City Clerk of Chicago
Anna Valencia was first sworn-in as City Clerk of Chicago on January 25, 2017 overseeing one of the largest offices in the City serving 1.2 million Chicagoans and generating more than $130 million annually.
As City Clerk, Valencia has focused on making government accessible to all Chicagoans. Under Valencia’s leadership, the Office of the City Clerk has made it a priority to find new and innovative ways to bring services directly to residents, increase civic engagement, and collaborate across government in the private and public sectors.
Since becoming City Clerk, Valencia led the creation and implementation of Chicago’s Municipal ID program, known as the CityKey. Available to all Chicago residents, the government-issued ID was the first in the country to serve as a resident’s government-issued ID, transit, library and prescription benefit card. Her other initiatives include:
Mobile City Hall connecting residents to city services across Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods;
Status of Women and Girls Working Group an alliance of more than 120 young women and girls from across the city and industry to advance equity for all residents;
Fines, Fees and Access Collaborative bringing City Departments, community advocates, academic institutions, elected officials and residents to review current practices and develop both short-term and long-term recommendations to address the city’s fines and fees practices;
Council Modernization exploring new ways to bring City Council into the digital age by enhancing streaming and making Council records and legislation more open and easily accessible for residents; and,
Next Gen City Council working directly with Chicago Public School students to serve as Alderman for the day and a simulation of a City Council Meeting.
Prior to becoming Clerk, Valencia served as the second woman and first Latina to run Mayor Emanuel’s Legislative Counsel and Government Affairs (LCGA) where she spearheaded the passage of police accountability reform, the modernization of the CTA’s Red and Purple lines, the stabilization of pension funds and creation of the City’s legal fund that assists immigrants and refugees threatened with deportation.
Valencia has also worked as an Illinois political professional in several positions including, serving as Campaign Manager for U.S. Senator Dick Durbin’s re-election campaign, Senior Advisor for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s re-election campaign, Deputy Director of the Illinois Senate Democratic Victory Fund, a Communications Staffer for State Senate President John Cullerton, and Field Director for both Mike Quigley for Congress (IL-05) and Gary Peters for Congress (MI-09).
In 2018, Business Insider named Valencia one of the 8 most influential millennial women in U.S. politics. In 2017, Chicago Magazine listed Valencia as an Emerging Power Player highlighting her as a rising star in Chicago politics. Valencia has also been awarded Negocios Nows’ 40 under 40 for her work as part of the next generation of Latina leaders.
Valencia earned her degree in International Studies from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She currently resides in the West Town neighborhood with her husband and dog.
President and CEO, Chicago Foundation for Women
Felicia Davis is a life-long Chicagoan and self-described “girl from the South Side.” She is deeply committed to community through inclusive service to others.
Davis has spent the bulk of her professional career in the public sector, with a record of accomplishments in public policy, higher education administration, and public service through various capacities. For her,
the transformational idea of being a social change agent coexists with a deep awareness of the practical realities facing our society. Felicia believes profoundly in the power to transform individual lives, families, and whole communities through collective efforts and that advancing equality and equity in society are causes worth fighting for.
As president and CEO of Chicago Foundation for Women, she leads their strategic efforts in investing in women and girls as catalysts, fighting for gender equity, and building stronger communities for all. Since its founding in 1985, Chicago Foundation for Women has invested more than $39M in organizations supporting women and girls across the Chicago region.
Congresswoman Robin Kelly
Congresswoman Robin Kelly has dedicated her career to public service as an advocate for Illinois families. Since being elected to serve the 2nd Congressional District in 2013, she has worked to expand economic opportunity, community wellness, and public safety across the state, championing numerous initiatives to generate job growth, reduce health disparities, and end gun violence.
Congresswoman Kelly is a Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee (the main policy-writing body of the House) and serves on the Health, Energy, and Consumer Protection and Commerce subcommittees. Her Energy and Commerce work is focused on expanding access to healthcare, consumer protection for American families and economic development.
Additionally, she is a Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and serves on the national security and civil rights and civil liberties subcommittees. She is also represents the Midwest (Region IV) on the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which sets the policy direction of the Democratic Caucus, and serves as a member of the House Democracy Parternship.
A staunch champion of common sense gun reforms and responsible community policing, Representative Kelly is a Co-Chair of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce and is the author of The 2014 Kelly Report on Gun Violence in America, the first-ever Congressional analysis of the nation's gun violence epidemic that offers a blueprint for ending the crisis.
Committed to improving the health and wellness of vulnerable communities across the country, the Congresswoman serves as the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, and Co-Chairs the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. She also Co-Chairs the House Democratic Policy Group and House Tech Accountability Caucus.
Prior to her election to Congress, Kelly was a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, served as Chief Administrative Officer of Cook County (the second largest county in the United States) and was Chief of Staff to Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias - becoming the first African American woman to serve as Chief of Staff to an elected constitutional statewide officeholder.
The daughter of a small business owner and postal worker, Congresswoman Kelly moved to Illinois to attend Bradley University in Peoria, where she earned her B.A. in psychology and an M.A. in counseling. She later received a Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University. She lives in Matteson with her husband, Dr. Nathaniel Horn, and has two adult children, Kelly and Ryan.
Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton is excited to serve Illinois as the state’s 48th Lieutenant Governor. In this role, her portfolio includes leading the Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative, and chairing the Illinois Council on Women and Girls, the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, the Military Economic Development Council and the Illinois Rivers Coordinating Council. Lieutenant Governor Stratton currently serves on the Executive Committee of the National Lieutenant Governors Association as Midwest Member-At-Large. Previously, she represented the 5th District in the Illinois House of Representatives and her first elected office was serving as Chair of the Kenwood Academy Local School Council.
Lieutenant Governor Stratton’s entire career has focused on bringing people together, building consensus, and solving problems. She started her own consulting firm focused on alternative dispute resolution and served as a mediator, arbitrator and administrative law judge for several government agencies. Lieutenant Governor Stratton previously served as Director of the Center for Public Safety and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Executive Director of the Cook County Justice Advisory Council, and as a Deputy Hearing Commissioner for the City of Chicago Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection, all with a focus on improving public safety and building stronger communities.
As a lifelong advocate for youth and creating safe spaces for our young people, Lieutenant Governor Stratton is a restorative justice practitioner and trained peace circle keeper. She was also a founding board member of the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center and served on the Board of Directors of the Juvenile Protective Association.
Lieutenant Governor Stratton was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. She is the proud graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and DePaul University’s College of Law. She and her husband Bryan live in the Bronzeville community and have four daughters. And when she can find a bit of free time, she enjoys going to concerts, a good documentary, and training for marathons and triathlons.
State's Attorney, Cook County
Kimberly M. Foxx is the first African American woman to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office – the second largest prosecutor’s office in the country. Kim took office on December 1, 2016 with a vision for transforming the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office into a fairer, more forward-thinking agency focused on rebuilding the public trust, promoting transparency, and being proactive in making all communities safe.
As Cook County State’s Attorney, Kim has undertaken substantial criminal justice reforms focused on public safety and equity. She has revamped the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, resulting in overturned convictions in over 80 cases, including the first-ever mass exoneration in Cook County for 15 men whose convictions stemmed from misconduct by a Chicago Police Officer. She has been a leader in bond reform, instructing prosecutors to agree to recognizance bonds where appropriate, and reviewing bond decisions in cases where people are detained because they are unable to pay bonds of $1,000 or less. Kim has taken the lead on prioritizing resources away from low-level offenses to focus on violent crime, including raising the threshold for approving felony charges for retail theft to $1,000, and declining to prosecute misdemeanor traffic offenses for failure to pay tickets and fines. Kim played a vital role in passing legislation to legalize cannabis and provide the broadest and most equitable conviction relief possible. Providing this relief is not only a critical part of righting the wrongs of the failed war on drugs that disproportionately harmed communities of color; it is also a statement of her values and commitment to justice for all.
