Another group of beautiful and brilliant people we collaborate with for the co-creation of virtual community spaces and in-person experiences including our rooftop party, are the following local/regional racial justice and restorative practitioners, educators, artists, authors, and advocates:
Top Row Left to Right: Abha Thakkar, Ali Brooks, Charisse Johnson, Erika Rosales.
Middle Row Left to Right: erica Kruger, Kelsey Blackwell, Libby Tucci, Lisa Baker.
Botttom Row Left to Right: Lori Gustafson, Nola Walker .
Featured Institute Practitioners
My name is Abha Thakkar (she, her), and I feel deeply privileged to be joining this group of compassionate and brilliant practitioners at the YWCA on this journey of supporting healing and transformation. I am the owner of Mosaic LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in organizational systems development, facilitation and coaching for collective impact initiatives, nonprofits, and local government through an antiracist lens. I have spent the last 20+ years as a community organizer, nonprofit administrator, trainer and convener of systems-level work, including grassroots leadership development, community development and engagement, collective action, restorative justice, solidarity economics, food systems resilience and policy development.
I was born in India into a family of revolutionary leaders on two continents: my paternal grandfather was a satyagrahi in Gandhiji’s swaraj movement in India and went on to be a statesman, helping shape the newly independent democracy. My maternal grandparents were community leaders who helped protect a young Julius Nyerere as the leader of the resistance and future prime minister of Tanganyika (later Tanzania). My paternal grandmother in India was illiterate, making me the first woman in my father’s lineage to learn how to read, while my maternal grandparents built the first school for girls in Dar es Salaam and educated tens of thousands of women. These histories were a part of me before I was even consciously aware of them and shaped even my earliest instincts towards a lifelong commitment to liberation and wholeness, not only as a change-maker but as a daughter, sister, partner and especially as a mother to a fierce 11-year old daughter.
Ali Brooks, LCSW (she, her), is a community organizer, trauma therapist, and visual artist living on Ho Chunk land in Teejop, so called Madison, Wisconsin. Ali is currently a doctoral student at Pacifica Graduate Institute where she studies Community, Liberation, Indigenous and EcoPsychologies. Ali is passionate about the power of art to spark radical imagination towards collective care, healing and liberation.
Charisse (she, they) is a public health professional, graphic facilitator, mixed media artist, herbalist, environmental activist, community organizer, and mother of seven. Though her talents are vast, her creative interests and the ways in which she works to foster a shared vision of a just world are not mutually exclusive. Charisse’s values-driven and collaborative approach centers the transformative narrative of collective liberation. Her experience supporting various restorative justice efforts, meaningful community engagement, conservation, and cultivating leaders with lived experience lead to the recent inception of: ‘defiantly, Charisse: Resiliency for the jaded’, an interview style podcast dedicated to telling the triumphant stories and resiliency of intergenerational BIPOC Leaders. She believes our greatest strength is our ability to imagine and our ability to teach.
erica Kruger (she, her, hers): Hello all. I am deeply appreciative of this opportunity to be in community and in practice together in this beautiful Summit space. I identify as a white, cisgender, able-bodied woman who is continually becoming more aware of how these identities shape the way that I see and experience the world around me and how I do (and also fail to) intentionally engage in ways that align with my commitments to racial and social justice. I am, and will always be, a learner and respect that the knowledge and understanding of something will always be most held by those who are closest to experiencing it. I have been a public educator for more than 20 years, beginning that journey in outdoor education, and am grateful to all that I have learned from students, families and colleagues. I am also deeply appreciative of all that I learn daily as a friend, daughter, mother, avid reader, and tender of growing things. I seek to practice loving generously, listening deeply, learning expansively, and engaging accountably. I look forward to this time together – to learn, grow and (honoring adrienne maree brown’s principles of emergent strategy) shape change with you.
Erika Rosales (she, her, ella) is an undocumented immigrant and a DACA recipient. She is also an immigration activist and an artist who believes that art is medicine that heals us. She has co-created local mural social justice projects as well as facilitated art workshops for youth. Additionally, Erika has been a cultural dancer for over 15 years and has danced professionally in several Mexican Folkloric dance groups as well as an Afro-Peruvian dance group.
Currently, Erika serves her community and the world in multiple ways. Erika is the Director of the Center for Dreamers at UW-Madison. She also currently works at WIDA at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research leading organizational social justice work. Additionally, Erika is also a 4W Director of Immigration and Human Rights and has done work at the Global Health Institute as a Human Rights Curriculum Coordinator focusing on migration, child health, and human rights. Most recently Erika became an Infinite Possibilities and Consciousness Guide weaving her spirituality and social justice work to support others through their healing and expansion.
Kelsey Blackwell (she, they) is the author of Decolonizing the Body: Healing, body-centered practices for women of color to reclaim confidence, dignity and worth (New Harbinger 2023) and a somatic practitioner committed to undermining the master’s tools with contemplative, somatic and creative practices. Working exclusively with women and groups of color, whose truth she believes is uniquely essential in this time, Kelsey supports clients to confront internalized feelings of not-enoughness and reconnect with their brilliance. In addition to being impactful and powerful, Kelsey believes working towards personal and collective liberation must also bring joy. Kelsey is a Certified Somatic Coach through the Strozzi Institute and a Certified InterPlay Leader. She holds a Masters Degree in Publishing from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
Libby Tucci (she/her) has been dedicated to social justice in one form or another for most of her life. She is currently a Race & Gender Equity Practitioner at YWCA Madison, and has been with the YWCA for almost 12 years.
Libby’s work (for 10 years at the beginning of her “professional” life) in the field of supporting survivors of domestic violence in varying moments of their journeys led her to become further connected and committed to the exploration of healing from the violence of white supremacy and patriarchy. She is passionate about working to dismantle white supremacy in all of its manifestations—inside of her, in the ways that she shows up in the world, and in our collective culture and structures. She believes that, not only can we all heal from the violence of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism, but we can also nurture more liberated, interconnected, and compassionate ways of existing together. We can take good care of each other and build a culture in which we can celebrate the beauty of our shared humanity.
Lisa Baker, PhD, Consulting Collaborative. Lisa is a licensed psychologist and organizational consultant focusing on organization culture and wellbeing, intercultural group processes and communication, and leadership effectiveness. She, along with her collaborators, integrate a racial justice lens throughout their work. Lisa has specialized training in mindfulness teaching and has developed and taught programming in mindful leadership for social change and environmental sustainability at several local and national organizations and in the Social Innovation and Sustainability Leadership Graduate Program (SISL) at Edgewood College. On a national level, Lisa has served as Co-Chair for the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee for the Center for Mindfulness, UMass, Worcester, MA. She also maintains a private practice in Madison, WI.
Lori Gustafson (she/her), is a dedicated educator having worked in the Madison Metropolitan School District in Madison, WI for over 30 years. Currently, she serves as Positive Behavior Support Coach at Lincoln Elementary School. Her work focuses on transformative social emotional learning that centers identity, connection and engagement. She is exploring the art of story telling as a way to include all voices and experiences. She is grateful for all opportunities to learn (often by making mistakes) and grow. These days, her primary teachers are 10 and 11 year olds who continually challenge her to step out of her comfort zone, deal with discomfort and perhaps gain a new perspective.
