November 2019 Pre-Convening
to Upswell Speakers

Desiree Adaway


The Adaway Group

Desiree is a seasoned nonprofit consultant and facilitator. All of her presentations have a mix of thought provoking content presented with humor and wit. When she teaches, she makes a point to connect with every person, and create a safe space for their growth. She is known by staff, senior leadership, peers, and partners as being great at open, honest, and productive conversations. She is not afraid of addressing anything that gets in the way of great work. Her style is positive, approachable, engaging, service-oriented and audience-centered.

Amanda Misiko Andere has spent over fifteen years working in the nonprofit and public sector as a leader committed to racial equity, social justice, and housing affordability through advocacy for systemic change. Prior to joining Funders Together to End Homelessness as their CEO, she served as the CEO of Wider Opportunities for Women, a national advocacy organization. Currently, she serves as a board member of the United Philanthropy Forum and Co-Chair of A Way Home America; a national movement to end youth homelessness. She is also a member of the steering committee for The Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding. Previously she served as an adjunct professor at George Mason University teaching Nonprofit Management, Executive Director of FACETS, and Vice President of Cornerstones; who have similar missions of preventing and ending homelessness and breaking the cycle of poverty.

Antoine Andrews

Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer

Year Up

 As Year Up’s Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, Antoine Andrews will be responsible for continuing the progress Year Up has made in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Also, Antoine will lead the expansion of Year Up’s DEI strategy and efforts to continue to have a positive impact on staff, programming, students, alumni, and corporate partners.
Antoine comes to Year Up with over twenty-five years of corporate experience, fifteen of which have been leading organizations and strategy development in the D & I space expanding four different industry sectors.  He has held significant Diversity leadership roles with companies such as Gap Inc., Symantec, and Nike since 2007. In these roles, Antoine was responsible for setting strategic direction, developing action plans to bring strategy to life, and ensuring proactive change management of program roll-outs with sustained results.
Antoine has also committed his time to work with nonprofit organizations that promote youth development, education, and employment opportunities. As a Board Member, he has worked with the Bay Area’s The Mosaic Project, who work with 4th/5th graders to provide them with community building skills to become peacemakers of the future and Summer Search, where their focus is on utilizing outdoor experiences along with Mentors, to help youth reach their full potential. Antoine leveraged his love for football to lead a Pop Warner Youth Football and Cheer organization in New Jersey, his home state.
Antoine is a Newark, NJ native, Rutgers-Newark graduate and currently resides in Dublin, CA.

Vance Blackfox

Director of Communication, National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition

Creator & Director, Other+Wise

Vance Blackfox, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is an alumnus of Texas Lutheran University and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Vance has served the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in a variety of ways throughout his life, from taking a post as National President of the Lutheran Youth Organization during his TLU days, to later working for the Women of the ELCA, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, California Lutheran University, ELCA Youth Gathering, and LSTC’s Youth in Mission. At present, he is the Indigenous Theologian and Coordinating Team Member for the ELCA’s Theological Round Table. Building on this foundation, he has also created Other+Wise, a cultural immersion experience for youth across the country.
In addition to his extensive work with the ELCA, Vance is a devoted advocate for Native causes. He has most recently served as Commnications Director at Native Americans in Philanthropy and has held executive director positions at the Haskell Foundation and Oaks Indian Mission. He serves President of the Board of Directors for the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, and he has been appointed Guest Curator at the University of Texas at San Antonio Institute of Texan Cultures. He is also the Indigenous Theologian for the Faith-Based Initiative for the City of San Antonio, where he currently resides.

John Bouman


Shriver Center

John Bouman has been president of the Shriver Center since 2007, having been the leader of its advocacy program since 1996.
His advocacy highlights include spearheading the statewide efforts in Illinois to create both the FamilyCare program, which provides health care insurance for up to 400,000 working poor parents of minor children, and All Kids, the first state plan to extend health coverage to every child. He is experienced with legislation, organizing and litigation. He currently leads the Responsible Budget Coalition, an effort bringing together more than 300 diverse organizations to advocate for state revenue and budget reform in Illinois, with a priority to win a graduated income tax on the November 2020 ballot.
Before joining the Shriver Center in 1996, he worked for two decades at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, where he supervised public benefits advocacy. Among his honors, he has received the John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award from the American Bar Association’s Litigation Section, Child Health Advocate Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Excellence in Pro Bono and Public Interest Service Award from the United States District Court and Federal Bar Association. A 1975 graduate of Valparaiso University School of Law and former board member of the Chicago Transit Authority, John currently serves on the boards of Illinois Partners for Human Service and the Center for Law and Social Policy.