Kim is the first and only prosecutor in the country to make felony case-level data available to the public. The open data portal provides unprecedented access and transparency into the work of a prosecutor’s office. Her goal is to make the Cook County the most transparent prosecutor’s office in the country.
Kim served as an Assistant State’s Attorney for 12 years, and was also a guardian ad litem, where she worked as an attorney advocating for children navigating the child welfare system. Prior to being elected State’s Attorney, Kim served as Chief of Staff for the Cook County Board President, where she was the lead architect of the county’s criminal justice reform agenda to address racial disparities in the criminal and juvenile justice systems.
Born and raised in Cabrini Green on Chicago’s Near North Side, Kim is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, where she earned a B.A. in Political Science and a J.D. from the SIU School of Law.
Commissioner, Cook County
Noted by MSNBC’s Chuck Todd as a rising star in Illinois politics, Commissioner Gainer was elected to the Cook County Board in 2010. With an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago and a strong background in finance, Commissioner Gainer’s first act as a County Commissioner was to create Cook County’s first Pension Committee. As Chairman, Commissioner Gainer led the charge to find a pension reform solution that was fair to both taxpayers and workers. To keep the public engaged, Commissioner Gainer launched an open-data pension website (OpenPensions.org) where press, the public and County employees could go for details on plans and proposals. The result was a working group of labor and government officials who drafted one of the state’s first collaborative pension reform bills.
Commissioner Gainer created the Cook County Land Bank, the region’s most comprehensive response to reduce the amount and impact of vacant land and abandoned buildings throughout Cook County. Bringing together realtors, private developers, civic and social leaders, and Commissioner Gainer’s work to create the Cook County Land Bank has been noted in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Crain’s Chicago Business.
In addition to Commissioner Gainer’s work with finance and foreclosure, she is creating a new asset for regional workforce development by bringing together community colleges, high schools and businesses to reimagine apprenticeships. Commissioner Gainer believes that if the United States is going to be a leader in the global labor market we have to ensure our job training today looks more like the economy of tomorrow. Commissioner Gainer believes rather than just focusing on the skills gap we have to fight the training gap by bringing employers into the workforce development process.
Finally, Commissioner Gainer has devoted special interest to the women and children in the County’s criminal justice system. She eliminated the practice of separating new mothers awaiting trial from their newborns, led the fight to ban shackling pregnant detainees during delivery, created the first citizen advisory Board for the Juvenile Detention Center and continues to lead the fight to reduce the number of non-violent offenders in County Jail.
City Treasurer, Cook County
Melissa Conyears-Ervin is the current City Treasurer of the City of Chicago and a former State Representative for the 10th District. She believes in the promise of opportunity and the strength of families to effectively address the needs of our communities. As the product of a single-parent household, Melissa has seen firsthand the value of education and faith from her mother. Through hard work and determination, Melissa became the first in her family to graduate from college and earn an MBA from Roosevelt University. She has more than 15 years of experience in the insurance industry as an executive for Allstate and CS Insurance Strategies. Melissa is well qualified and intimately aware of the challenges in this diverse and vibrant City of Chicago.
During her tenure as State Representative for the 10th district, Melissa sponsored the improved Illinois education funding formula that directed over $221 million dollars in additional funding to Chicago Public Schools. She was also the chief sponsor of bipartisan legislation that protected funding for childcare assistance, a service that allows many working parents to stay in the workforce.
As City Treasurer, Melissa plans to focus her private-sector and financial training on ways to increase economic development in Chicago’s neighborhoods. She believes that Chicago’s $9.5 billion-dollar portfolio should be leveraged to help Chicago communities grow at the same economic rate, regardless of their zip code. Additionally, Chicago’s investments should observe a triple bottom line, turning a profit while ensuring city money makes environmentally friendly investments and aids working families.
In addition to her extensive civic and financial backgrounds, Melissa is passionate about giving back to the community. She has served as a mentor for high school girls and as co-chair of several events for the community, including the popular back-to-school festival that provides school supplies for over 1,000 kids. Melissa is married, has a daughter, and is a proud member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. Melissa and her husband live in Garfield Park with their young daughter, Jeneva. She also serves as the youth superintendent at Mt. Vernon Church and participates in a youth mentoring program for teenage girls. Melissa also founded a women’s book club that draws members from Roscoe Village to Lawndale.
Melissa is prepared to meet the challenges of the office. She is committed to protecting and growing the City’s $9.5 billion-dollar portfolio, while serving as the only city-wide elected official sitting on four pension boards. Melissa considers it an honor to serve the City of Chicago as its Treasurer. She cares deeply about the community and will work diligently to restore the integrity, honesty and dedication that the entire City of Chicago deserves.
Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities
Rachel Arfa was appointed Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) by Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot in July 2020.
Commissioner Arfa is the first deaf commissioner of MOPD, and the highest-ranking deaf person to serve in a City government leadership role. Arfa comes to MOPD with years of experience as a disability and civil rights attorney.
She has held numerous civic and leadership roles, including advocating to make Chicago’s cultural spaces accessible to people with disabilities.
As MOPD Commissioner, Arfa leads the City of Chicago’s efforts to make Chicago a more accessible city. MOPD provides services including in the areas of independent living services (information and referral, home-delivered meals, and homemaker services), employment and youth transition services, home modifications, assistive technology, accessible housing and architectural accessibility. MOPD also creates policies on disability accessibility, accessible transportation, and emergency preparedness.
Arfa is a graduate of the University of Michigan (B.A. American Culture) and the University of Wisconsin School of Law (J.D.).
Arfa believes that girls and women can do anything they dream of and is proud to be a co-chair of GIrls' Summit.
President and CEO, World Business Chicago
Andrea Zopp is the president and CEO of World Business Chicago, where she leads the organization’s mission of inclusive economic growth and job creation, supporting businesses and promoting Chicago as a leading global city. Prior to coming to World Business Chicago, she served as Deputy Mayor, Chief Neighborhood Development Officer for the City of Chicago.
Andrea has dedicated her career to being a force of change and has extensive experience in both the public and private sectors, including in the United States Attorney’s office and in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office where she was the first woman and African American to serve as the first assistant. She has held executive leadership positions at Sara Lee, Sears Holdings, Exelon, and served as the president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. Andrea has held multiple civic and business appointments and has served on the boards of Andrew Corporation and Urban Partnership Bank. She currently serves as the Chair of Chicago State University Board of Trustees and is a member of the Chicago Police Board and Relativity board of directors.
Chairperson Angela Hurlock
Chairperson of the Board, Chicago Housing Authority
Angela Hurlock is the Chairperson of the Board of the Chicago Housing Authority. She has more than 20 years of experience in providing affordable, safe and environmentally-efficient housing to low-income residents of Chicago. She was appointed by Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot in September 2019.
Ms. Hurlock serves as Executive Director of Claretian Associates, where she oversees the development, execution and evaluation of the community development corporation, which serves 3,000 families a year. It provides affordable housing and vital services that benefit the safety and well-being of residents and families in South Chicago and its surrounding communities.
Prior to that, Ms. Hurlock served as Senior Director of Real Estate Development for Bethel New Life, a non-profit serving Chicago’s West Side. During her tenure, the organization was able to provide families at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) with affordable, transit-oriented housing opportunities and employment resources while reviving the community area through economic development.
Ms. Hurlock has been awarded the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year, recognized as a Harvard Kennedy School Achieving Excellence Fellow, received a Green Award from Chicago Magazine, and inducted as an inaugural fellow the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy.
