; and Kent County Essential Needs Task Force’s Digital Inclusion Committee. Yilin has a doctorate in culture and language from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Youth Mentor

Cavin Davis

New Orleans, Louisiana

Cavin Davis is a servant leader determined to change the trajectory of youth who live in communities marginalized by society. His passion and enthusiasm is building relationships with the greater New Orleans community to support youth and provide positive experiences. Cavin serves as the executive director of Anna’s Place NOLA, a nonprofit that provides after school and summer programs in literacy, STEM, NASA, arts, recreation, and college and career readiness for K-12 students. Cavin’s prior experience includes positions as a special education and physical education teacher, school administrator and director of school operations.

As a part of Cavin’s commitment to the community, he serves as a board member for Treme Artist Collective, which works to maintain African Diaspora traditions and music, as well as for 504Health Net, Inc., which seeks to improve access to culturally relevant care for diverse populations.

Equitable Storyteller

Jennifer Larino

New Orleans, Louisiana

Jennifer Larino is an innovator who is working at the intersection of media and youth development to reimagine how local media can serve our communities. She believes that equipping older youth with skills, tools and resources to transform the stories we tell with and for our communities is instrumental in building a just world. Currently, Jennifer serves as executive director of Lede New Orleans, where she is supporting the creation of a youth-led, equitable media hub that provides training and produces community media and events so that BIPOC and LGBTQ+ older youth can transform narratives about their communities.

A long-time local print journalist, Jennifer was a 2021-22 JSK Journalism Fellowship Community Impact Fellow at Stanford University and was recognized in Gambit’s “40 Under 40” Class of 2021 for her work with Lede New Orleans. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

Community Educator

Alexandra Melnick

Jackson, Mississippi

Alexandra Melnick is a writer and educator who is passionate about creating community and empowering people to tell their stories. A believer in the radical, transformative power of equitable access to education and self-advocacy, Alexandra works to ensure such opportunities are present in her community. She currently serves as the communications director of Operation Shoestring and as an adjunct professor of community engagement at Millsaps College.

A proud former high school English teacher, Alexandra taught for four years in the Mississippi Delta. She served as a clinic escort for the Jackson Women’s Clinic and remains active in reproductive justice efforts in her state. She received a bachelor’s from Millsaps College and a master’s in teaching from the University of Mississippi.

Community Resilience Champion

Michelle Salazar

Battle Creek, Michigan

Passionate about fostering equitable opportunities for all, Michelle Salazar is co-president of Ignite BC, a collective dedicated to supporting groups and organizations in creating a thriving Battle Creek community. She contributes to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of The REALTOR Association, advocating for equitable homeownership pathways and fair housing. Michelle is also the founder of Great Futures Property Management LLC, aiming to expand access to a high standard of living in Battle Creek. Through her involvement in the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Community Leadership Team, she co-produced a video series, “Redefining Race,” and contributed to the book “How We Heal: An Anthology of Personal Testimonies about Racial Healing in Battle Creek.”

Michelle recently graduated from the ELLAS leadership development program, focusing on reclaiming power as Latine leaders and creating anti-racist change in Southwest Michigan. Her formal educational background includes a bachelor’s from Western Michigan University; an associate’s from Kellogg Community College; and a pharmacy technician technical degree from Miami Dade College. She is also trained as a community interpreter VOCES/ACTFL.

Self-expression Encourager

Ericka Thompson

Grand Rapids, Michigan

A community leader of culture and creativity, Ericka Thompson is dedicated to fostering positive change through authentic expression, vulnerability and authenticity. Serving as the poet laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a youth experience expert at The Diatribe, Inc., they firmly believe that honoring expression and promoting holistic wellness begins within the heart of the community.

Ericka actively contributes to the community through involvement in organizations like the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. Recognized as part of the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of 2021, Ericka’s commitment lies in cultivating empathy, compassion and social change through transformative engagement. As the co-founder of Mood Matters, an initiative advocating for menstrual equity, inclusivity and empowerment, their inspiring leadership continues to drive meaningful impact, creating a world where expression and wellness are celebrated cornerstones.

Children Nurturer

Natane Ollin Tochtli Lim

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Dedicated to dismantling racism to instill a better future for all children, Natane Ollin Tochtli Lim has worked in early childhood education for more than 20 years in various teaching roles and classroom settings within the Chicagoland area and central New Mexico. Natane started as a youth organizer for a nonprofit called YSS in Chicago and now leads Embracing Equity’s New Mexico Initiative to transform education across the state so all children are affirmed in their humanity and nurtured to their fullest potential.

Natane takes much pride in the work for New Mexico because it is her home, it is where she is raising her daughter, and it is where she and her husband have the honor of teaching breakdancing to young people at their studio, the Dancing Turtle LLC. Natane believes that young people deserve to thrive and it is the work of all adults to ensure that actions take place to honor their full authentic selves.

Education Collaborator

Todd Wackerman

New Orleans, Louisiana

Todd is an educator who believes in the power of convening groups to collaboratively solve community challenges. As co-founder and executive director of the New Orleans nonprofit STEM Library Lab, Todd works to provide programs and services for teachers in schools across Southeast Louisiana. His latest project is an interactive database connecting teachers with nonprofits and other organizations to foster more external partnerships in classrooms. The goal, ultimately, is to ensure that opportunities are equitably accessible to students and classrooms regardless of their economic status.

Todd is a proud alum of the University of New Orleans and Tulane University. In 2020, he was named as one of New Orleans’ “40 under 40.” He serves on the advisory committee for Youth Run NOLA’s 504K and is a board member of RoboRecovery, a nonprofit democratizing access to robotics education for middle- and high-school students.

Native Food Sovereignty Advocate

Tomika L. Bell

Choctaw, Mississippi

Tomika Bell is a power shifter, community leader and a Native food sovereignty advocate. Tomika serves as the distribution – general manager for Choctaw Fresh Produce, a nonprofit of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians that supplies healthy, organic fresh food to tribal communities, local groceries and tribal casinos. Tomika is also co-executive director with the Mississippi Farm to School Network, where she works to connect farmers with schools to bring Mississippi-grown products into school cafeterias; strengthen the local agricultural economy; and educate Mississippians on eating locally grown, nutritionally dense foods.

She began her career with the U.S Department of Justice in conjunction with Mississippi Attorney General’s Office as a Section 203 compliance coordinator for Native American voting rights in Mississippi, and has continued voter education among the Choctaw population to ensure equal opportunity for participation in the electoral process. Tomika is a graduate of the University of Mississippi in pre-law. Tomika has a certification in local food management from Iowa State University and certification in grant management from Mississippi State University.

Inclusion Promoter

Jose Orozco

Battle Creek, Michigan

A strong advocate for the Latinx community locally in Battle Creek and across the state of Michigan, Jose has worked in both the nonprofit and education sectors. In his current role as executive director of Voces, Jose is driven by the mission of “promoting an inclusive society by providing Latinx families with opportunities and resources that lead to individual and community transformation.”