Niketa Brar

Executive Director

Chicago United for Equity

Niketa Brar serves as the founding executive director of Chicago United for Equity. She comes to this work from a career working to bring a community-centered approach to government, starting during her time advising a city councilmember in Oakland, California. She has served as a consultant and policy adviser to elected leaders ranging from school board to municipal and state leadership roles.​
Niketa began her career in direct service, spending five years as an investigator with the DC Public Defender’s Office and later as a teacher and dean in Title I schools. She currently serves on the Local School Council at National Teachers Academy, a Level 1+ school serving a majority Black, majority low-income student population. She co-founded CUE with LSC President Elisabeth Greer as they worked together to organize parents, students, and a larger citywide coalition to fight this school closing.
Niketa holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy and International Affairs from the George Washington University, a Masters of Arts in Teaching Secondary Mathematics from American University, and a Masters in Public Policy from the Ford School at the University of Michigan. She is the proud partner of a Chicago Public Schools teacher and mom to a future CPS student.

Gail Christopher

President & Founder

Ntianu Garden: Center for Healing and Nature

Dr. Gail Christopher is an award winning social change agent with expertise in the social determinants of health and well-being and in related public policies. She is known for her pioneering work to infuse holistic health and diversity
concepts into public sector programs and policy discourse. Dr. Christopher recently retired from her role as Senior Advisor and Vice President at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, where she was the driving force behind the America
Healing initiative and the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation effort. Dr. Christopher also served as Kellogg’s Vice President for Program Strategy and worked on place-based programming in New Orleans and New Mexico. In
2015 she received the Terrance Keenan Award from Grantmakers in Health. She chairs the Board of the Trust for America’s Health.

F. Christopher Goins

Chief Equity Officer

Thrive Chicago

F. Christopher Goins is currently the Chief Equity Officer for Thrive Chicago and charged with leading the My Brother’s Keeper Action Plan for Chicago in partnership with the Obama Foundation and Youth Guidance. He is a passionate advocate for racial equity in education and has dedicated his professional career to closing the opportunity gap and true mentorship. The former Founding Principal of Butler College Prep from 2013-2019, the school and Goins received national recognition as the number one public school, serving black students, for its academic growth and for its ONESOUL initiative aimed at ending the 2% crisis of males of color in the teaching field. A native of Greensboro, NC, Goins is a graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (B.S. History/Secondary Education) and the University of Cincinnati (Masters of Urban Educational Leadership). In 2006, Goins was the youngest person selected to be Guilford County School’s Teacher of the Year for his work as a Civics and AP Government and Politics teacher at James B. Dudley High School. Goins received the 2015 Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s Principal Achievement Award and Butler College Prep was highlighted as the highest performing high school, that serves African American students, in Chicago. In 2016, Chicago Magazine ranked Butler as the Top Charter High School in the city. Goins, is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated and a 2016 Surge Fellow, the key initiative of the Surge Institute.

Melissa Connelly



Melissa Connelly is a first-generation college graduate who, in spite of starting high school in a truancy program, obtained three college degrees with a 4.0 GPA. She currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of OneGoal, a national college access and success organization.
Prior to becoming CEO, Melissa was OneGoal’s Chief Program Officer. In this role, she was responsible for executing the programmatic vision to ensure all students have a legitimate opportunity to earn a college degree. Melissa has spent over a decade in education leveraging her experiences, empathy, and drive to make certain her accomplishments are not an anomaly, but the norm for undeserved youth.
Melissa has earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois-Chicago, a Master of Arts in Teaching and a Master of Education Administration from Dominican University. She is also an alumnae of the prestigious Surge Institute Fellowship for emerging leaders of color in education, but Melissa is most proud of the work she is doing as a mother to Ashland and Addae.

