We launched just over five years ago as a nonprofit news outlet to carry the voices of, and tell the stories from, communities of color in Wisconsin.
We’ve published our Black Power list — highlighting the most influential Black leaders in Wisconsin — every year since our founding, and it’s become the most anticipated thing we do. Since 2015, we’ve also published five lists of Wisconsin’s most powerful Latino leaders, and just this year we’ve added lists of the state’s most influential and accomplished Indigenous and Asian American leaders.
And now, this year more than ever, it’s time to look beyond Wisconsin. To people on the coasts, and even in the mainstream media, even the word “Midwest” is often a substitute for “white.” But we know better, and so do you — from the Twin Cities to Cincinnati, from Michigan’s UP to central Iowa, people of color are thriving, leading and changing their communities.
We can’t pretend, of course, that this is just another year. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on our communities — our health and our jobs and our financial wellbeing and our education system, and all of these effects are most pronounced in our Black communities. Add to that the brighter-than-ever spotlight on the injustice of systemic racism — it’s been a tough year for everybody, but even more so for our communities of color.
Many have responded to this extraordinary year by expressing an authentic desire to learn more about Black communities, celebrate Black excellence. This has also led to a reckoning with regard to other communities of color and a desire to learn more about and celebrate communities of color more broadly. That’s what this list is about. This list is not just a list. It is also an invitation — an invitation to engage, to create, to make your states and your communities, wherever you are across this region, a better place to attract and retain leaders of color.
We have never intended our lists to be exhaustive. It’s also not limited to people we agree with, politically or otherwise. This list will, however, introduce you to some people you’ve never heard of who are doing great things in other parts of the region or simply working behind the scenes, doing the work without the accolades.
Over the course of this week, I hope you learn something you didn’t know about some of the real leaders in communities throughout the Midwest, and that we might be able to make some connections and start conversations that really move communities forward.
Publisher and CEO, Madison365
This is the fourth of a five-part series.
Rob Barron is vice chair of the Des Moines school board and co-founder of the Latino Political Network, a non-partisan organization which serves to educate and empower Latinos to serve at all levels of elected office throughout Iowa. He headed up President-elect Joe Biden’s Latino outreach efforts across Iowa in 2020. Additionally, he is the Special Assistant to Grand View University President Kent Henning for Government and Community Relations. In that role he represents Grand View before elected officials and bureaucrats and works to build relationships with the community on behalf of Grand View students, faculty, and staff. He previously worked for NextGen Climate Action and U.S. Senator Tom Harkin. For the last six years of his work for Senator Harkin he served as Senator Harkin’s State Staff Director. Prior to starting that position, he worked for four years as Senator Harkin’s education policy advisor in Washington, D.C., where he was responsible for work on education legislation at all levels, from early childhood education to higher education.
Tanya McKinzie is president and chief executive officer of Indiana Black Expo, Inc., a non-profit organization with 12 chapters throughout Indiana that just celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. Black Expo manages nearly two dozen programs in education, performing arts, education and health. Before joining Black Expo, she served as assistant general counsel for Community Health Network of Indianapolis and as an adjunct professor in legal writing at the Indiana University School of Law. She is a board of trustee for Indiana State University.
US Representative Rashida Harbi Tlaib serves as the Congresswoman for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, which includes the city of Detroit and many surrounding communities. She was the first Muslim woman to serve in the Michigan legislature and in 2019, she became the first woman of Palestinian descent in Congress, and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, along with Ilhan Omar (D-MN). She and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) are the first female Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) to serve in Congress.
Dr. Dorene Wiese is founder and CEO of the American Indian Alliance of Illinois and the Medicine Shield College. An enrolled member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation, she is a strong advocate for the rights of urban American Indians, the largest segment of American Indian society. AIAI sponsors the American Indian Museum Without Walls, the Black Hawk Performance Company, the Been Na Un Den Na Drum and Singers, Native Scholars, the American Indian Urban Institute and Bear Claw Multimedia. Wiese has taught as a professor at NAES College, Truman College, Triton College and is currently an adjunct professor with Eastern Illinois University. She founded the Medicine Shield College program affiliated with EIU in 2006. She currently serves as a director with the Cook County Health and Hospital Systems Board, the Chicago American Indian Health Services Board, and the WTTW Community Advisory Board. In more than 40 years in American Indian education, she has won numerous awards for her achievements in American Indian education, including a Newberry Library Rockefeller Fellowship, a Bank of America Hero Award, and an American Indian Educator of the Year Award. Wiese has over 25 years of experience advocating for American Indian rights, affirmative action and civil rights. She holds a doctorate degree in Leadership and Policy studies from Northern Illinois University and an MA in Social Science from the University of Chicago.
Alandes Powell is vice president of Fifth Third Bank, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to more than 30 years in financial services, Powell also is chair of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio board and has served on the board member for the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s Brighton Center, a social service agency. She won the Greater Cincinnati Foundation Woman of the Year award in 2018 and the 2020 Strengths Hero Award from Mayerson Academy.
Pahoua Yang Hoffman serves as senior vice president of Community Impact and the St Paul & Minnesota Foundation, where she is the chief strategist for grantmaking and community impact. In addition to managing relationships with the organization’s two client foundations, the F.R. Bigelow Foundation and Mardag Foundation, she also assists the Foundation in areas of public policy and community engagement, and advises the CEO on statewide strategic leadership. Prior to this role, Pahoua was the seventh executive director of the nonpartisan nonprofit, the Citizens League, and was the first woman and the first person of color to hold the position since the organization’s founding in 1952. Her current board service includes Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, where she serves as Chair of the advocacy committee and a member of the executive committee, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, the Constellation Fund, Girl Friday Theatre Productions, and as advisory board member with the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of St. Thomas. Pahoua holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of St. Thomas.
Part 5 coming tomorrow!