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Announcing The 2021 Oishei Leaders Of Color Fellows

By October 20, 2021No Comments
Close up of rocks in Niagara Falls

Photo by Daniel Lincoln

In 2019, the Oishei Foundation partnered with Rockwood Leadership Institute to launch the Oishei Fellowship for Leaders of Color. Since, our fellowship has quickly built a reputation of providing space to transform, support and attract the most inspired leaders of color in the Buffalo-Niagara Region. Curating our third cohort for this year was no easy feat.

As a Rockwood Program Manager, I searched through applications from leaders not searching out factors of supremacist ideologies (i.e. collegiate experience, social media influencer status), but instead, honing in on leaders representing non-profit organizations who provide wrap-around services, describe their work as collaborative, expressed a dedicated partnership with their communities, and who viewed themselves as a connecting resource for the region. With each candidate, it was a balance of what they do and the impact they hope to achieve.

The twenty-four leaders profiled in these pages, join their forty-seven counterparts from the past two years’ cohorts, and what we have – what I hope – is a complex balance of hierarchal positions, diversity in leadership experience, service type, and issue area.

More than this, we have the beginning of a powerful network of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders ready to make collective change in Western New York.

Please join me in a warm welcome and congratulations to our 2021 cohort of the Oishei Fellowship for Leaders of Color.


Alessandra Paola Duarte | Project Coordinator for West Side Thrives, West Side Youth Development Coalition, Buffalo State College

Alessandra is a Community Social Worker and Diversity Equity and Inclusion Consultant. Currently, she serves as the Project Coordinator at Buffalo State College for West Side Thrives, a substance use prevention initiative focused on developing culturally inclusive messaging and education.  As coordinator Alessandra joined local organizations in launching Youth Konnect 716, a barrier-free Youth Leadership Academy for high school students. Alessandra has a background in Refugee Resettlement and Immigration and has worked for over 15 years as an advocate in the LGBTQIA* Community. In 2017 Alessandra received her master’s degree in Social Work, with a Certification in Global Social Work from Tulane University.


Brandi Barrett | Vice Chair, Fruit Belt Community Land Trust

A lifelong resident of the Fruit Belt neighborhood in Buffalo, NY Brandi Barrett’s roots were uniquely planted here in the 1930s when her great grandparents became owners in the same neighborhood. The legacy, work ethic, and commitment to community and the neighborhood that her family is known for is what drives Brandi’s passions today.  An emerging community real estate developer, advocate for community, and most important a mother, daughter, and loyal friend.


Brian Archie | Integrator, Create a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative

Brian Archie is a Team Integrator with Create a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative.  Brian also works at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center as a peer educator for Breast and Prostate Cancer Services. Brian holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management, from Bryant & Stratton College. He has been deeply engaged in community for the past 7 years, working to decrease the effects of the social determinants of health by meeting residents where they are and providing tools that empower them to make direct changes in their lives and community. He believes strongly that, we are only as strong as our neighbors and by reaching one we teach many. Brian is a resident of Niagara Falls where he resides with his family.


Deirdre Wright | Director of Environmental Stewardship, Heart of the City Neighborhoods, Inc

Deirdre Wright is currently Director of Environmental Stewardship with Heart of the City Neighborhoods, Inc. continuing her 20 year career, influencing faith-based and nonprofit agencies throughout the Western New York region. Her focus on asset and strength based community resilience has also inspired her to lead independently as a Collaborative Impact Consultant. In this role as change agent, Deirdre facilitates and leverages unlikely, but critical, relationships within diverse, racial, religious and socio-economic culturally sensitive spaces. It is her desire to establish sustainable partnerships that address the Social Determinants of Health in our marginalized communities.


Dejia James | Manager of Member Engagement, Western New York, The New York Immigration Coalition

Dejia is the Manager of Member Engagement for Western New York with The New York Immigration Coalition. As a black feminist and African American/Afro-Cuban, she is dedicated to advocating for underrepresented communities and fostering autonomous spaces for constructive support of minorities, immigrants and refugee populations from developing countries.


