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Announcing the 2019 Oishei Fellows

By October 8, 2019October 21st, 20192 Comments
Close up of rocks in Niagara Falls

Photo by Daniel Lincoln

Rockwood Leadership Institute is pleased to announce the 2019 Oishei Fellowship for Leaders of Color cohort! With the support and partnership of the the John R. Oishei Foundation, The Oishei Fellowship for Leaders of Color brings together 24 nonprofit leaders of color within the Buffalo-Niagara region, and was created in response to both a need and a strong desire for deep intensive leadership training and support.

Join us in congratulating this inaugural cohort:

Talib Abdullah, MSW | Executive Director, ACCESS of WNY

Talib is the executive director of the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services in Western New York (ACCESS of WNY).  Talib has excellent operational, logistical and visionary skills and is a first-generation college graduate.  He also went on to receive his master’s degree in Social Work.  Talib has served in management capacities throughout the country with different minority and immigrant communities.  While in Atlanta, he served as the national president of the Young Adult Muslims Association leading primarily African Americans.  In Los Angeles, he led nonprofit organizations servicing mainly minority communities.  Talib’s professional leadership skills,  his educational background and experience with diverse immigrant and non-immigrant populations are why he earned the position of executive director at ACCESS of WNY.


Esther Annan, LMSW | Program Director/Senior Management, Say Yes to Education Buffalo

Esther is a senior leader at Say Yes Buffalo, a college access initiative for Buffalo students.  A native of Ghana, West Africa, she joined the organization when it began operations in 2012. Esther has been a critical part of many of the accomplishments the agency has achieved.  Specifically, Esther coordinated the rollout and establishment of mental health clinics within all 58 of Buffalo’s Public Schools; coordinated the launch and implementation of mobile health clinics currently serving students at 19 of Buffalo’s Public Schools; and manages the free legal clinics by coordinating with volunteer attorneys to provide free legal assistance on a walk-in basis for Buffalo Public Schools families and City of Buffalo residents.   Esther has also led a multi-year effort to design and implement a state-of-the-art P-16 data system to better support students by identifying their individual health and wellness needs and connecting them to community services.


April Arman | Executive Director, Resources and Help Against Marital Abuse

April is the current executive director and one of the original co-founders of RAHAMA. She is a licensed social worker with nine years of experience in the area of domestic violence. April is one of the co-founders of the Universal school and served as the vice principal from 2001 to 2009. April worked for Catholic Charities as part of a Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate VAWA (Violence Against Women Grant) advocate and as a facilitator for a court mandated group for survivors of domestic violence. April has experience working with the immigrant and refugee community providing direct service and educational outreach. She has provided trauma-informed culturally sensitive individual counseling using trained interpreters and facilitated the first Burmese Women’s Support group.  April has been instrumental in the development of a transitional housing program for survivors that provides a safe space catering to the needs of this vulnerable population.


Phuong Brady | Domestic Violence Shelter Supervisor, Child and Family Services of Erie County

Phuong works at Child & Family Services Haven House, which is a domestic violence program with an emergency shelter in Buffalo, NY. She works in the shelter as the shelter supervisor and have been with the agency for 4 years, and love her job. She grew up in Spokane, Washington and moved to Buffalo, technically Orchard Park, about 4 years ago. In the past, she has worked as a manager at a grocery store, and a clinical supervisor at a drug/alcohol treatment program; with all of these jobs, what drives her to continue doing what she is doing, is making the smallest ripple in someone’s life of change. These are hard jobs that we all do, but it’s seeing that hope in their eyes when there is that realization within themselves that all is not lost.


Leah Angel Daniel | Leadership Development Director, Open Buffalo

Leah is an educator and visionary who is the living epitome of the phrase, “I don’t look like what I have been through.” She never imagined the endless possibilities that would be in store for her life as a child growing up in the foster care system. At an early age, Leah discovered her strengths as a leader. This would serve as the catalyst to jumpstart her successful journey to overcome the daunting statistics that many at-risk youth face. Leah lives her life leading by example while also giving back to the community that gave her a chance to turn a negative situation into a positive outcome. Leah is pursuing a doctoral degree in executive leadership at St. John Fisher College and she currently serves as the Leadership Development Director for Open Buffalo. Leah is also the founder of Fostering Greatness Inc., an organization that supports alumni of foster care (ages 21-35) as they reclaim their lives while defining success for themselves.


