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, Part 2 is available here, and Part 3 is here.
Cedric Ellis – As the Executive Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer at CUNA Mutual Group, the leading provider of insurance and financial services to credit unions and their members worldwide, Cedric Ellis sees the importance of a company’s values reflecting its culture. He wanted to help create a place where people could bring their whole selves to work.
“This is the first time I’ve worked for a company whose purpose I believe in and can rally behind. It’s a unique situation to be in, that’s why I’ve stayed here for 12 years,” Ellis said. “We’ve wrapped our arms around diversity and inclusion as a strategy to create a culture that embraces and leverages diversity, not just as an employer, but in the marketplace. I’ve worked for other companies where I had to hide that I am a part of the LGBT community. Not here. CUNA Mutual Group embraces me for who I am, and we work to embrace all differences, regardless of the dimension of diversity.”
CUNA Mutual Group’s mission to help all people, regardless of their financial status, invest in their futures resonated with Ellis. As one of 11 children, and the only one of his siblings to graduate from college, he is uniquely aware of how poverty can be a barrier to fulfilling your purpose. “I said ‘yes’ to CUNA because the company’s mission aligned with my own personal mission and my struggle, growing up poor,” he said. “I see CUNA Mutual Group as a place where you can prosper.”
To help CUNA Mutual Group’s employees prosper, Ellis spearheaded the implementation of a company-wide diversity and inclusion program. A part of the program included the creation of employee resource groups, safe spaces for co-workers to connect around their identities. Under his watch, the company also established on-site medical clinics where employees and their families can receive health care.
Ellis makes it a point to share his story with young people. He serves on the Board of Directors for Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Dane County. Ellis said mentorship was an integral part of his success. “Mentorship was a big thing for me as a kid, that is how I pay it forward,” he said. “How can I give kids of color an opportunity to see the world bigger than where they live? That was critical for me, and my mentors helped me navigate my way.”
Ellis said expanding his perspective has opened him up to the rest of the world. Travel is one of his passions. He has visited every continent and approached each experience with respect and humility. “I’ve had the fortune to see a lot of different cultures. I walk into a new place eyes-wide-open, seeking to learn as much as I can.” CONNECT: email@example.com
M Adams is the co-executive director of Freedom Inc., an organization dedicated to ending violence within and against communities that identify as low-income, gender-nonconforming, women, people of color, youth, and elders.
Adams came to Madison from Milwaukee in 2002 as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Seeing how students of color and queer students were treated on campus helped Adams to cultivate their activist standpoint. “I was able to have a bird’s-eye view of how the system impacts people of color,” they said.
In addition to their work with Freedom Inc., Adams is a member of The Movement for Black Lives, a national collective of organizers that developed a platform for liberation for Black people following the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, MO. Freedom Inc. also partnered with other local activist organizations that called for justice after the officer-involved shooting death of Tony Robinson in Madison.
Although Adams thinks Madison has a long way to go before it can be a place that is truly welcoming to all people, their vision is clear. “When I think of what Madison can be, it should be a place where queer folks of color can thrive. Where our economic, social, and political needs are all fully met, and we can perform and live well under it,” Adams said. “At the root of it, it is about being able to live our fullest lives.” CONNECT: freedom-inc.org
Alan Morales is a recent graduate of Madison West High School. Morales was always passionate about political advocacy for queer people of color, but said the death of a close friend compelled them to increase their impact as an activist. “I wanted to be more involved,” they said.
Morales’ is a leader in the Madison West High School Gay-Straight Alliance. The GSA was instrumental in establishing gender-neutral restrooms and a gender-neutral homecoming court. Morales is also the student body vice president at West High, the first QPOC elected to the position in the school’s history. For his efforts, Morales was one of four seniors to receive a college scholarship from GSAFE, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit dedicated to creating more inclusive environments for LGBTQ students.
Outside of school, Morales also sits on the Dane County Public Protection and Judiciary Committee. They volunteer with several local and national organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Morales’ dream is to run for United States Senate. They will attend college in Santa Barbara, California this fall. CONNECT: @alan_manuel17 on Instagram
Amber Sowards is a Madison-based photographer. Sowards sees photography as a way to show the complexity of the human spirit. “My photography is made to show empathy, raw emotion, and intimacy,” they said. “The beauty, in the pain, in the wanting, is what I want to find and capture. I think that LGBTQ community has a direct relationship to that.”
Sowards does not like to place a lot of importance on labels, and sees themselves as a creative spirit on a journey to find their place in the universe. “I know (labels) are important to the world because that is the first thing they see,” they said. “For me, I am just a being, a soul still looking for a place to settle in and find a little bit of peace and self-reflection.” CONNECT: ambersowards.com
Bernie’s path to the classroom was not a direct one. He dropped out of undergrad, partied, and waited tables before returning to school at 28 to finish his degrees. It’s an experience, Bernie said, that helps him to connect with his students, many of whom are students with various life experiences, and at varying stages of their academic, personal, and professional lives.
