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.
With this list, 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
US Representative Ilhan Omar represents Minneapolis and surrounding communities in the United States Congress, elected as a member of “the Squad” in 2018. Born in Somalia, she relocated with her father to New York at 13, and then to Arlington and ultimately to Minneapolis. She started her professional career as a nutrition educator and first jumped into politics as the manager of a Minneapolis City Council campaign in 2012. By 2016, she was a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, authoring 38 bills in just one term before winning election to the US Congress in 2018. She was overwhelmingly reelected in 2020 despite facing four primary challengers. In her brief tenure, she has endured racist attacks and conspiracy theories, and was one of the subjects of President Donald Trump’s call for a number of Representatives to “go back to their countries.” Most recently she was the principal author of Articles of Impeachment against Trump following the failed insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Lori E. Lightfoot is Chicago’s first Black woman mayor and first openly gay mayor. She has undertaken an ambitious agenda of expanding opportunity and inclusive economic growth across Chicago’s neighborhoods and communities, with early accomplishments including landmark ethics and good governance reforms, worker protection legislation, and closing a record $838 million budget gap, as well as key investments in education, public safety and financial stability. Mayor Lightfoot also placed Chicago on the path to a $15 minimum wage by 2021. Prior to her election, Mayor Lightfoot most recently served as a senior equity partner in the Litigation and Conflict Resolution Group at Mayer Brown and president of the Chicago Police Board, as well as the Chair of the Police Accountability Task Force.
Miriam de Dios Woodward, a native of Jalisco, Mexico, Global CEO of Iowa-based PolicyWorks, leading the company’s transformation for a technology driven future. Under her leadership, PolicyWorks acquired world-class governance, risk and compliance (GRC) technology platform ViClarity. Prior to taking the helm at PolicyWorks, Miriam led AMC company Coopera Consulting as CEO for seven years. In addition to her C-suite experience, Miriam’s leadership includes several positions within the financial services and insurance sectors for major brands including State Farm Insurance Companies and John Deere Financial. Also, she currently serves on the board of trustees of Grand View University, the board of directors of the Iowa Food Bank and the Iowa State University’s Women in Business Advisory Board.
Sandy Baruah is president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, the third largest chamber of commerce in the nation. Baruah joined the Chamber in 2010 after a career in Washington, D.C. In this role, he was the chief executive responsible for the SBA’s 4,000 national employees and $18 billion small business loan portfolio. Baruah was one of the senior officials shaping the federal government’s response to the 2008 credit crisis and assistance to the U.S. automotive industry. Prior to leading the SBA, Baruah served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce. In this role, he was responsible for the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), served as the senior advisor to the Secretary of Commerce for the 2010 Census, and represented the U.S. government before the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, France.
Tommey Walker is a graphic artist and founder of Detroit Vs. Everybody LLC. A Detroit, Michigan native, Walker founded his company in 2012 to provide cultural recognition for and combat media perception of Detroit. Since then, DVE has grown into a nationally successful brand, with six locations through Detroit and numerous retailers around the county. Walker and his brand have also received interest from numerous celebrities, including Big Sean, Eminem, Nas and more.
Dr. Aaron A. Payment is the Chair of the Sault Tribe’s Board of Directors, the governing body of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, based in Michigan. Payment was first elected in 2004 and served for four years, returning to office in 2012. In addition to his current position, Payment also serves in a variety of tribal positions: Vice president of the National Congress of American Indians; Chair of the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan; President of both the United Tribes of Michigan and the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes; Co-chair of both the National Advisory Council on Indian Education; and the Tribal-Interior Budget Committee for the Midwest region. Payment also serves on the Tribal Advisory Committee for the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Payment has received numerous honors including the 2015 National TRiO Achiever and the 2013 Sergeant Shriver Achievement Award. Payment obtained a bachelor’s degree, three master’s degrees, and a doctoral degree in educational leadership.
Dave Chappelle is one of the most famous comedians in the world, having made a name for himself through his eponymous comedy sketch show (Chappelle’s Show) which ran from 2003-2006, along with a series of stand-up specials. Chappelle is the recipient of numerous accolades, including four Emmy Awards and three Grammy Awards as well as the Mark Twain Prize. Chappelle moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio, in the 2000s, where he currently lives with his wife and their three children. In 2016, Chappelle landed a huge deal at Netflix — said to be worth up to $60 million — following his hit “SNL” hosting debut. In 2017, Rolling Stone ranked him No. 9 in their “50 Best Stand Up Comics of All Time.”