Marcela Kyngesburye (she/her/ella), for over 15 years, I have worked as an engineer, healer, transformational coach and teacher. Igniting curiosity, developing imagination, and manifesting well-being for myself and others has been my passion. My life is a constant adventure filled with amazing people. Living by design and Awareness have always been a passion of mine and led me to become the founder of the Bliss in All the Right Places: Reinvent yourself in 90 days program. I love asking questions and creating choices, to live free of judgments and invite joy and ease.
Nola Walker, MA, Consulting Collaborative. Nola is an expert facilitator, educator, evaluation consultant, advocate, and sustainability leader. She is an environmental steward deeply committed to service and has over twenty years of experience in social justice and inclusion work. Through these broad and deep experiences, Nola recognizes that individual and group transformation must begin with compassion. Building on her work as a facilitator, over the last several years Nola has taken a deep dive into mindfulness and compassion training. She is currently a collaborating consultant and facilitator working with Consulting Collaborative co-creating, developing, implementing, and evaluating mindfulness programming in organizations committed to social change and innovation. Nola’s mission is to design and facilitate learning experiences that promote self-care and sustainable life transformation.
Sarah Noble (she, Her, hers), is the Founder and Principal Partner of The BeNOBLE Group, a leadership development company whose work centers on the healing and wellness of individuals leading collectively.
She is part of a Reproductive Justice Movement that includes many other People of Color across Wisconsin, the U.S. and abroad who will always resist any attempts to control their reproductive freedom. This international movement places reproductive health and rights within a Social Justice framework.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Sarah, has actively worked for justice for more than 30 years and has held many leadership positions, including Founder and Executive Director of the Reproductive Justice Collective.
First Row Left to Right: Alejandro Miranda, Bill Baldon, Catherine Orr, Dani Rischall, Daphne Lehmu (not pictured).
Second Row Left to Right: Emily Yang, Elena Terry, Eugenia Highland Granados, Faith Stevenson (not pictured), Gery Paredes Vasquéz (not pictured).
Third Row Left to Right: Jay Young, Jenny Pressman, Jill W Pfeiffer, Kristy Kumar, Kyra Johnson (not pictured).
Fourth Row Left to Right: Laurel Ravelo, Laurie O’Donnell, Mel Barnes, Missy F. Tracy, Myxee Thao.
Fifth Row Left to Right: Nancy Wrenn Bauch, Nicole Safar, Rek Kwawer, Rudy Bankston, Sarah Shatz.
Sixth Row Left to Right: Sasha Lasdon, Semaj Sconiers (not pictured), Shahanna McKinney-Baldon, Shirin Kestin, Takeyla K. Benton.
Last Row Left to Right: Yanci Almonte (not pictured), Vanessa McDowell.
Featured Community Practitioners
ALMA award winner Alejandro Miranda Cruz is a Native/Latine filmmaker in the Great Lakes region of Wisconsin. His diverse ancestral roots of Huichol, Taíno, African, and Sephardic direct his purpose for authentic storytelling and representation of BIPOC communities in the media. His work as a filmmaker often centers the communal responsibility we bear in our shared humanity while focusing his lens on depicting dignity. Since 2015, Alejandro has pioneered a methodology of filmmaking called Cinema Dignité to address the lack of diverse representation in the media. Over the past seven years, his films have documented social and transformative justice movements while amplifying Native ways of thinking. With his production company, Bravebird, Alejandro creates authentic stories with the motto of: Film with integrity. Depict dignity. Share empathy.
Althea Dotzour (she, her), is a community member, mom, friend, and photographer. On her personal journey to dismantle her internalized racism, she looks for opportunities to create community and connection. Althea has helped facilitate anti-racism learning circles in Monona and has organized book and film conversation groups. She likes making space for white-identified folks to begin exploring race and privilege while leaning into embodied, mindful practices.
Allison Dungan (she/her), works for Public Health Madison and Dane County as one of two Health Equity Coordinators. She has been in that role for about 3 years – very much humbled by how much there is to learn each day. Allison grew-up on the Delmarva peninsula and moved to Madison a little over 10 years ago. She loves walking with her partner and doggo, gardening, cooking for and with friends, as well as playing ultimate Frisbee.
ananda mirilli (she, they), is unafraid and unapologetic in our commitment to, and centering of, racial justice from a global & intersectional space, that evokes creativity and innovation in tackling deep seated inequities. They are native of Brazil, and have a long history of working with communities in the U.S. and abroad. At age 14 ananda engaged in social justice movement advocating for children with multiple abilities, youth and seniors experiencing poverty and homelessness. After moving to the U.S. ananda became an educator and found their passion facilitating learning spaces for individuals, groups and organizations engaging in transformative work. ananda’s commitment to racial and gender justice led them to develop new frames for youth and leadership. As a skilled facilitator, ananda has engaged with thousands of youth and diverse professionals, building coalition and solidarity. ananda is a beautiful storyteller, a deep listener, and a thoughtful, experienced practitioner who centers love and restorative principles in the work that they do. ananda works for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) as a Grant Director of the WI Network, a statewide initiative that works to address racial disproportionality in education. ananda is a doctoral student at Alverno College, centering their work around co-creating belonging in learning spaces. They hold a master’s degree in Education Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Wisconsin and a bachelor’s degree in Human Services and Psychology. In Madison, Wisconsin, ananda is a former member of the Board of Education of the Madison Metropolitan School District, Nuestro Mundo Bilingual School and Unidos Against Domestic Violence. They are also the President for the Latino Education Council and Communities United. Lastly, ananda is a proud and dedicated mother to their 19-year-old daughter Breana.
Hey y’all, my name is Aurealia. I’m the eldest of three children. I’m a Madison, WI native that graduated from West High School. I’m a PROUD HBCU alum, graduating from the illustrious Southern University and A&M College in lovely Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I love to see things grow, so I love plants and children; I have 2 beautiful God-babies and a new niece that I am so proud to nurture, hold, and encourage. My hobbies include singing, dancing, watching movies, traveling and reading.Through my work as an Employment Services Coordinator/Case Manager at the YWCA, I hope to positively impact the sense of community felt by all, but especially on Madison’s Southside. I’m excited to participate in sharing a sacred space for Black women to connect and be our authentic selves.
Bethany Lynn of House Matson, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Calm and Finding Peace, Protector of all Beloved people, the mother of her own Joy, the Unbothered, the Breaker of generational trauma and stress.
More seriously- I am a daughter, sister, proud auntie, cousin, play cousin, friend, and supporter. I am an avid book reader, traveler, a terrible singer, music lover, silly joke teller, rhythmless dancer, meditator, shopper, a proud Beyhive member, a wannabe fashionista, and failed supermodel in my head. I love all things joy and glamour. To pay the bills and feed my pleasures, I do Social Work things.
Bill Baldon (he/him/his), I’m a husband and father of two children who attend MMSD schools. I have enjoyed coaching youth sports and when there is time connecting with nature through fly fishing. I am a leader in restorative justice, specializing in the circle process and racial and gender justice facilitation. As a manager for the YWCA Madison Restorative Justice in Education Program I have implemented programs in the schools and in the community. My work includes coordinating programs to dismantle the school to prison pipeline in the Madison Municipal Court and schools throughout Dane County.