“Here at Madison College, I am blessed to work with young adults, returning adults, veterans. You name it, I have it in my classroom,” he said. “I like it because people are at the point where they are making life decisions. For instance, I tell my younger students ‘the decisions you make now will impact the rest of your life.’”
In his 20 years living in Madison, Bernie has immersed himself in the community. He currently serves as a Community Representative for Community Shares of Wisconsin, and on the Overture Center Community Advisory Board. In the past, he served on the board of directors for the Out Professional Engagement Network and as Board Co-Chair for GSAFE.
Bernie enjoys living in Madison, but said he is aware of the challenges Black, gay men face in making authentic connections in the city. “I am acutely aware of the statistics and experiences highlighted in 2013’s Race to Equity Report for African Americans in Madison & Dane County,” he said. “I live and witness these experiences in my day-to-day interactions here in Madison.” Bernie makes it a point to build social ties in his existing networks and make himself a resource for others.
“As a single, Black gay man, it is not a walk in the park, but I am fortunate enough that I’ve created a supportive and strong circle of friends,” he said. “I like to talk to people and be supportive of younger LGBTQ people, especially those of color. I make it a point to reach out to them to say ‘Hi, I see you. And genuinely want to know who you are.’”
Laura Klunder is a social worker and community organizer. She came to the United States in 1985 and identifies as a bi-national adoptee from Korea. After living in Wisconsin and attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Klunder returned to South Korea to do political organizing work with adult adoptees and reconnect with her first mother and siblings. During her time there, she also worked with Adoptee Solidarity Korea, a group that advocates for the rights of single women to raise their children. Klunder also partnered with a Korean NGO to expand the definition of family to include LGBTQ+ single parents and families. In 2015, Klunder’s story was featured in the New York Times Magazine.
Currently, Klunder works as the program director for Inclusion Education at the U.W.-Madison and oversees the Division of Student Life’s “Our Wisconsin” program. The initiative was created in 2016 to make the university more inclusive for all students, including cultural competency training for all undergraduate first-year students. Klunder sees U.W.-Madison as “a place of belonging and a place to resist.” She will start her Ph.D. in social welfare this fall. Connect: firstname.lastname@example.org
Diego Campoverde is the Senior Marketing Communications Coordinator (Bilingual) at Quartz Health Solutions. Originally from Ecuador, Campoverde moved to Madison in 2002 after completing his degree in communications from the University of Azuay. Campoverde worked for Mid-West Family Broadcasting for over a decade. On his radio show, he prioritized the needs of the Latino community, using his time slot to share information about programs and resources that could benefit his listeners. “It is in my nature to be a communicator. That is how I get involved with many organizations across Madison,” he said.
Campoverde’s interest in the community led him to co-found two organizations, Alianza Latina and Orgullo Latinx LGBT+. Both groups prioritize supporting the LGBTQ+ community in Dane County. As a communications expert, Campoverde is particularly proud of Orgullo Latinx’s ability to use social media to reach beyond Madison’s borders to create a global community of LGBT+ people and allies.
“We are able to provide critical info about the LGBT+ community in Madison and all over the world. It is important to be able to communicate with our allies and talk about who we are,” he said. “The Latino community still has a lot of misconceptions about LGBT folks. We are creating a bridge across (multiple communities) to help them better understand what it means to be LGBT+.”
Campoverde is involved in Quartz’s diversity and inclusion committee and thinks it is important to be open with his co-workers about the unique needs of the LGBT+ community. “It has been quite a journey for me to be openly gay. My involvement with many organizations in Madison that focus on LGBT+ Latinx communities has really helped me to become the person I am now,” he said.
“I know there are risks involved—there are still—but I feel more free and safe. When I talk in meetings, I talk about my partner and my community. I am very comfortable being who I am in the workplace.” CONNECT: facebook.com/orgullolatinxlgbt
Gary Cooper-Sperber is a senior academic advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has been a part of the UWM community for over a decade, completing his undergraduate and graduate education there. Cooper-Sperber was a member of UWM’s first class of lavender graduates and received a student award from the LGBT Resource Center for his community service work.
Cooper-Sperber decided to pursue higher education to increase the visibility of LGBTQ+ people of color at universities and to give students a reflection of themselves. “I think it is important to have as much representation of queer people of color as possible in higher education to encourage others in our community to take advantage of it,” he said.
As a student advisor, Cooper-Sperber enjoys building relationships with LGBTQ+ students and students of color on campus. He sees education as a powerful tool for marginalized people to use to uplift themselves and serve their communities.
“As a Black, queer, cis male, I think it is important for me to give back to my community as much as possible,” he said. “I can connect education to my community by helping students come through (UWM) and work on the inside to ensure institutional policy is more fair and not systemically oppressive towards certain groups.” CONNECT: facebook.com/coopergaryc & @GaryCCooper on Twitter.
Written by Amber Walker for Our Lives Magazine. Part five coming Friday!