Home Wisconsin Wisconsin’s 51 Most Influential Black Leaders for 2023, Part 3

Wisconsin’s 51 Most Influential Black Leaders for 2023, Part 3


This is the third of a five-part series. Part One is here and Part Two is here.

Ebony Grice is assistant superintendent for school services in the Appleton Area School District, a role she stepped into this past summer after a stint as director of the Wisconsin Educational Opportunity Program at the state Department of Public Instruction. In 2020, she became the principal of Wauwatosa West, becoming the first Black principal in the history of the district. She is an alum of Clark Atlanta University, earning a degree in finance in 2002 before earning a teaching credential from Concordia University in 2012. She also holds master’s degrees from Alverno College and Cardinal Stritch.

Dominique Ricks is the principal at Kromrey Middle School in Middleton. When he took the job in 2019, he was the first Black principal in the history of the district and, at the age of 27, the youngest, as well. Before stepping into the role at the helm of Kromrey, he was dean of students at Glacier Creek Middle School. Ricks previously taught eighth-grade literacy in Verona Area School District and also taught middle school in his home state of Louisiana, where he was named his school’s Teacher of the Year in 2015. Ricks is also a spoken-word poet and performer and a 2014 graduate of the University of Wisconsin.

Ian Carter is chief development and communications officer at Briarpatch Youth Services, an organization that supports young people experiencing homelessness and other challenges. Prior to taking that role in 2022, he was marketing manager for Legendary Way Sports Marketing, the official sports marketing agency for the American Family Insurance Championship. He is also a licensed real estate agent. 

Michele Mackey is CEO of Kids Forward, a statewide policy and advocacy organization working to research and address racial and economic disparities across Wisconsin. Mackey was named CEO three years ago after three years as COO. Mackey also served as a loaned executive to Forward Community Investments, helping the community development financial institution transition from a founder to a new CEO. Prior to Kids Forward, Michele served as Managing Director of the Andon Group, LLC, a nationally recognized organizational development, innovation management, and evaluation consultancy. Mackey is a member of the California Bar and had early careers in intellectual property litigation and financial crimes investigation. Michele holds a B.S. (Math/Computer Science,) B.A. (Economics) and J.D. degrees from the University of Notre Dame, and an M.S. degree in Criminology & Management Information Systems from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Dr. Jimmy Cheffen is a climate and culture program coordinator at Madison College, a role he’s held for eight years following three years as coordinator of part-time faculty. In addition to providing direct support to students and staff, Cheffen coordinates the Madison College Book Club and a number of Juneteenth and Black History Month celebration events. He also hosts The Navigationalist podcast, which features crucial conversations about navigational strategies for underrepresented higher education faculty. He earned an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Arkansas, a master’s from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and a doctorate from Texas Tech.

Rafeeq Asad is an architect and vice president of team development at JLA Architects in Madison, a firm he joined five years ago as a project associate. He has been the lead designer on two of Madison’s most iconic recent projects: The Urban League’s Black Business Hub, which just opened in September, and the Center for Black Excellence and Culture, set to break ground in the spring. In 2019, Rafeeq helped establish the state’s first National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Chapter.  Rafeeq is a committed mentor in 100 Black Men of Madison, Inc. and has extensive professional experience designing inspiring cultural spaces for communities ranging from libraries and museums to complex multi-use facilities and educational facilities. Rafeeq is a six-time “Omega Man of the Year” by the Gamma Gamma Gamma Chapter of Omega Psi Phi, Fraternity, Inc. He also serves on Madison College’s Architecture Advisory Board and was appointed by the mayor to serve as a commissioner on the City of Madison’s Urban Design Commission. He has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and served on Madison Area Technical College’s Architectural Review Board. Most recently he was elected Vice President of the Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects and accepted a six-year gubernatorial appointment to the Wisconsin State Capitol and Executive Residence Board. He earned a degree in business from Florida A&M and went on to pursue post-graduate degree studies at Florida State University’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning before returning to Florida A&M to receive his master’s degree in architecture. Rafeeq ended his formal studies receiving a graduate fellowship in urban design at Carnegie Mellon University.

