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More important now than ever: Leaders of color excited for Wisconsin Leadership Summit


Leaders of color from across Wisconsin are excited for next week’s Wisconsin Leadership Summit presented by UW Credit Union — the third annual event, and the first being conducted entirely online. The Wisconsin Leadership Summit is the state’s premier professional development, networking and community-building event for people of color, produced and hosted by 365 Media, the nonprofit organization that also operates Madison365.

This year’s event will take place October 5-9, entirely online, and feature 25 panels on topics in education, social justice, health, government and business.

We asked several of those who have agreed to moderate panels why they’re looking forward to the Summit.

Mike Hernandez

“I look forward to this because rarely are there opportunities to be completely surrounded by mentors, inspirational people of color that I look up to. It’s just not something that’s common anywhere. I’ve talked to my friends that work around the country and I talked about this experience and it’s just an absolutely amazing opportunity. It’s more important this year than it has been in the past, because we need to see it, especially in the political climate that we are today,” said Mike Hernandez, chief of secondary schools at Madison Metropolitan School District, who’s going to moderate a panel on redefining success for students in the COVID era. “I think it’s more powerful that you guys decided you’re moving forward with this, because you’re not going to let a virus stop the work that Madison365 is putting together, saying we need to continue to highlight and uplift our leaders of color.”

Shiva Bidar

“This year more than ever being able to connect with Black and Brown thought leaders across the state is the re-energizing event we need in order to continue to do our work,” said Shiva Bidar, VP and Chief Diversity Officer at UW Health, who will moderate a panel on how businesses can support their employees of color out in the community. 

Wenona Wolf

“In order for America’s racial reckoning to have a lasting impact, our country must listen to Black, Indigenous, and people of color and follow their lead in rebuilding the country,” said Wenona Wolf, policy director for Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is moderating a panel on the politics of social justice. “We cannot achieve equity without their leadership and their wisdom. The Wisconsin Leadership Summit provides an important platform for the voices of BIPOC to be heard.”

Gloria Ladson-Billings

“Each year the community awaits the Wisconsin Leadership Summit as a time to learn, grow, and network. I think its name says it all,” said internationally renowned education professor Gloria Ladson Billings, who will moderate a panel on making space for the racial justice movement in education. “Wisconsin…not just Madison, not just Dane County, but the entire state… Leadership… showcasing and cultivating leaders, not followers, not spectators… Summit… the very top, above all else. Madison 365 does an incredible job of recruiting and attracting the very best this state has to offer so we can become the best we need to be to face the ever increasing challenges of diversity and equity in this state and nation.”

Mai Lo Lee

Last year, I had the opportunity to bring 8 college students to the Summit and they were highly impacted by the visibility of Wisconsin professionals with diverse backgrounds and also encouraged by how different groups were working together. This year, I am bringing 35 students and though the impact will be different because it is virtual, I know the impact will be just as great because of the authentic voices that will be represented and also heard at each panel,” said Mai Lo Lee, diversity director at UW-Green Bay, who is moderating a panel of Asian Americans. “I am hoping my college students are inspired by individuals, their organizations and their passion for Wisconsin. I want my students to know that one does not just survive in Wisconsin, but one can thrive in Wisconsin.

Like most moderators, Mai has attended previous Summits as well.

“I was at the first summit and I never realized how much I needed to be surrounded by Wisconsinites who have my shared experience,” she said. “Being surrounded, encouraged and also supported by professionals of multi-ethnic, multicultural and racial backgrounds was very new for me and also very much needed and welcome by me. Each year, there are numerous things I get from the Summit. I am always impressed by how each panel addresses current events, both, state-wide, national and globally. The participants are authentic in voice and experience and I always gain so much perspective and understanding about each individual person’s lived experience in Wisconsin. Lastly, the professional networking is genuine with individuals who really want to aid and help to make Wisconsin as a state greater.”

“This summit is important to me because it highlights the quiet heroes in Wisconsin,” said DJ Hines, the chief operating officer at Christian Faith Fellowship Church, who will moderate a panel on the role of faith communities in the social justice movement. “This summit gives those who are typically behind the scenes a platform to share rich information and insight. I hope that attendees come away equipped with key information to help them navigate these most difficult times. I hope to learn about how leaders have adjusted and made difficult pivots in order to sustain their business, organization or service.”

“I am incredibly grateful to these leaders from across the state who have not hesitated to give of their time to create this unprecedented event,” said 365 Media CEO Henry Sanders. “This level of experience and expertise among people of color had never been gathered in one event until our first Summit in 2018, and we are proud to offer it all again despite the pandemic — in fact, we recognize that the event is more important now than ever, both to reconnect even though we’re apart, and to address this unique moment in the movement for equality.”

Registration for the Wisconsin Leadership Summit is open now. To attend the full conference is $79; nonprofit and government rate is $49 and students get in for $20.