Kathryn Franco | Data Analyst/Coalition Chair of the BNCRC, Western New York Law Center

Kathryn has a dual masters in social work and public health. She currently works as a data analyst at the Western New York Law Center. In her role, she reports on foreclosure trends and vacant and abandoned properties. Kathryn also chairs the Buffalo Niagara Community Reinvestment Coalition, which fights to eliminate inequitable banking practices and the enduring impacts of redlining in WNY. Most recently Kathryn was a candidate for the University District Common Council seat. Though unsuccessful during the primary race in June 2019, Kathryn found a renewed vision for her neighborhood and the greater Buffalo region. Walking the streets and talking to individuals who are impacted by decisions made by those in positions of power, she realized once again the importance of having a diverse understanding and representation of leadership. Kathryn is married with two cats, loves fall days, and enjoys Netflix and nature for her self-care.


Jazmine Frazier | Office Manager, Westminster Economic Development Initiative

Jazmine moved to Buffalo from Alabama’s Gulf Coast in 2011. Interested in journalism, she graduated from ECC with an AS in Communication and Media Arts in 2014. Having spent her formative years in racially-charged and historically impoverished areas in the South, her passion to help under-served communities brought her into the nonprofit world. Since 2016, Jazmine has been a member of Black Love Resists in the Rust, a Black and Brown organization whose work meets at the intersection of embodied leadership, healing justice, political education, and transformational organizing. A winding path through different industries brought her to an Americorps term of service at WEDI in February 2018. She was hired on as program support specialist in 2019 and within months, was promoted to office manager, a position she currently holds. Through Oishei’s Fellowship, Jazmine looks to further her leadership to influence positive change in Buffalo.


Sarajane Gomlak-Green | Director of Museum Programs, Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences

Sarajane is a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) individual residing in what is now Buffalo, NY. She is currently the director of museum programs at the Buffalo Museum of Science. Since graduating from the University at Buffalo with a master in geological sciences in 2011, she has served the museum in various capacities, encouraging science literacy for learners of all ages. Equipped with a life-long enthusiasm for all things science, she digests and explains STEM concepts in ways that everyone can understand. When not at the museum, she is an aspiring polyglot, sporadically avid reader, and a mediocre Tetris player.


Kyla Gordon | Development Coordinator & Curatorial Assistant, Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center

Kyla is development coordinator & curatorial assistant at Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center. She is responsible for donor communications, organizing special events, sponsorships, and assisting with curatorial research and exhibition planning. She enjoys volunteering with organizations close to her heart, like the St. George Society of NY, French Institute: Alliance Française NY (FIAF), and MLK Day of Service. She received her MA in visual culture from New York University, has studied modern art at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and holds BAs in art history and English from the University at Buffalo, SUNY. She has worked in cultural institutions around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Interview Magazine, American Friends of the Louvre, Hallwalls, 80WSE, Shakespeare and Company, and Re:voir Film Gallery. She is an independent scholar whose research includes film studies, fashion, and British history.


De’Jon Hall | Manager, The MOCHA Center/Trillium Health

De’Jon is a graduate of Morehouse College and SUNY at Buffalo’s School of Law. He currently manages The MOCHA Center, a local nonprofit drop-in space designed to address the health and wellness of Queer and Trans youth of color while also helping to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in NYS. De’Jon serves as a member of the Police Advisory Board to Buffalo’s Common Council, is a former New York State Senate Fellow and is one of Open Buffalo’s 2018 Emerging Leaders. De’Jon is a strong advocate of criminal justice reform and believes deeply in the notion of a beloved community, as described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Andrea Harden | HR Manager, Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Andrea has served as part human resources manager for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery since 2009.  In addition, Andrea partners with numerous customers providing training & development in the areas of diversity & inclusion, effective communication, preventing harassment and teams & team building. Prior to working at Albright-Knox and consulting, Andrea held senior level HR positions at a health care system and in the industrial gases industry.  Andrea leverages that experience, along with her passion for sharing insight, perspective, and practical experience to all aspects of human resources. Her strength lies in her ability to effectively support, strengthen, and revitalize organizations to help them motivate, retain and develop the talent they have spent so much time bringing on board. Andrea lives in Buffalo with her husband of 23 years and is a mother of two.