In addition to managing and implementing programming, I have conducted adult and youth training in a diverse range of communities from urban and rural school, juvenile justice, religious communities settings. Prior to joining the YWCA I advocated for youth, adults and families in both the civil and criminal justice system. Through my past work and current work, I bring my values of personal and systemic transformation and co-liberation. I will also bring to this partnership experience co-creating spaces for learning and unlearning racial justice centered on contemplative, and somatic practices.
I am very grateful for this opportunity to process life changing truths with like-minded people.
As someone who has never really “fit the mold” of any space I have ever existed in, I have spent the past few years shattering beauty standards and empowering women of every size to love every inch of ourselves. Founder and host of “Tucci Talk”, a virtual Body Positive book club, we have covered material by Lindsay and Lexie Kite, Lindy West, Sonya Renee Taylor, and Jes Baker. I am passionate about weaving the self-love and compassion practices I’ve learned into racial justice work.
As a white mother of a brown daughter, I have spent two decades thinking I know and understand what I do not begin to know or understand about race in this world that is centered around whiteness. I am here to listen, to learn, and to join forces with others who are committed to listening and learning, and to demanding change in how my daughter and millions of others like her are seen and heard in our world.
Bri (they/she), is a community educator, activist, and herbalist with a background in youth and young adult social justice education, communication & media, sexual & gender-based violence prevention, and liberation politics & poetics. Bri is committed to co-creating irresistible and accessible entry-points into liberatory and healing pedagogy & practices with a focus on racial & gender justice, disability justice, and environmental justice. They are passionately invested in the lifelong process & practice of cultivating diverse ecologies of care through embodiment, joy, ritual, connection, imagination, & multifaceted collaborative world-making projects as antidotes & disruptors to ongoing capitalist and colonial violence.
Britt Gilles (she/her/hers), is an Advanced Practice Social Worker who has an in depth understanding of the societal, cultural, and economic pressures that individuals are faced with in our community. Through this view, Britt provides skill building and psychotherapy at Forward Counseling & Consultation. Britt is a graduate from the University of Wisconsin Madison, where she graduated with a master’s degree in Social Work. Britt’s experience and academics were focused on supporting individuals experiencing addiction and pervasive mental health symptoms. Britt is also an employee at Dane County Department of Human Services working with adults experiencing persistent and mental illnesses.
Britt believes that your identity is the key to your continued growth and works to create an open space of collaboration. Her approach will be to provide a safe and collaborative space to talk through your journey to foster your identity and recovery.
Catherine M. Orr, Ph.D. (she, her), is Professor Emerita of Critical Identity Studies at Beloit College and Co-founder and Director of Reflective Justice, LLC. She has been an invited speaker, workshop leader, and consultant on institutional, curricular, and programmatic change and strategic planning in higher education for the past 15 years. She has co-facilitated Witnessing Whiteness for K-12 teachers, staff, and parents and is currently on the Board of Directors for Urban Triage in Madison, WI.
Dani (she, her), has been working in the field of community mental health for over 15 years. In her current role as Executive Director at Chrysalis Inc. a non-profit in Madison, WI, Dani supports the organization’s mission to promote mental health and substance use recovery by supporting work opportunities that encourage hope, healing, and wellness. Dani is a strong believer that social and racial justice efforts are vital to all system change efforts. With a background in Social Work, Dani places a strong emphasis on holistic wellness, creating communities of care, and centering the voices of those with lived experiences with mental health and substance use challenges.
Dant’e Cottingham is a passionate advocate for the reform of the youth and adult criminal justice systems in Wisconsin. He is a firm believer that many are deserving of a second chance. He is currently working as an EXPO Organizer on behalf of those who are formerly incarcerated and those who remain so today. As an organizer and spokesperson, he works to increase awareness of mass incarceration among other issues.
He is actively involved in the campaign, Unlock the Vote, which is designed to achieve voting rights of the over 45,000 men and women currently on parole or probation. Furthermore, Cottingham seeks to advocate for greater fairness in the state administered parole board decisions. He courageously shares his experiences both as an incarcerated youth and adult. He recently completed the Wisconsin Peer Support Specialist training and was approved by Wisconsin’s Department of Health and Human Services Rehabilitation Review Committee. Cottingham is attending Marquette University as part of the Educational Preparedness Program at their center for Urban Research, Training and Outreach and is pursuing a degree in social work.
Daphne Angelica Lemus (she, her, hers), is a first generation Mexican American young woman who inspires to fight injustices with racism, non conformity and machismo in the Hispanic community and show how these subjects can be interconnected with LGBTQIA+ rights.
Currently a student with the Operation Fresh Start program working in conservation to promote environmental equity and maintaining the natural beauty of the city and county parks, along with construction; with the program’s history of building more than 250 affordable homes across Dane County.
Whilst also having aspirations of becoming a future chef, she also balances work as a full time cook working with 5 different chain restaurants with the new concept of ghost kitchens. Navigating with both white male dominant industries, creating the example and an inclusive space for later BIPOC and BIPOC women is the ultimate goal.
Devyn Avery Justice Brown (he/him/his), raised in west-central Georgia, is still trying to figure out the right number of layers to wear in Wisconsin’s changing seasons after moving to the state in 2005.
Dija (pronounced DEE-ya) Selimi is the Assistant Director of the Center for Pre-Health Advising where she works with students preparing for careers in health care. Creating space for people to discuss their identities and process their experiences with the ways racialized behaviors manifest in health care delivery is essential to her work. Before joining the CPHA in 2010, Dija earned her Ph.D. in the Department of Plant Pathology at UW-Madison, with a focus on sustainable agriculture. Her degree comes in handy as she spends her free time building a sustainable edible landscape and butterfly sanctuary at her home. She’s also a book nut who loves road trips and never leaves home without sunscreen.
Elena Terry is the Executive Chef/Founder of Wild Bearies, a non-profit community outreach catering organization that services participants overcoming Alcohol and other Drug Abuse Issues or emotional traumas. Developing the Native American Food Sovereignty Association’s Food and Culinary mentorship program in 2020, A 2021 NDN Collective Changemaker Fellow (Great Lakes Region) Elena emphasizes the healing nature of working with traditional indigenous ingredients while building community.
Elena is a proponent for a holistic approach to traditional food systems and advocates for sustainable Indigenous Agriculture on an international level. As a seed to table chef, Elena develops relationships with tribal and local/community organic growers and producers. After being inspired by the work happening in her community, Elena started the “Honoring our Farmers, Foragers, Growers and Producers” tours. On these tours, she’s represented Indigenous Foods in spaces such as Farm Aid, Taste of Madison and Femmestival.
She also took a cross country journey to deliver ancestral seeds to tribal farms, interviewed foragers, and highlighted the work from Native salmon, wild rice, maple, corn and tea producers. She is a butcher and wild game specialist and prefers open fire, outdoor cooking.
