Home Most Influential Black Power 2017: Wisconsin’s 35 Most Influential Black Leaders

Black Power 2017: Wisconsin’s 35 Most Influential Black Leaders


This marks the third year that we’ve published our Black Power list, naming the most influential Black leaders in Wisconsin. Every year, I’ve intended this list to highlight the beauty of the diversity in our community. I want kids here in Wisconsin to see role models of people who are succeeding, to know that it’s possible for African Americans to achieve great things here.

That’s exactly what our first two lists accomplished, and what we hope to continue with this year’s list.

This list is not, and was not intended to be, exhaustive. It will, however, introduce you to some people you’ve never heard of who are doing great things in other parts of the state or simply working behind the scenes, doing the work without the accolades.

It was important for us to expand the way we think about influence, and to highlight more of the people doing what it takes to improve their community. That’s one reason this list is entirely new — we considered anyone named on previous lists to be ineligible for this one, even though most of them continue to wield considerable influence.

Over the next five days I hope you learn something you didn’t know about some of the real leaders in communities throughout Wisconsin, and that we might be able to make some connections and start conversations that really move communities forward.

Henry Sanders

Toya Washington is one of Milwaukee’s true local celebs, as she co-anchors the 5 pm newscast on WISN. She is an Emmy Award winner and a four-time nominee. In 2015 she fought against sexist stereotypes that female news anchors sometimes face, responding in epic fashion to a viewer who wrote a letter lecturing her on her fashion choices. Washington is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and has consulted with the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Kimila Daniels is the Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer for Quartz Health Solutions, Inc. Kimila joined the company in 2013 with more than two decades of human resources and organizational development experience. Daniels’ background includes leadership positions in both the public and private sectors as well as a range of industries including property and casualty insurance, entertainment and higher education. In her role at Quartz, Daniels is responsible for all of the company’s information technology, human resources and facilities management activities. In addition, she leads strategic human resources, internal communication and organizational management initiatives that drive the organization’s growth as an employer of choice in central Wisconsin.

Mike Ford, aka The Hip Hop Architect, has been taking the country by storm since February, when the Madison Public Library hosted his first Hip Hop Architecture camp. The camp challenged young people of color to think critically and dream big about their neighborhoods and communities — and also challenged the City of Madison’s urban planners to listen to what those young people had to say. The camp has since been replicated all across the country, showing up on The Today Show and earning a national award from the Urban Libraries Council. Ford, a native of Detroit, also taught architecture at Madison College.

Jacquelyn Hunt has been one of Madison’s truly impactful community members, currently serving as the community support specialist for the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, where she identifies and implements necessary programming conducive to the needs of various communities in Madison. Her work in the organization includes helping emerging leaders develop leadership skills to help their respective communities. Hunt is also a Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor for Anesis Marriage and Family Therapy Center. Hunt uses her skills as a culturally competent professional counselor to assist disadvantaged adults, helping them realize their potential.

Sean Lowe is the Central Region Vice President of the National Urban League Young Professionals, a position he just got promoted to this year after serving as president of the Milwaukee Urban League Young Professionals, where he has been a member for over 12 years. Since 2014 Lowe’s leadership has led the organization to an increase in membership–jumping from 22 members to a peak of 203. The chapter has also received many accolades, including the 2016 National Urban League Young Professionals Select Distinguished Chapter of the Year Award. Since graduating from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2003 with a degree in Business Administration, Lowe has spent over 13 years at Northwestern Mutual, where he is now an investment client services specialist at Northwestern Mutual. Recently named one of Milwaukee Business Journal’s 2017 40 under 40, Lowe continues to use his skills to help others in his community through professional development.

Ameerah McBride is the lead administrator on affirmative action, equal opportunity and disability issues, as well as diversity and inclusion efforts at UW-Oshkosh. The native of Trenton, New Jersey holds a law degree and several certifications in the area of dating and sexual violence prevention, victim interviewing and program evaluation. Before coming to the Fox Valley, McBride worked in the Kansas State affirmative action office and served as an investigator in the Fulton County Department of Family and Children Services in Atlanta. She also investigated discrimination complaints with the YWCA and worked in mental health social work with prison health services and advocacy with the Barton Child Law and Policy Center of Emory University.