Jose is active in his community by serving on several boards of local organizations. Jose holds a master’s in counseling and guidance/school administrator from the University of Texas-RGV. Additionally, he is a licensed professional counselor. Jose received a bachelor’s from Wabash College, where he double majored in classics and Spanish.

Science Education Advocate

Karissa Culbreath

Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Dr. Karissa Culbreath is a multifaceted leader operating in different spheres of influence – locally, nationally and internationally. She develops systems that enable every individual, family and community to access equitable opportunities to achieve optimal physical, spiritual, emotional and financial health. A clinical microbiologist, Karissa was a local and national leader on the pandemic response. She is a fierce advocate of science education, having developed programs for STEM education, mentorship and training for African American and other students of color in New Mexico.

In addition to her professional work, Karissa serves in various capacities in the New Mexico community, and has received numerous awards for this service. She is a graduate of Fisk University and Vanderbilt University.

Food Justice Advocate

Devon Wilson

Battle Creek, Michigan

Devon Wilson is an urban farmer who believes in the power of sustainable agriculture to improve people’s well-being and create a better future for generations to come. In his current role as the founder and CEO of Sunlight Gardens, he leads the development and management of urban farming initiatives, focusing on creating equitable access to nutritious food options. He strives to inspire the next generation of farmers by showcasing the importance of organic farming practices and the potential of urban agriculture to transform communities. Previously, he studied organic farming at Michigan State University.

Outside of work, Devon actively engages in volunteer activities related to food justice and community gardening. He serves on the board of a local urban farming/tree arboretum nonprofit and collaborates with other organizations to promote education and awareness about sustainable food systems.

Inequity Dismantler

Omar Stanton

New Orleans, Louisiana

Omar Stanton’s soul work is improving the lives of people of color by dismantling the systems and roots of racial and economic inequity. As PolicyLink’s chief impact officer, he leads an evaluation and learning agenda to ensure strategies create impact for the 100 million people in America living in or near poverty. He has more than 15 years of cumulative experience as vice president of data analytics and performance management for the New Orleans Business Alliance; senior project manager of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Innovation Delivery Team; and chief administrative officer with the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System.

He is a graduate of Dillard University, Baker College and Indiana Wesleyan University. Omar is also a certified results-based accountability and project management professional and a proud member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

Technology Innovator

Raymonda Delaware

Pearl, Mississippi

Raymonda Delaware is committed to the transformation of rural communities. She is the founder and executive director of Dream Innovations, Inc., a Mississippi-based nonprofit that supports rural communities through innovation and technology. Raymonda has worked for over 25 years in the field of technology in higher education and K-12, researching and evaluating the technological advancements that support businesses and educational advancement.

Raymonda also operates a workforce development center in Yazoo City, Mississippi, where she aims to transform a disadvantaged area through immersive technology and hands-on training. In addition, she serves on the advisory council for Digital Media for Jackson Public School’s Career Development Center and is engaged in community activities in Yazoo City to support positive change throughout the surrounding area.

Social Impact Champion

Sonya Lara

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sonya Lara is a servant leader committed to advancing strategies that decrease economic disparity and increase honor and dignity among communities that have been marginalized. She champions social impact in both her professional and volunteer faith-based work, helping people and organizations actualize community goals that promote family stability and increase educational opportunity.

In her current role at United Way of North Central New Mexico, she convenes and connects regional leaders to provide backbone support for two-generation approaches and elevate whole families. A proud Lobo, Sonya completed her bachelor’s and master’s of public administration at the University of New Mexico.

Education Ally

James Forte

Brandon, Mississippi

A fearless ally for an excellent equitable education for all children, James Forte currently works as the director of local recruitment for Teach for America Mississippi/Arkansas. He combats education inequity by building coalitions that foster agency and belonging for all children and young adults. He also serves as the adult facilitator for Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship (AYLF) Greater Delta, which identifies, cultivates and amplifies future generations of talent to engage in the values-based leadership essential for transforming their lives and society for the better.

James is a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Lesotho, Africa. He is a graduate from Lane College and Delta State University.

Community Advocate

Paheadra Robinson

Jackson, Mississippi

Paheadra Robinson is an innovative advocate who focuses on improving outcomes for Black women, children and other communities whom society marginalizes. Having a passion for fairness and equality, she has advocated for stronger consumer protections, improved health care for Black women, fully funded public education and other critical issues.

Her experience as a parent of three children in public schools and her advocacy for education led to her selection as a commissioner on the Better Together Commission to support Jackson Public Schools. She is the principal of The Bratton Group, LLC, a consulting firm assisting nonprofits and social justice organizations to increase capacity and improve outcomes through program design and implementation, strengthening internal systems, and strategic planning and facilitation.

Educational Justice Advocate

Widad Luqman

Saline, Michigan

An innovative leader and educational justice advocate, Widad Luqman has spent more than two decades connecting diverse communities, closing achievement and opportunity gaps, and empowering people from all walks of life through education. Her background spans multiple sectors and continents with experience in education, philanthropy, curriculum and professional development. Currently, Widad serves as an educational consultant, MiSTEM computer science facilitator and district transformation trainer.

Widad is also the co-founder of Coding Out of Poverty, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering people and creating equitable engagement opportunities in STEM and STEAM. She is a recipient of the Global Forum for Education and Learning Top 100 Leaders in Education and a graduate of Wayne State University. Her motto is: Learn. Teach. Travel. Repeat.

Strategic Visionary

Ashnee Dunning

Flint, Michigan

Ashnee Dunning is a community organizer working to dismantle systemic bias by encouraging positive collaboration and dynamic implementation throughout her community. She serves as the CEO of the Power Initiative, a social profit agency that engages in programs, services and projects to support communities in identifying gaps and facilitating solutions to real life experiences. In addition, she is the executive director of the Flint Freedom Schools Collaborative, a nonprofit working to strategically disrupt educational injustice, and is the education and outreach manager for Legal Services of Eastern Michigan, a nonprofit offering free legal aid to qualifying individuals.

A Flint & Genesee County 40 Under 40 Honoree, Ashnee also serves on the boards of the YWCA of Greater Flint, Gottagetit, The Disability Network, Flint and Genesee Young Professionals, and the Neighborhood Engagement Hub. She is the first vice president of the Flint Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. and a graduate of Western Michigan University.

Educational Equity Strategist

Mary Kay Murphy

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Mary Kay Murphy is dedicated to removing barriers and creating opportunities so all children receive a quality, caring education that allows them to dream and achieve. She is motivated in this work by being in schools, seeing teachers create empowering classrooms, and hearing students’ conversations during their learning. She brings this drive to her work as managing director at Leading Educators, a nonprofit that supports school district leaders to create systems and conditions that support teacher professional development, provide high-quality instruction, and set visions that keep students at the center.