Emily joined the Wisconsin Association of Family & Children’s Agencies (WAFCA) in 2019 following 20 years of child welfare experience, including direct service, supervisory, and management roles. Prior to joining WAFCA, Emily served as a Section Chief with the Department of Children and Families – first, with the Child Welfare Licensing Section and then with the Bureau of Youth Services. Emily also spent many years in the non-profit sector and began her career in Child Protective Services. Emily’s career has focused on supporting and advocating for children, youth, caregivers and parents, as well as those connected to the county, tribe, state, and non-profit workforce. Emily is passionate about improving systems of care, so children and families have what they need to safely live their best lives. Emily obtained her Bachelor’s in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Emily Hagenmaier (she, her), is a clinical social worker and somatic therapist in private practice in Madison. Emily is on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mindfulness Program where she developed a play-based mindfulness class for young children and their caregivers. Her work explores how creative mindfulness practices can support awareness, regulation, attunement, and connection. Emily also teaches Mindful Self Compassion to adults and is an advisor to Sesame Street. Emily is interested in how creativity can interrupt and transform white supremacy culture. She enjoys playing with yarn, thinking about colors, and failing in love with trees. She is a parent of 11 year old twins and an 8 year old child.
Emily Peterson (she/her/ella), was born in Seoul, South Korea. She enjoys going back to her home country to visit and plans to visit during the summer of 2023. Her family is her top most priority and her 2 children are her legacy. Emily has worked in the field of education for 18 years as a teacher, bilingual resource specialist, Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Learning Coordinator, Family, Youth & Community Engagement Coordinator, and is currently a Culture & Climate Coach. She also teaches courses at Madison College. She recently earned her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis with a concentration in Social Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Emily is dedicated to anti-racist and abolitionist teaching not only in the K-12 sector of education but also in higher education in order to prepare pre-service teachers to be anti-racist, abolitionist educators. Her passion is analyzing, building, and creating systemic change to create equitable opportunities for those who have been historically marginalized and excluded. She believes strongly in co-liberation and supporting BIPOC women.
Emily Yang (she/her/nws), is a proud HMoob daughter of immigrant refugee parents. The stories of her ancestors and the dreams of her descendants are her guiding compasses in her practice as an educator, activist, and friend. As a facilitator, Emily honors the multifaceted truths of the stories that each individual brings to the table. She believes that combined, the truth and empowerment are powerful tools that can set us free as we build and reimagine a vibrant and just world for one another.
Eugenia Maria Highland Granados (she, her, hers, ella), Born and raised in Mexico City, Eugenia is a Mama, a creative, a cook, a curandera, and lover of her roots and cultura. She has a BFA in Graphic Design from Mexico and a Masters in Life Sciences Communication from UW Madison. Eugenia is the Restorative Justice Program Director for the YWCA Madison and has been a Restorative Justice practitioner since 2011. Since Eugenia migrated to Madison in 2008, she has become an impassioned advocate for youth of color and joined the Restorative Justice movement as the medicine to disrupt cycles of systemic harm and violence and birth cycles of healing.
As a disabled Mexican Immigrant woman of color, Eugenia has also found a lot of growth and healing within the Restorative Justice co-liberating movement of radical shared vulnerability and love. Eugenia is also a faculty in UW Madison and cofacilitates a class and space where students from different backgrounds are invited to unpack their identities while learning and unlearning how their behaviors perpetuate or disrupt systems of oppression. Eugenia was part of the M List awardees in 2016 for teacher and mentors, was recognized by Madison 365 in 2019 as one of the Si Se Puede list of the most influential Latinx in Wisconsin” and recently was honored as one of the recipients for the 2022 International Women’s day Trailblazer Award.”
Hello! My name is Faith Stevenson (she, her), and I am from Madison, WI. As a child of parents who migrated to the North from the small town South, I get the benefit of claiming a little bit of that Southern soul- the front porch pea snapping, bluesy backyard, soil of our blood kind of heritage. Along with that pride of my ancestral connections, some of the things that I value most in my life are the different layers of self that I hold space for everyday-a black woman, a sister, a daughter, a wife, a learner, a storyteller, and an educator.
Connection and community have always been essential to my personal practice which is why racial, gender, and healing justice are important to me. As a Black woman born and raised in Madison, WI, I have been learning and unlearning how anti-blackness and white supremacy have shaped our world since my first few breaths on this Earth. Most of those lessons came to me through my interactions with others, the systems that were built before my own birth, and quite a lot of internal soul searching. Because like everyone else I am the sum of my experiences, so much of my own healing justice journey has been informed by my own need to heal, grow, and restore. For me to practice my own liberatory possibilities, I engage in storytelling, journaling, poetry, and music as a form for holding space. Everyday that I can learn, unlearn, teach, and connect is an act of resistance and love.
Frances Macaulay (she/her), is a daughter, mother, partner, social worker, and lifelong learner and explorer of life’s myriad twists and turns.
Garrett (he, they), is a grant writer at Western Technical College where he works to break down silos and build community collaborations for the benefit of students, while simultaneously grappling with and challenging the gatekeeping and saviorism that is inherent in grant work. He is a passionate advocate for his own queer, trans, and disabled/neurodivergent identities and a strong believer that his own liberation is bound to others (to paraphrase Lilla Watson) and without questioning and challeging whiteness, no one can be free. While admittedly always on a constant journey of growing and learning, he regularly advocates for approaching issues from an intersectional and racial justice lens in his official work, his position on the board of The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection, and his role as a co-founder and co-coordinator of La Crosse DJ Collective, a grassroots disability justice group based on the 10 disability justice pillars of Sins Invalid. In his (increasingly rare) free time, he enjoys dream making/building with friends and hanging out with his main girl: his cat Frankie.
Gery Paredes Vásquez (ella, tu, she, her), is a lifelong practitioner and collaborator for intersectional justice, healing and collective liberation.
She is currently the Race and Gender Equity Director at YWCA Madison, in which role she collaborates with her beloved team and a growing community of artists, advocates, organizers, educators and practitioners in the co-creation of offerings such as the Racial Justice Series Community Series, YWCA Madison’s annual Racial Justice Summit, as well as intersectional race-based offerings such as the BIPOC Healing Justice and Co-Liberation Series. In her work, she also provides collaborative consulting services for equity to organizations via YWCA Madison’s Creating Equitable Organizations partnership program.
Like many Latinx people, Gery was born to families of mixed ethnicities and races due to colonization: Indigenous Quechua, Aymara and Guarani with Spanish. This reality shapes her personal journey of learning, unlearning and healing as well as continues to inspire her work for intersectional justice and collective liberation every day.
In the twenty years of her professional practice, Gery has collaborated with people, communities, and organizations from around the world. These experiences gave her the opportunity to co-create programs, build capacity and co-facilitate learning experiences that deliberately centered social justice with young and adult populations from a very broad range of race, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic and ideological identities in countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, United States, Swaziland, Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Italy.
Gery has served as the Co-Curricular Director of United World College in Costa Rica, presided over the International Association for Experiential Education, as well as co-founded the community organization Wayna Hilaña Yanapaña together with youth peers in her home country of Bolivia.
She is a graduate of the United World College of India, where she received a full scholarship to participate in a two-year multicultural and international residential experience centering education for peace while living and learning with two hundred peers from eighty-two countries. She received a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Social Justice Education from Prescott College, and continues to participate in multiple community-based learning, unlearning, and practice experiences that continue to shape her ongoing journey.