Paulette Harris | Artistic Director, Paul Robeson Theatre at the African American Cultural Center

Paulette has been affiliated with the African American Cultural Center since 1988, and became the artistic director of the Paul Robeson Theatre in 1996.  She was employed at WGRZ-TV for nineteen years where she served as the program director and worked in the production department. In 2017, she started working as a casting director for feature and independent films in WNY.  Noted for her work as the coordinator for the Annual Pine Grill Jazz Reunion, and as artistic director at the PRT, she has instituted several innovative programs such as the August Wilson Monologue Competition, Scratch Night at the Robeson, Performing Arts Training Classes for children, Adult Drama, Friday Night Juke Joint and Made By a Black Hand Artisan Speaker Series.  She has directed over thirty productions to date and received a number of recognitions work. She is a proud member of the Oishei 20 Leadership Group since 2009.  She received her BS in the Arts from Empire State College.


Patricia Howling, LMSW, MPA | Clinical Advisor and Coordinator of Managed Care Services, Native American Community Services

Pat currently works part-time at Native American Community Services as their Coordinator for Managed Care Services and their Clinical Advisor. She was born in Pennsylvania and brought to Buffalo at 2 years old.  Pat received a BA from Cornell University and 20 years later, an MPA from Cansius College, and an MSW from UB both while working a full-time job at Erie County Department of Social Services and a part-time job at Child & Family Services. She has also taught in the Buffalo Public and Charter Schools and has always been interested in helping and guiding people.  Pat has raised 3 successful sons and is helping to shape and mold 6 adorable grandchildren. She loves to travel, read, swim and spend time with her family. Pat believes the younger generation needs to see role models like those who guided and nurtured her.  She appreciates those who did this for her and truly wants to pay it forward.


José A. Latalladi Jr., MBA | Senior Disaster Program Manager, American Red Cross

José is the senior disaster program manager for the Western New York Chapter of the American Red Cross. During his ten-year tenure with the organization, José has held multiple positions in disaster services between Buffalo and Rochester, NY, as well as serving as regional business operations specialist for the Western and Central New York Region. From 2009 to 2012, José acted as the chair of the WNY Coalition for the Homeless. José participated in the United Way of Greater Rochester’s Latino Leadership Development Program as a member of the 2014 cohort. He is looking forward to attending the Oishei Fellowship for Leaders of Color Retreat, and particularly anticipates learning about harnessing emotional intelligence. José is a native of Buffalo, NY, where he currently resides with his wife and two children.


Jonathon Ling | Director of Justice Bus Project, Neighborhood Legal Services

Jonathon is the program director of the Justice Bus Initiative. The Justice Bus aims to reduce the justice gap by organizing legal professionals to provide services in Buffalo, and the five surrounding counties. Jonathon was previously a business development officer. In that role, he developed a program that delivered free workshops and consultations to entrepreneurs. The program serviced over 140 clients and generated a micro-loan portfolio of $531,000 in its first two years. Jonathon moved to Buffalo with his family, after building a large agricultural business in central New York.   While making the startup multispecies farm became profitable in its fifth year, Jonathon and his partner also made strategic investments in small businesses throughout New York State.  Jonathon graduated from law school in 2016 with a concentration in economic development. He was the treasurer of the Black Law Students Association, and the president of the Law and Finance Society.