This same passion defines Mary Kay’s community and personal connections through her service on the 4-12 working group at KConnect, as a Leadership Grand Rapids alumni, and as a volunteer with A Glimpse of Africa.

Health Philanthropist

Laura Sessum

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Laura Sessum’s mission in life is to “overcome evil with good.” After discovering her grandmother murdered in 2005, she found healing in converting grief into action by adding whatever good she can to the world. Laura cares deeply about serving the community and collaborating with others to create the opportunity for all to thrive. With nearly 20 years of experience in healthcare and community relations, she currently serves as executive director of Singing River Health System Foundation, which supports programs and services that improve health and save lives.

Laura serves on the boards for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Youth Health Coalition, Pascagoula River Audubon Center and Adrienne’s House. She has been recognized as one of the 100 Successful Women to Know on the MS Gulf Coast and a Top 10 Business Leader Under 40. She is a graduate of Leadership Jackson County, and obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Alabama.

Democracy Protector

Jarvis Dortch

Jackson, Mississippi

Jarvis Dortch is passionate about having a positive impact on the state of Mississippi. He believes that no matter how obstructed the road may seem, there is always a path forward. Jarvis serves as the executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi, where he works to ensure the affiliate is well positioned and resourced to push for structural change and racial justice, as well as litigate against harmful policies.

In addition, Jarvis is on the editorial board of the Jackson Advocate. Previously, he served in the Mississippi House of Representatives, representing the 66th District. He is a graduate of Jackson State University, and is a member of the Mississippi Bar and the Magnolia Bar.

Early Childhood Advocate

Melanie Richardson

New Orleans, Louisiana

Melanie Richardson’s passion lies in supporting parents with understanding child development so that they can help their children flourish. She co-founded TrainingGrounds and the We PLAY Center for parents and children to have safe environments to play, learn and grow together with the guidance of parenting educators. As a licensed master social worker, Melanie is devoted to creating accessible and preventative programs for the people who are historically marginalized.

Melanie participates in various steering committees and advisory groups responsible for supporting early childhood care and education, infant mental health and early childhood leaders of color. She is a Promise Venture Studio Fellow and a 2023 Volunteers of America Futures Fund Community Health Incubator cohort member. Melanie is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Pennsylvania.

Social Impact Storyteller

Keith Plessy

New Orleans, Louisiana

Keith Plessy is the co-founder and president of the Plessy and Ferguson Initiative, a nonprofit organization advocating for social justice. He is also first cousin, three generations removed, of Homer Plessy, the plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson that led to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine upholding racial segregation. Keith is thrilled and honored to share the history of the Plessy v. Ferguson case with the other fellows with the intention of generating healing, reconciliation, justice and equity.

Keith has worked for more than 40 years in the hospitality industry. Still, retirement is nowhere in sight. He currently serves as an advisory board member for three organizations: The 7th Ward Neighborhood Association, the Barbarin Family Jazz Foundation, and the Robert “BOB” Hicks Foundation. Keith was born and raised in New Orleans, and his passion is to see young people succeed in his community.

Community Connector

Lorena Aguayo-Márquez

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Educational equity and social justice are what drives Lorena Aguayo-Márquez. She has dedicated her time to serving her community by empowering individuals to acquire knowledge, access resources and advocate for themselves and their community. Lorena works at Grand Rapids Community College, where she has held a variety of positions supporting students and working with federal, state and foundation funders to train and build the West Michigan workforce. She is currently the program manager for the Strengthening Community Colleges Healthcare Grant, and is responsible for building capacity and increasing equitable access to training in the healthcare industry.

She holds a master’s in education from Grand Valley State University and a bachelor’s in business administration from ITT Technical Institute.

Systems Healer

Olga Osby

Ridgeland, Mississippi

A social worker, community organizer, educator and behavioral health advocate, Olga Osby believes that it is possible to strengthen the lives of families in oppressed communities by addressing past trauma and providing pathways toward healing and wellness. Olga is the co-managing partner of Clean Slate Behavioral Health Solutions, serving both urban and rural parts of the state. Her work seeks to set individuals, families and communities on a transformational path toward recovery, healing and ending cycles of pain.

Olga has served on the board of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and as a member of Women for Progress. She is a graduate of Howard University.

Community Healer

Allisyn L. Swift

New Orleans, LA

Dr. Allisyn Swift believes that communities have the knowledge and brilliance for self-healing if given the time, space and tools. With over 20 years of experience working with young children and families, she serves on the research team at Beloved Community, a racial and economic equity firm that seeks to shift the power in research from institutions to people. She also is the project director for the NOLA CARES initiative, steering a collaborative of 12 non- and for-profit organizations toward the goal of gender and racial equity, as well as wealth building for Black and Latine/x women in New Orleans through the vehicle of early childhood education.

Allisyn is a member of the Coalition for Safe and Compassionate Schools and of the Whole Health Louisiana Planning Committee. She also is a recipient of the Trauma-Informed School Psychology Training Grant, a Zero-to-Three Fellow, a licensed psychologist in Louisiana and a yoga instructor.

Movement Weaver

Corrine Sanchez

San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico

A member of the Tewa Pueblo de San Ildefonso, Dr. Corrine Sanchez is dedicated to family and community healing, youth development, and ending violence against Native women, girls and our Earth Mother. As executive director of Tewa Women United, she is a movement weaver, working at the intersections of environmental, gender, reproductive and healing justice.

Corrine also serves on the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s Advisory Council, on the board of Attach Your Heart Foundation, and on the advisory council for Building the Fire Fund. She holds state appointed positions on Racial Justice and Early Childhood Education and Care Advisory Councils.

Power Builder

Allytra Perryman

Biloxi, Mississippi

Allytra Perryman is a feisty community organizer devoted to helping communities discover and ignite their power. As the director of campaigns for the Mississippi State Conference NAACP, she creates and implements statewide programs aimed to increase community participation in voting and advocacy. Allytra also serves as vice chair of the Mississippi Regional Housing Authority VIII Board and is a board member of the Institute for the Advancement of Minority Health.

Allytra has a long history of working toward social and economic justice in Mississippi. As the program director for the East Biloxi Community Collaborative (EBCC), she was responsible for implementing strategies created by the community to improve outcomes in East Biloxi. As a community organizer and special education advocate with the Mississippi Center for Justice, she was responsible for direct services to families facing special education and disciplinary hurdles in the public school system.

Earth Protector

Virginia Necochea

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Dr. Virginia Necochea is a Xicana, mother, organizer, community advocate and writer. She is the first woman of color to serve as the executive director of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, a public interest nonprofit that works alongside frontline communities in upholding environmental justice.

Virginia’s commitment emanates from her grandparents and elders who instilled in her the importance of connecting to the land. The foundation and drive for her work is rooted in ceremony, her Mexican and Indigenous roots, and motherhood. Her lifelong path is to be of service to the community and to be a protector of Mother Earth. Virginia is a recipient of the Rachel’s Network Catalyst Award, celebrating women of color who are building a healthier, safer and more just world.

