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 fifth of a five-part series.
Sonya Hernandez is the assistant director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Grand Rapids Community College. In addition, Hernandez is a Governor-appointed commissioner on the Hispanic Latino Commission of Michigan. Hernandez has a deep passion for education and is a certified K-12 bilingual administrator in Michigan, working in numerous classroom settings. Hernandez holds multiple degrees in education and is planning to complete her Doctoral studies in educational leadership from Eastern Michigan University soon.
Sonia Chen Arnold is a general counsel for Lilly Oncology, providing strategic counselling to Lilly’s oncology businesses for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company. Prior to that role, Chen Arnold also served as assistant general counsel to Lilly’s diabetes businesses. Chen Arnold uses her influence at Eli Lilly to promote diversity and inclusion and does so by helping to manage one of Lilly’s diversity and inclusion programs. In 2017, Indiana Minority Business Magazine honored her with a Golden Laurel Award and in 2019 she was named one of the nation’s best lawyers of color. Chen Arnold received her J.D. from the Indiana University School of Law – Bloomington.
Michael Johnson is the president & CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County where he has led the non-profit agency on an amazing and transformative journey of change. In 10 years as their CEO, the Club made significant accomplishments as they have developed a bold, five-year $15 million plan that resulted in more than doubling the number of children and families being served in South Central Wisconsin, tripled the number of employees and grew their operating budget by 318 percent during his tenure. He has also become an important figure in convening conversations around race and equity in the Madison area. Last year he convened a remote video conference between Madison youth and the family of murder victim Ahmaud Arbury, and after the death of George Floyd he convened law enforcement leaders around the Madison area to condemn the act and pledge that nothing like that would happen here.
Mukhtar Ibrahim is founder of Sahan Journal, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit news outlet serving the Somali and other immigrant communities around the Twin Cities, launched in 2019 in partnership with Minnesota Public Radio. Mukhtar was studying biology and premed when he read about a group of young Somali American men who left Minnesota to join the terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia. The Somali-born Ibrahim, who immigrated to the United States at age 17, was engrossed by the story, but felt that the reporters were disconnected from the community they were covering. He switched his major to journalism, with the goal of providing more nuanced coverage of his community. As a reporter at Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Ibrahim became one of the first Somali American journalists working for a major media outlet in the state, which has the country’s largest Somali American population. He is known for his award-winning reporting on Islamic State recruitment of Somali Americans and how law enforcement’s response is affecting Minnesota’s Somali American community. Ibrahim’s reporting on the assault of a woman speaking Swahili in a restaurant helped spur a hate crime bill in the Minnesota legislature.
Dr. Ashok Rai, MD is the President and CEO of Prevea Health, a healthcare organization based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Ashok is a practicing physician at Prevea Health and is affiliated with HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center. In 2018, Ashok was appointed Board Chair of American Medical Group Association (AMGA) and in 2019, Ashok served on the Board’s Executive Committee as Immediate Past Chair. Ashok attended the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and completed his residency at the Michigan State University Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies.
Delonda Pushetonequa is the tribal council treasurer for the Meskwaki Nation, Sac & Fox Tribe of Mississippi in Iowa. She was part of the Meskwaki Nation Children’s Dance Company in 2016. In 2019, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development honored her as one of their 40 Under 40 emerging leaders from across the United States.