Home Wisconsin Wisconsin’s 52 Most Influential Black Leaders, Part 3

Wisconsin’s 52 Most Influential Black Leaders, Part 3


This is the third of a five-part series. Part one is here and part two is here.

Dr. Shakkiah Curtis is manager of member growth and engagement at Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition, a partnership of 115 organizations in southeast Wisconsin focused on inclusively doubling tech talent in the region in order to create enduring economic prosperity and create life changing opportunities. Before taking that role in July, she was director of the 1915 Studios, a free accelerator for early-stage technology startups. She also runs her own business coaching and training firm. Curtis graduated from Tennessee State University and earned a doctoral degree in Business Administration from Alverno College. She has cultivated many entrepreneurial ventures in fashion, business, and education, and her work experience includes teaching in higher academia, business development, corporate training and instructional design. 

Lachrisa Grandberry is a Milwaukee-born playwright, performer, lyricist and composer with Northern Sky Theater in Door County. She is the co-writer and co-composer of Sunflowered, a new musical that made its world debut at Northern Sky earlier this year. Performance credits include As You Like It with Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, She the People at The Second City, and many roles with Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Skylight Music Theatre, Next Act Theatre, Renaissance Theaterworks, Theatre LILA, Forward Theatre Company, First Stage, Black Arts Milwaukee and Children’s Theatre Madison. She appeared in the Freeform movie The Thing About Harry (Freeform) and on the NBC series Chicago PD. She earned her BFA in Theatre at Wisconsin Lutheran College. 

Michael Louis Vinson is sales director at Schreiber Foods in Green Bay, with responsibility for leading a key segment of its U.S. foodservice business. At Schreiber, Michael was founding chair of the PRIDE business resource group, has served on the steering committee for the African-American Dairy Professionals business resource group and sat on the Diversity and Inclusion Council, led by Schreiber’s President & CEO. Michael previously chaired Schreiber’s Global Inclusion Team and served on the Advisory Board of Schreiber’s Network of Women Business Leaders. He is currently Board Chair at Wisconsin Watch (Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism) and Vice Chair of the board of directors at Arts Midwest, which serves a nine-state region in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. In January 2021, Michael was appointed to serve on the Equal Rights Commission for the City of Green Bay. Michael also served as board chair of Fair Wisconsin, Inc., the state’s leading advocacy organization for the LGBTQ community. A former journalist, Michael holds a Master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University, where he was a McCormick Scholar, and earned his bachelor’s degree in government at Harvard University, where he was a Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholar.

Adey Assefa is economic inclusion manager at the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, where she works to help the region and its businesses reimagine its workforce systems for a better, more inclusive and more equitable future. Prior to taking on that role in June 2020, Assefa worked at UW-Madison within various programs including the development of the RISE program, directing the African American Student Academic Services office, advising the First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts scholarship program and directing the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives. She received her bachelor’s in social welfare and her master’s in counseling from UW-Madison and grew up in the Eagle Heights neighborhood.

David Polk is director of the Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards at the Department of Workforce Development, a role he assumed in January 2022 after 20 years leading a variety of apprenticeship programs. His own career began when he completed a five-year apprenticeship program in 2001 with Plumbers’ Local 75 in Milwaukee and worked several years as a licensed plumber. He then worked in the trades as a meter technician and plumbing inspector before focusing on the training program aspect to help more people become aware of and build careers through apprenticeships. He most recently served as director of Apprenticeship and Trade at Milwaukee Area Technical College, which included managing more than 30 different Milwaukee-area apprenticeships and implementing six new sector apprenticeships, including the first-ever arborist apprenticeship program in the U.S.

