Wisconsin’s 51 Most Influential Black Leaders for 2023, Part 1


    Just months after we published our first news stories in August 2015, we tried something new: we listed and published brief biographies of the state’s 28 Most Influential Black Leaders. People really liked it, shared it on social media, told us who else should have been on that list. Many asked me if we’d do another list the next year; I said yes, we probably would. Good luck, they said … you’re going to run out of names.

    Today, we publish the first installment of our _ninth_ annual list of Wisconsin’s Most Influential Black leaders. You may have noticed … there’s a lot more than 28. In fact, we received nearly 200 nominations for this year’s list. Clearly, there are many, many Black leaders doing real work in our communities.

    And that’s what this list is all about. introducing you to those people you may not know. Every year, I’ve intended these lists to highlight the beauty of the diversity across our state. I want kids here in Wisconsin to see role models of people who are succeeding, to know that it’s possible for people of color to achieve great things here.

    This week we shine a statewide spotlight on the dedicated leaders of Wisconsin’s Black communty. The people we highlight this week are elected leaders, business leaders and community leaders, doing difficult, important work.

    We are also aware that this list, like every other, is not comprehensive. It’s obvious just from the number of nominations that there are far more than 52 influential Black leaders doing good work in Wisconsin. We hope you will let us know about people in your community who we can include on future lists. For now, though, we just want to introduce you to a few of the people doing the work, often behind the scenes and without the accolades, across Wisconsin.

    You might know a few of these names, but there’s a good chance that most of them will be new to you. I urge you to get to know them. Reach out to those living and working in your communities. Learn from them, network, create partnerships. And spread the word — let others in your network know that we have people of all ethnicities living and working across Wisconsin to make sure everyone here can thrive.

    Henry Sanders
    CEO and Publisher

    This is the first of a five-part series.

    Dr. Brittany Bell is the Dean of Students at Lawrence University. Prior to this role, she came to Lawrence in early 2019 as the Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center. Bell contributed a chapter to the published book, Teaching Beautiful Brilliant Black Girls, published by SAGE Publications in 2021. Her chapter is on colorism in the classroom. Outside of work, Bell and her family operate the Appleton-based God’s Purpose Apparel, with monies being donated to nonprofits serving the homeless community. She was recently featured on John McGivern’s Main Street show on PBS.

    Lamarr Banks is startup development manager for the Greater Green Bay Chamber of Commerce, a role he took on in July 2023 after two years as the community manager of The Urban Hub, the Chamber’s coworking space. He has also served as the Green Bay organizer of Startup Week, a community organizer for One Million Cups, the 2022 Early Stage Symposium Steering Committee Co-Chair for the Wisconsin Technology Council and a member of the NeighborWorks Green Bay Finance Committee. He is a 2017 graduate of UW-Green Bay.

    Dr. Angela Byars-Winston is a tenured professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and the inaugural chair of the Institute for Diversity Science. In 2017, she became the first Black woman to hold tenure at the school. She joined the SMPH in 2007 as an associate scientist and has previously served as director of research and evaluation in the Center for Women’s Health Research and associate director of the Collaborative Center for Health Equity. In 2018, she earned the John Holland Award for Outstanding Achievement in Career or Personality Research by the Society of Counseling Psycholog. She earned a doctoral degree in counseling psychology at Arizona State and master’s and bachelor’s degrees at San Diego State.

    Maia Pearson is a member of the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education, elected in 2021, and the Mann Scholars program coordinator for the Mann Educational Opportunity Fund, a scholarship fund that focuses on providing prolonged and focused support and resources to high school students in need of a little extra help. She previously worked as a revenue agent for the Wisconsin Department of Revenue and at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County. She is also owner of Sweet Sorrel, which provides culturally relevant greeting cards and art. She is a UW PEOPLE program alumni who earned her bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Terrance Williams is CEO of TruStage, the financial services company formerly known as CUNA Mutual Group. He took the helm in October of 2023 following the retirement of his predecessor. He came to TruStage from Allstate, where he was responsible for Allstate’s non-property-liability businesses, representing $4 billion in revenue. In his previous role as executive vice president and general manager of Allstate Property-Liability Sales and Distribution, Williams was responsible for driving innovation in the company’s agency distribution channels including 10,000 domestic agencies and more than 30,000 licensed sales professionals, direct-to-consumer call centers and web sales in the United States and Canada, representing $30 billion in written premium for the enterprise. Before joining Allstate in 2020, Williams was president of Nationwide’s Emerging Business Group, including a team of 1,300+ employees, where he led innovation and digital strategy, served as the chief marketing officer, and established the company’s $100M venture capital fund. Williams was recognized by Forbes as one of “The World’s Most Influential CMOs” in 2017 and 2018 and Savoy Magazine as one of the most influential black corporate directors in 2021.

    Terra Allen is director of the Academic Learning Center at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison. She is also a Sergeant First Class in the US Army, where she is a human resources administrator. She previously spent three years at American Family and served One City Schools as preschool director. An accomplished vocalist, she sang both the National Anthem and the Black National Anthem when the Juneteenth flag was raised over the state capitol for the first time in 2020. A graduate of Austin Peay State University, she is on track to finish her MBA at the UW-Madison this spring.

    Joshua Johnson is a director in Solutions Design & Delivery at Jobs for the Future, where he directs the National Innovation Hub for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Registered Apprenticeship, advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in apprenticeship and helping employers commit to building inclusive apprenticeship programs. Before joining JFF, Johnson was Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development state director of apprenticeship, overseeing growth related to creating intentional career pathways for Wisconsin citizens. He also served as vice president of the National Association of State and Territorial Apprenticeship Directors. He is a member of the board of Junior Achievement Wisconsin and served as vice president of the National Association of State and Territorial Apprenticeship Directors.

    Rodney Lynk Jr. is CEO of Milwaukee Excellence Charter School, a tuition-free public charter school serving students primarily from the challenging 53206 and 53209 ZIP codes. He took the role in 2021 after four years as the school’s chief academic officer. Under Lynk’s direction, the 550-student school recently received a third consecutive five-star rating from the state Department of Public Instruction. He received a bachelor’s from UW-Madison, and holds a master’s of educational policy and leadership from Marquette University and an MBA from UW-Milwaukee. He’s currently pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis at UW-Madison.

    Maurice Horton is an alderman for the City of Racine, representing the city’s northwest side. He is also founder of Why Gangs LLC, an intense gang awareness consultation firm established in 2005. Maurice established this firm to help educate, empower and strengthen educational institutions as well as offering consultation services to community agencies. After 10 years of working with at-risk youth in the city of Racine, Horton received an executive pardon from Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle in 2010.

    Rev. Lilada Gee is an artist and nonprofit leader in Madison. With more than 30 years in the fields of education and social services, Lilada founded Black Woman Heal, a Madison based non-profit organization that inspires Black women to join her in her life’s work to defend Black girlhood, by creating safe places for Black girls as well as themselves, to heal. She is also an acclaimed artist, painting murals on State Street, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the UW South Madison Partnership space and many other locations around Madison. She is a member of the board of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault Board Member, Co-founder of Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership and senior associate pastor at Fountain of Life Church.

    Part Two coming tomorrow!