Rodney Prunty is the President and CEO of United Way in Racine County. Prunty has worked in education, social services and has fought to bring awareness to childhood mental health issues along with the Johnson Foundation. He joined the United Way of Racine County in 2015 with 25 years of nonprofit experience, including a stint as a resource development manager and later vice president at United Way of Rock River Valley.
Randy Bryant is president and CEO of Ten Chimneys, the historic home of Broadway legends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine in Genesee Depot, just outside Waukesha. Bryant leads the Foundation’s philanthropic efforts and works to create opportunities to expand the historic significance of Ten Chimneys, a world-class house museum and national resource for theatre and arts education. It is a National Historic Landmark, “Save America’s Treasures” project site, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Randy previously served as President of the Board of Directors and Interim Executive Director for the Milwaukee County Historical Society, where he oversaw the completion of a $9 million dollar restoration and capital campaign, along with facilitating its designation as a Smithsonian affiliate. He also held a variety of senior level positions in Brazil, Spain, and England for Motorola.

Ajamou Butler, affectionately known as Brother Heal the Hood, is a staple in the Milwaukee community as the founder of Heal the Hood, a community organization. Each summer, through events, mentorship and public gatherings, Heal the Hood encourages neighbors to come together and promote peace and safety in Milwaukee. Butler hosts block parties, youth events, and community dialogues. Butler is also an educator, business owner and spoken word artist using his artistry to propel his mission. Butler grew up in several underserved neighborhoods in Milwaukee and considers himself to be from every corner of the city.

Angela Davis, development director for Madison Community Foundation, came to Madison just for a visit and “fell in love with the place,” she told Madison365 in October. After several years with the Wisconsin Historical Foundation, she joined Madison Community Foundation, where she leads fundraising efforts for Madison’s leading charitable fund management organization. She serves as MCF’s staff liaison to A Fund For Women, which works for the economic and social empowerment of women and girls. She also works on a daily basis with communities across South Central Wisconsin, helping those small-town charitable foundations that are doing the work in their communities. Angela plays an important role in literally millions of charitable dollars improving the lives of women, children, families and communities.

Dr. Jerlando Jackson is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on education and educational policy, especially as relates to diversity and inclusion in education. He is the founder, director and chief research scientist at the Wisconsin Equity and Inclusion Laboratory, where he manages the Innovation Incubator, National Study of Intercollegiate Athletics and the International Colloquium on Black Males in Education. Prior to establishing the Wei LAB in 2010, he served as founding Executive Director for the Center for African American Research and Policy (CAARP), which is a nonpartisan, independent, nonprofit research organization. CAARP was founded in 2005 as part of his faculty work and professional service obligations, and was spun-out in 2007 as an independent nonprofit. He’s had more than 100 articles published in high-impact academic journals. His recent awards include the 2014 Brown Award for Excellence in Higher Education and Community Service (Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, 2012 Outstanding Young Professional (Iowa State University), 2012 Carlos J. Vallejo Memorial Award for Exemplary Scholarship (American Educational Research Association), and 2011 Distinguished Scholar Award (Committee on Scholars of Color, American Educational Research Association).

Karen Nelson is a recent addition to the Fox Valley’s growing African American community, but is already making waves. She holds an Executive Masters in Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and was named the City of Appleton’s Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator earlier this year. Previously, Nelson owned her own diversity consulting firm, NelStar Enterprises, which is still operating in Milwaukee and Dalton, Georgia. As a champion for change, Nelson continues to bring diversity action plans to large entities while producing effective results.

Derek Tyus has a portfolio worth $2 billion — billion with a b — under this management as vice president and chief investment officer for West Bend Mutual. With an accounting degree from Marquette and an MBA from the University of Michigan, Derek worked his way up at Northwestern Mutual before joining West Bend. Derek also serves on the Board of Directors of the Zoological Society of Milwaukee, which works for the preservation of the environment and endangered species and supports the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Amber Walker joined The Capital Times in 2016 after getting her start in journalism as a technical and editorial intern at Madison365. With the Capital Times, she covers K-12 Education writing very powerful feature stories and bringing an important and much-needed person-of-color perspective to Madison’s mainstream media. Amber is in touch with the pulse of the Madison community like few other journalists in the city. Before turning to journalism, Walker taught high school English in Miami and worked as a project manager at Epic Systems in Verona.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek Freak, is the Milwaukee Bucks’ first legit MVP candidate since … well, let’s just say it’s been a while. He is currently the second leading scorer in the NBA, averaging 30 points per game. His sudden rise to fame comes when the Bucks need it most — with the career of first-round pick Jabari Parker derailed by injury and a new arena in the works, the team needed an injection of fan excitement — and Giannis has delivered. Giannis is Greek of African descent, and recently while in New York City hosted dozens of Greek nationals for a celebration of his community.