Tribal Leader

Dillon Shije

Zia Pueblo, New Mexico

KuWaTsi Hopah! Dillon Shije is a councilman and Tribal leader from the Pueblo of Zia, who is deeply passionate about Indigenous advocacy, environmental justice and Native health outcomes. Currently, he serves as a membership liaison at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). Dillon is also a partner at Zia Impact, a global consultancy focused on impact development. He is a founding board member of Pueblo Development Commission, a non-governmental organization working on global Indigenous issues from a Pueblo perspective and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, Dillon serves political appointments as a state platforms and resolutions committee (SPARC) member for the Democratic Party of New Mexico and as a Native American senate central committee (SCC) member, the first state Indigenous role of its kind in the U.S.

Dillon holds dual bachelor’s degrees in history and integrative physiology from the University of Colorado Boulder, as well as a pre-med postbaccalaureate from the University of Arizona and University of New Mexico. He also recently completed the Harvard Business School Executive Education Certificate supported by the Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA). Additionally, Dillon is a graduate of Leadership New Mexico’s Connect Program and Arizona State University’s Indigenous Leadership Institute; an Aspen Institute ‘Future Climate Leader’; and Schusterman Philanthropies Reality Sports Fellow. Alongside his dedication to public service, Dillon finds fulfillment in his roles as a devoted husband and father.

Community Investor

Neema Pickett

Albuquerque, New Mexico

When she founded Kamaria Creations Wellness Retreat more than 20 years ago, Neema Kamaria Hanifa Pickett’s intention was to create space for Black people to feel supported through internal and external healing modalities. Neema also believes that entrepreneurship is the way to move families from poverty to financial freedom. Her passion for building community wealth led her to join the Women’s Business Center in New Mexico called WESST (Women’s Economic Self-sufficiency Team), where she supports the community to achieve its entrepreneurial goals through consulting, training and lending.

Neema also serves on the board of the Albuquerque Bless Fund, providing grants to Black-owned businesses. Neema holds a bachelor’s in clinical psychology and evolutionary anthropology, with a minor in international business. Additionally, she is a licensed cosmetologist and educator. In her spare time, you’ll find Neema in her garden or cuddling with miniature horses and goats.

Community Builder

Huong Nguyen

Albuquerque, New Mexico

For over a decade, Huong Nguyen has been mobilizing and building power with immigrant and refugee women, youth, and families to remove systemic barriers and improve overall conditions for her community. She brings her lived experience as an Asian immigrant to her role as the community engagement director at the New Mexico Asian Family Center. At the center, she launched the civic engagement program in 2015, and has since spearheaded it to a year-round, comprehensive and integrated part of the organization. She fosters relationships and collaborations with other community-based and BIPOC-led coalitions to create sustainable changes for all.

Huong is an alumna of the Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute. She received a master’s in international peace studies from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s in public administration from the University of New Mexico

Cultural Reclaimer

Kelsey Wabanimkee

Peshawbestown, Michigan

A spirited advocate for Indigenous people from all walks of life, Kelsey Wabanimkee believes in commitment to family and to cultural reclamation as a means to thriving, sustainable communities. A trained full-spectrum doula, she currently serves as the doula policy community coordinator at Miigwech Inc., an Indigenous-led nonprofit organization of Michigan. She works to uplift doulas and their work, ensuring they are valued for their services and coordinating with state policymakers to promote systemic change and support tribal sovereignty.

Kelsey is a leader in Indigenous wellness in her area. She serves as a founding board member for Sacred Waters Collective, a grassroots nonprofit led by Indigenous women coming together to elevate traditional birthwork, as well as on the Mother Infant Health and Equity Collaborative and Northern Michigan’s Perinatal Quality Collaborative. She also volunteers as a sports coach, with attention to mindfulness in an active lifestyle with Leelanau Soccer Club. Kelsey is a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of lower Michigan.

Equity Ambassador

Micah Briggs, Sr.

Pearl, Mississippi

From Philadelphia to New Orleans, Micah Briggs, Sr. has dedicated his time, skills and resources as a youth advocate, building engagement and empowerment. Micah recently founded Mind Over Barriers LLC, a consulting firm committed to advancing solutions for students, families and communities who are navigating the inequities that traumatize and continually paralyze the progress and quality of life.

Previously, Micah worked as an educator and the director of a district-wide education program, addressing the trauma that envelops youth; providing safe spaces flooded with grace, relevance and opportunities; and connecting young people with mental health, academic and vocational resources. Micah is a proud graduate of “Thee I Love” Jackson State University and John Brown University.

Racial Equity Promoter

Nkechi O. Mbanu

Detroit, Michigan

Throughout her career, Nkechi O. Mbanu has focused on equipping companies with the right tools to be engines of positive transformation for their workforces. Nkechi is currently the Detroit CARE (Cummins Advocating for Racial Equity) city leader for Cummins, Inc., where she specializes in public policy, corporate responsibility, communications and stakeholder engagement. In this role, she applies her skills toward her passions of racial justice, economic empowerment and the enfranchisement of communities marginalized by society.

She received her bachelor’s in economics from the University of Michigan, a master’s in dispute resolution from Wayne State University, and a master’s in international affairs from Columbia University. When she is not working, Nkechi is an avid reader, loves traveling the world, and visits art galleries and museums.

Empowerment Architect

Josue Olivares

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Driven by the motto “Be, build, give,” Josue Olivares is passionate about co-creating a food system that fosters social justice and equitable access to resources with individuals and families for whom society has underinvested. As the executive director of the Rio Grande Community Development Corporation, Josue leads efforts to promote sustainable communities in the South Valley and wider region of New Mexico. With a collaborative leadership approach, he builds partnerships across sectors and communities, ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table and their voices are heard.

Josue also provides backbone support to coalitions, such as Color Theory and UNIDOS, working on the root causes of systemic issues. Josue’s commitment to building pathways for community well-being extends beyond his occupation, as he actively volunteers and serves on boards in various capacities. Josue holds a bachelor’s in architecture from Universidad del Valle de México.

Indigenous Educator

Daphne Littlebear

Bernalillo, New Mexico

An Indigenous researcher, educator, storyteller, gardener and visionary, Daphne Littlebear is from Santa Ana Pueblo and a descendant of the Mvskoke, Yuchi and Shawnee Nations. For more than 10 years, Daphne has worked in Indigenous education with Tribal education departments, school districts, state governments and nonprofit organizations. She is dedicated to advocating for educational sovereignty and strengthening Indigenous lifeways.

Currently, Daphne serves as the research and evaluation manager for the National Indian Education Association, a national Native-led nonprofit with the mission to advance comprehensive, culture-based education for American Indians, Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiians. A first-generation college graduate, Daphne holds a bachelor’s and a master’s in public administration from the University of New Mexico. Presently, she is also completing her doctoral degree at Arizona State University, where she is studying social justice education, education policy and Indigenous education.