She has served on the Board of Directors for the Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, Metropolitan Family Services-Southeast, University of Chicago Urban Lab Advisory Committee, Alliance of the Southeast and Chicago Rehab Network, where she is also a pro-bono instructor. She is a volunteer with Chicago Development Fund Advisory Board, is a Special Service Area #5 Commissioner and lectures on Project and Construction Management throughout Illinois.
Ms. Hurlock has a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies, a Masters of Business Administration and a Masters of Architecture from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Ann Marie Wright
U.S. Chief Auditor, BMO Harris Bank
Ann Marie Wright is the U.S. Chief Auditor for BMO Financial Group. In this role, she is responsible for leading a team of audit professionals, identifying insights into current, emerging and potential issues, trends, and opportunities that will enhance efficiency and effectiveness of control processes. She provides audit advice and counsel to the CEO of BMO Financial Corp and the Board of Directors, driving positive change across the U.S. organization, and she liaises extensively with external regulators, ensuring the audit organization meets increasing regulatory expectations.
Most recently, Ann Marie was Chief Operating Officer for the North American Commercial Bank.She began her career at BMO Financial Group over 15 years ago and has held numerous progressive roles including: Senior Audit Manager in the Corporate Audit Division; Managing Director‐Business Manager, U.S. Investment Banking; Managing Director‐Business Intelligence;and Managing and Director/Head‐Capital Markets Compliance and Supervision. Prior to joining BMO,
Ann Marie held credit/portfolio management roles at Bank of America and GE Capital.Ann Marie holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance from the University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign, and a Master's in Management degree specializing in Finance and Management Strategy from Northwestern University. She also holds the Certified Anti‐Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) designation.
Ann Marie is very active in her community and is currently as a Trustee of Children’s Home and Aid Society of Illinois and a board member for The Chicago Foundation for Women. Ann Marie has also received the following awards: Top 100 Women of Influence (Diversity MBA Magazine,2020), 2019 Most Influential Women in Corporate America (Savoy Magazine), Chicago United Business Leader of Color (November 2017), Most Influential Women in Commercial Banking (Crain’s Chicago Business, November 2017), and Top 100 Executives under 50 Award (Diversity Magazine, July 2016).
CEO, Women Employed
Cherita Ellens is the CEO of Women Employed. A native Chicagoan and longtime advocate for Chicago women, youth, and families, she believes that her purpose is to use her time, talent and treasure helping the most marginalized gain self-sufficiency and full agency over their lives. Cherita carries out that purpose as CEO of Women Employed, an organization that, for the past four decades, has been dedicated to establishing equity for women in the workforce. Before joining Women Employed, Cherita led business operations and communications as Executive Vice President for Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, a public-private partnership that works to close the access gap by matching businesses that have unmet hiring needs with qualified, unemployed and underemployed job seekers. She has also served as the Executive Director of the South Side and Wabash YMCAs, and as VP of Marketing and Membership for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. Cherita holds an executive MBA from The University of Notre Dame, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Communications from Illinois State University.
Executive Director, Playworks
Colleen is the Executive Director of Playworks Illinois. Playworks is a national organization that leverages the power of play to transform children’s social, emotional, and physical health at school.
Colleen graduated from the University of Minnesota with degrees in Global Studies and Spanish. She started her career as a Playworks program coordinator providing direct services to students at an elementary school in Baltimore, Maryland. She spent the last 15 years serving in a variety of leadership roles with Playworks in Baltimore, Oakland, and Chicago, during which she developed a strong belief in the power of play to bring out the best in everyone.
Colleen sees the value of youth empowerment and developing the whole child, striving to bring opportunities to more kids in Chicago to develop social and emotional skills necessary to succeed in today’s world.
Colleen is a Leadership Greater Chicago 2018 Fellow and a New Leaders Council Chicago 2016 Fellow. She also served as a Curriculum Co-Chair on the New Leaders Council executive board. She served as a community representative on the Local School Council for Pulaski International School, is part of the Bucktown Community Organization, and served on the Leadership Council of the Laureus Sport for Good Chicago collaborative.
When she’s not fostering safe, healthy play on the 4-square court, you can find Colleen at a farmers’ market, traveling with her spouse Adam, walking her three puggles, and running on the 606.
Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Northern Trust
Connie L. Lindsey is Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Northern Trust, Chicago. She is responsible for the design and implementation of the global Corporate Social Responsibility, Community Development and Investments, and Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy for Northern Trust and the development of goals, policies, and programs appropriate to the brand and business unit strategies. In addition, Ms. Lindsey provides oversight and leadership to the firm’s response to environmental matters as well as social issues, within the marketplace, workplace, and the community.
Prior to becoming the Head of CSR, Ms. Lindsey led the client servicing teams in the Public Entities and Institutions segment in the Corporate & Institutional Services business, serving public fund and not-for-profit clients. Over the course of her Northern Trust career, she has held a number of leadership roles, including Deputy Business Head in Operations and Technology, Group Head in Northern Trust’s Wealth Management business, Director of Enterprise Relationship Management, and Manager in Treasury Management Consulting and Product Management and holds the Certified Treasury Professional designation.
Ms. Lindsey is the former National Board President of Girl Scouts of the USA. She joined the Girl Scouts board in 2005 and was elected National Board President, the highest-ranking volunteer of this 2.5 million-member organization, in 2008 for a three-year term. She was re-elected to the role of National Board President at the 2011 convention for another three-year term. In this role she provided guidance in three vital areas—policy, fund-raising, and leadership. She was an integral part of the Girl Scout transformation, committed to building and sustaining membership growth and ensuring girls receive a premier leadership development experience.
Ms. Lindsey serves on several civic and charitable boards to include Leadership Greater Chicago (Board President and Fellow since 2001); McCormick Theological Seminary (Chair of the Board of Trustees); Obama Foundation Inclusion Council (Co-Chair); Chicago Urban League; Executives’ Club of Chicago; Global Reporting Initiative; and YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.
Ms. Lindsey received her BA in Finance at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has completed the Harvard Business School Executive Education Corporate Social Responsibility program, and is also a licensed Qualified Administrator of The Intercultural Development Inventory®. She is a public and motivational speaker on topics of diversity and inclusion, corporate responsibility, leadership, and personal and professional empowerment.
Ms. Lindsey has been profiled on national television on PBS’ 30GoodMinutes and ABC’s Heart and Soul. She has been recognized for her leadership professionally and in the community by the Anti-Defamation League’s Woman of Achievement Award, Chicago Defender Women of Excellence Award, Chicago United’s Business Leaders of Color Award, Leadership Greater Chicago’s Distinguished Fellow Award, Life Directions-Guiding Light Award, National Diversity Council’s Most Powerful and Influential Women Award, Women’s Bar Association of Illinois-Advocacy Award, and YWCA’s Outstanding Leader Award in Community Leadership. In 2011 Ms. Lindsey was honored with the Spirit of Achievement award by Loretto Hospital Foundation. She was the first woman to receive the award in its eight year history. The recognition established the Connie L. Lindsey, Cancer Resource Center at Loretto Hospital in Chicago. She is an Inroads, Inc. Alumna and has been inducted into the Inroads Alumni Hall of Fame.