Keetra Burnette works as a Senior Director of Community Impact for the United Way of Dane County where she is the first African American to hold that role. She oversees six United Way community solutions teams responsible for the annual allocation of more than $11 million of United Way’s annual investments in the community’s “Agenda for Change.” Part of that agenda is the aforementioned effort to improve police-community relations. Another part is to implement a new strategic focus aimed at addressing poverty and racial inequities. She previously served as COO of the Urban League of Greater Madison and prior to that spent ten years at UW Hospital and Clinics. Her extensive community leadership has included founding Madison Black Women Rock, serving as President of the Madison Network of Black Professionals, and spearheading a Sickle Cell Awareness blood drive. Burnette is credited with bridging the gap between communities of color and law enforcement following the fatal shooting of Tony Robinson by a Madison police officer. Burnette has participated in a variety of community-building efforts, including “Stop the Violence” public-service announcements, the ACT Prep initiative to increase the college readiness of youth who would be the first in their family to attend college and getting Madison involved in President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.

Nancy Hanks isn’t just one of the most influential black leaders in Wisconsin, but one of the heaviest hitters in the nation. At least, that’s according to The Root, which put her on “The Root 100” list in 2016 after she spoke at the 25th anniversary Teach for America summit, where she recalled how encountering a student she’d previously expelled changed her approach to school discipline. Now, as chief of elementary schools for the Madison Metropolitan School District, she is leading a revolution in school discipline, which still disproportionately affects students of color. She brings years of experience as a teacher and administrator in Atlanta and Chicago, as well as a graduate degree from Harvard.

Reverend David Hart is a lifelong Madisonian, a former Assistant Attorney General, former  civil rights and criminal defense attorney, current Dane County prosecutor, and pastor at Sherman Avenue United Methodist Church of Madison. With over 15 years of legal experience as both a criminal defense attorney and a prosecutor, Hart has a unique, holistic perspective of the criminal justice system and has written and published noted papers and commentary of the same. Hart is a volunteer mentor, tutor, and coach and columnist. For his extensive community work, Hart was recognized with the “Individual Partner for Justice Award” from the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence and was featured in In Business magazine in their annual “40 Under 40” issue.

Martha Love is the one you need to talk to if you want to get into Democratic Party politics in Milwaukee. She’s been a community activist, political organizer and labor leader in the Milwaukee Community for over 37 years. Love was an AFSCME union representative who fought hard to ensure equal treatment of African American employees as well as other people of color and is a Union Leader of the Democratic Party of Milwaukee. Love’s experience is extensive and includes stints as Chair of both the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee County Democratic Party. She currently sits on many boards such as the UMOS advisory board, AFSCME, Local 1055, AFL-CIO board, Forest County Potawatomi Advisory Foundation Board, Women Fund and Martin Luther King Annual Celebration Boards.

Ugo Nwagbaragcha is the President of construction tool and heavy equipment manufacturer Diamond Discs International, which is in full-fledged growth mode, looking to triple its workforce in the next two years. The company recently bought a new building on Milwaukee’s northwest side and will soon relocate its HQ from West Allis. Nwagbaragcha has won a multitude of small business awards and sits on the board of directors for many organizations including UW Children’s Hospital, Better Business Bureau and Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce. He has provided mentorship and put small businesses into the Milwaukee area.