Ian (he/him), is a Wisconsin-based educator with 15 years of classroom teaching experience. As a teacher and student advisor, Ian mentors students and staff on how to center justice and equity through course and project design. These projects are grounded in essential questions which contain multiple avenues for teachers and learners to access knowledge, develop new skills and demonstrate learning. As a school-based Restorative Justice practitioner, he developed and sustained a partnership with the YWCA (in Madison, WI), weaving Restorative Practices into myriad aspects of the teaching and learning environments throughout the school. Ian’s pedagogical approach is also heavily influenced by his experience with interdisciplinary instruction and project-based learning. His work in developing collaborative, interdisciplinary, and project-based work with students was captured in Wisconsin Public Radio’s Classroom Frequency, which aired in June 2019 and was awarded a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Education.
I’m Jen Wilson (she, her), and I live on the northside of Madison, WI along with my husband and rescue cat. I’m a white, cis-gendered, queer stepmom as well as a coach, consultant, and author. The YWCA of Madison Racial Justice Summit is an anchor event in my year because I believe that we learn best in community, in brave space with each other. My background is in community social work and education. Currently, I am founder/principal at New Leaf Coaching and Consulting where I write, teach, collaborate, coach, and consult with individuals, teams, and organizations seeking to dismantle white supremacy, combat anti-Blackness, and work toward collective liberation as they fulfill their vision and mission. I’m excited to be at the Summit with you!
Jenny Pressman (she, her), is a passionate community activist, accomplished nonprofit fundraiser, and proud Jewish lesbian mother who has fought for gender justice, racial equity, peace, freedom, and workers’ and immigrant rights for fifty-five years. Born in New York City to refugee parents who survived Nazi concentration camps and the Holocaust, Jenny was raised to speak out against injustice and hatred, crystalizing her activism at an early age. After graduating from Hunter College High School, an NYC public school which at the time was for girls only, Jenny interned for anthropologist Margaret Mead, studied labor history at Cornell University and women’s and gender history at UW-Madison, and received her law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School. She is now the director of development and community partnerships with the UW Odyssey Project.
Jess Ingman (she/her), is grateful to be joining this Racial Justice Summit virtually from traditional, uncededWenatchi/P’Squosa land in East Wenatchee, WA. Jess is a mother, partner, friend, neighbor, and colleague, working as a Regional Organizer with Faith Action Network, a multi-faith, state-wide coalition of faith communities advocating for the common good in Washington state. Jess also serves as a co-coordinator with Wenatchee for Immigrant Justice, and she is especially passionate about accompanying fellow white people in the personal and collective work of anti-racism, seeking pathways of reparations and solidarity that contribute to the broader fabric of liberation.
Jill W. Pfeiffer (she/her), is the Development and Marketing Director for YWCA Madison where she works diligently towards their mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. For over 25 years, she has worked at nonprofit organizations that support and empower youth and families.
Jill is the co-founder of Oasis for Girls, an organization which serves young women from under-resourced communities in San Francisco to cultivate the skills, knowledge, and confidence to discover their dreams and build strong futures. Since moving back to Wisconsin in 2005, Jill has worked in development and marketing roles at the Lussier Community Education Center (LCEC), Overture Center for the Arts, and Operation Fresh Start (OFS). At both the LCEC and OFS, Jill was a lead member of the Capital Campaign team. In her spare time, Jill enjoys creating sculptures out of clay and is an avid lover of the outdoors. She is passionate about work that helps to create a more equitable community and world.
Kelly Saran (she, her, hers), is a multimedia producer passionate about engaging with communities to tell meaningful stories in an authentic way.
She currently works at PBS Wisconsin as a series producer of the TV program Wisconsin Life, a storytelling series profiling individuals and organizations. She has a particular dedication to tell stories that explore cultural identity, food sovereignty and our connection to nature. Her and her team produced the Food Traditions series, a project sharing food, culture, and identity through traditional foods and recipes. Kelly has been honored with several awards including a Chicago/Midwest Emmy. She has also assisted in the production of other programs including Why Race Matters, a digital series elevating issues of importance affecting Wisconsin’s Black communities.
Before her time at PBS Wisconsin, Kelly worked at Milwaukee PBS and several grassroot non-profits including the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition. She acquired her Bachelor of Science degree with a focus on Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She enjoys camping, improv, and spending time with family.
Kiana Burnette (she, her), is from Madison WI. Kiana is proud to be a Black woman, a mother, a daughter, a sister and aunt. As a Black woman who has always been an active member in her community, Kiana has experience and can relate to some of the challenges that youth of color face in Madison. With her passion to center the voices of youth Kiana continues to advocate for youth through her work as a Restorative Justice practitioner at the YWCA. She is excited to co-facilitate a virtual community space for Black women and looks forward to hearing about each individual and learning about where they are in their own journeys of learning, unlearning and healing .
kristy kumar (she, her, hers), is an experienced social justice organizer and manager working to co-create anti-violent, joyful, and equitable communities. She currently serves as the City of Madison’s first Equity and Social Justice Division Manager for the Department of Civil Rights. She is tasked with the exciting work of co-building the City’s new Equity and Social Justice Division. kumar and her team oversee a wide ranging portfolio including, the Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative, Disability Rights and Services, Neighborhood Resource Teams, Language Access, and Environmental Justice.
Her work experience includes leadership in community and youth-organizing, higher education, coalition-building, interpersonal violence prevention, and community care. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia and has worked with a number of organizations on anti-human trafficking efforts. kumar received her M.A. in Human Rights focusing on race, gender, and equity from the University of Denver and a B.A. in Political Science and Global Poverty and Practices from the University of California, Berkeley. She’s a proud first-generation immigrant whose passions include gleaning wisdom from her ancestors’ non-recipes, day-dreaming about her next meal and who she can share it with, art-making, and exploring the woods with her partner and dog, bonbibi.
Kyra Johnson (she, her), started dancing at the age of 10, however, her mother would say moving started in the womb. She began her training locally from studios and dance teams. Ms. Johnson continued her advancement in dance and earned a BA in Dance and a BS in Psychology from University of Wisconsin Stevens Point (UWSP). She has a foundation in styles of modern, jazz, and ballet. Following her Dance degree, Ms. Johnson has been a member and choreographed twice for Madison Contemporary Dance and was involved with local studio, Barrio Dance Studio, where she performed in a music video for D Major Music. Outside of dance, Ms. Johnson is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater in counseling education to become a professional counselor.
I have been a public educator for 20 years and it is in this space that I started to understand systemic oppression. Even though I was raised in a home that preached equality and justice, we didn’t talk about race and thus my worldview was sorely incomplete. I am grateful for all of the opportunities and communities in Madison that have helped me piece together a deeper understanding of white supremacy and see how racial inequalities exist in all realms of our society. I know that my life is enhanced each time I engage more fully in racial justice work. I feel hopeful and excited for what we can do together at this year’s Racial Justice Summit.
Laurie O’Donnell (she, her), works for the State of Wisconsin, as a Training and Development Specialist. She facilitates learning and skill development in communication, leadership, and social justice. She has an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science from UW-Madison and a graduate degree in Intercultural Relations from the University of the Pacific. Laurie has always had additional interests to foster community and inclusion and has been involved with Witnessing Whiteness workshops, YWCA Madison, National Conference for Community and Justice STL, among other organizations. You can usually find her around Madison playing ultimate frisbee and cheering on her nieces and nephews in their many activities.