Founder and CEO of Sustainable Ocean Alliance
At the age of 19, Daniela founded Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) as a college-room idea at Georgetown University. Sixyears later, she has built SOA into a global organization that is cultivating and accelerating innovative solutions to protect and sustain the health of the ocean. With phenomenal speed, SOA has created the world’s largest network of young ocean leaders -byestablishing a presence in over 185 countries and has successfully launched the world’s first Ocean Solutions Accelerator to develop technological solutions that can address the greatest threats facing our planet.How can we cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset in the next generation? What are the leading technologies that can be implemented to help address the challenges facing our environment? How can established companies harness the power of young people? What trends are we seeing in Gen Z and Millennials as consumers, employees, and future business leaders? Daniela is answering these critical questions that willinfluence the new wave of entrepreneurs and redefine the relationship between emerging technologies, mitigating climate change, restoring ocean health, as well as social good.
Dr. Elizabeth Yepez
Obstetrician and Gynecologist
Elizabeth Yépez, MD is a board certified obstetrician and gynecologist based out of Chicago. Dr. Yépez graduated from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and completed her residency training at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
She is currently the Interim Director of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Rush University Medical Center and serves as the Obstetrics Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Officer. In addition to being a busy clinician and surgeon, she works to improve health equity and assure that women receive the utmost quality and safety in their obstetric care.
Dr. Yépez has focused much of her career on empowering women. Much of this is through women’s health education. She has recently developed a STEM based curriculum for teen girls that promotes a physiologic and psychological approach to sex health education. Her program is offered to teen girls within the Chicago Public School system.
She developed and blogged on her website, DrYepez.com, which aims to teach women about their bodies and encourages them to be engaged in decisions about their health and well-being.
As a daughter of Mexican immigrant parents, she is strongly committed to the Latino community. She has been featured as a women’s health expert in media outlets including television and radio. She has been invited as a key-note and inspirational speaker for a variety of organizations. Dr. Yépez ultimately promotes empowerment through education and helping women live a life of consequence.
Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler is a licensed clinical psychologist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. She is also a mindfulness trainer and certified yoga instructor.
She received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Cornell University, her doctorate in clinical psychology from Northwestern University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan. Dr. Burnett-Zeigler has over 15 years of experience providing psychological interventions to help clients with mood and anxiety disorders, stress management, interpersonal relationships and wellness promotion.
Dr. Burnett-Zeigler is an advocate for eliminating mental illness stigma and assuring that all individuals have access to high-quality, evidence based mental health care. Her research focuses on examining the factors associated with access and engagement in mental health service utilization and using this data to develop, test and implement acceptable and accessible evidence based interventions in community based settings.
Dr. Burnett-Zeigler’s op-eds have been featured in The New York Times, TIME magazine, The Hill and Chicago Tribune. She is an active contributor to the public discourse on mental health via her appearances on CNN, WGN-TV and WTTW Chicago Tonight. She is serves on the board of directors for several large healthcare non-profits including Heartland Alliance Health and Thresholds. Her forthcoming book “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen: The Emotional Lives of Black Women” will be published March, 2021. She is a proud lifelong Chicagoan.
Dr. Janice Jackson
Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Public Schools
As a former student, teacher, principal, network chief, chief education officer, and now as chief executive officer (CEO), Dr. Janice K. Jackson has been immersed in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) her entire life.
As CEO of the third-largest school district in the country, Dr. Jackson is responsible for setting our district’s collective goals, ensuring that the children of Chicago develop into the thinkers, leaders, and innovators of the future. Dr. Jackson is focused on providing students in every neighborhood of the city with equitable access to high-quality programming and facilities, and she is committed to developing a pre-k through 14 continuum that is steeped in academic rigor, supports the well-rounded development of the whole child, and provides students with multiple pathways to success.
Dr. Jackson is a progressive, forward-thinking educator who believes in setting the bar high. She began her career as a social studies teacher at South Shore High School. After five years in the classroom, Dr. Jackson served as the founding principal of the Al Raby School for Community and Environment. After Al Raby became one of the district’s most successful neighborhood high schools, Dr. Jackson was selected to open another high school, George Westinghouse College Prep High School, whose success has been recognized nationally due to its thriving world language program and partnerships, including the Northwestern Medicine Scholars Program.
Dr. Jackson is focused on improving equity and access to high-quality education in all CPS schools. Her Five-Year Vision for CPS, which was unveiled in 2019, is a comprehensive, research-based roadmap that strengthens our commitments to academic progress, financial stability, and integrity. Above all, the vision renews the district’s focus on equity.
Over the course of Dr. Jackson’s career, her leadership and the efforts of Chicago’s dedicated teachers and principals have propelled CPS students to record-breaking academic gains, and have caused education experts across the country to regard Chicago as a national leader in urban education.
Dr. Jasmine Searcy-Pate
Licensed Child/Pediatric Psychologist, The Resurrection Project
Dr. Searcy-Pate earned both of her graduate degrees (Master’s Degree and Doctor of Philosophy) in Clinical Psychology from Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland) and Jackson State University (Jackson, MS). In addition, Dr. Searcy-Pate completed specialized training in child/pediatric psychology at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minnesota), and Department of Defense (Sam Fort Houston, Texas). As a Child/Pediatric Health Psychologist and credentialed diabetes mental health provider by the American Diabetes Association, she works in collaboration with parents, schools, primary care providers, and/or specialty providers to provide assessment, therapy, and consultation services.
Specifically, Dr. Searcy-Pate provides assessment and evidence-based treatment/interventions (including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), theraplay principles, pediatric hypnosis, parent management training) to patients and their families presenting with general outpatient (e.g., behavioral difficulties, child trauma) and pediatric health complications (e.g., diabetes mellitus). Dr. Searcy-Pate has provided psychology services for 10+ years in a variety of settings, including pediatric hospitals, military settings, and community-based health clinics.
Dr. Searcy-Pate's interests and expertise include general child/adolescent mental health, pediatric health complications, and stress reduction. The focus of her practice is the interactions between the mind and the body and the powerful ways in which biological, psychological and social factors affect physical health and well-being. Dr. Searcy-Pate also serves as Clinical Lecturer (and Course Developer in the area of Child Trauma) at Northwestern University. She has published journal articles across a range of clinical topics, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and pediatric sickle cell disease. Dr. Searcy-Pate's ultimate research and clinical interests include health behavior change (i.e., predictors of success following diagnosis of pediatric health complications) and racial/ethnic disparities in children's health and healthcare. When she is not engaging in her work as a Child/Pediatric Psychologist, she enjoys opportunities for civic engagement, spending time with her energetic family, and running/biking.
“Ere” Eréndira Rendón
VP, Immigrant Advocacy and Defense
Ere is the Vice President of Immigrant Advocacy and Defense at The Resurrection Project (TRP). In this role, she serves as the organization’s lead strategist and manager on of local and state-wide campaigns impacting the lives of immigrants. Ere also created TRP’s Immigrant Defense and Advocacy Department to strengthen direct legal services with community advocacy.
Ere has played a leading role in the successful passage of many pro-immigrant legislation in Illinois, including Temporary Visitors Driver's Licenses which has licensed nearly 300,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois, the renewal of Illinois’ All Kids healthcare program to provide coverage for all children regardless of their immigration status, and most recently the expansion of healthcare to undocumented seniors in Illinois.
Ere also serves as the program director for the Chicago Legal Protection Fund Community Navigator Program, a public fund created by the City of Chicago to ensure defense and representation of undocumented immigrants. The Chicago Legal Projection Fund partners with ten immigrant organizations across the city in its three year history, more than 70,000 immigrants have been reach with Know Your Rights (KYR) information through thousands of presentations at churches, schools, community colleges, consulates, and community centers throughout Chicago.
In 2019, Ere led the successful passage and implementation of Illinois Access to Justice Program, a 10M first in the nation program that provides free legal representation and mass "know-your-rights" education to vulnerable and resilient populations ravaged by the twin scourges of mass incarceration and mass deportations.