Dionne Williamson | Executive Director/President & Founder, UPward Design for Life, Corporation

A Medaille College graduate, Dionne Williamson has spent close to 20 years promoting Buffalo as a convention & tourism destination as National Sales Director at Visit Buffalo Niagara.  On the side Dionne is President & Founder of UPward Design for Life,  non-profit organization with a mission to restore hope by transforming empty spaces into homes, for individuals and families in need.  In it’s fourth year of operating, UDFL has served close to 50 families in Erie & Niagara counties, with an all-volunteer team and has developed partnerships with 21 local non-profit agencies. Dionne is a Certified Interior Design Consultant and knows first-hand the impact a furnished home can have on an individual and families who are making a fresh start at rebuilding their lives. Dionne is committed to serving her community and those in need.


Dr. Cassandra L. Salter-Smith | Care Coordinator, Niagara Falls Empire State Poverty Reduction Initative

Dr. Cassandra L. Salter-Smith has over 30 years of community experience. She is currently serving as a Care Coordinator at NF ESPRI and Co-Facilitator of Caring Dads/DVOP for Catholic Charities.   She has served in various leadership roles as an Executive Director of a housing agency, Director of Campus Ministry/Instructor at Daemen College for 15 years, Instructor at the Pastoral Ministry Church Program (Houghton College-Buffalo) for 19 years, Manager-Adult Education/Coordinator at a homeless shelter.  Lead Pastor of Methodist Churches in the WNY/NCNY Areas.  Dr. Salter-Smith possesses a Doctor of Ministry, Master of Divinity from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, Master of Education and Bachelors in Business Management from Canisius College.  Dr. Salter-Smith is happily married, has a young adult daughter who is an Architect, a son, who is an Academic Advisor and daughter-in-law, who is a Teacher; they all reside in WNY.  Dr. Salter-Smith truly believes in being a Servant Leader.


Kenya Peoples | Financial Coach, Buffalo Promise Neighborhood

Kenya Peoples is a dedicated professional, working to enhance the outlook of people that he meets in both his private and professional life. Kenya Peoples is the Financial Coach for Buffalo Promise Neighborhood. In this role he provides support, information, and guidance for clients as they set, work towards, and ultimately accomplish their financial goals. For Kenya community engagement is not simply a 9 to 5 affair. He is currently the President of the Beast Elite Ducks Football and Cheer Organization. The Ducks are an inner-city football organization, which coach and mentor approximately 200 young people every summer.  Through his work with youth sports Kenya has been a calming voice to at risk youth and the underserved population.


Kim Brown | Associate Vice President, Strategy & Planning, Evergreen Health

Kimberly Brown is the Executive Director of the non-profit organization Community Access Services of WNY; an organization committed to addressing the epidemic of HIV and other diseases that challenge the welfare of urban communities in Buffalo and Erie County. As the Executive Director, Kimberly is responsible for strategic planning, supervising and coordinating the programs and activities of the organization and its grant-funded programs. With over 15 years’ experience in the non-profit industry, Kimberly has dedicated her professional career to services that enhance the well-being of marginalized communities. Kimberly prides herself on providing servant leadership to her team.


Kim LaVare | Executive Director, Community Access Services of WNY, Inc.

Kim LaVare’s current role is Associate Vice President of Strategy & Planning at Evergreen Health where she oversees Building Operations and Supply Chain Management. Kim’s passions are creative strategic visioning and inclusive procurement. In her spare time she likes to renovate homes, bake and listen to neosoul.


LaShawn Chinn | Director of Sister Mary Josette Food Pantry at Villa Maria, Hope Bound Ministries under Felician Services Inc

LaShawn M. Chinn, MPA is the Director of the Sister Mary Josette Food Pantry on the campus of Villa Maria College.  She received her Associates Degree in Business Administration there and became active on the Alumni Board for numerous years.  After Villa, she obtained her Bachelor’s in Business Management from SUNY Empire State College and then a Master’s in Public Administration at Hilbert.  Prior to this career, LaShawn worked at Erie County Department of Social Services for 11 years and 3 years at New York State Department of State, Division of Community Services. LaShawn believes that the more we help others to improve themselves by providing services or resources, the better we become as a community.