Consumer Protector

Mari Kempton

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mari Kempton is a consumer protection lawyer and anti-poverty advocate. She is driven by a strong sense of justice and a belief that as a society, we can do better to take care of each other. As the consumer protection manager for the City of Albuquerque, Mari engages in policy advocacy, community organizing and program design to strengthen consumer protection laws. Before joining city government, she spent seven years with New Mexico Legal Aid suing banks, car dealers and scammers.

Outside of work, Mari enjoys salsa dancing and keeps honeybees. She attended Oberlin College and William Mitchell College of Law and is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma.

Cause Mover

Ricardo Benavidez

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Ricardo Benavidez is passionate about people, their identities and their experiences. He has spent his career finding ways to connect people, move causes forward and make a difference in the world. Ricardo serves as associate director at Ktisis Capital, where he is a strategist, advisor and project manager for a diverse mix of individuals and foundations. He also works on strategy and communications for the West Michigan Progress PAC and is adjunct faculty at Grand Valley State University.

In addition, Ricardo serves as co-chair of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s LGBTQ Fund, which works to increase visibility, acceptance, support, access to resources, wellness, and prosperity levels. He was appointed by the mayor as vice-chair of the City of Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission. He also is the president of the board of Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities and sits on the national scholarship committee for Omicron Delta Kappa. Ricardo was named 40 Under 40 Business Leader by Grand Rapid Business Journal and as Young Alumni of the Year by Grand Valley State University.

Educational Ecosystem Designer

Kim Lanoy-Sandoval

Albuquerque, New Mexico

A mom, educator and member of the Navajo Nation, Dr. Kim Lanoy-Sandoval is passionate about creating educational landscapes that value and connect students, families, educators and communities. She is the deputy director of Future Focused Education, where she co-designs educational ecosystems that are equitable and embrace local wisdom. With the Future Focused team, she assists schools with graduate profiles, capstones, authentic assessment, community organizing, work-based learning, and the integration of student safety, wellness and belonging.

Previously, Kim was the co-founder and director of LEAP, a statewide teacher preparation program. She is the vice chair of the New Mexico Indian Education Advisory Council and a member of New Mexico’s Professional Practice Standards Committee. Kim began her career as an alternative licensed educator with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Ft. Lewis College. She completed her master’s in special education at the University of New Mexico and her doctorate in educational leadership from Gonzaga University.

Community Voice Amplifier

Parthenia Fields

Jackson, Mississippi

If Parthenia Fields could be summed up in two words, it would be “learning” and “action.” Her life’s goal is to always learn more so she can do more. Parthenia serves as director of community programs and services at Springboard To Opportunities, where she provides direct support to and leads a team of community specialists. Together, they build relationships with families and individuals who live in affordable housing to help them activate their personal power to achieve their goals.

In her role as a community advisory board member with Urban Institute and the Office of Policy, Evaluation, and Research, Parthenia connects with those who are willing to use their privilege to bring to the forefront the voices of those with experiences that mirror her own and the community she serves. She holds a bachelor’s in university studies–education and a master’s in the art of teaching from Jackson State University.

Workforce Innovator

Deeneaus Polk

Pascagoula, Mississippi

Deeneaus Polk is dedicated to building more sustainable and vibrant communities throughout the Deep South. He is the founder of 3LEVATE, a workforce, economic and community development intermediary built on data analysis and public policy experience at the state, federal and global levels.

Deeneaus engages radical imagination to help community leaders innovate towards equitable futures. He sees the South as the new center of Atlanticism and is steadfastly bridging the two worlds he loves most dearly – Mississippi and Deutschland. He is a proud graduate of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, the University of Mississippi and Harvard University.

Abolitionist Artist

Kiana Calloway

Harvey, Louisiana

Kiana Calloway is a leader, abolitionist and artist currently curating projects through an arts and advocacy lens. As the executive director of Roots of Renewal, Kiana is a mentor for young men returning home from incarceration, providing holistic, wrap-around resources and transitional employment.

Previously, as a member of the elected sheriff and mayor’s transition teams in the City of New Orleans, Kiana worked to assure transparency and accountability in all sectors of government, addressing local, state and federal issues of importance to improve lives, community and the environment. Kiana was also a statewide lead for men and women to regain their voting rights, ending Jim Crow’s last stance in the state of Louisiana.

Equity Strategist

Sharde McClure

Greenville, Mississippi

Passionate about creating the change she would like to see in her community, Sharde McClure believes knowledge is key to unlocking effective transformation. She is dedicated to educating youth and families on food access, equity and opportunity, and does that in multiple ways. Currently, Sharde serves as the mentorship director with Promise Christian Academy, which equips students for success in the classroom, work and community. She is a food education service member with FoodCorps, where she invests in the self-sustainability of youth and their families. And, she is the founder of MS Delta Resources, where she helps bridge the inequity gaps and creates a pipeline of resources for families and children.

Sharde is a member of McNair Research Scholars and the National Society of Leadership and Success. She is a doctoral degree candidate at Mississippi State University.

Movement Lawyer

Jazmín Irazoqui-Ruiz

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Jazmín Irazoqui-Ruiz is a movement lawyer and community organizer dedicated to dismantling systems of oppression by working with BIPOC communities to demand and achieve a life of dignity. As the policy director for Bold Futures, Jazmín collaborates with an amazing team to lead policy change, research, place-based organizing and culture shift by and for women and people of color in New Mexico. Since embarking on her journey in law, Jazmín has sought to combine her legal knowledge and skills with community organizing principles for systems change. She has also done this through her work with the New Mexico Dream Team, New Mexico Immigrant Law Center and the City of Albuquerque, as well as through volunteer roles as a board member of Emerge New Mexico, Encuentro and the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) Master of Public Policy Program.

Jazmín has been recognized as Albuquerque Business First’s Top 40-Under-40; with Enlace Comunitario’s Brindis a la Mujer Award in the Category of Policy and Law; and with New Mexico Women’s Bar Association Rising Star Award. She’s also honored to have served as co-master of ceremony for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s 2019 inauguration. Jazmín is a graduate of the UNM Anderson School of Management and the UNM School of Law.

Movement Strategist

Alison McCrary

New Orleans, Louisiana

An enrolled citizen of the AniYunWiYa Cherokee Nation, Alison McCrary is a spiritually grounded social justice lawyer, movement strategist, community mediator and transformative justice practitioner. She loves building relationships to transform cultural and organizational infrastructures in order to nurture communities and social movements of liberation, accountability and justice. Motivated by her family’s experiences with the carceral system, she has served as a spiritual advisor on Louisiana’s death row for nearly 20 years and has helped develop movement strategy for dozens of formerly incarcerated people-led nonprofits.

In previous roles, Alison served as the statewide campaign manager for the Unanimous Jury Coalition, abolishing a 138-year-old Jim Crow law; the founding executive director of the ReEntry Mediation Institute of Louisiana; the executive director of the National Police Accountability Project; and director of the New Orleans Community-Police Mediation Program. She received her J.D. from Loyola University’s College of Law and her bachelor’s in English at Georgia State University.