Caronina Grimble

Program Officer

Woods Fund Chicago

Caronina Grimble has been a Program Officer at Woods Fund Chicago since 2013. As Program Officer, she shares responsibility for reviewing grant proposals, making informed funding recommendations to Woods Fund’s Board of Directors, monitoring relationships with organizations that Woods Fund supports, and identifying service gaps and areas appropriate for Woods Fund’s support. Caronina works to leverage the impact of Woods Fund’s grantmaking into increased interest and engagement from other foundations. In addition to supporting Woods Fund’s grantmaking, Caronina also leads the foundation’s racial equity work.
Before joining Woods Fund Chicago, Caronina served as Acting Associate Director of the Division of Family and Community Services at the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), managing a group of human services programs that provided homeless services, emergency food services, immigrant and refugee services, domestic violence services, and managed a federal block grant that funded an array of community services programs.  Prior to that, she served as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary at IDHS, where she was responsible for the planning and execution of executive level tasks, special statewide projects, multi-agency projects, and other initiatives. 
Prior to that, Caronina worked as a therapist and case manager at Wheaton Youth Outreach, a multi-purpose community resource center, where she provided mental health services for individuals and families, emergency crisis intervention for locked-out and runaway youth and their families, and an array of services to homeless and at-risk youth, as well as pregnant and parenting teenage girls.

Dr. Heather W. Hackman

Founder and President

Hackman Consulting Group

Heather Hackman received her doctorate in Social Justice Education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2000. For the next 12 years she served as an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Relations and Multicultural Education at St. Cloud State University where she taught courses on a wide range of social justice content at the undergrad and graduate levels. In 2005 she founded Hackman Consulting Group and in 2012 resigned to consult full time. Today she consults nationally on issues of equity and social justice with an emphasis on issues of racism and whiteness, gender oppression, climate justice, classism, and heterosexism / homophobia.
Dr. Hackman has published in the area of social justice education theory and practice, sexism and gender liberation in the widely read Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, racism in health care (with Stephen Nelson), whiteness and climate change, whiteness and trauma (with Susan Raffo), and has contributed chapters to Everyday White People Confront Racial and Social Injustice (2015) and The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys (2017). Dr. Hackman is also currently working on two books, one examining embodied racial justice (Routledge) and another introductory racial justice book for multiple sectors (Heinemann).

Ericka Hines


Every Level Leadership

Ericka Hines, Principal of Every Level Leadership, is a consultant, advisor, strategist, and senior trainer who works with organizations to align their commitment to inclusion and equity with their everyday actions and operations. She has worked with government agencies, nonprofits and foundations across the country to help their staff and stakeholders learn how to work in more inclusive cultures. She holds a Juris Doctor from the University Of Georgia School Of Law and a B.A. Political Science from Wright State University.

Frances Kunreuther


Building Movement Project

Frances Kunreuther co-directs the Building Movement Project (, which works to strengthen U.S. nonprofits as sites of civic engagement and social change. She is co-author of From the Ground Up: Grassroots Organizations Making Social Change (Cornell, 2006) and Working Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership (Jossey Bass, 2009). Frances spent five years at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University. She headed the Hetrick-Martin Institute for LBGT youth, and was awarded a year-long Annie E. Casey Foundation fellowship in 1997 for this and her previous work. Over the years, Frances has worked with homeless youth and families, undocumented immigrants, crime victims, battered women, and substance users. She writes and presents frequently on issues related to nonprofits, leadership and social change.

Steve Lew

Project Director

Compass Point

Steve Lew is a Project Director at CompassPoint, a group that helps leaders, nonprofit organizations, and movements committed to social justice realize their full power. Steve works in a variety of settings as a consultant, trainer and a leadership coach to support nonprofit leaders in creating equitable policies and practices within their organization. Steve’s 20+ years at CompassPoint informs this work, as he and his co-workers co create the practices, systems and workplace culture where people can bring their best, and continue to grow. Steve’s work has been deeply connected to supporting the growth of social justice organizations, leaders, and networks in communities of color. He has co-designed and led the Fundraising Academy for Communities of Color and the Next Generation Leaders of Color Program and has been a fundraising and leadership coach for many of these participants for over a decade. Outside of CompassPoint, Steve supports donor organizing with the Chinese Progressive Association, and community care organizing with API Equality No. Cal.

