Madison365 is proud to partner with Our Lives, Dane County’s LGBTQ magazine, to highlight more than 40 QPOC leaders in business, education, government and community. Each day this week, we’ll bring you more #QPOCPRIDE. The opening feature on Vaunce Ashby of the Wisconsin Historical Society is available here, Part 1 of the full list is available here, and Part 2 is available here.
Akshat Sharma is a Ph.D. candidate in Medical Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Sharma’s work focuses on reconstituting human immune systems in mice to study human diseases, like HIV or cancer. Sharma said he hopes his research will one day lead to lifesaving procedures for humans, like eliminating tumors and combating viruses like HIV.
“[Science is] so close to figuring out how to eradicate HIV,” Sharma said. “That has been a driving force for why I am interested in [this research.]” Sharma has enjoyed his six years in Madison and enjoys the opportunities for personal and professional growth. “Madison is a lively town. Good food, cute boys, and great research.” CONNECT: linkedin.com/in/akshatsharma28
Joshua Moon Johnson is an author, activist and assistant dean at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Johnson grew up in Mississippi and was raised by Pentecostal ministers. Johnson said he had a happy childhood, but recalls feeling othered and, at times, unsafe in his community. After completing a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the University of South Alabama and then the University of Alabama, he sought more inclusive spaces to live and pursue his career in higher education. “The more I moved around and got exposed to different social circles and spaces, the more I learned about how my upbringing and family really shaped and impacted me and how I saw myself.”
Johnson earned his doctorate in education and LGBT studies from Northern Illinois University. His work centers on the experiences of queer people of color and how they navigate religious identity during college. “Creating inclusive spaces in higher education has been the focus of my career for over a decade,” he said.
Johnson served as the director of the LGBT Center and the Women’s Center at the University of California-Santa Barbara and supported students of color and queer students in his role with the Semester at Sea, an international study abroad program. “(Semester at Sea) challenged me to look at social justice, oppression, and privilege, from a broader and global lens,” Johnson said.
At U.W.-Madison, Johnson helps students cultivate their voices as campus activists. He is particularly proud of supporting students who lobbied the university to open the Black Cultural Center and create Our Wisconsin, an initiative to improve the culture and climate at U.W.-Madison for all students. Connect: joshuamoonjohnson.com
Rita Adair is a retired social worker. For 30 years, she worked for the Dane County Department of Human Services and the District Attorney’s office. Although she saw value in her work, she felt there was more that could be done to make a difference. “When you work in a system, you are a Band-aid and often don’t feel like you are solving the issues,” she said.
Growing up, Adair’s parents fostered children. She appreciated the life her parents were able to give her and her siblings, and wanted to provide the same comfort and security to others. As a foster parent, Adair cared for more than 23 girls. “With foster care, I knew I was making a difference and changing lives by providing a nurturing and safe home,” she said. “A chance to dream.”
When Adair came out at 45, she created the online group, “Lez In Color,” for lesbians of color around the country to share information, events, and support one another. “Outside of campus, I never saw large numbers of women of color [in Madison]” she said. “Where are the women that look like me? What can we do to come together?”
After she retired, Adair moved to Chicago for six years and started Adair Entertainment. Her parties attracted women from across the city, offering space for hundreds of women to connect. She recently returned to Madison, and is working to “find her niche back home.” Currently, she is working on her first book and hopes to continue to create spaces for women of color in Madison. CONNECT: facebook.com/groups/LezInColor/
Dereck Barr-Pulliam is an assistant professor of accounting at the School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As an undergraduate, Barr-Pulliam explored a host of majors and decided to enroll in an accounting class. “I really liked and identified with it. It really made sense for me,” he said. “I was encouraged by my professor who said ‘you can pretty much do anything in business with an accounting degree.’”
After earning his MBA from the University of Mississippi, Barr-Pulliam worked as an accountant for six years before pursuing his Ph. D. He wanted to teach to show underrepresented students that they have a place in the business world.
“For our students, it’s good for them to see people that they can aspire to. The more that they see someone they can identify with, it makes for a better experience for them, especially in the business school,” he said. “We are seen as a very exclusive club over here, and majority white. Anyone that can break down those stereotypes, it is helpful not only for the school but the students, too.”
Barr-Pulliam seeks to build relationships with students both inside and outside of the business school. “I am very busy, but I am also very visible,” he said. “I try to cultivate relationships across the entire student body. It is incumbent upon the facility to make the school a more welcome environment.”