Social Innovation Leader

Scott Rumpsa

Holland, Michigan

Scott Rumpsa is a mission-oriented leader committed to driving innovation and excellence in the nonprofit sector. With a master’s in business administration and graduate studies in nonprofit management, combined with 15 years of experience in the business, education and government sectors, Scott has a proven ability to lead organizations with a focus on guest-centered design, efficiency and impact.

Joining Community Action House in 2018 represented Scott’s return home to West Michigan, where he is committed to long-term community leadership and service. Over the past five years, Scott has led the transformation and expansion of Community Action House’s work, launching ambitious efforts to work toward a future where every neighbor has what they need to thrive, and no one faces challenges alone.

Social Entrepreneur

JJ Townsend

Jackson, Mississippi

JJ Townsend is a social entrepreneur and ecosystem builder dedicated to closing the digital divide at the local, state and federal levels. He believes that technology has the power to drive inclusive economic opportunities if it is utilized effectively. Currently, he leads Microsoft’s philanthropic work in Mississippi through the TechSpark program, focusing on expanding computer science education, providing digital skilling opportunities, and accelerating digital transformation for small businesses and startups. Previously, he founded a startup and consulting firm that developed software solutions for businesses and nonprofits.

Beginning his career as a Jackson Public Schools elementary teacher through Teach For America, JJ taught students to read, write and code. A graduate of the University of Mississippi, he holds a master’s degree in educational leadership.

Poetic Life Sculptor

Steven Randle

Madison, Mississippi

Steven Randle is motivated by the idea that wisdom should be shared as a blueprint to the next generation, which fuels his passion for elevating youth of color whom society has marginalized. Steven is a poet, author and proud executive director of his newly formed nonprofit S.C.R.E.A.M., an organization that seeks to use creative arts as a means of increasing emotional intelligence and building life-coping skills with Black and brown youth in communities that have been under-resourced. Steven also serves as vice president of programming for Ascension Strategies, LLC.

Most recently, Steven was chief development officer for InnerCity Weightlifting, a Boston-based nonprofit. He also previously served as director of justice for Empower Mississippi. He is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and a graduate of Mississippi College and of Rutgers University. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in public policy at Liberty University.

Narrative Shifter

Dondrea Brown

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Dondrea Brown is a relentless advocate for financial literacy and an influential force for the younger generation. He strongly believes in creating spaces filled with smiles, laughter and learning that equip individuals with the knowledge and tools to chart their own paths. Dondrea carries the philosophy that everyone is entitled to control their narrative, a conviction deeply rooted in his personal journey and determination to be the last generation to start from scratch. As the founder and executive director of 1428 Financial Wellness and Young Money Finance, Dondrea is dedicated to empowering families to cultivate healthy relationships with money.

His academic background – a bachelor’s in political science, a master’s in teaching from Kent State University, and a certified financial education instructor – enriches his understanding of societal structures, which he applies in crafting effective educational frameworks for his financial literacy initiatives. In addition to his own organizations, Dondrea serves as a board member for Better Wiser Stronger and Project Green.

Early Childhood Advocate

Shay Everitt

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Shay Everitt is dedicated to reducing barriers, sharing power and improving access to high-quality early childhood programs with and for New Mexico families. Shay currently serves as the director of strategy, systems integration and alignment for New Mexico’s Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD), where she works collaboratively to identify complex systems-level problems and generate creative solutions to governance. She also builds partnerships to develop equitable, cross-sector, multi-agency strategic alignment for the early childhood system.

As an advocate and in government roles, Shay has developed policies to expand access to early childhood programs and services, as well as improve support for early childhood workers and increase meaningful outreach to families. She is a graduate of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and Sam Houston State University.

Voice Amplifier

Jourdan Barnes

New Orleans, Louisiana

Jourdan Barnes is a Black queer man who is a dedicated advocate for health equity and an accomplished portrait photographer. Currently, he serves as the health equity communications coordinator in the Immunization Program at the Louisiana Department of Health, while actively contributing as a board member to Young Aspirations Young Artists (YAYA) Inc. As the former community engagement coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Health’s STD/HIV/Hepatitis Program (SHHP), he developed impactful strategies to connect with communities in need. Jourdan has educated millions on vaccination risks and bridged gaps between communities and resources.

With over 10 years of experience, Jourdan’s photography captures the essence of Black American experiences, celebrating their beauty, resilience and diversity. Recognized for his work, Jourdan received the Strength, Opportunities, Leadership, Inclusion and Diversity fellowship sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Through his photography, he envisions creating safe spaces that foster a sense of belonging for Black and brown individuals.

Systems Reimaginer

Asya Howlette

New Orleans, Louisiana

Throughout her career, Asya Howlette has worked to cultivate environments that allow people to be their most authentic, dynamic and powerful selves. She believes every person deserves to live well and fulfill their purpose, and she is motivated to create, dismantle and reimagine a society that allows this to become true. Currently, Asya serves as the director for the Mayor’s Office of Youth and Families, supporting the City of New Orleans in building and strengthening systems to truly meet the needs of young people and families.

Beginning at Hampton University and then Johns Hopkins University, Asya enjoyed a decade-long journey as an educator in Louisiana, first as a teacher, then a middle school principal and director of mathematics, and finally working with curricula and leading teacher development within Orleans Parish and across the United States. Asya is most ecstatic about her new role as a mother and the immediate impact it has had on her urgency to do work that matters and that will undoubtedly create a better world for generations to come.

Mental Health Supporter

Kamilah Henderson

Detroit, Michigan

Kamilah Henderson is a social worker who specializes in infant and early childhood mental health, both as director of PEDALS Michigan and as a clinical therapist in private practice. She is curious about the transformation that can happen when Black children and families come into relationship with liberation-centered mental health supports.

Kamilah works with children from birth through age eight, parents and teachers to strengthen attachment relationships and build social emotional learning skills. She is committed to serving, comforting and healing her community. She currently serves on the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health Centering Equity Committee, and is a co-founder of the Detroit Waldorf School Black Families Collective. Kamilah lives on the northwest side of Detroit with her husband and her beautiful daughter.

Community Organizer

Rachel LaZar

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rachel LaZar believes in the power of organizing. Over the past several decades, Rachel, alongside Latinx immigrant leaders, co-founded multiple immigrant-based organizations. In 2000, she co-founded Enlace Comunitario, a domestic violence agency aimed at bridging the gap between direct services and community-led advocacy. In 2005, Rachel co-founded El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos to address systemic racial and economic inequities and grow the power of low-wage immigrant workers. El CENTRO’s membership has been at the forefront of bold immigrant integration, inclusive economy and workers’ justice campaigns in New Mexico. In 2020, under Rachel’s leadership, El CENTRO launched El CENTRO Poder y Acción, a 501(c)4 organization.