Judge Carl Ashley was appointed as Chief Judge of the First Judicial District effective April 15, 2023, by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. He is the Chair of the Milwaukee Community Justice Council (MCJC). During his 24 years on the bench, he has served in every court division (Misdemeanor, Felony, Family Court, Large Claims Civil, and Children’s Court), as well as the Adult Drug Treatment Court, Veterans Treatment Court, and Domestic Violence Court. Judge Ashley is Chair of the Supreme Court Planning and Policy Subcommittee on Effective Justice Strategies (EJS). Judge Ashley is also the Past Chair of the Wisconsin State Bar Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee. He is the Chair of the Milwaukee County Race, Equity and Procedural Justice Committee. He is a member of the Evidenced-based Sentencing Judicial Peer Group for the National Center for State Courts. He is a faculty member of the Wisconsin Judicial College. He is the Chair of the Wisconsin Association of Treatment Court Professionals (WATCP) Subcommittee on Equity and Inclusion. In 2003, he received the Innovator of the Year Award in recognition of vision, creativity, and innovative spirit. In 2011, he was selected by the State Bar of Wisconsin as Judge of the Year. In 2013, Judge Ashley received the Leaders in the Law Award from the Wisconsin Law Journal. In 2014 and 2015, Judge Ashley was presented with the State Bar’s President’s Award. In 2016, he received the E. Michael McCann Distinguished Public Service Award. In 2019, he received the Charles L. Goldberg, Distinguished Service Award from the Wisconsin Law Foundation.

Dr. Syneathia LaGrant is vice president and global head of talent management and development for ManpowerGroup.  Her 20-year career includes managing global talent management teams and developing learning interventions for multi-national organizations including Molson Coors Beverage Company, Fiserv Inc, and Johnson Controls, Inc. Syneathia holds a bachelor’s in English and Secondary Education Certification from Bradley University. She earned a Master’s in Adult Education with an emphasis on Instructional design from Alverno College. Syneathia earned her doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania’s Chief Learning Officers Program. She provides leadership development and board development workshops for churches and community groups, is an active board member for Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls, and serves as a trustee and youth ministry leader for her church.

Dr. Sam Coleman is the assistant superintendent of instruction for the Oshkosh School District. Coleman previously served as the chief academic officer for Lynchburg City Schools in Lynchburg, Virginia. Over the last 16 years, Coleman has served in public education as well as state and municipal government. Coleman began his educational career in 2007 as a social studies teacher in Milwaukee. In 2015, Coleman became the dean of students at the Daniel Webster High School campus in Milwaukee, and later served as the director of student and family services at Seton Catholic Schools in St. Francis, before joining the Shorewood School District in 2019. In Shorewood, Coleman served as the director for equity before advancing to serve as the director of curriculum and instruction. 

Uchenna Jones is the Community Impact Director of Health at United Way of Dane County. She is a Registered Nurse and alum from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with Bachelor of Science degrees in both Bacteriology and Nursing. Since 2002 until now, Uchenna, as a certified Doula, has been committed to working with all women, especially women of color, to receive the best maternal and infant health care possible through her business, A Doula Just For You. She is also a Nurse Consultant and Doula Trainer at Harambee Birth and Family Center. She is currently a 2nd year Midwifery student at the Midwest Maternal Child Institute.  Uchenna is a published author of two children’s book, “Hello, My Name Is” and “Pretty Black Girl.” Uchenna founded the Madison Gospel 5K Foundation, which is a charitable non-profit that is focused on creating healthier families through faith, fellowship and fitness. Since its inception, Madison Gospel 5K Foundation has encouraged over 600 families to be more active on the Southside of Madison. Additionally, Uchenna is one of three founders to create Sole Sistas Run Madtown, an exclusive multicultural women’s walk/run group. Lastly, in February of 2021, Uchenna, along with two other community leaders came together and founded Soles United. Soles United is an organization that is focused on creating an inclusive, diverse, equitable and welcoming running/movement fitness community for all. Through physical movement, Uchenna hopes to shift people’s mental space to a better place.

Part Four coming tomorrow!