After he completed his Ph.D. and was looking for a place to teach, it was important for Barr-Pulliam to live and work in a place where his family could feel comfortable and thrive. “I thought, ‘Can I be who I am there? Can people know that I have a husband and I not face any backlash?’” he said. “Can my child grow up in this place and not face ridicule? Her having two dads, would that be taboo?” CONNECT: bus.wisc.edu/faculty/dereck-barr
Sheltreese McCoy – As a student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, Sheltreese McCoy remembers how hesitant she was to come out. She attended LGBTQ student club meetings on campus, but did not see any other students who reflected her identity. After moving to New York and finding love and community, she made it her mission to recreate those spaces from queer students of color on their campuses.
McCoy is a Ph.D. candidate in educational leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on LGBTQ people and higher education. She puts her scholarship to work through the Crossroads Initiative, the country’s first university-sponsored program for queer and trans students of color. McCoy founded Crossroads to help queer and trans students access critical services and build community on campus.
“We need to work with students at the intersections,” McCoy said.
Some of the cornerstones of the Crossroads Initiative include Rooted, a bi-monthly discussion group for LGBTQ students of color, and QTPoC, an annual resource guide including books, organizations, websites, and articles that center on queer people of color.
“All aspects of the guide focuses on queer and trans people of color,” McCoy said. “We were very intentional with how we named the guide so people could feel comfortable (accessing it).”
McCoy is a primary organizer for two national conferences, Creating Change and the Wisconsin Trans and Queer People of Color Summit, which bring students from around the country together to advance the interests of LGBTQ people. CONNECT: students.wisc.edu/msc/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2016/10/QPOC-Crossroads-Resource-Guide.pdf
Victor Crentsil is a technical services representative at Epic Systems. He is responsible for ensuring several hospitals using Epic’s software can do so to the best of their ability to improve patient care. Crentsil is also a team-lead and involved in a variety of company-wide initiatives.
Crentsil has built relationships in Madison’s LGBTQ+ community through participating in affinity groups, the Madison Minotaurs rugby team, and the First Baptist Church’s Chancel Choir. Crentsil said that “visibility is crucial in ensuring that LGBT people, specifically those of color, don’t feel isolated in Madison.” CONNECT: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alnisa Allgood describes her work as the “intersection of nonprofits, technology, and community capacity building.” She is the founder and executive director of Nonprofit Tech, a company that helps nonprofits use technology to work more efficiently. “We help organizations understand their technology needs and where they want to be in the future with their mission and service in mind,” she said. “We want technology to be an amplifier for their message.” Nonprofit Tech has worked with organizations all over the country, including Olbrich Botanical Gardens and Consumer Action.
Allgood is also the founder and executive director of Collaboration for Good, Inc. a Madison-based company focused on building the capacity of for-profit or not-for-profit community service organizations. Allgood is passionate about this work because she thinks it is important to invest in communities so they can thrive. “I am a really strong believer in social and civic responsibility and the capacity that communities have to be supportive of their populations,” she said. “I don’t believe you can have a vibrant city or a growing neighborhood if you totally ignore the things that make that space useful and engaging for the individuals that exist in it. A lot of that comes from the social good sector.”
Collaboration for Good plans the annual Madison Nonprofit Day Conference, the Social Good Summit, and partners with Forward Fest, Madison’s premier tech and entrepreneurship festival.
Allgood’s interest in technology started in college. At Penn State, she discovered her first computer. “There was kind of no stopping me after that,” she said. As a tech generalist, she is passionate about learning any and all things related to computers and technology that can help the sector. Allgood was the founder and inaugural director of the LGBT Campus Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. CONNECT: @nonprofit_tech on Twitter & collab4good.org
Rolando Cruz is a multimedia artist. He moved to Madison shortly after he graduated from high school. As an undocumented immigrant and openly gay Latino, he faced immense challenges coming to terms with his sexuality and integrating into a new culture. Eventually, he enrolled in a photography class at Madison College. He used photography to find his voice, in a society that often silences marginalized people.
“As an immigrant, you often find yourself in the shadows and behind the scenes,” he said. “I want to confront this perception and illuminate the value of not only our Latino community, but additionally our gay community.”
As an artist, Cruz uses his work to challenge people to question their assumptions about identity. In a recent photo exhibit, Cruz used a series of self portraits representing different cultures and ethnicities.
“A lot of people didn’t realize that it was the same person in the self portraits. The whole idea was for them to become aware of their unconscious bias,” Cruz said. “I wanted them to ask themselves, ‘what do I feel about this person versus this other person if the only thing that changes is the color of the skin and the outfits they are wearing?”
Cruz’s work interrogates themes like identity, displacement, and social perceptions. His work has appeared in several locations throughout Madison and Chicago, and is featured in several magazines and recently exhibited at the Overture Center, Justified Art and CelebrARTE, 2016. Connect: Rolandocruz.com
Written by Amber Walker for Our Lives Magazine. Part four coming Thursday!