McKensie Mack


Boundary Work™

Bunny McKensie Mack (pronouns: they/them/their) is an anti-oppression consultant, coach, facilitator and the founder of Boundary Work™ and Radical Copy. As the former Executive Director of Art + Feminism, one of the largest social justice projects on Wikipedia, they led a global team of community organizers and activists working to correct skewed and biased content about marginalized communities on the internet. They hold two linguistics degrees from the University of Chicago and are currently pursuing a double Masters degree in Anthropology and Sociology.
For over 5 years, Bunny has consulted with some of the largest for-profit and non-profit organizations in the country to develop cultures of accountability that dismantle racism and gender inequity at the individual, interpersonal, and institutional level. Their work has been featured in NowThis News, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, The Guardian, Artsy, Afropunk, The New York Times, Pop Sugar, It Gets Better, Artsy, ArtNews, Wear Your Voice, Bubblegum Club, and El País.

Heidi Massey



Heidi Massey is a community builder and passionate connector committed to helping build a better world—one that works for all of us. As hard as it is for her to believe it, Heidi has worked with nonprofit organizations for over 30 years. She spent the majority of that time working on educational and social justice programming for youth and families. Heidi is the founder of CommunityConnective and started initially focused on digital marketing and training. She has since added consulting with nonprofits on racial equity work, as well as strategic planning, capacity building, and leadership development, and pushes organizations to do this work while utilizing a racial equity lens. Heidi was also a part of the first year of Chicago United for Equity’s Racial Equity Fellowship and trained as a racial healing circle facilitator as a part of Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation in Chicago. She is one of three Co-Creators of the first ever Envisioning Equity: Strategic Planning for Inclusive Organizations, a conference to address systemic racism in organizations and is busily working on year two of the conference with the rest of the team.

Lucy Mayo

Senior Advisor, Supermajority

Former Senior Vice President of Organizational Development, Demos

Lucy Mayo has over 20 years of experience as a leader in the non-profit, public policy, and government sectors. Most recently, Lucy was Senior Vice President for Organizational Development at Dēmos, a national policy and advocacy organization working at the intersection of political, economic and racial inequality. In this role, Lucy partnered closely with the President and Executive Team on overall organizational leadership, led significant organizational growth, managed the implementation of a new and innovative organizational structure, and professionalized organizational systems, policies and practices. She also led two executive transitions and oversaw a racial equity transformation, shifting Demos to a race-forward organization and increasing the racial diversity of staff from 27% to over 60% in 4 years. In her earlier tenure at Dēmos, Lucy served as the Acting Director of the Economic Opportunity Program where she oversaw the organization’s policy and advocacy work on higher education, retirement security, public jobs, pathways to the middle class, among other things. Prior to Dēmos, Lucy was Vice President of Development for Teach For America—New York City. Her early experience in government culminated in her role as Policy Director for the New York City Council, where she led a team that created and implemented the Council Speaker’s policy agenda.

Hilary Meyer

Chief Innovation & Impact Officer


Hilary Meyer is the Chief Innovation and Impact Officer at SAGE. In this position, Meyer leads the organization’s impact assessment, leadership development and diversity, equity and inclusion work, as well as the organization’s social enterprise (SAGECare) and select other national projects, such as the SAGE/HRC Long-Term Care Equality Index, SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging; and SAGE’s National LGBT Elder Housing Initiative. Meyer graduated magna cum laude from Colgate University and earned her law degree from Rutgers Law School – Newark.

Michelle Morales


Woods Fund

Michelle Morales is the President of the Woods Fund Chicago. Prior Woods Fund, she led the Chicago chapter of the Mikva Challenge, an organization that leads the civic field in training teachers and developing youth councils for civic institutions. From 2002-2012, she was a co-coordinated a national campaign to free Puerto Rican political prisoners. Michelle’s background is in the field of alternative education, as a teacher at an alternative high school in Chicago’s Humboldt Park community and then as a Program Manager and Associate Director at the Alternative Schools Network (ASN). She received a BA from DePaul University, a Master’s in Special Education from UIC and a Master’s in Educational Leadership from Northeastern Illinois University. Michelle is also a fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago.
Michelle is honored to lead the Woods Fund of Chicago, the first foundation in the city that explicitly committed itself to centering racial equity in its work and its grantmaking.