Ere is an undocumented immigrant with DACA protection and is a frequent expert commenter on local and national media. Ere was born in Oaxaca, Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. in 1990 to be reunited with her dad. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Eva Maria Lewis
Founder, Free Root Operation
Eva Maria Lewis is a seeker of liberation, student, artist, and organizer from the south side of Chicago. She is the founder of the Free Root Operation which combats gun violence through a lens of healing and opportunity. Her work has taken her to advocate at the United Nations in NYC, the Human Rights Defenders World Summit in Paris, France, and other places. She has received awards and recognition from the DuSable Museum, Nylon Magazine, the Chicago Community Trust, and more. She is a published writer with multiple pieces under Teen Vogue. Eva wants to see all of her people free, and joyous; it is this vision that drives her work. She is currently a senior studying sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Honorable Karen Freeman-Wilson
President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League
Karen Freeman-Wilson began serving as President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League in January 2020. She brings a passion for equity and social justice to the organization, which works to advance economic, educational and social progress for African Americans through direct service and advocacy.
Having served in the public arena most of her professional life, Freeman-Wilson has deep experience in addressing issues that impact urban communities. She was mayor of her hometown of Gary, Indiana, from 2012 through 2019. She was the first female to lead the city of Gary and the first African-American female mayor in Indiana. Her mayoral accomplishments include job creation, completion of a $100 million airport runway relocation, and the development of key areas in the city. She previously served as Indiana Attorney General, Director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, and presiding judge of the Gary City Court. She also served as Executive Director of the National Drug Court Institute and CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, where she is currently Board Vice Chair.
Freeman-Wilson is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. She is a past President of the National League of Cities, past Chairperson of the Criminal and Social Justice Committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and sits on the National Police Foundation Board of Directors. She is a member of Israel C.M.E. Church; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; the Links, Inc.; the NAACP; the Urban League of Northwest Indiana and the Indiana Bar.
Freeman-Wilson and her husband Carmen Wilson II have a blended family of four children.
Karen Nichole Spears
Karen Nichole Spears is a 24-year old creative entrepreneur, lettering artist, brand strategist, design coach, and organic influencer in Chicago, IL. Upon graduating from the University of Missouri in the Spring of 2017, she started her career as a full-time entrepreneur, running her creative agency and online shop, Kareracter Creative Studio.
Karen discovered her creativity at an early age, being known by family, friends, and schoolmates
as the girl with the “neat hand-writing.” After being encouraged to do something more with her penmanship, she eventually taught herself Photoshop & Illustrator to find ways to digitize her writing. What began as an escape from school evolved into a dorm room hustle. Karen began creating hand- drawn logos for Mizzou’s student hustlers and eventually, her Instagram followers. By the end of her college career, Karen had enough clients to safely enter the world of entrepreneurship post-grad.
Ten months into running her business full-time, Karen received the 2018 Emerging Designer Award by the Professional Association for Design, further establishing her credibility in the Chicago design community. Karen’s life purpose is to create a world of possibility for women in design and entrepreneurship through her gift of creativity. Her vision is that entrepreneurs and designers can sustain a living doing what they love with the help of strategic design.
Karen Spears is a former peer advisor for the Obama Foundation, Aspen Ideas Festival Scholar, Starting Bloc alum, intern for Google & Leo Burnett.
Chief Administrative Officer, Center on Halsted
Kim Fountain (she/her/they/them) is the Chief Administrative Officer at Center on Halsted, the largest LGBTQ+ community center in the Midwest. They have been involved with LGBTQ+ movement building for 25 years, focusing specifically on issues of violence within and against the community. Their work has brought them to many places, from Chennai, India to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont to New York City. Kim is also a published author, community activist, and cultural anthropologist. When not protesting or writing, she is hanging out with her two cats and three dogs.
Principal Business Program Manager - Workforce Development, ComEd
Laticia Holbert has a unique blend of skills and gifts that lend themselves to training, workforce development, diversity, social justice and change management. She has been coined by her peers as the connector of people and things. Laticia is always looking at the big picture, pulling talents and gifts while championing people to live their authentic self. Within her 20 years of experience in corporate training, career and professional development planning, championing diversity and inclusion efforts, leading employee resource groups and business development, Laticia is a powerhouse.
Laticia currently employed at ComEd. ComEd delivers electricity to 3.8 million customers across Northern Illinois, which accounts for about 70 percent of the state’s population. In her role as Principal Business Program Manager for Workforce Development, she develops, manages, and evaluates high profile, complex projects/programs/initiatives involving multiple organizations from planning to post implementation phases as required. In her role, her main goals are to remove barriers to decrease unemployment and underemployment, and ensure a highly-skilled, diverse workforce for the rapidly transforming industry and region in which we serve. Laticia oversees the ComEd Infrastructure Academy, which includes the CONSTRUCT Program.
Laticia is graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a BA in Economics and a Master in Business Administration with a concentration in Project Management from Keller Graduate School of Management. Additionally, she has a certificate in Coaching for Employee Engagement.
Servitude is very important to Laticia. She is an active member of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Incorporated and Million Women Mentors Steering Committee Member. She is also an Emeritus Ambassador Council member for the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. Laticia has previously served on Women in Energy Network (WEN) Chicago New Member Onboarding Chair (2018-2019), and board of directors for Foundation College Prep (2016-2018)
Michele Cober, Esq.
Attorney, Federal Regulatory & Public Policy Group at Verizon
Michele Cober is an attorney in the Federal Regulatory & Public Policy Group at Verizon. She advocates at the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of Verizon, focusing on wireline telecommunications and media issues. She also represents Verizon in court, defending the company in litigation. Prior to joining Verizon, Michele was in the litigation groups in the Washington, DC offices of both Kirkland & Ellis and Hogan Lovells where she helped clients manage litigation and arbitration matters, particularly complex commercial disputes. Her wide ranging practice included contract disputes, construction law, healthcare and health insurance conflicts, education matters, and employment discrimination claims. Michele continues to maintain an active pro bono practice and represents pro bono clients in a diverse range of issues, with a focus on criminal justice reform.
During her time at Howard University School of Law, Michele was the Executive Publications Editor of the Howard Law Journal. After graduation, she clerked for the Honorable Deborah Chasanow on the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.
She is also a professional opera singer and performed in opera houses all over the world prior to law school. Michele now sings part time, most recently appearing in Don Giovanni with the Washington National Opera and Thaïs with the Maryland Lyric Opera.
Militza Pagan, Esq.
Staff Attorney, The Shriver Center on Poverty Law
Militza M. Pagán is a Staff Attorney at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law. The Shriver Center fights for economic and racial justice through litigation, policy, training, and convening multi-state networks of lawyers, community leaders, and activists. A proud Chicago Public Schools graduate, Militza’s focus is on workplace justice for domestic workers and protecting immigrants’ access to safety net programs. Before law school, Militza was Deputy Director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Humboldt Park and an AmeriCorps Fellow at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Militza earned a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Vice President of State & Local Government Affairs - Central/New England Region, Verizon
Nia has extensive legal experience paired with leadership in state and local public policy. She leads a team of lobbyists, advocates and community relations managers across 22 states in the central Midwest and New England to advance Verizon's objectives. Mathis is an experienced General Counsel who actively shaped business strategy toward growth in a highly competitive sector.
She also has deep experience advising in commercial transactions, sales and marketing, procurement, business development, real estate, and risk management, with expertise in telecom regulation, privacy, and intellectual property. Nia's passion to bring positive cultural change, cross-functional collaboration, courageous action, and sustainable outcomes is evident in her work.
Director for the Mayor's Office of New Americans
Nubia Willman is the Director for the Mayor's Office of New Americans. She is responsible for immigration policy and programming. Nubia's work includes leading the City's census efforts, increasing language access, and working with community stakeholders to increase services for Chicago's immigrant and refugee communities.