Dr. Phillips T Oriaran is an inventor and scientist in his day job, but also an elder statesman of Fox Valley’s Black community. He is the co-founder of African Heritage, Inc. a significant non-profit organization focused on supporting African Americans in Northeast Wisconsin. Some of his accomplishments include the creation of Appleton’s Annual Juneteenth Celebration, recognized as one of the top seven Juneteenth events in the United States. He also focuses his energies on an event to honor Black fathers with a Father’s Day Brunch and celebrates the accomplishments of students at the African Heritage Emerging Student Leaders Institute. Professionally, Dr. Oriaran is a highly recognized scientist both nationally and internationally within the paper industry. He holds many patents for well-known household products and processes used to make these consumer products. He began his career path in the sciences by earning a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Forest Products from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, continued his studies at Miami University, Oxford Ohio, where he earned a Master’s of Science degree in Paper Science & Engineering. Dr. Oriaran pursued his lifetime learning focus by earning a Ph.D. in Forest Products from the Penn State.
Victor Barnett is founder and Executive Director of Running Rebels Community Organization. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has over 35 years experience in youth services, primarily dealing with inner city, at-risk youth. He served in an advisory capacity to the league director of the Midnight Basketball League. He was the Warning League’s Commissioner in 2005 and prior to that was league director for three years. Victor has directed RRCO’s growth to its present day while becoming an expert leader in at-risk youth relations through his ability to connect with them when others have failed.

Cedric Ellis was promoted by CUNA Mutual Group earlier this year to Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer. A native of Waterbury, Conn., Ellis cares deeply about making a positive impact in the community and donates his time and talents to several local organizations including Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Dane County. He is also a member of the Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment (CWI) and the CWI partnership development committee. Before joining CUNA Mutual Group, Ellis served as senior vice president of HR for the Atlantic region of Wachovia. Ellis joined CUNA Mutual Group in 2005 and previously served as a senior vice president. He was also recognized on Our Lives Magazine’s inaugural “Queer People of Color” list.

Dr. Eve Hall is the President and CEO of the Milwaukee Urban League and the former President and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin. Dr. Hall has extensive leadership experience in education, government and non-profits. The core of her work has been fundraising, building programs and partnerships to increase education and career opportunities for students, enhancing professional training and development for adults while leveraging the power of education, business, government and community working together. Past roles have included Chief Innovation Officer/Vice President of Programs/Executive Director for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund; Vice President of Public Affairs for Family Service of Milwaukee; MPS School to Work Administrator reporting to the Superintendent, and Director of former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson’s Milwaukee Office. Dr. Hall received a B.S. degree in educational psychology from Florida A&M University, a M.S. in administrative leadership from University of Wisconsn-Milwaukee, and Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Cardinal Stritch University.

Sagashus T. Levingston is quite simply a powerhouse woman. She’s an award-winning social entrepreneur, speaker, author, educator and mother of six. Born in Chicago, she is currently a PhD Candidate in the Department of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her dissertation is titled “Infamous Mothers: Bad Moms Doing Extraordinary Things.” While her research focuses primarily on literature, it is informed by theory and criticism from rhetoric, motherhood studies and black feminism. Her coffeetable book, also titled Infamous Mothers, is inspired by her work and so is Infamous Mothers, LLC., a social enterprise that focuses on the empowerment of women who mother from the margins of society.  Levingston herself is an “infamous mother” of six children and is a product of an infamous mother. She calls her experience, once a source of shame, now her most valuable asset in serving women.

Vanessa McDowell gets people moving — on the dance floor as DJ Ace and in the community as the first African-American woman CEO of the YWCA in the 109 year history of the organization. McDowell also spent nine years as executive assistant to the pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Madison’s south side. McDowell has led the YWCA Moxie Conference and Women of Distinction helping to empower women and eliminate racism. She is also an active member of the Madison Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, where she currently serves as the chaplain.

Jeff “JP” Patterson knows better than anyone what “the barbershop” means to any black community, and makes the most of it. Stop byu JP Hair Design on Madison’s west side on any weekday and you’ll likely find some of Madison’s most prominent black and Latino leaders, Badger athletes, even the occasional NBA star in his chairs. JP’s Hair Design has an innovative partnership with the Rebalanced Life Wellness Association (RLWA)’s Men’s Health and Education Center (which was recently featured on the Megyn Kelly Today television show on NBC), which promotes good health for African-American men and reduces racial health disparities right inside the JP Hair Design building. Patterson, who is very active in the African-American business and entrepreneurial community, also hosts his own talk show, “Behind the Chair,” on a YouTube channel and at his website where he interviews prominent African Americans in the community. He also teaches in the barbering and cosmetology program at Madison College. During JP Hair Design’s annual back to school event, which will be celebrating 10 years next year, JP provides hundreds of free haircuts for area students to get them ready for school.