Mee Moua

Principal and Founder

InterDependent Group, LLC

Mee Moua is the Principal of InterDependent Group, LLC, which provides training, facilitation and coaching support for individuals and organizations in planning, leadership, and transformation. She is passionate about democracy building, heart leadership and making visible the interconnectedness among peoples. Some of her clients are local and State elected officials, community and national foundations and non-profit organizations undertaking cultural transformations.
She is the immediate past President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, a leading national civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C. Prior to her work in Washington, DC, she was an attorney in private practice in St. Paul, Minnesota and a member of the Minnesota State Senate. She was the first Hmong American to be elected to a state legislature in the United States, served three terms before retiring in 2010, and served as the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mee was born in Laos and came to the United in 1978 as a refugee. She grew up in the mid-west, attended Brown University, received her MPA from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and earned her JD from the University of Minnesota Law School.

Whitney Parnell

CEO & Founder

Service Never Sleeps

Whitney Parnell is a Black millennial activist, singer, and the Founder and CEO of Service Never Sleeps, a nonprofit that empowers individuals and communities to catalyze social justice through service and Allyship. Her movement work involves equipping effective allies through truth-telling, bridge-building, empathy, and action. She grew up between Latin America and West Africa as a Foreign Service child. At Washington University in St. Louis, Whitney doubled majored in English and Spanish, and minored in Communications and Journalism, during which she also embraced her calling as an activist. Whitney’s passion for service and social justice brought her to Washington, DC after college to serve with City Year, and then work in homeless services, before founding Service Never Sleeps in 2015. Whitney is also a musician, and is releasing a social justice album called “What Will You Do,” with the goal of using empathy through song to ignite action.

Andrew Plumley

Associate Director

Equity in the Center

Andrew Plumley comes to ProInspire with experience in sustainability, strategy, and diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting in both the social and private sectors. He has also worked in education, where he’s advised on diversity and inclusion strategy at higher ed. institutions, as well as provided access and success programming for Pell eligible, students of color. Andrew is a “We All Belong” program board member for the Community Economic Development Office, as well as served as a city council appointed Police Commissioner in the state of Vermont.
Andrew has a BA from Middlebury College, and received an MBA with a focus in social and environmental sustainability from the University of Vermont’s Grossman School of Business.  In his role as Senior Program Manager, Andrew manages the launch of Equity in the Center, which is a field wide initiative to influence leaders to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to create a more diverse and equitable social sector. Learn more about Andrew in our occasional blog series, The Backstory.

Eric Polite II

Chief Transformation Officer

Eric Polite & Associates

Eric Polite II, CDE is a human performance expert with more than 20 years of experience transforming people, teams, and organizations. As CEO of Eric Polite & Associates, a boutique coaching and consulting firm, he helps leaders tap into their strengths and leverage the power of diversity through inclusive practices. His deep commitment to social justice and liberatory education drive his unique approach of helping people and organizations realize the potential of every individual while developing equitable systems to ensure high-performance and meaningful impact.
As a facilitator, consultant, and coach, Eric employs his passion for transformative change through strategic planning and assessments, leadership development and training solutions. He is a trusted advisor to everyone from emerging leaders to the C-suite, including those who are
working in complex, dynamic environments, have been recently promoted, or are ready to build and maintain high-performing, diverse teams.
Eric received his Bachelor of Arts from Bucknell University and pursued graduate studies at the University of Maryland at College Park and Case Western Reserve University. He is a Certified Diversity Executive (CDE), and an accredited Six Seconds EQ Coach, High Performance Learning Journey® (HPLJ) designer, John Mattone Intelligent Leadership Coach, and Leadership Circle Practitioner.