Maiko Tanaka | Executive Director, Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center

Maiko Tanaka is the Executive Director of Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center in Buffalo, NY. She holds a MVS in Curatorial Studies and a BA in East Asian Studies & Religious Studies, both from the University of Toronto, and a BFA from the Ontario College of Art & Design. Maiko has over 15 years of leadership experience working in art, community, and culture.


Marie Moy | Director of Operations, Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition

Marie Moy is the Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition Director of Operations, and a member of the restorative practices training team.  She is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester with a MA in Theology and Social Justice, and of Indiana University, Bloomington with a BS in Biochemistry. Marie serves in her community as an advocate and mobilizer, engaging people in restorative practices and community development. She is a member of Christian Community Development Association and the Leadership Cohort 8.  As a second generation Asian American, Marie is passionate about immigration reform in addition to her work with ECRJC to end mass incarceration, and restore relationships and communities.


Melissa Schindler | Director of Services, Native American Community Services of Erie & Niagara Counties

Melissa recently joined the Native American Community Services team as the Director of Services, bringing over 30 years’ experience in the service industry in such areas as Employment & Training, Health Benefits, Education, and Child Welfare.  Melissa’s belief in service to others led to many years as a volunteer within my community, as a firefighter/EMT and sitting on numerous committees throughout the years.  On a more personal note, Melissa is a member of the Seneca Nation, Beaver Clan, became a certified foster parent to help take care of her family members needing stability and a home, received her BA from Dartmouth College in Sociology and pursue her MPA from Buffalo State College, and in her spare time, she love’s to travel, complete puzzles, and go to the movies.


Melissa Sommerville | Multisystemic Therapy (MST) Program Coordinator, Catholic Charities of Buffalo

Melissa has a true passion for supporting families and assisting individuals in overcoming their obstacles and reaching their goals. Melissa has been working in the social services field for the past 20 years in various roles from supporting domestic violence survivors, providing resources for young parents, advocating for equal housing rights for all, and working to keep at risk youth in their homes.  Melissa has been in a leadership role for the past eight years and has found as a leader she is able to help others flourish in their careers which allows for a greater amount of people in our community to be served.   Melissa truly enjoys helping others and seeing them succeed.


Natasha Almonte | Director of Parenting Services, Pinnacle Community SERVICES

As the Director of Parenting services in Niagara Falls New York, Natasha Almonte is an agent of change and a strong supporter of community change and a life long learner. Her goal is to create spaces and opportunities for people to be their own change to encourage the strength and support that everyone has within them. By far the most impressive achievement Natasha has accomplished has been her return to school to complete a Bachelors degree and Masters Degree and at the same time while going from a entry level employee to an Administrative position in 4 years overseeing 3 programs. She believed throughout her journey that preparation meeting opportunity would pay off. Today Natasha is learning to be a leader over herself so that she does not get in the way of those she serves as a leader. Fun Fact about Natasha, she also dances when she hears music, even a ringtone.


Nekia Kemp | Executive Director, Police Athletic League of Buffalo

Nekia Kemp is a native of Buffalo and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Health & Human Services from the University at Buffalo. She then went on to earn her Master’s Degree in Executive Leadership & Change from Daemen College in Amherst, N.Y.  In 2018 Ms. Kemp completed two certificate programs through the Harvard Business School of Buffalo in nonprofit Management and in Human Resource Management for Nonprofit leaders.     Ms. Kemp has over twenty-five years of working in the nonprofit sector. Currently she serves as the Executive Director of the Police Athletic League of Buffalo. The Mission of PAL is to improve the immediate and future quality of life for the youth though enrichment and recreational, programming in collaboration with law enforcement. She continues to remain actively involved in important community initiatives and serves on several Boards and advisory committees for many youth organizations.


Rene Petties-Jones | President, National Federation for Just Communities of WNY, Inc

Rene Petties-Jones is the President of the National Federation for Just Communities of WNY, Inc. and a member of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo’s Racial Equity Roundtable overseeing Racial Healing Circles for the WNY region. She currently serves as the PRSA Buffalo Niagara Chapter Diversity Chair. She also serves on the board of directors for the Northeast District PRSA as their first ever DEI Officer, and is Communications Liaison and Spotlight Chair for the National PRSA Diversity Committee.     A proud UB Alum, Rene has received the May C. Randazzo Outstanding Practitioner Award from PRSA Buffalo and the Women of Influence Award, Behind the Scenes, from Buffalo Business First.     She is a former member of the Buffalo News Diversity Advisory Board and currently sits on the Superintendent Advisory Board for the Williamsville School District and the Alberti Center for Bullying Prevention in addition to numerous other committees and advisory boards.