Ahmad Kweku Qawi is committed to helping young people – especially African American boys and young men – reach their full potential. He is currently the Chief Operations Officer at Racine Family YMCA where he has dedicated over 13 years of his professional career. Qawi also sits on the board of the Women’s Resource Center of Racine. Originally from Chicago, Qawi graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in Mass Communications. During his tenure at YMCA, Qawi has been dedicated to implementing programming to help youth reach their full potential.
Dan Hawk recently joined the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County as Director of Sports and Teen Programs, where he directs not only athletic and recreation programs but also employment readiness programming. It’s the next step in a career that’s been all about developing citizens through sports. Hawk, the founder of Crush Basketball Club, has been coaching hoops at all levels for 13 years and recently founded the Prairie Power Hour, a chance for kids 11 and up to play basketball with adult supervision two nights a week at Prairie Phoenix Academy in Sun Prairie. Hawk developed the program, which has grown from about 15 to more than 80 participants every session, in partnership with Sun Prairie Community Schools. Hawk was also one of the unsung heroes of the Greater Madison community’s efforts to help victims of hurricanes in Houston and Florida, driving volunteers and supplies thousands of miles.

Art Howell became the first black police chief of Racine — one of Wisconsin’s blackest cities — back in April of 2012. The 32-year veteran with the Racine Police Department leads the force of more than 200 sworn officers and annual budget of more than $26 million. Howell graduated with a bachelor’s in human services from Springfield College in 2006 and master’s in management from Cardinal Stritch in 2008. Howell was the first among his siblings to hold a college degree.

Velena Jones is an award-winning journalist, one of a precious few African American voices in Madison’s mainstream media. Her coverage of the fatal shooting of Tony Robinson by a police officer, which made national news in 2015, earned her a Midwest Regional Emmy Award. She also received a Michigan Broadcasting Award for Insights into Northern Michigan, a program she hosted while at WBKB. You can see Velena covering a range of community issues and events on Channel 3 and Channel3000.com, where she’s been a reporter and fill-in anchor since 2014. She has been the station’s go-to reporter for issues involving marginalized groups such as the officer involved shooting of Tony Robinson, an unarmed black male, local “Black Lives Matter” protest and demonstrations and coverage of University of Wisconsin – Madison student who was charged with sexually assaulting over a dozen women. 

Ossie Kendrix is one of the key leaders of Wisconsin’s black business community. He was named president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin (AACCW) earlier this year. Prior to joining AACCW, Kendrix has had an impressive career in the public sector, serving as vice president with Feeding America of Eastern Wisconsin, manager with the City of Milwaukee’s Office of Small Business Development and program consultant with the Milwaukee Urban Entrepreneur Partnership. A native of Milwaukee, Kendrix earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and communication from University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and a master’s degree in public administration from Drake University. He is a 2015 graduate of Cardinal Stritch University’s African American Leadership Program and was presented with an Award of Excellence from the Wisconsin Minority Supplier Diversity Council in 2012.

Jeff Mack, the new vice president of private banking at Park Bank, is a lifelong pillar of the Madison community. A former Southside Raider, Mack went on to follow his father’s footsteps to play football as a Badger. As a contributor to the community, he’s also following the footsteps of his mother, who ate, slept and bled civil rights. He is a Board Member for Overture Center for the Arts, program committee member at the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, and an adviser for the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development.

Eric Upchurch, a Milwaukee native, made a name for himself in Madison as one of the firebrand leaders of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition. He’s also an active entrepreneur. He started strategic development consultancy ESUCEO in 2007, while still an undergraduate at UW-Madison. He’s also worked as director of development and marketing at YWCA Madison and as the executive director of the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce. He recently founded the Madison Alliance for Black Economic Empowerment, which gives grants to local Black entrepreneurs.

Johnny Winston, Jr has been a Madison firefighter for more than 20 years, though any Madison old-timers who were around in the late 1980s might remember him as a member of local rap group Fresh Force. Since 2015 he’s been MFD’s Division Chief of Organization and Community Liaison. In this role, he oversees hiring and promotions, community outreach, racial equity and social justice initiatives and grants. In many ways he sets the direction for the 350-member fire department. He comes from a barrier-breaking family, the son of Madison’s first black police officer Johnny Winston, Sr, and longtime community organizer and activist Mona Winston. Johnny Jr. started his career working with several youth organizations and served on the Madison school board from 2004-2010.