Hi! My name is Lexus Anderson-Carter (she,her). I was born at Meriter, I’m a proud South-sider and I’m a product of MMSD. Here at the YWCA I am the Program Assistant. I support all the programs at the Empowerment Center. I am a sister, mother, friend and violin teacher. Violin is my life. I am classically trained and I can play and learn by ear. My favorite thing to do is take my favorite song at the moment and learn it by ear on my violin. My violin is named Lucy. My mentor and friend is named Bonnie Green My passion is to pay the knowledge I’ve gained forward to other young instrumentalists. I’m so excited to hold space for Black women to be seen and heard.
Lisa (she/her), is a teacher/learner with professional experience in both K-12 education and healthcare spaces, currently focused on sharing mindfulness, movement, and contemplative practices in service of wholeness, healing, and engaging in life. She manages the UW Health Mindfulness Program and teaches mindfulness-based interventions for youth & adults, including a mindfulness/childbirth education program for expectant parents that brings her much joy. As a kinesthetic and visual learner, she finds body movement practices including dance, yoga, qigong, walking, hula hooping and jumping rope helpful for processing and staying on a path of unlearning and growing. She holds a Master of Public Health degree, is Associate Faculty of the Mindful Birthing & Parenting Foundation, a certified yoga teacher, mom of 2, and ardent fan of bringing curiosity to each moment. Grateful for all that the YWCA Racial Justice Summit fosters, she is committed to the work of seeing more clearly, deepening in wisdom, and strengthening compassion for the world, ourselves and others in tangible & intangible, yet transformative ways.
Lizzie Bruno (she, they), is an educator and somatic coach who works with individuals and small groups to come back to the body as a wise and necessary sight of healing. Lizzie is deeply committed to listening to the land, body and rhythms of nature as a base from which to heal and develop. As a white bodied person who seeks repair, Lizzie is motivated by a commitment to dis-embody white christian supremacy and tear down systems of oppression as we build systems and technologies that meet our community needs for the sake of ending cycles of harm. Lizzie knows so much more is possible when we build collective practices of power with consent and pleasure.
Lucía Ledesma (She, Her(s), Ella), is the Internal Housing Manager for the YWCA Madison. Lucia’s main goal is to provide and promote high quality access to services that empower and recognize residents’ humanity to thrive in their goals. Lucía studied social work at the Universidad de Guadalajara and is originally from Tonalá, Jalisco, México.
Maria Ahmad (she/her), has served in various roles in the field of multicultural education and student support at higher education institutions. She is passionate about developing leaders of the future, and helping people of color, mostly college aged, to recognize and maximize their potential. Maria is a certified Gallup Strengths Coach, and has experience leading workshops and discussions around social justice and inclusion. She currently runs a speakers’ agency, Book A Muslim, in which she represents Muslim speakers and artists looking to create peace and understanding.
Mel Barnes (she, her), has spent her legal career at the intersection of law and politics. For the last two years, she has been Staff Counsel at Law Forward, litigating and advocating to strengthen and advance our democracy. Prior to that, Mel was at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin where she was the Director of Legal Advocacy & Policy, and led litigation, lobbying and grassroots initiatives to advance access to health care across the state. In that role, she oversaw development of a groundbreaking case challenging the constitutionality of three Wisconsin laws restricting access to reproductive healthcare, set for trial in December. Mel has worked on political campaigns, with the State Legislature and through two administrations on a broad set of issues impacting women and families. She brings experience in nonprofit leadership and management. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she worked with the Wisconsin Innocence Project and graduated with honors. She is a member of the American Constitution Society Lawyers Chapter Board in Madison.
Melissa Gombar (she/her), is the owner of Culture of Belonging LLC, which works to transform workplaces so all can thrive. Melissa dreams of a world where everyone can fulfill their life’s dreams and reach their full potential. Her areas of expertise include developing innovative workforce development solutions for folks from all backgrounds and supporting diverse contractors to build wealth and achieve their business goals. She is also a leader that continually focuses on people-centered process improvements and racial equity & social justice results and impacts. Melissa lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Melissa holds a Master of Science in Organizational Development, is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, and is also a certified Life Coach.
Missy F. Tracy is the Senior Manager – Sales at Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison and a tribal member of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Her career spans decades in business with 22 years in management. For the past 14 years, Missy has operated in Indian country in Public Relations, Training, Regulation and Community Relations. She was the Senior Public Relations Manager for Ho-Chunk Gaming’s site in Wisconsin Dells where she executed an award winning strategic public relations program. Missy has served as the Seminar Director at the National Indian Gaming Association (Seminar Institute) in Washington, D. C. As a public speaker she presents on the history and culture of Indigenous people. Missy proudly serves on several boards locally, statewide and nationally serving tourism, sustainability, smoke-free and responsible gaming. In July, 2020 Missy was appointed to the WI Governor’s Council on Tourism by Governor Tony Evers wherein she also chairs the Marketing Committee.
Mouna Algahaithi (she/her), is a passionate educator and community builder. In her work with PBS Wisconsin Education, she offers playful and hands-on professional development workshops for educators and designs and facilitates family and child-centered educational programs. When she isn’t conspiring to increase a love of learning, she loves doing improv, traveling, writing, cooking, being outdoors and spending time with her precious baby boy and husband.
“I have dedicated my career to encouraging, supporting, and uplifting children, youth and families overcoming challenging and traumatic experiences in their lives. It is my belief that circumstance, situation or crises does not define one’s future path or life’s trajectory. It is my life’s work to help build capacity and strengthen the belief in the possibility of change and growth in the lives of the individuals that I am fortunate and honored to lead and serve” -Mya R. Johnson
Mya R. Johnson (she,her), is a mother, daughter, sister and friend. Mya is a native of Madison, Wisconsin and has been a licensed Social Worker for the past 22 years. The majority of her career has been spent serving the Madison community. Mya is a proud graduate of Clark Atlanta University and UW-Madison School of Social Work. She is currently employed as a Social Work Supervisor in the Children, Youth and Families Division at Dane County Department of Human Services. Mya is also employed as a mental health therapist with LifeStance Wisconsin. Mya served on the United Way of Dane County Board for six years, was an Equity Fellow for MMSD, and has served on a plethora of committees dedicated to racial justice.
Myxee Thao (She/Her/Nws), is a racial justice facilitator, radical love practitioner, and passionate youth educator. Drawing on the ancestral wisdom of the HMoob people who she is descended from, Myxee holds storytelling, creative expression, and dreaming to the utmost importance. Her heart is eager to reimagine new, life-affirming, and emergent ways of being in community with you.
Nancy Wrenn Bauch (she/her) is a retired Social Worker with 38 years of direct service practice serving families and individuals impacted by poverty, homelessness, trauma and racism. Her direct service work inspired and informed her racial justice work. She has a BS in Social Work from Illinois State University. Nancy has been certified facilitator for StirFry Seminars Unlearning Racism Workshops, as well as for World-Trust Inc. Heart to Heart Conversations, Creating Equitable Organizations and Restorative Justice Circles. She was on YWCA Racial Justice Committee since its inception in 2001. She has facilitated racial justice workshops and dialogues for many organizations, YWCA Summits, and the community series offered by the YWCA. In retirement, Nancy seeks to support and challenge especially white people— often those closest to her— in their personal growth and understanding of the impacts of historical and structural racism and how to move forward in creating a more just community.