Stephanie Mejia | Housing Program Supervisor, Catholic Charities of Buffalo

Stephanie is a housing supervisor at Catholic Charities of Buffalo, where Stephanie has direction and oversight of Catholic Charities’ Rapid Re-Housing and Homeless Services programs including screening, assessment, direct client contact, community linkage, and advocacy. Stephanie serves on several committees within the agency such as the Trauma-Informed Care Committee and Gender and Race Task Force Sub-Committee. Stephanie previously worked at Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY as a rapid re-housing case manager and AHRC NYC at their Bronx location as their treatment coordinator/QIDP.  Stephanie received her bachelor’s degree in public policy with a health concentration from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. During her undergraduate years, she served the Geneva, NY community as a volunteer firefighter and continues her support for the GFD company to this day.


Nadia S. Pizarro | Homeless Services Program Director, BestSelf Behavioral Health

Nadia is the homeless services program director for BestSelf Behavioral Health, co-chair of the WNY Coalition for the Homeless, Code Blue Collaborative, homeless youth task force and board member of the Homeless Alliance of WNY. She has been a community health worker, advocate and activist for over 10 years. She co-produced the documentary “Hidden Homeless”, co-wrote a position paper on HIV and Homelessness, founded “Hip Hop for Homeless,” and the “Be Counted” Homeless Youth Count. She has assisted in WNY efforts that ended Veterans Homelessness in 2016, will end chronic homelessness in 2019 and her dream is to help end Youth Homelessness by 2020. She is the assistant race director of the Latino Veterans 8K and a member of the Oishei Foundation’s 20 under 40 Emerging Leaders. In 2018, she became a member of the Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Relief Fund and assisted over 1800 hurricane survivors.


Deborah A. Porter | Director, Adult Workforce Programs, Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology

Deborah joined Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology in 2013 and serves as the director of Adult Workforce Programs. Her education and training include: a Bachelor of Science in Business Management/ Marketing, 2009 Leadership Buffalo graduate, Cultural Competency Certificate, Business Solution Certification (BSC), NYS BPSS Private Career School Director/School Administrator and other leadership training. She currently serves on the Erie County Arts & Cultural Advisory Board, Charter School of Inquiry as trustee; Taking it to the Streets Ministry as marketing coordinator. Deborah is confident and actively involved in her community and committed to helping adults reach their potential, succeed in life and be authentic. She models the behavior she wants others to follow while helping others to deal with emotional challenges and improve interpersonal relationships by taking back the controls of their own lives.


Casimiro Rodriguez Sr. | PresidentHispanic Heritage Council of Western New York

Casimiro is an advocate for Buffalo’s Latino community in education, health, social and economic equality. A recipient of many awards and involved with numerous local organizations, he proudly serves as president of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York Inc.  A University at Buffalo graduate, Casimiro has traveled the world for General Motors Corporation as its Readiness Launch Manager, retiring in 2006 after 33 years. He helped create the Coalition to Save the Waterfront Health Center; is a national honorary member of the 65th Infantry Regiment “The Borinqueneer’s” Congressional Gold Medal Alliance & Ceremony Committee. As Treasurer of WNY Hispanic American Veterans Memorial Inc., Casimiro helped raise more than $250,000 for a Hispanic veteran’s monument at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park.  He helped establish the Hispanic Heritage District and incorporate local Hispanic history on Buffalo’s Niagara Street Corridor (Avenida San Juan). When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, he helped organize a local relief fund, which raised $230,000 to help rebuild the island’s hardest-hit areas and assisted families in relocating to Western New York. Due to his work in the community, Casimiro was invited to serve on the Governor Andrew Cuomo Commission for the construction of a Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Memorial. He and his wife of 47 years, Bedzaida Padilla, are the parents of four children and grandparents to ten, this being his life’s greatest reward.


Zainab Saleh | Program Coordinator, Partnership for the Public Good

Zainab is currently the program coordinator at Partnership for the Public Good, having previously worked at social justice and arts organizations in Buffalo developing innovative methods of capturing data and building community outreach initiatives. Originally from Dubai, Zainab is a proud alumna of Mount Holyoke College and the University of Rochester. Zainab’s interests include finding creative ways that technology might support nonprofits and their work. A former film and art history educator, she is actively involved in the fight for equal opportunity and representation for artists of color and those from frontline communities.