Angelique Power


The Field Foundation

As President of the Field Foundation, Angelique catalyzed changes within the Field Foundation grant structure. Nonprofit feedback, foundation peer input, racial justice training, heat maps of Chicago; all of these pieces helped reveal a path forward to a new grant model centered around Community Empowerment through Justice, Art, Media & Storytelling and Leadership Investment. This new model opens the door to funding for neighborhoods that are too commonly disinvested in and aims at addressing root causes of the issues allowing every Chicagoan to thrive in the city we love. Power chairs the Boards of the Grantmakers in the Arts, 6018North and co-chairs the Board of Enrich Chicago, an organization she co-founded, dedicated to racial equity in the arts. She also serves on the Board of Forefront Illinois.

Maricar L Ramos

Board Director; Co-Chair, Racial Equity & Social Justice Committee

Chicago Women In Philanthropy

Ramos is a racial equity and social justice advocate, grant maker, educator, fundraiser, and program innovator. After three years as Board Co-Chair for Chicago Women In Philanthropy (CWIP), she founded the CWIP Racial Equity & Social Committee in 2016. A member of the initial design teams of TRHT (Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation) Greater Chicago, Ramos currently co-facilitates racial healing circles, Racial Equity Impact Assessments (REIAs) with Chicago United for Equity (CUE), and was a storyteller at the 2019 National Day of Racial Healing. She was also a member of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Race & Equity Steering Committee from 2017-2019.
Ramos served as the Senior Manager, Workforce & Partnership Development for CPS from 2014-2019, as a program officer/program consultant for the Kaplan Family Foundation, Eleanor Foundation, and Chicago Foundation for Women from 2011-2014, and as the Financial Development Grant Manager for YMCA of the USA from 2003-2010.
Additionally, Ramos spends time with her family and friends, travels internationally, practices yoga and meditates, learns something new every day, and does what she can to create a more equitable Chicago and world for all of us.

José A. Rico has worked in Chicago schools and community-based organizations, as well as on a national level leading development of educational policy under President Obama, and as the Chief Partnership Officer at United Way of Metro Chicago – all to make sure the basic needs of the most vulnerable are being met and to defend human dignity. Rico was born in the small, mountain town of Jeruco, México, and immigrated to the United States as a child where he and his family made Chicago their home. Rico has been an educator, youth worker, organizer, city council candidate, policy maker and philanthropist.

Nina D. Sánchez


Enrich Chicago

Nina D. Sánchez is a proud second-generation Chicagoan with roots in Pilsen and Central Mexico. As the director of Enrich Chicago, Nina collaborates with a network of 31 arts and philanthropic organizations whose goal it is to end racism in the arts. She has over fifteen years of experience supporting initiatives and organizations working to advance equity in the Chicagoland area and is currently working to launch an anti-racist, anti-bias learning community for children and families in Chicago. Nina and her partner, Mike, are parents to a high-energy, curious toddler who teaches them something new every day.

Maegan Scott

Principal and Lead Consultant

Wayfinding Partners

Maegan Scott specializes in organizational change and transformation. She brings a decade of experience in philanthropy and nonprofit management, along with 15 years of experience in the field of equity, inclusion, and diversity. As a program officer at the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, Maegan developed and implemented leadership development programs as well as managed the foundation’s capacity-building grantmaking portfolios. As an organization development practitioner, her consulting areas include strategy development, organizational culture and design, and leadership coaching. Maegan embodies a racial equity mindset and employs an equity lens in all of her work, with a goal of dismantling systems of oppression, making way for a reimagined and transformed society.

Carmita Semaan

Founder and President

The Surge Institute

Carmita Semaan is the Founder and President of The Surge Institute. Surge is transforming education by training, supporting, connecting, and elevating emerging education leaders of color in Chicago, Oakland and Kansas City with plans to be in 3 additional cities by 2021. Surge Fellows are challenged to walk fully and authentically in their experiences and purpose – to dramatically and sustainably impact systems that serve young people and communities through fresh ideas and innovative perspectives. Though an adopted Chicagoan after 16 years, Carmita was raised in Birmingham, AL. Birmingham’s history has greatly shaped who she is and what she feels called to do – to elevate the genius of and shine a light on the brilliance and ingenuity that is too often overlooked and untapped in solving systemic issues. Prior to transitioning into the nonprofit sector, Carmita served in global marketing, strategic planning, and engineering/operations management roles in several Fortune 500 companies, including Procter & Gamble and Danaher Corporation. She holds a master’s in business administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and received her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan. Carmita is a Fellow of the third class of the Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.