Jaimes Johnson is director of community partnerships at UW Credit Union, where he’s worked since 2008. In this role, he’s developed strong relationships with numerous civic organizations – seeking ways to bridge social, racial and economic disparities. An early leader in UW Credit Union’s DEI efforts, Jaimes’ work originally focused on the Madison area and is now concentrated on Milwaukee. A veteran banking leader, he is particularly passionate about empowering underrepresented communities with skills that lead to financial success. He was a long-serving member of the Governor’s Council on Financial Literacy and has helped develop financial education programs that benefit schools, organizations and communities. He has served as UWCU’s representative on numerous boards and committees, including the United Way Affordable Housing Fund, the MDC Workforce Housing Committee, the BankOn Greater Milwaukee Committee, the FCI Board, the UW Center for Cooperatives and the UW Center on Business and Poverty.

Rob Franklin, better known as Rob Dz, is a hip-hop artist and music community organizer. Professionally, he is the Media Projects Bubblerarian (which he calls “a creative way to say that I am a digital media instructor”) for the Madison Public Library. As a Kennedy Center certified teaching artist for the Making Justice program, his primary focus is on creating workshops on Hip Hop, Spoken Word and Personal Branding as positive forms of self-expression. Rob has held residencies with Madison youth in elementary, middle, and high schools, community centers, the Dane County Juvenile Detention Center and Juvenile Shelter Home, Neighborhood Intervention Program, Madison Jazz Consortium and with The Black Star Drum Line. As a musician, he has performed with the likes of Nas, Eminem, Common, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez and others. In 2017, he was inducted to the American Folklife Center at the Library Of Congress and The National Museum of African American History and Culture as a member of The Story Corps program. He is also the lead organizer of the Mad Lit free concert series.

Alan Branch is the inaugural Vice President of Workforce Development for Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County. He brings 25 years of experience in manufacturing, packaging and printing Trades and has worked in partnership with major corporations and non-profits to advance mutual philanthropic interests. Alan will lead the new McKenzie Regional Workforce Center and oversee dozens of employees and educational and community partners to provide young adults careers in trades like plumbing and construction, in addition to entrepreneurship training. Alan graduated from Central State University with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology. 

Dr. Denita Ball is sheriff of Milwaukee County. She was appointed to the post earlier this year and won election to a full term in November. Ball began her law enforcement career with the Milwaukee Police Department, spending over 25 years rising through the ranks to deputy inspector. In 2011, she retired from the police force to pursue opportunities in higher education, where she helped shape the next generation of police officers and criminal justice professionals, according to a press release from the governor’s office. This included her work as an instructor, subject area coordinator, and finally, the criminal justice program director at Bryant & Stratton College and an adjunct faculty instructor at Cardinal Stritch University. Additionally, Ball continued her studies during this time, earning a Ph.D. from Cardinal Stritch University in 2018.

Nikki Purvis is CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce, appointed by the board of directors in August of this year. She has more than 20 years of public and private sector leadership experience, most recently serving as the City of Milwaukee’s inaugural Chief Equity Officer, overseeing the Office of Equity and Inclusion. In this role, she led the City’s racial equity efforts, which included identifying system-wide programs and initiatives and policy considerations to address racially equitable outcomes, accessibility concerns, and equal rights for protected classes. She also provided strategic direction and oversight for the City’s Small Business Enterprise business inclusion program, which promotes economic development for small, disadvantaged businesses. Purvis is a native Milwaukeean and alumna of Riverside University High School, Marquette University, and Cardinal Stritch University. In addition, she received certificates of completion from Cardinal Stritch University, Morgan State University, and John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Executive Education.

Stephon Kiba Freeman is a spray paint artist based in Stevens Point. A Chicago native who landed in Point in 2009, Freeman has painted a number of prominent murals around the state, including a major project on the Worzalla building in Stevens Point as part of the Paint the County initiative. His work is inspired and informed by his family, and the recurring motif of a young girl’s silhouette is his image of his daughter and her future. You can also see murals in Milwaukee at the Black Cat Alley, in Plover at the Hostel Shoppe bike store, and back in Stevens Point in the waiting room at Five Rings Martial Arts studio, where he also happens to train as a third-degree black belt in Taekwondo. His work is available at a number of arts events and retailers around the state. He earned a BFA in fine and studio arts from UW-Stevens Point in 2014.

Part 4 coming tomorrow!