Raquel Filmanowicz is the Director, Economic Equity Advisory Group at BMO Harris Bank in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, previously serving as both the Director of U.S. Community Giving Health Operations and Health Operations Administrator for the City of Milwaukee Health Department. In 2020, Filmanowicz was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of the Milwaukee 2020 Democratic National Convention Host Committee. She also serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee. Filmanowicz also was named one of Wisconsin’s most influential Latino leaders by Madison365 in 2016.
José Almeida is chairman, president and chief executive officer of healthcare giant Baxter International Inc, based in Deerfield, Illinois. Every day, millions of patients and caregivers rely on Baxter’s broad portfolio of essential healthcare products, which can be found in dialysis centers, homes, clinics and innumerable hospitals worldwide. Almeida assumed his current responsibilities at Baxter in January 2016. Prior to joining Baxter, Almeida was chairman, president and CEO of Covidien plc from 2012 through 2015. He previously served as president of Covidien’s Medical Devices organization, and in several senior leadership roles at Covidien’s predecessor, Tyco Healthcare. He has also held leadership positions at Wilson Greatbatch Technologies, American Home Products’ Acufex Microsurgical division, and Johnson & Johnson’s Professional Products division. Almeida is a member of the board of directors of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. and Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, Inc., a Carlyle Group Company. He also serves on the board of trustees of Partners in Health. A native of Brazil, Almeida received a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Instituto Mauá de Tecnologia.
Marlene Dotson is the president and CEO of the Indiana Latino Institute. As president of ILI, she engages with the Indiana Latino community and through the organization, creates opportunities for the community members. Dotson has served as president and CEO of the National Latino Tobacco Control Network and has worked as the Immigrant Affairs Liaison for Indiana’s Seventh Congressional District. Dotson has received numerous awards as well as nationwide recognition from organizations such as UNIVISION Television, the Mexican Consulate of Indiana, the NFL and more.
Nu Huynh is executive director of the Iowa Asian Alliance, where she was a board member beginning in 2012. Prior to her position as IAA’s Executive Director, Huynh spent over 15 years with The Principal Financial Group. Her extensive work experience includes talent acquisition, community relations, diversity recruiting, scholarship programs, event planning, college relations, program development and strategic leadership. In her previous role as Diversity & Inclusion Manager with The Principal, Huynh focused on the development and execution of diversity and inclusion strategies to maximize the attraction and retention of a strong diverse workforce. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Public Relations from Iowa State University and is a 2009 graduate of the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute. Huynh currently sits on the Greater Des Moines Partnership Diversity Council and chairs the Employee Resource Group Forum. She also serves on the Iowa Insurance Education & Foundation Scholarship Committee.
Mary Sheffield serves as the Detroit City Councilperson for District 5. In 2013, she became the youngest person ever elected to the Detroit City Council at age 26. As a legislator, she has sponsored Inclusionary Housing, Notification/Right to First Refusal and Poverty Tax Exemption Ordinances, restored Police Commission powers after emergency management and successfully fought to save the Senior Home Repair Grant program.
Shannon Holsey is the current President of the Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohican Indians in Shawano, Wisconsin, after eight years as a member of the Tribal Council. Holsey also serves as the Tribal Advisor for the Blue Stone Strategy group and president of the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, which represents eleven-member tribes with a land base of about one million acres spanning 45 counties. She is appointed as the Wisconsin State Legislature’s Special Committee on State-Tribal Relations. Holsey has worked in the hospitality industry serving as the Director of hospitality at the North Star Mohican Casino; Executive Director of Red Lake Nation’s Boys and Girls Club; and Interim Director of Education, Employment and Training and Cultural Affairs for the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe. Holsey received her bachelor’s degree in business administration and master’s degree in strategic leadership and communication from Seton Hall University with distinction.
Mandela Barnes was elected Wisconsin’s 45th Lieutenant Governor on Nov. 8, 2018. Barnes is the first African-American to serve as a Lieutenant Governor in Wisconsin, and the second African-American ever to hold statewide office. Within his current role, Lt. Gov. Barnes uses a platform of sustainability and equity to fight for solutions that invest in opportunities and fairness for every child, person, and family in Wisconsin. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Lt. Gov. Barnes grew up attending Milwaukee Public Schools and graduated from John Marshall High School and Alabama A&M University In 2012, at the age of 25, Lt. Gov. Barnes was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly, where he served two terms. His tenure in the State Assembly included serving as Chair of the Legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus and becoming a recognized leader on progressive economic policies and gun violence prevention legislation.
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.
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.
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.