Prior to joining the Mayor's Office in July 2019, Nubia worked at Legal Aid Chicago. At Legal Aid Chicago, Nubia supervised the immigration project in the Immigrants and Workers' Rights Practice Group. She represented survivors of crimes and low-wage workers seeking immigration and employment relief.
Nubia graduated from Loyola University School of Law in 2010. Nubia is a freelance writer and is the editor of Latinas Uprising, an online community dedicated to increasing diversity within the legal profession.
Impact Coordinator, The Chicago Community Trust
Rachel Pate is an impact coordinator at The Chicago Community Trust. As a member of the Growing Household Wealth team, she works closely with colleagues to strategize, distribute grants, build community partners, strive for racial equity, communicate the importance of closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap and specifically help coordinate the initiatives and grant making of the team. Pate also leads components of the due diligence process, develops and implements grant tools, tracks activity, compiles outputs, collects research and provides outreach to stakeholders. In addition, she supports drafting and editing of requests for proposals, memos, write-ups, letters of intent, grant proposals, as well as manage the pre-work, site visits, decisions and grant writing.
Prior, she spent nearly five years as a marketing coordinator at the Trust where she managed the organization’s day-to-day social media and supported its web content strategy to engage stakeholders and build awareness of its mission. In 2018, Pate co-created the Committee for Racial and Ethnic Equity (CREE) at the Trust to reflect and process new ideas learned from racial equity trainings, personal experiences and life at work.
Before joining the Trust, she worked with Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM, which has since merged with Cabrini Green Legal Aid), as a policy intern and research coordinator. Pate supported CLAIM as they collected state data to ensure Illinois jails followed protocols for pregnant women. Prior to that, she worked at Simpson Academy for Young Women, a school for pregnant and parenting teens, where she provided individual pre-employment, college and career counseling.
She was the inaugural alumni-in-residence/fellow with Chicago United for Equity (CUE), a nonprofit organization that allowed her to work alongside 29 other change-makers, researchers, artists, organizers and policy makers to advance racial equity in Chicago. Prior, she was a CUE fellow in the 2017-2018 program.
Pate earned a Bachelor of Science from Colorado State University and a Master of Arts from The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.
Vice President, Community and the Executive Director of the Blackhawk Foundation
Sara Guderyahn is in her second season with the Chicago Blackhawks, as Vice President, Community and the Executive Director of the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation. She has a strong track record of turning “nothing into something” and to turn “something into something special” by rallying different stakeholders to a common vision and executing a bold strategy with very focused action.
At the helm of the team's charitable arm, Guderyahn's role focuses on advancing the Foundation's long-term strategic vision in addition to fundraising, grant-making, program development and stewardship of the Board of Directors. Her career includes more than 15 years of experience in the social impact sector, including senior-level roles within the non-profit and private sectors spanning Washington D.C., South Africa and her hometown of Chicago.
Guderyahn holds a Masters in Applied Political Science from American University and has served on boards locally for Education Pioneers, Roots of Development and Cambridge at the Glen. She resides in Glenview with her dog, Rosie.
Sonia Antolec, Esq.
Director of Legal Hiring and Recruiting, Cook County State's Attorney's Office
Sonia Antolec is director of legal hiring and recruiting for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, where she is responsible for hiring attorneys for the second-largest prosecutor’s office in the United States. She began her career as a Cook County assistant state's attorney in the misdemeanor and juvenile divisions and also served as chief administrative law judge for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Antolec is a member of Loyola’s part-time law faculty, serves on the Law Alumni Board of Governors, and is a former coach of Loyola’s team that competed at the Hispanic National Bar Association’s Uvaldo Herrera Moot Court Competition.
Vanessa delValle, Esq.
Clinical Assistant Professor
Vanessa del Valle is a clinical assistant professor of law at the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. Her work focuses on enforcing the civil rights of individuals involved with the criminal justice system. She represents victims of police misconduct and prisoners in Illinois correctional facilities. She also represents community organizations seeking to end abusive policing tactics. She has also litigated suits to address issues facing immigrant communities.
Del Valle joined the MacArthur Justice Center in November 2015 after serving for two years as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Rubén Castillo in the Northern District of Illinois. In 2013, del Valle received a law degree from Stanford Law School. She majored in political science at Yale University where she received a bachelor’s degree, cum laude, in 2010.
Zaldwaynaka "Z" Scott, Esq.
President, Chicago State University
Zaldwaynaka (“Z”) Scott, Esq., unanimously elected by the Board of Trustees’ to serve as the 12th permanent president of Chicago State University, assumed the role on July 1, 2018.
Under President Scott’s leadership, Chicago State University renewed focus on: growing student enrollment and securing student success; improving student services and resources toward a more holistic understanding of the needs of the student body; advancing the University’s culture, climate, and accountability; strengthening the physical infrastructure of campus assets; and positioning the institution as a community anchor for the south side of Chicago.
President Scott oversaw the development and advancement of the Chicago State University Strategic Plan 2020-2025, ensuring that the institution will lead with the mission of transformation for students’
lives through innovation and excellence in ethical leadership. She also supervised the launch of a historic re-brand of the University, putting into motion new brand assets and campaigns to revitalize the institution’s reputation and raise awareness among new stakeholders. President Scott is also a well-known advocate for equity in higher education, having formed and co-chaired the Equity Working Group, a body of leaders from across the education, public, private, philanthropic, and community development sectors to formulate an action plan for addressing Black student access and success in Illinois higher education.
As a distinguished business and civic leader, President Scott has played an influential role in the Chicago community for over 30 years. Currently, President Scott serves on: the Board of Directors for the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital Medical Center Board, where she co-chairs the board’s subcommittee on diversity; the Board of Trustees of the United States Coast Guard Academy; and the Board of Directors for Just the Beginning, a nonprofit organization devoted to improving the diverse pipeline in the legal field. President Scott is also the former Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Chicago Housing Authority, the nation’s third largest housing authority. She also previously served on the Board of Visitors at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, as the Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees at Chicago State University, and as Chapter General Counsel for the Chicago Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Prior to her current role, President Scott was an equity partner in a national law firm with an international practice that focused on corporate internal investigations, counseling clients on regulatory compliance and crisis management. She also spent more than 16 years as a federal criminal prosecutor in the position of Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Illinois, where she served as Chief of the General Crimes Section. Upon leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Illinois State Senate confirmed her appointment as Illinois’ first Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Governor and its public universities. In this role, she created an independent executive branch state agency from its inception, developed the United States’ first statewide ethics training platform for state government employees, and created a protocol for the investigation of claims of misconduct, waste, fraud, and abuse.
President Scott has taught at some of the nation’s most competitive law schools, including Northwestern University School of Law, The University of Chicago Law School, and UIC John Marshall Law School. The Indiana University Maurer School of Law honored her with its Distinguished Service Award (2012) and selected her for induction into the Law School’s Alumni Hall of Fame (2019).
President Scott is a highly sought-after speaker and lecturer on topics related to leadership, crisis management, trial advocacy, ethics and compliance. She has received numerous awards honoring her service from organizations including the American Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association, the Cook County Bar Association, La Rabida Children’s Hospital and the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Chicago. She was recognized by Crain’s Chicago Business as one of the Most Powerful Women in Chicago Business (2018). She is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago and the Commercial Club of Chicago. President Scott’s peers rank her among the nation’s top lawyers, resulting in her inclusion in Chambers and Partners USA, U.S. News Best Lawyers, Women in Business Law Guide, The Best Lawyers in America, Leading Lawyers 2015, Top 10 Women in Criminal Defense, and Illinois Super Lawyers.