Dr. Cord Stone | Director of Community Impact, Evergreen Health

Dr. Cord Stone is devoted to increasing the collective impact and effectiveness and performance for individuals, teams and organizations. He has a passion to serve those who are marginalized and underrepresented, by ensuring equity, accessibility, and voice for those in this population. He has a decade of direct and nonprofit leadership experience serving those with medical, mental, sexual, and behavioral health concerns. He has helped lead the fight in the most controversial and complex issues including HIV and HCV, opioid overdose, and the mass incarceration epidemics. Cord has also supported organizations with capacity building, development and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Cord is the director of community impact where he helps three nonprofit organizations ensure synergy and impact through the collaboration of internal and external programs and services.


Dina Thompson | Executive Director, Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition

Dina is the executive director and founding member of Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition and serves as an adjunct professor of Restorative Practice at University at Buffalo, Department of Social Work. She holds a Master certificate and licenses in restorative practice from the International Institute of Restorative Practices in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  As a restorative practice practitioner, Dina successfully implemented restorative practices at K-8 building in Buffalo as the family & community outreach and in-school suspension coordinator. Thereby, reducing negative responses to misbehavior and increasing positive parent involvement in school. She has trained over forty schools and hundreds of community members in restorative practices. Through collaboration with other community-based organizations and the Buffalo Police Department, Dina supports four regional practice sessions for restorative justice practitioners and has coordinated Restorative Justice Day in Buffalo for the past four years.


Rebekah Williams | Community Organizer, Massachusetts Avenue Projects

Rebekah is a community organizer and trainer from Western New York, and is founder of Food for the Spirit, an organization committed to racial healing towards ecological justice and equitable food systems. Rebekah is also employed by Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) as a campaign organizer working to bring the Good Food Purchasing Program to Buffalo Public Schools. In 2018, she joined a cohort of 10 individuals in the HEAL Food Alliance School of Political Leadership (SoPL), a national alliance working to create inclusive, democratic food and farm systems. Prior to her work on Good Food Purchasing, Rebekah served as youth education director at MAP, where she worked with youth and adults in the community on food justice issues, incorporating her passion for the natural environment and equitable food systems, and encouraging youth leadership. Rebekah has a bachelor’s degree in social structure, theory and change from SUNY Empire State College; and has completed training with Training for Change in Philadelphia PA, Movement Generation in Oakland, CA, the Buffalo Montessori Teacher Education Program, and North American Students of Cooperation in Chicago IL.


Jane Yoon | Managing Attorney, Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo

Jane has recently joined the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Inc., as the managing attorney in the Appeals and Post-Conviction Unit. She comes to the office with over a decade of experience in criminal defense law, having been with both the trial and appeals bureaus at the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office in Rochester. Most recently, Jane worked with the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services (“ILS”) in Albany, with a unit dedicated to implementing statewide reforms in public defense to address systemic deficiencies that effectively denied defendants their constitutional right to counsel. Jane also spent several years representing clients on public and subsidized housing matters, re-entry issues and employment rights. She is excited to return to her hometown of Buffalo, and serve in this new leadership role. In her free time, she enjoys biking, cross-country skiing, and knitting.


  • I, for one, am very excited about the possibilities of learning new leadership skills that will help me in my career. This is truly going to be a new experience that I will embrace wholeheartedly. This is an opportunity to discover better methods and how to be successful within my own organization at BCAT. Plus, I will have an opportunity to get to know other Leaders of Color that have been selected that I do not know. It should be a great networking experience as well. Let the excitement roar!

  • Christina Schweitzer says:

    I am impressed with the power of future possibilities for community empowerment and social justice these individuals represents. Bringing these community / agency leaders together as a cohort will strengthen countless WNY initiatives which will without a doubt impact our communities in ways previously unthought of. Bravo!

Rockwood Community Call

Kiara Lee, MSW

holistic trauma healing coach, dynamic speaker, and valued consultant

July 28 * 12 PT / 3 ET