Nicole Safar is the Executive Director of Law Forward, a non-profit, non-partisan pro-democracy legal organization. Over the last two decades, she has had a wide array of experience in public health, organizing, constitutional law and the intersection of policy and power. In 2020, she ran A Better Wisconsin Together, a state-based research and communications hub for progressives. Prior to that, Nicole served as part of the Evers Administration transition team and as Assistant Deputy Secretary at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, where she built and led the senior leadership team. Before that, she spent 14 years at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in multiple roles including legal and policy advisor, lobbyist, political director and Vice President of Public Affairs and Legal Advocacy. She currently serves as Board Chair for Wisconsin Progress, the state’s progressive candidate recruitment and training leader; a member of the Madison Ballet Board; and a board member for Share the Health, a free gynecological clinic in Dane County. Nicole is a member of the Wisconsin State Bar and graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School.
Orion Wells: Warrior. Healer. Familia is everything. Foodie. Water is life. Yaqui-Chicano. Dancing in circles. Mountains and Motorcycles.
Qwantese Winters (she, her), is a co-host of Let’s Grow Stuff a PBS Wisconsin show that teaches viewers about gardening, landscaping, and more! She is also a doula, who uses her foodways and doula training to provide unique services rooted in the healing nature of food and has lovingly been dubbed “the food doula”. As a Geechee descendant and product of black southern migrants. She lives out, learns about, and maintains her heritage through urban gardening, herbalism, and cooking. Her work aims to create space for diverse communities in the world of food growing, birth, and cooking through education, and accessibility, and the empowerment those two bring.
Rek (she, he, they), is a white, disabled, queer person who dances and is curious about how identity (racial, gender, sexual orientation, disability) shows up in moving bodies, and how we can use movement to tune into our experiences around identity. Rek’s professional life involves cooperatives, including education and training around anti-racist practices in cooperative contexts. Rek lives in Madison with two cats and a rotating cast of foster cats.
Roderick “Rudy” Bankston (he, him), is the founder of i am We Global Village. He is a committed educator, entrepreneur, Restorative Justice practitioner, and author. His powerful story describes his experience as a survivor of the school-to-prison pipeline and surfaces and explores intersecting themes of identity, equity, justice, trauma and resiliency. Wrongly convicted and sentenced to life at 19 years old, Rudy spent 20 years in prison before winning back his freedom on appeal.
After his release from prison in 2015, Rudy began working for the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), first serving as a Community Liaison at Memorial High School. He added a second position guiding students’ learning and growth within ‘Restore’, the district’s expulsion abeyance program. The following school year, he transitioned into a Central Office position as a Restorative Justice Coach to support engagement of Restorative Justice across all levels of the organization. He left MMSD in 2019 and continues his work engaging Restorative Justice as a founding member of Small Fire and founder of i Am We Classics and i Am We Coaching & Mentoring. In 2021, Rudy founded, i am We Global Village, to deepen the work of creating spaces of healing for individuals and communities as they adopt, center, and practice restorative values.
Rudy has served as an adjunct professor at Edgewood College and currently is a consultant with the National Equity Project, serves on the board for the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice (NACRI), and is a member of the Black Educators Network.
?Rudy’s published works include a novel, Shed So Many Tears; two collections of Haiku, Snippets of Soul in Seventeen Syllables and Snippets of Soul, Too; and a book of poetry, Buried Alive.
Ryan Podolak (he, him), works in the student conduct office at UW-Madison. He oversees the office’s restorative justice-based process for resolving student conduct cases on campus. He serves as a Peacemaker with the Dane County Community Restorative Court and has training through the University of San Diego’s Center for Restorative Justice. He believes restorative justice and racial justice are inextricable.
Sara Alvarado (she, her), is a speaker, writer, consultant, and real estate broker/owner. She is a co-founder of Own It: Building Black Wealth and works at the intersection of real estate and racial justice. She has written numerous articles and is the author of the Racial Justice Toolkit for Real Estate Professionals. Sara brings energy, bold ideas, and tough questions to the table and delights in dancing, writing, and traveling.
Hi! I am Sarah Papenheim (she, her, hers), and I’m an operations consultant at CUNA Mutual Group, working remotely from New Port Richey, Florida. I am so honored and grateful for the invitation to hold space in this year’s summit that I’ve been so blessed to attend for the past 3 years.
I am a white, Christian, disabled woman who enjoys any warm outdoor activities, especially boating, kayaking, and anything near the ocean. I recently celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary with my husband BJ, have a 22 year-old son named Jordan, and a Chihuahua named Lena, who loves to make an appearance on camera.
I began my inclusion journey approximately 5-6 years ago when I joined the Allies for Disabilities ERG at work, and within a year I joined the core leadership group of the ERG, dug in further through our company’s Inclusion Institute, and joined several DEI book clubs, in and out of the workplace. I find myself continually realizing as I learn more how much more I don’t know, and I’m so looking forward to our time together!
Sarah Shatz (she/hers), has been in kinship with the YWCA Madison for 15 years. She has co-facilitated the racial justice and creating equitable organizations series, and is continuing her inquiry into embodied practice within white spaces. Sarah’s professional journey includes social working in a community based context, teaching mindfulness, and beekeeping. She lives in Madison with her partner Claire and their niece Adyleenah. They do their best to dance lightly on this earth ~ pollinating change as they go.
Sasha Lasdon (they/them/theirs), is a white Jewish queer/trans person whose dance practices include investigating race, gender, sexuality and ability. They work as a consent, sexuality and embodiment educator as a main part of professional life.
Satya Chima (she/her/they/them), is a queer, disabled, multiracial, woman of color living in Oakland, California. They currently serve as a DEI Consultant with CUNA Mutual Group where they create and facilitate learning and development opportunities for internal employees around issues of equity and inclusion. Prior to CUNA Mutual Group, Satya worked in the field of higher education, advocating, and working alongside various marginalized and underrepresented student populations. Satya has experience working within transformative and restorative justice initiatives around issues of interpersonal conflict, racism, and white supremacy. She has also facilitated numerous social justice trainings and restorative conversations with an emphasis on identity development, racial justice, and healing. In their free time, Satya works alongside system-impacted individuals, advocates, and community members as a coalition member of Drop LWOP (Life Without the Possibility of Parole) and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.
Semaj Sconiers (she/hers), is a respected educator, mindfulness & wellness practitioner, and certified yoga instructor in the Madison/Dane County area. For the past seven years, she has devoted her career to advocating for students’ & staff well-being & needs within the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). Through her role as a Culture & Climate Coach and active participation on the MMSD Core Mindfulness Team (MiMMSD); she leads/co-leads, develops, & delivers professional development offerings on topics such as Restorative Justice, Adult SELs/Wellness, and mindfulness to educators throughout MMSD. When she is not tending to the well-being of MMSD staff, she supports several youth-led initiatives and has been instrumental in launching a district-wide team that focuses on bringing youth & adults together to co-construct foundational practices that foster authentic youth voice, agency, & empowerment for all students.
In 2021, she turned her passion for wellness & health into a wellness company. Through Semaj’s Treasures, LLC, she has partnered with several school districts in the Dane County Area, providing educational wellness coaching & consultation services. Semaj’s Treasures, LLC mission is to offer a plethora of inclusive & accessible resources to educators & youth that will guide them in enhancing & manifesting the treasures of their well-being, in a personal, professional, and collective way.