President Scott holds a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
President, Chicago Public Library
Brenda Langstraat joined the Chicago Public Library Foundation as its President in January, 2019, her personal and professional values aligning with the Chicago Public Library's belief in "the freedom to read, to learn, to discover." Brenda's career is driven by the belief that creating empowered communities of learners will transform lives and support the advancement of Chicago's neighborhoods.
Brenda joins CPLF after seven years of serving as CEO of Working in the Schools (WITS). WITS is the largest literacy organization that partners with Chicago Public Schools (CPS). WITS provides holistic literacy support for students in 90 Chicago Public Schools by creating positive and collaborative communities of teachers, volunteers, principals, and investors. Brenda led the organization's growth from a budget of $710,000 to $2 million and spearheaded the integration of Boundless Readers, another literacy organization, into WITS.
Brenda joined WITS after serving for seven years as Executive Director of Parkways Foundation, the philanthropic partner of the Chicago Park District. At Parkways Foundation, Brenda led fundraising initiatives that invested private dollars into capital and programmatic projects. During her tenure, the budget grew from $400,000 to $5 million.
Brenda started her career as a development professional at the Chicago Humanities Festival. Over her five years with CHF, she developed major giving programs, special events and the annual gala.
Brenda serves on Chicago Literacy Alliance Board of Directors and the United for Libraries Board. She lives in the West Loop neighborhood with her partner, Ve. Ve and Brenda grew up together as friend since kindergarten in a small town in Iowa and just started dated She is a yoga enthusiast and an avid reader.
Mary Ellen Messner
Chicago Public Library Acting Commissioner
Chicago Public Library Acting Commissioner Mary Ellen Messner has over 25 years' experience improving outcomes for children, youth and families in Chicago. She administers one of the largest big-city library systems in the world, with an annual budget of $130 million, 81 branches, three regional hubs and a 750,000-square-foot central library.
As CPL's First Deputy Commissioner since 2018, Messner led the organization in the development of its five-year strategy (2020-2024). She also oversaw program design and delivery, with over 35,000 events offered annually, as well as performance management and strategic partnerships.
Before joining CPL, Mary Ellen served as Deputy Commissioner of Youth Services, leading the City of Chicago's youth vision around summer employment, violence reduction initiatives and out-of-school time, and supporting over 230 community partners; and as an Assistant Commissioner, coordinating youth workforce initiatives, including the City’s signature summer jobs program employing over 31,000 youth each summer. Messner began her public sector career at the Chicago Park District.
Messner is an advisory board member of Dominican University’s School of Information Sciences and Chicago Children’s Museum, and serves as a board member for Chicago Learning Exchange.
She is a graduate of the Chicago Arts Leadership Institute and Menttium 100, a leadership and cross-company mentoring program. She earned a master's in library and information science from Dominican University, a master's of business administration from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management and a bachelor of arts in journalism from Marquette University.
Carrie Pullie, MS, NCC, LCPC
Program Director, Metropolitan Family Services Calumet Center
Carrie Pullie joined Metropolitan Family Services Calumet Center in 2001 as a Counselor providing home-based clinically intense therapeutic interventions to emotionally and behaviorally disturbed DCFS wards and their foster families. Carrie also served as the Liaison/Co-Convener of LAN 86 where she facilitated monthly community-based meetings for the purpose of improving the welfare of children and their families. Carrie was promoted to a Program Supervisor in 2005 and provided oversight to an array of children’s mental health and Housing/Case management programs. Carrie was named Program Manager of the Calumet Center of Metropolitan Family Services in 2006 where she provided oversight to the Counseling, School-Based, Family Violence, Senior Services, Mental Health, and Housing/Case Management programs. In 2009, Carrie became the Program Director of the FamilyWorks program, and subsequently the Jobs Plus program. FamilyWorks is a comprehensive case management program that supports families as they strive for self-sufficiency. FamilyWorks provides employment and education services, opportunities for youth, lease compliance, clinical and wellness services, and senior support services to families in public housing. Carrie strives to provide these services by promoting resilience, support and health through implementation of trauma-informed, violence prevention and community engagement activities that lead to improved behavioral health, empowered community residents, and reductions in trauma with sustained community change. Prior to joining Metropolitan Family Services Carrie was a group leader at a residential facility and a school counselor at an elementary school.
Carrie is a graduate of Syracuse University, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Policy Studies and a Minor in Sociology and her Master of Science degree in Counseling. Carrie is a Nationally Certified Counselor and a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor by the state of Illinois.
Chairwoman, Cook County Young Democrats
Chakena Perry is a native Chicagoan, hailing from the Back of the Yards and Ashburn neighborhoods. She received her B.A. in history from Connecticut College in December 2015 as a Posse Scholar and Chicago Scholar. She’s an incoming master’s student at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. She serves as Chairwoman of the Cook County Young Democrats, Board President of Chicago Votes Action Fund, and a Board member for Planned Parenthood Illinois Action. She served a three-year term on Connecticut College’s Board of Trustees from 2016-19.
Last year, Chakena joined members of Southwest Suburban Activists and other partner organizations to host the first-ever Women's March in New Lenox, IL. In 2018, she joined an impressive lineup of speakers at the 2nd Annual Women’s March Chicago, where more than 300,000 participants convened in conjunction with other women’s marches across the county.
Her commitment to civic engagement led her to be selected as an Obama Foundation Peer Advisor to help organize former President Barack Obama’s first civics training for young people in Chicago. She was also nominated to attend the White House’s United State of Women Summit for her work with voting rights activism.
This year, Chakena was honored with the Posse Foundation’s National Ainslie Alumni Achievement Award, Chicago Scholars’ “35 under 35” Leaders Making a Difference Award, the Quad County Urban League’s Women’s Empowerment Award, and WE Will’s 2019 Young Woman of the Year Award.
Electoral Fellow, BallotReady
Taylor is an Electoral Fellow at BallotReady working on Digital Marketing and Voter Engagement - with the audacious goal of reaching 50 million voters this year. She has spent her career thus far working towards a better tomorrow; supporting Special Olympics on their 50th Anniversary legacy fundraising campaign as well as working with Mayor Lightfoot of Chicago to engage more deeply with the many communities across Chicago. Taylor believes that #votinginformed makes a stronger democracy for us all.
Dental Student, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry
My name is Cristina Francisco. I am a second-year dental student at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry. I became fascinated with dentistry at a young age. Therefore, deciding to enter a health professional career path was instinctive. With a couple of “bumps along the road”, I look forward to sharing my story and my mission, as I pursue a career in dentistry.
My name is Hannah Bonecutter. I am a Licensed Educator, Professional Organizer, Actress, Model, Poet, Filmmaker, Writer, Social Activist, and a candidate for a master’s in public health! It was my experience as a delegate for TFA’s Rising Leader’s Summit opened my eyes to the profession of education that changed my path in college. Since graduation, I have been teaching in many capacities and most enjoying the mentorship aspect. I feel it’s my duty to guide our youth as best as I can through being an educator and more. I have always desired to be my own boss. BoneClutter LLC allows for just that. Professional organizing found me and I quickly realized this is exactly what I want to build a business in. Professional organizing is one of my passions and BoneClutter is my legacy in this industry. Social justice is at the root of all I do. I have served on the young professionals’ boards in different positions of 4 separate nonprofits for the past 4 years. I participate in many different activist rallies, volunteer efforts, and fundraisers here and abroad. I relish in leading conversation on important, relevant topics in society that affect people today. I continue to speak at various educational institutions on diverse topics and serve as a moderator as well as panelist in panel discussions. It was the social activist in me that pushed me to get a Master’s in Public Health. Someday, I plan to take all my skills and put them together for something greater than anyone could have ever imagined.