Rachel was born and raised in Albuquerque where her family and lifetime friends reside. In her free time, you can find her hiking, cycling and trail-running in New Mexico’s mountains and deserts. To answer New Mexico’s official question, Rachel prefers red (chile, not politics).

Maternal Health Advocate

Meshawn Siddiq

New Orleans, Louisiana

Meshawn Siddiq’s mission is to improve Black maternal and infant health outcomes in the City of New Orleans. Her passion is to ensure that all families give birth in a safe and peaceful manner as a right, not a luxury, and have equitable access to resources so they can thrive. Meshawn is the deputy director of the New Orleans Health Department, where she leads direct service programs providing care and support to individuals and families.

She is also the founder of H.E.R. Institute and co-founder of NOLA BabyCafe, providing birth and breastfeeding support to families. She is an engaged member of the Nation of Islam and strives to be a role model for her children and her community. She is a proud graduate of both Xavier University of Louisiana and George Washington University.

Systems Restructurer

Lori Martinez

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Lori Martinez is a social worker, education advocate and nonprofit leader who partners with the community to restructure unjust and inequitable systems. She serves as the executive director of Ngage New Mexico, a nonprofit that is transforming local education outcomes across the prenatal to career spectrum. Before Ngage, Lori worked at New Mexico State University (NMSU), where she ran the social work services program; helped start a suicide intervention and prevention crisis line serving southern New Mexico; and trained local professionals and college students on suicide first aid. She’s also worked in early childhood education, providing family therapy and social services under the New Mexico Family Infant Toddler Program.

Lori received her bachelor’s and master’s in social work from New Mexico State University, and serves as a field instructor for the NMSU School of Social Work. Originally from the Four Corners area, she is a proud mama to her daughter, and they are happy to call Las Cruces home.

Disruptive Educator

Chauncey Spears

Jackson, Mississippi

Chauncey Spears is a public educator and youth advocate who knows that “education is a key social lifter.” Currently, he works with the Alluvial Collective, a nonprofit community-building organization with a heart and mind for equity. He came to the collective after a long career with the Mississippi Department of Education serving as the director of social studies, among other roles.

An active alumni member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Chauncey helps lead numerous youth and community engagement initiatives, including mentoring, scholarships and political action initiatives. He is also a member of the historic Mt. Helm Baptist Church, where he is engaged with the Brotherhood and Saturday Academy initiatives.

Social Justice Entrepreneur

Jaqi Baldwin

Burque, New Mexico

Jaqi Baldwin is a born and raised Burqueña who believes in the power of young people. As a Chicana leader and social entrepreneur, Jaqi is fiercely committed to school design that is centered around the needs of young people, while honoring their communities. As the executive director of Siembra, a students of color-serving institution, Jaqi believes that engaging young people in economic development and entrepreneurship through a social justice lens is the key to making the community a better place for everyone.

Jaqi earned a bachelor’s in psychology, a master’s in social work and a master’s in business administration. In the state of New Mexico, Jaqi is licensed as a public high school teacher, a public school social worker, a public school rehabilitation counselor, a public school administrator and a mental health clinician. Jaqi is also a Deeper Learning Equity Fellow, a Manati Fellow and a Pahara Fellow.

Education Bridge Builder

Nikki Elder

Battle Creek, Michigan

Nikki Elder is an educator and leader who is dedicated to supporting the success of youth in her community. In her current role as special projects coordinator for the Grand Valley State University Battle Creek Regional Outreach Center, she serves as a bridge for families and students between K-12 and higher education. In addition, she partners with other community organizations to eliminate barriers for students in obtaining and thriving in higher education.

Her degrees in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) and educational leadership have equipped her to effectively advocate for multilingual and migrant students and their families. She is passionate about creating change through both systems and mindsets to develop supportive, welcoming and culturally responsive school environments for families that recognize and celebrate the value of cultural diversity and multilingualism. She earned master’s degrees from Cornerstone University and Western Michigan University, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati.

Community Health Advocate

Bennetta Thomas

Detroit, Michigan

A global public health practitioner, Bennetta Thomas loves serving in the trenches with the community, and is dedicated to bridging health inequities through education, advocacy, service and partnership. She has worked in public health for more than 10 years, and is experienced in HIV prevention, medical case management and parent education. Bennetta is currently a public health consultant with the Michigan Public Health Institute and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Tobacco Section, where she is responsible for contract monitoring, technical assistance, educational training and treatment services using innovative culturally centered approaches.

Bennetta is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and community outreach chair for the Liberian Association of Michigan. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, partaking in international mission trips, dancing and listening to Afrobeats.

Systems Reformer

Gina Womack

New Orleans, Louisiana

Gina Womack is a passionate advocate for families whose children are tracked into the juvenile justice system. Most parents with low-incomes seek help and support for their children before they get into trouble, but these students are often referred to programs connected to the criminal justice system instead of programs in their communities. This, in addition to the horrific conditions of our juvenile justice system, set Gina on the path to fighting for systems transformation centered in best practices.

Over the last 25 years, Gina has worked to end the over-reliance on youth incarceration. She serves as the vice chair of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act Implementation Commission. Previously, Gina spent 10 years at the Epilepsy Council of Southeast Louisiana, working to eliminate the stigma of people with epilepsy. She is also a 2020 Gratitude Network Fellow, and recently completed the Stanford University Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders.

Youth Mentor

Kierre Rimmer

Cleveland, Mississippi

A change agent who believes that consistency is the key to fostering a better path in life, Kierre Rimmer is deeply committed to serving the youth and families in the Mississippi Delta. He is the founder and CEO of FLYZone, where F-L-Y stands for Forever Lifting Youth, through which he supports youth leaders in growing self-confidence and becoming active contributors in their community. He truly embodies the phrase “be the change you wish to see.”

Kierre also serves on several local boards of directors. He is a founding officer for FOCSD, a nonprofit organization that supports and advocates for the local school district. Kierre is a graduate of Delta State University and Strayer University, where he obtained a master’s in public administration.

Workforce Developer

Shannon Brown Joseph

New Orleans, Louisiana

Shannon Brown Joseph is a dynamic and accomplished workforce development liaison with experience in diversity initiatives and programming. As national director of nursing workforce pipeline at Ascension, Shannon manages nursing and nursing support workforce development programs for one of the largest health systems in the United States. Recognized as one of the Top 50 African American Healthcare Professionals to Watch by Becker’s 2022 and 2023, Shannon is committed to caring for all individuals, especially those persons living in poverty.

