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Midwest Power Brokers: 32 of the Region’s Most Influential People of Color, Part 3


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.

Henry Sanders
Publisher and CEO, Madison365

This is the third of a five-part series.

Abin Kuriakose is Director of ChicagoNEXT, World Business Chicago’s dedicated initiative driving inclusive growth and opportunity for Chicago’s tech economy and innovation ecosystem. Abin leads ChicagoNEXT’s portfolio of programs and initiatives focused on access to capital and talent, driving innovation through industry and university partnerships, inclusive entrepreneurship, and global strategic partnerships.

Peggy Flanagan is Minnesota’s 50th Lieutenant Governor. A member of the White Earth Nation, she is the first Indigenous person to hold that post, and only the second elected to statewide office in the history of the United States. Prior to her current position, Flanagan served on the Minneapolis Board of Education and worked at Wellstone Action as the Director and founder of the Native American Leadership Program and the Director of External Affairs. Flanagan also served as the Executive Director for the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota (CDF) in which she acted as co-chair for the Raise The Wage campaign which aided in the successful initiative to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage. In 2015, Flanagan was elected to represent District 46A in the Minnesota House of Representatives. While in office, Flanagan led the subcommittee on Child Care Access and Affordability. In 2017, Flanagan and her colleagues formed the People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus which worked to improve economic, health-related, and educational opportunities for BIPOC Minnesotans. She currently serves on the board of directors of Native Progress, Sojourners, and the Minneapolis Foundation. Flanagan earned her bachelor’s degree in American Indian studies and child psychology from the University of Minnesota. 

Quentin Hart is the first Black mayor of Waterloo, Iowa. First elected in 2015, Hart has made tremendous progress advancing his five original campaign platforms: economic development, neighborhood empowerment, safer streets, creating a positive image, and creating a collective vision for the future. Preceding the election, Hart was the Associate Director of Multicultural Affairs for Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, providing leadership for multicultural initiatives and promoting awareness and appreciation for diversity on campus and the community. In the eight years preceding his mayoral election, Mayor Hart represented the citizens of Waterloo as Ward 4 Councilman and was the first African American-appointed Mayor Pro-Tem for the City of Waterloo.

Claudia Yvette De León is chief operating officer at Ohio-based Mega Media, one of the largest Spanish-language media companies in the United States. The company operates radio stations, print publications and digital products in markets throughout the Midwest. She is also the president of the executive committee of the Hispanic Chamber of Columbus. 

Shiva Bidar serves as Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Madison, Wisconsin based UW Health, leading the overall vision, coordination and strategic leadership for the design and implementation of UW Health’s initiatives related to diversity, equity and inclusion. Shiva joined UW Health in 1997. She quickly became a national leader in medical interpreter services which was only in its infancy at the time. She has spent the past 23 years building a model program language access program. In addition, she has been responsible for leading work with community partners to better connect and serve communities of color and LGBTQ+ communities and has served as an organization-wide resource on diversity, equity and inclusion. Shiva’s work has been recognized with numerous awards, including 2019-20 UW Outstanding Women of Color Award, the 2018 Centro Hispano of Dane County Visionary Award and the 2018 Wisconsin LGBT Chamber Advocate of the Year. She has also served on Madison’s Common Council since 2013, including two stints as Council President. Born in Iran and raised in Spain, Shiva completed her undergraduate studies at the Université du Hainaut, Mons, Belgium, her Master’s degree from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey, Calif. She obtained her Certificate in Diversity Management in Health Care (CDM) from Institute for Diversity in Healthcare and Georgetown University.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a pediatrician and public health advocate who is most known for her research that revealed the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Dr. Hanna-Attisha has testified three times before the United States Congress about her research, and is also leading recovery efforts. Dr. Hanna-Attisha is also the founder and director of the Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative. She has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC and other media outlets advocating for the children of Flint and beyond. Dr. Hanna-Attisha is also the author of What the Eyes Don’t See, which The New York Times named as one of the 100 most notable books of 2018.

Part 4 coming tomorrow!