Simone Ragland | Executive Director, WNY STEM Hub, Inc

Simone Ragland is a Licensed Social Worker, administrator, educator, and proud Buffalonian.  She has over 20 years of experience providing support services to individuals and families by facilitating parent education classes, family support for individuals with developmental disabilities and recovery treatment, in-home intensive therapy for children and their families through organizations in Erie County. For a decade, as Project Director for the Science and Technology Enrichment Program, Simone has cultivated a wealth of knowledge and understanding for the academic and socio-emotional needs of the students, specifically those who are historically underrepresented populations in STEM and healthcare. She has been immersed in the local educational community, creating and providing opportunities for students to close the achievement and equity gaps and assist students in developing and sharping skills needed to excel in post-secondary education. She is passionate about education, empowerment, engagement, and support for children and families and increasing diversity and inclusion in careers in STEM.


Sirgourney Cook | Executive Director, King Urban Life Center, Inc.

Sirgourney Cook, a native of Chicago, IL., received her Bachelor of Music in vocal performance from Lawrence University and a Master of Music in opera performance from Longy School of Music of Bard College.  As an opera singer and educator with over ten (10) years of professional experience in cities like Chicago, Boston, and, most recently, Buffalo, she continues to harness the transformative power of art and education as the Executive Director for the King Urban Life Center in Buffalo, NY.  Sirgourney is honored to be a Fellow in this year’s cohort of The 2021 Oishei Art of Leadership Fellowship for Leaders of Color.


Stephani Miranda | Program Director, Community Access Services

Stephani Miranda is a Buffalo State alum with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. She has over eight years experience working in a non-profit organization. Stephani is skilled in documentation, administration, continuous improvement, leadership and grant management. Her pastime includes spending time with her son Josiah and finding new places to eat 🙂


Thomas Beauford Jr. | President, Chief Executive Officer, Buffalo Urban League

Thomas Beauford Jr. Is a business executive with over 20 years of strategic leadership experience in private industry and community board service.  He is president and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League, Beauford was appointed to lead the historical civil rights, social justice, and community empowerment organization in August of 2020.  Currently, Thomas is a board member of the Univera Regional Advisory Board, Visit Buffalo Niagara, Northland Workforce Training Center, Minority Bar Foundation of WNY, and the National Black MBA Association of WNY where he is the immediate Past President. Thomas is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Paramount Lodge # 73 F&AM, and Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity. He is a graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, holding an Executive M.B.A., and an M.S. in Operations and Supply Chain Management. He received a B.S. in Business Management from Saint Peter’s University and an A.A.S. in Accounting from Kingsborough Community College. Thomas was also awarded a scholarship to study at Harvard Business School’s Executive Education–Governing for Nonprofit Excellence program.


Timothy Chen | Program Manager, Grassroots Gardens of WNY

Tim is an experiential educator, facilitator, and currently the Program Manager at Grassroots Gardens of Western New York, where he works with communities to advance equity in access to healthy food and urban green spaces. His background includes work in environmental justice, leadership training, youth facilitation, and digital storytelling. Tim is particularly interested in continuing to explore how these elements can work together to create enduring social change and progress.


Wil Green | Director of School & Community Partnerships / Center For Urban Education, Canisius College

Wilbert R. Green II was born, raised, and educated in the Buffalo community. After graduating from Alfred University he began his professional career as a middle school English teacher in Rochester, NY. In 2004 Wil returned to teach in Buffalo and has successfully worked with students in middle school through higher education. Wil’s professional journey has allowed him to work at local not for profit agencies where he continued his lifelong passion of supporting the academic and social needs of disenfranchised students and families. Currently, Wil is the Director of School & Community Partnerships for Canisius College, where he oversees the Educational Preparation Program as well as the school’s Center for Urban Education.

Rockwood Community Call

Cecily Rose Engelhart

Master Certified Life Coach, Speaker, and Designer

September 28 | 12 PT / 3 ET