Previously, Shannon served as director of talent management and workforce development at Ochsner Health System, as well as assistant secretary of labor for the Louisiana Workforce Commission. Shannon currently holds the positions of secretary for Clover New Orleans (formerly Kingsley House), president-elect of the Arc of Greater New Orleans, and a board member for the New Orleans Career Center. She has a bachelor’s in business administration from Loyola University, a master’s in business administration from the University of Phoenix, and is pursuing her doctorate of business administration in healthcare management from Liberty University. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Bridge Builder

Caitlin Brooking

Jackson, Mississippi

Caitlin Brooking is a dreamer, a bridge builder, a lifelong student, a story-listener and a storyteller. She loves the City of Jackson and its people fiercely, and is humbled and honored to have been welcomed into the community more than 10 years ago to co-create opportunities for young people that immerse them in building the future of this place. As the CEO of Refill Jackson Initiative, she is passionate about creating and protecting places where youth can reignite self-confidence; establish safety for hoping and dreaming; and engage in activities to learn, practice and master the skills to create a joyful future.

She has spent most of her career building AmeriCorps programs to engage citizens in service to meet community concerns in Mississippi. Caitlin holds a master’s in sociology from the University of Mississippi and a bachelor’s in psychology from Boston University.

Food Systems Steward

Liz Broussard Red

Jackson, Mississippi

Liz Broussard Red is committed to building a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system in Mississippi and shifting power for racial justice and food sovereignty. For the past seven years, she has worked as the food justice project coordinator at the National Center for Appropriate Technology. She is also a co-founder of the Center for MS Food Systems, where she supports a network of BIPOC-led organizations and individuals working to improve access to healthy, local, culturally appropriate food; nurture food systems leadership; and transform Mississippi food systems and regional economies.

Liz holds a graduate certificate in food policy and sustainability leadership from Arizona State University and a bachelor’s in food and the environment and in music from Cornell College. She is a proud mama of a joyful and strong-willed 1-year-old and wife to a Jackson filmmaker and business owner.

Family Advocate

Nadeane Cattrell

Jackson, Mississippi

Nadeane Cattrell believes that when families are given the knowledge and support they need to navigate the many systems that they encounter, they are better equipped to advocate for themselves and instill a sense of emotional and mental well-being in their children. As the executive director of Mississippi Families for Kids, Nadeane works to create, build and support permanency for children in or at risk of entering the foster care system. In her role, she acts as the state lead for Help Me Grow Mississippi, a national, family-engagement model helping children start school healthy and ready to learn.

She also serves on the Mississippi Association for Infant Mental Health board, developing a workforce specializing in services for mothers and their babies. Nadeane is a licensed certified social worker with a graduate degree from Jackson State University.

Arts Advocate

Adam Schumaker

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Adam Schumaker is invested in increasing equitable opportunities in the arts, while increasing wages and benefits for arts workers. Adam is the director of education for the Gilmore Piano Festival, where he is dedicated to supporting youth well-being and development. He is also a visiting professor of music theory and arts entrepreneurship at Kalamazoo College, a freelance composer and a speaker.

Adam holds music degrees from Principia College and Western Michigan University School of Music. He volunteers on the boards of the Helen L. Fox Gospel Music Center and ÆPEX Contemporary Performance. His three kids and partner are all active in the local arts scene and love being part of the West Michigan arts community.

Indigenous Rights Activist

Darlene Gomez

Lumberton, New Mexico

Dedicated to giving a voice to the voiceless through pro-bono legal work, Darlene Gomez has been a fierce activist for primary and secondary victims of the Murdered, Missing Indigenous, Woman and Relatives (MMIWR) crisis since 2001. She spends her time organizing rallies, using communications to raise awareness, educating law enforcement on cultural sensitivity and humility, mentoring and advocating for secondary victims, and serving as a pro-bono attorney for families of MMIWR victims.

Darlene is a member of the New Mexico MMIWR Task Force and serves as the pro-bono counsel for the nonprofit organization Medicine Wheel Ride. She is widely considered a leading expert in MMIWR throughout the U.S. and her persistent efforts on behalf of victims have led to an increase in domestic and international media attention for the MMIWR public health crisis. Darlene is the 2022 recipient of the State Bar of New Mexico Robert H. LaFollette Pro Bono Attorney of the year award. She is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Law.

Cultural Sustainer

Warlance Chee

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Warlance éí Tsénahabiłnii nilį́, Kinłichíi’nii yashchíín, Hooghanłání dabichei dóó Áshįįhnii dabinálí is from Lake Valley, New Mexico, and is an advocate for language and cultural sustainability and revitalization for the urban Diné population. For the past 10 years, Warlance has been a Diné language and culture teacher and has taught at Cuba Independent Schools, Tóhajiilee’ Community School and, most recently, at Native American Community Academy (NACA). Currently, he is the director of Saad K’idlyé, a grassroots language organization for prenatal families, infants and toddlers.

Warlance also supports language initiatives by volunteer teaching and providing professional development and spiritual support for local schools and organizations. Warlance attended the University of New Mexico and graduated with a bachelor’s in American Studies, with a minor in Native American Studies. He also received a master’s in Diné culture, language and leadership from Navajo Technical University.

Mindful Healer

Jessica Reed

Southaven, Mississippi

Jessica Reed’s values of truth and social justice, combined with her courage and resilience, are reflected in her work as a clinician to aid in the healing of Mississippi. She is the founder and owner of Reed Counseling and Consulting LLC, where she’s increasing access to mental health care for communities through somatic and mindful healing and helping people who’ve had social, racial and traumatic experiences.

Jessica is a licensed professional counselor supervisor, a board certified tele-mental health counselor, a mental health service provider and a “Prepare and Enrich” trainer. Jessica is an emerging leader for the Mississippi Counselors Association and has accepted a presidency position for Mississippi Association of Counselor Educators and Supervisors. Jessica is also affiliated with Therapy for Black Girls, Inc. and The Loveland Foundation, as well as serves on the advisory board for the Youth Mental Health Coalition. She is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and is a member of the Mississippi Licensed Professional Counselors Association.

Systems Change Navigator

Stacy Stout

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Stacy Stout’s passion is creating welcoming and brave spaces for women of color to connect, learn and feel valued. She currently serves as the director of family-centered philanthropy at the Steelcase Foundation, which seeks to create conditions where all people can participate, grow and thrive. Stacy is also a founder and board co-chair of the Latina Network of West Michigan; co-chair of the Somos Comunidad Fund at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation; and participant of the inaugural Political Determinants of Health (PDoH) Learning Lab with the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine.

Previously, Stacy served as the director of equity and engagement with the City of Grand Rapids, where she was the executive lead on the City’s community engagement and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies, framework, policies and training. Stacy earned her master’s and her bachelor’s at Grand Valley State University.

Health Equity Champion

Karen Garcia

Battle Creek, Michigan

As a pediatrician, breastfeeding medicine specialist and advocate for health equity, Dr. Karen Garcia seeks to effect change for BIPOC families and their experiences in healthcare systems. She is committed to advancing diversity in breastfeeding and family support. She currently works as a pediatrician and newborn hospitalist, and recently started her private, in-home breastfeeding medicine service. She also works with Milk Like Mine as a facilitator for their breastfeeding café and is part of the leadership for the Southwest Michigan Perinatal Quality and Improvement Collaborative.

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WKKF Community Leadership Network