Shahanna McKinney-Baldon (she, her), is Co-Director of the Clinical Program at Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has held leadership positions focused on racial equity for large public education institutions, including Chief Diversity Officer, Director of Family and Community Engagement, and Special Assistant for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In addition to her work for racial equity in public education, Shahanna is also a longtime thought leader on racial and ethnic diversity in the American Jewish community. In this role, she leads a number of community- and university-based programs and initiatives, including Edot Midwest Regional Jewish Diversity and Racial Justice Collaborative, Tiyuv Jews of Color-Led, Culturally Responsive Evaluation, and Shalom Curriculum Project. Shahanna’s community activities include performance art and sitting on the Board of Governors for Reconstructing Judaism–the umbrella organization for the Reconstructionist Movement, one of the major denominations of the Jewish faith. She lives in Madison with her family.
Shirin (pronounced she-reen) Kestin, (she/te/heyya), has been a Restorative Justice Coach with the YWCA for over five years. Te and Heyya both mean “she” in the Coptic (ancient Egyptian) and Arabic languages, respectively. Shirin is a Non-Black Person of Color parent who previously worked for the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) for several years and has been a MMSD parent since 2005.
Shirin’s lived experience informs her role as a YWCA Restorative Justice Coach. Born in Egypt and growing up in New York, Shirin faced the challenges most first generation immigrants face – “who am I?” These challenges were exacerbated after transferring to a predominantly White high school in Wisconsin. After many years of struggling with “being unseen,” Shirin now embraces her identity as a deaf/hard of hearing, Coptic, Egyptian, American, Woman of Color. She used to hide her identity just so she would fit the “norm” and be accepted by others. Today, she recognizes her identities as assets and not deficits.
Shirin’s role as a Restorative Justice Coach gives her the opportunity to take her experience of “being othered” to empower and uplift people. Support them in finding their voices in a society that does not see them, and often does not want to see them. She works with adults to help them see their students and each other. With her conflict management skills, empathy, compassion, and (lots of) hope, Shirin coaches adults and youth with tools to pause before making assumptions that can result in othering others.
Shirin believes that Racial and Restorative Justice allows people to see each other, not only as individuals, but also as part of an interconnected community. Affinity Circles are such community spaces which offer healing for people to find and uplift their voices among those who share the same experiences. Today, we will hold an affinity space for parents who specifically identify as Black, Indigenous, People Of Color.
Sheena Buerger (she/her), is grateful for many invitations to participate in a collective journey of racial healing and wholeness and for many models who walk this journey. She feels challenged to live the “practice” within racial justice practitioner and the ongoing internal and external movement it necessitates. Sheena has a background in social work. She accompanies caregivers and their young children through her role within The Early Childhood Initiative (RISE Wisconsin) and The Northside Early Childhood Zone. Sheena also practices gardening, camping, neighboring, and, (together with her partner) parenting their two young children. She is grateful to join you in this powerful space of community and transformation.
Sheena (they, them, theirs), joined the Rooted staff in 2018, and is now the Deputy Director of North Madison Programs. Sheena has farmed all over the country for a decade—from growing organic seeds in California to homesteading in Vermont—and has a particular interest working to increase food sovereignty.
Takeyla Benton (she/her), is a transformative mystic and yogi dedicated to healing from within. She’s a mom, a writer and storyteller, Reiki Master & Energy Healer, Intuitive Tarot Reader & Medium, Guided Meditation Coach, Life Coach and then some. She is passionate about helping Black and Brown women heal from the wounds of racism and relationship trauma and find their purpose through the pain and reclaim their stories.
I am Tara Story (She/Her), a 47 year old Columbus, Ohio native living in Fayetteville Arkansas. During my 20 year career in Radio Broadcasting, I earned an A.A. in Liberal Arts and B.B.A. in Project Management.
I began public speaking in high school and over the years have had the pleasure of being invited to speak for several organizations on topics such as Adoption and Service. I’ve worked as a grant writer and public event organizer with local community development organizations and volunteered for the Literacy Council. I have also organized and participated in panel discussions focused on the experiences, struggles, and triumphs of larger bodied people, and members of the BIPOC community.
In late 2020, I found my place in the Alternative-Lifestyle community as a proud Leatherwoman of Color. Since then, I have founded an Arkansas based BIPOC social group, became the co- administrator of The Dark Lair- an alternative lifestyle and education group, geared toward People of Color, and serve as the Media-Communications Director for The Atlantic Leather Families Alliance (ALFA).
In my free time, I enjoy Theatre and other Visual and Performing Arts, music and Architecture.
Being invited to have this life changing experience and hold space with some amazing people is something I am very grateful for.
Yanci Almonte Vargas (he, him, they), is a pre-medicine senior at UW-Madison majoring in Global Health w/ an emphasis in Chicanx and Latinx Studies, and African cultural studies. Originally born in the Dominican Republic, they identify as an Afro-Latino of multiracial background, and as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. In the future and current work, their ambition is to hold space for the Holistic healing of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities through community and connection fueled by their pursuit of medicine.
Since High School, Yanci has been an advocate for immigrant rights and voices through their participation in Green Card Youth Voices as an author highlighting their story along with other diverse storytellers. Up to this point, Yanci does work with organizations on campus to ensure they are serving students of color who are aspiring pre-health leaders through their involvement in AHANA-MAPS. As well, as creating a safe space for BIPOC Queer students at UW-Madison through their involvement with Multicultural Club Q. Although, this is just the beginning of their work, Yanci aspires to serve the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities while using his passion for social justice to do so in diverse ways.
A proven leader in the human services field. Vanessa McDowell brings a plethora of experience to her position as YWCA Madison’s Chief Executive Officer. She was initially hired in 2014 as the Director of Support Services for
YWCA Madison, then promoted to Chief Programs Officer, later promoted to Interim CEO. In July of 2017, Vanessa was named CEO and became the first black woman CEO in YWCA Madison’s 108 year history. Vanessa is deeply
committed to offering programs and services that support women and social justice, help families and strengthen communities. She has a passion for serving others by leveraging voices that have been silenced as well as
empowering others to live out their purpose. She works from an empowerment model which aligns with the mission of the YWCA Madison which is to eliminate racism and empower women.
Prior to joining YWCA Madison, Vanessa worked for UW- Madison’s Wisconsin Equity and Inclusion Laboratory and was the Executive Assistant to the Pastor for Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
Vanessa was born and raised in Madison, WI. She attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. She has made a commitment to stay and work in the Madison community because of her dedication to this community.
She was also selected to participate in the 2015 class of Leadership Greater Madison. In 2016 BRAVA magazine selected Vanessa as one of the 22 “Women to Watch”. In 2017, Vanessa was honored by the Church Women United with the “Building Community” Award. In February 2017, Vanessa was named one of the 35 Most Influential African Americans in Wisconsin by Madison 365. Vanessa was also honored as one of Madison’s 40 under 40 by InBusiness magazine in 2018. In 2019 Vanessa was appointed by Governor Evers to the State Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. She was also appointed by Governor Evers in 2021 to his State Advisory Council on Equity and Inclusion. Also in 2021, Vanessa was an International Women’s Day Trailblazer award recipient and received the Social Justice Leader of the Year award from the Wisconsin Leadership Summit. In 2022, Vanessa received the Humanitarian Award from the City of Madison and County.