Prairie Rose Seminole

American Indian Program Director


Prairie Rose Seminole is an enrolled tribal member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of ND, descendent of the Sahnish/Arikara, Northern Cheyenne and Lakota Nations.
Seminole served on the Midwest advisory council to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, advising on labor, nonprofits and tribal government. In 2014 the Bush Foundation recognized Seminole as a Native Nations Rebuilder, a program that recognizes individuals who have a passion for learning about innovative tribal governance practices, and how they can take these ideas and approaches to their own Native nations to make a positive difference. In 2015 the ND Center for Business and Technology recognized Seminole as one of 2015 Leading Ladies. She brought food sovereignty and Indigenous traditional medicine knowledge to global conversations as a Salzburg Global Fellow in 2016 and again in 2017.
Seminole was formerly the Native Vote Director in North Dakota. Currently, Seminole is the Program Director for the American Indian and Alaska Natives with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She continues as an educator with an Indigenous lens to issues of justice, education and political participation.

Kerrien Suarez

Executive Director

Equity in the Center

Kerrien’s career in management consulting began at AT Kearney and The Advisory Board.  Most recently, while at Community Wealth Partners, she led engagements to refine programs and scale impact for national nonprofits, including The First Tee and AARP ExperienceCorps. She is a graduate of Harvard College and London School of Economics.
Kerrien is Executive Director of Equity in the Center (EiC), a field-wide initiative to influence social sector leaders to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to achieve race equity. 
With 20 years of management and consulting experience, Kerrien has supported executive and leadership teams in bold decision making to solve strategic and operational challenges. Her focus on diversity, equity and inclusion developed through support of emerging leaders in education reform, early childhood education policy and social enterprise. 
Kerrien’s career in management consulting began at AT Kearney and The Advisory Board.  Most recently, while at Community Wealth Partners, she led engagements to refine programs and scale impact for national nonprofits, including The First Tee and AARP ExperienceCorps. She is a graduate of Harvard College and the London School of Economics. Donor Covening: Introduction to the Race Equity Cycle: How Organizations Shift Culture from “Awake” to “Woke” to “Work” and What Would an Equity Consultant Do: How Practitioners Support Organizations in Transforming Culture & Practice

Jessica Vazquez Torres

National Program Director

Crossroads Antiracism Organizing & Training

Jessica Vazquez Torres is a proven leader with 20 years-experience in antiracism, anti-oppression, and cultural competency workshop development and facilitation. Jessica is deeply committed to dismantling the socially constituted structures and cultural dynamics that marginalize and minoritize People of Color, Queer, and immigrant communities and limit their access to the resources they need to thrive. Jessica, a 1.5-Generation ESL Queer Latina of Puerto Rican descent, holds a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from the University of Central Florida, a Master of Divinity from Christian Theological Seminary, and a Master of Theological Studies from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. When not on a plane, Jessica attempts to become a bread baker, cultivates community with her spouse Laura, walks (sometimes for exercise), and sings songs badly with full abandon.

Marcus Walton

President & CEO

Grantmakers For Effective Organizations

Marcus F. Walton joins GEO with over a decade of practice in both nonprofit management and the ontological learning model. He specializes in ope rationalizing conceptual frameworks; racial equity facilitation and training; leadership and management strategy; stakeholder engagement; program development and navigating philanthropy.
In his previous role as Director of Racial Equity Initiatives for Borealis Philanthropy, Marcus lead the Racial Equity Initiatives team and worked in partnership with 18 nationally-networked, philanthropy-serving grantee organizations to move past the “transnational” nature of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to a unified movement which prioritizes strategies that close gaps in access to opportunity, resources and well-being (across all categories of gender, identity, sexual orientation, class and ability).
Before that, Marcus served as Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), where he oversaw its operations, HR and staff development functions, including the overall strategy, conceptualization and administration of racial equity programming.He promotes coaching as a tool for personal mastery, racial equity & systems change, social sector excellence and transformation within marginalized communities.

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