Research Associate, Global Food and Agriculture Program at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs
Julia Whiting is a Research Associate with the Global Food and Agriculture Program at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She coordinates research reports as well as digital content and engagement for the program. She has a decade of experience in food security issues, including work in research, nonprofits, and the private sector. Whiting earned an MPP from the University of Chicago and a BA in government with a concentration in sustainable food systems from Smith College.
Chief Administration and Finance Officer, City of Chicago
Alexis White serves in the capacity of Chief Administration and Finance Officer for the City of Chicago-Office of the City Clerk. She has years of successful experience in budgeting, finance and human resource management. Alexis graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a B.Sc. in Marketing and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with a Masters’ in Business Administration.
Alexis has served in a budgeting capacity at both the State of Illinois- Office of Management and Budget and the City of Chicago- Office of Budget and Management. She is a Board Member for the Women in Public Finance- Chicago Chapter and the Southern Illinois University Alumni Board. She was a Mentor Coach for the America Needs You program which focuses on First-Generation College students. Alexis has also volunteered with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Lakeview Pantry. She is originally from Springfield, Illinois and relocated to Chicago, IL in 2016. She currently resides in the Lakeview Neighborhood
Angela Townsend is a multi-faceted, passionate, & driven young professional who thrives in spaces where she can inspire people, be creative, & celebrate various cultures. She is passionate about inspiring young people to be resourceful & socially and culturally aware. She graduated from the University of Maryland College Park with a degree in Criminology & Criminal Justice in 2017. She began working for Juno4Me in 2019, and co-founded Sexpectations, a sexual health communications workshop in 2018. Most of her work has consists of facilitating workshops, creating youth programming on reproductive and sexual health, healthy relationships, and self-care, and community building. In her spare time, Angela dances, models, spends time with her family, and dreams about her next travel location!
Carly attended Hope College, studying sociology and woman and gender studies, where she advocated for many of the unheard voices on campus. As a Inter-group Dialogue Facilitator, she fostered “brave” spaces for Hope’s diverse communities to find common ground and understanding.
Originally from New Jersey, Carly’s passion for working with youth led her from her small family farm to the city of Chicago in 2015. Carly began her journey of service with City Year where she tutored and mentored students in the Austin community for two years. Interested in making a larger impact within school communities, she made the transition from Ms. Siess to Coach Carly with Playworks in 2017.
When Carly isn’t playing games recess you can find her riding her bike, swimming, and writing poetry.
Prevention Program Supervisor, Sarah's Inn
As the Prevention Program Supervisor for the domestic violence agency Sarah’s Inn, Chidori brings with her a vast array of experience working with youth. Through that work she became curious about the effects of community violence on youth, which led her to pursuing a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At Sarah’s Inn Chidori works to break the cycle of violence for future generations and is afforded the opportunity to empower the next generation to create the change needed to make her job obsolete.
Career Coach / Life Strategist
As a Career Coach/Life Strategist, I deliver leadership coaching focused on job readiness professional skills, networking, negotiation, mock interviewing techniques, and corporate psychology. I combine self-reflection that leads to shifts in thinking or values both spiritually and mentally. I maintain a unique ability to help a person dive deep within to uncover their true passion and then create a path for building a career plan around that passion.
In the corporate sector, I possess a unique aptitude for leading racial equity relationship building and integrating lean strategies with training, sales, and marketing techniques to create optimal business solutions. I am an enthusiastic leader who focuses on operational excellence. I collaborate routinely with executives, team members, and clients to foster strong and productive partnerships while transforming and diversifying their workforce to deliver sustainable, profitable growth. The result offers years of profit-driven performance and a solid mastery of Sales, Training, Career & Life Coaching expertise.
President & Executive Director, Public Narrative
Jhmira Alexander is the president and executive director of Public Narrative (formerly Community Media Workshop). Jhmira is a trained journalist who is not only a storyteller but a strategist committed to improving community health and well-being through media and civic engagement. Under her leadership, Public Narrative uses storytelling to implement narrative change strategies related to public safety, health and education.
CEO, Female Strong
Jody is currently the CEO of the non-profit Female Strong “Where Girls Can See What They Can Be”. The mission of Female Strong created to provide life changing confidence building experiences for girls that enables them to be future leaders of tomorrow. Our flagship program is the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) Chicago. In it’s 7th year in Chicago, YEA! provides a platform for girls to learn about what is possible in business and themselves though this program of entrepreneurship. During the six-month program the girls individually generate a business idea, construct a business plan and pitch their plan to local investors for start-up funding all with the robust support of 80 volunteers. They also have an opportunity to go on to a National Competition. Female Strong has additional programs, workshops, camps and events all with the same mission of building confidence in our girls. We want to change the workplace narrative for women in the future! Visit us at https://femalestrong.org/
Katelyn Jones, PhD
Women, Peace, & Security Fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs
Katelyn Jones, PhD, is the Women, Peace, and Security Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Public Fellow for the American Council of Learned Societies. Her research concerns gender politics in international organizations, and is especially focused on gender mainstreaming in policy formation and implementation. To date, her primary research has centered on the United Nations Security Council’s Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda, including completion of the first and only comprehensive analysis of UNSC debates on WPS issues.
At the Chicago Council, Dr. Jones has moderated and created content for high-level roundtables equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). She also writes white papers on institutions' EDI and prepares regular brownbag conversations on EDI for Council staff. Dr. Jones received three certificates in EDI training from the National Conference on Diversity Race and Learning in 2019.
Dr. Jones earned a PhD and MA in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an AB in government from Georgetown University. Prior to joining the Council, she was visiting faculty in international politics at the University of Richmond and Barnard College. Katelyn has also worked at the Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, DC, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in St. Louis.
Her research has been selected for presentations at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Women, Peace, and Security, as well as Women In International Security’s Next Generation Symposium on the future of WPS, the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, the UN Working Group to End Homelessness, and the Global Forum on Women in Science Education and Research.
Executive Director, Girls Like Me Project
La’Keisha Gray-Sewell is a writer and digital strategist by trade; and a nationally recognized girls advocate by life assignment. Combining both, she serves to help individuals and organizations identify relevant digital platforms to narrate their stories. As a media literacy expert and transformational speaker, La’Keisha’s programs and trainings empower women and girls alike to navigate beyond the block of limited mindsets and habits to become global legacy builders. In 2018 she self published her debut book, Move Beyond the Block, a self empowerment tool for women and girls. La’Keisha founded Girls LIke Me Project and serves as its executive director.
Klevah & TRUTH
Mother Nature is an irresistible force devoted to building a legacy founded on defiance and self-discovery. The Chicago-based duo, Klevah & TRUTH are emcees that defy expectation and are the answer for listeners seeking both substance and simplicity.
As educators, MN have mastered the ability to deliver weighty content through uplifting BARZ that pierce the conscience. With Peace & Love as the weapon and community as their foundation, these Gr8Thinkaz are on their way to provoking a pivotal shift in the next generation.
Training Manager, Working on Womanhood
As a counselor, Ngozi Harris specializes in helping individuals and families overcome trauma. Ngozi is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who received her master’s in clinical professional psychology from Roosevelt University. She helps individuals and families navigate trauma, grief, anxiety, and depression and explore life transitions, identity concerns, relationships, and self-esteem concerns. Trained in multiple interventions, she draws from them all, including Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Narrative Therapy. As the Training Manager for the Working on Womanhood program, she is responsible for bringing her wealth of knowledge to the program. She ensures that the WOW program is implemented with fidelity and that WOW counselors have what they need to implement the program with fidelity.