Keynote and Conference Speakers
Our keynote speaker, Obenewa Amponsah is the Managing Director of the Black Leadership Institute at the Institute for Nonprofit Practice. Obenewa Amponsah is a certified coach, facilitator, and speaker whose work is dedicated to enabling transformational processes in individuals and institutions. Obenewa’s commitment to supporting the development and evolution of entities was born of her own international leadership experiences; as she witnessed first-hand the power of new perspectives to unlock potential and to realize growth. Bringing fresh insights, Obenewa journeys with clients to help them clarify their goals and objectives; create strategies to realize their aspirations; and identify methods to overcome obstacles.
Beyond her coaching practice, Obenewa is a doctoral student at the University of the Witwatersrand, where her research focuses on the intellectual history of African women.
Weayonnoh joined the Economic Progress Institute as executive director in January 2022. Before joining the Institute, Weayonnoh worked as a legal aid attorney at South Coastal Counties Legal Services and then Community Legal Aid (CLA), first as a staff attorney and then managing attorney of CLA's Worcester and Fitchburg offices. Her areas of expertise include general poverty law, medical-legal partnership, the effect of structural racism on communities of color, public benefits, and housing law.
Weayonnoh is a member of the Rhode Island Foundation's inaugural Equity Leadership Initiative. Previously she served as a small group faculty and capstone project mentor of the Patient Care in Complex Systems Gateway Program at Brown University Medical School. She is a proud alumna of Leadership Worcester, the Shriver Center's Racial Justice Institute, and City Year Rhode Island. She received her Juris Doctorate from Roger Williams University School of Law and undergraduate from Rhode Island College.
Silvermoon Mars LaRose is a member of the Narragansett Tribe and the Assistant Director of the Tomaquag Museum. She has worked in tribal communities for over 20 years, serving in the areas of health and human services, education, and humanities. As a public servant, Silvermoon serves on the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, and as the secretary for the Charlestown Conservation Commission. Additionally, she is the vice chair for the Avenue Concept supporting local public art ecosystems. As an artist and educator, she hopes to foster Indigenous empowerment through education, community building, and the sharing of cultural knowledge and traditional arts. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, a minor in Justice Law and Society from the University of Rhode Island, and a partially completed Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling from Western Washington University.
Alan joined the Institute in January 2019. From 2016 through 2018, he worked on the data analytics team at Rhode Island Medicaid, part of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. His work, much of which focused on long-term care, included program, policy, and fiscal analyses. Prior to this, Alan served as the Health Analytics Manager at one of Rhode Island’s Federally Qualified Health Centers and as a Senior Analyst at UMass Memorial Healthcare in Worcester. At the Institute, Alan’s primary areas of responsibility include analysis of the state budget, in the Rhode Island and national contexts, as well as consideration of the many associated revenue, tax, and expenditure policy issues. Alan earned a Master of Public Health Degree from Brown University in 2006 and a PhD in History and the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2001 (with a doctoral dissertation titled Let Them Eat Horsemeat!: Science, Philanthropy, State, and the Search for Complete Nutrition in Nineteenth-Century France).
Jessica Holden Sherwood is a sociologist at Johnson & Wales University. After seven years as a Providence public school student, she earned a B.A. from Wesleyan University, and a Ph.D. from North Carolina State University, eventually authoring Wealth, Whiteness, and the Matrix of Privilege: The View from the Country Club with Lexington Books. At Johnson & Wales, in addition to teaching, Sherwood just completed two years as the Bridge Faculty Fellow for DEIB.
Linda along with Nancy Gewirtz, co-founded The Economic Policy Institute. Linda was responsible for legislative and policy analysis and advocacy on a range of public benefits and programs, including: welfare, health care, child care, and employment and training.
Linda is chair of the statewide RI Works Advisory Committee, and a member of the HealthSource RI Advisory Board. Before joining The Economic Progress Institute full-time in 2001, Linda worked for the RI Health Center Association, RI Disability Law Center and RI Legal Services. Linda received her Juris Doctorate from Boston College and undergraduate degree from the University of Rochester.
Policy Director, Economic Progress Institute
Nina Harrison, a Rhode Island native, is a key member of the leadership team to advance EPI’s policy and advocacy agenda. As Policy Director she supervises the policy team, leads coalition building and community engagement efforts, and cultivates relationships with policy makers. Harrison is a graduate of Howard University with a BA in English and a Juris Doctor from Boston College Law School. Prior to joining EPI she served as a Racial Justice Fellow and Staff Attorney for Community Legal Aid in Worcester, MA where she represented clients with sealing and expungement of criminal records and appealed criminal-record-based denials of applications for subsidized housing. Nina is also a participant in the Rhode Island Foundation, Equity Leadership Initiative.
Director, Department of Children, Youth & Families
Ashley Deckert specializes in child welfare administration, policy development, project management, and executive-level leadership. She is a proven leader who believes that teamwork and collaboration is a catalyst for system change and improvement. She has experience in state-level government and drives change by genuinely engaging with community-based organizations and pertinent key stakeholders at the micro, mezzo, and macro level. She is skilled in large scale program development, implementation, and service delivery as evidenced by her success in leading the operationalization of the Illinois Family’s First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTP) for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS). Ashley has served in both direct service and leadership positions in the public and private sector. She has experience in intact family services, foster care, licensing, child protective services, policy, and community-based services.
Most recently in her role as Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs for the Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY), she developed key partnerships and relationships with legislators, community-based providers, and those with lived experience. Ashley collaborated with several key stakeholders to write and develop Public Act 102-1087 – Bias Free Child Removal Pilot Program Act. This bill attempts to address Racial Disproportionality by requiring IDCFS to develop and implement a removal process that eliminates demographic information that may lead to biased decision making. This bill was unanimously approved in the House and Senate. In a collaborative effort, Ashley also co-wrote Public Act 102-1089 Human Services Professional Loan Repayment Program Act which seeks to address the human services workforce crisis by providing loan repayment for staff in the human services field. This bill was also passed out of the House and Senate unanimously. Additionally, in collaboration with Senator Sara Feigenholtz and the Office of the Cook County Public Guardian, Ashley successfully advocated for the Governor’s budget to include funds for DCFS to complete a rate study to ensure that Illinois community based providers have an established rate methodology. Finally, during the 2023 legislative session, Ashley has played a critical role in advocating for the passing of other key legislative measures such as ICOYs champion bills, Juvenile Fitness to Stand Trial and the Illinois Youth-in-Care Timely Provision of Essential Care Act.
In her role as Deputy Director of Child Services for IDCFS, Ashley had oversight for the divisions of Residential Monitoring, Residential Recruitment, Foster Parent Recruitment, and Juvenile Delinquency and Restorative Justice. Ashley was a subject matter expert who advised the Chief Deputy Director and Director of IDCFS on high level system change to improve child and family services specific to residential treatment, foster care licensing recruitment, dually involved youth, and recruitment of residential providers for the purposes of building and expanding capacity. Ashley maximized system and service capabilities for high-risk, vulnerable youth and young adults by advocating for and approving high level change, while also guiding and supporting staff and the community partners who serve them.
While at IDCFS, Ashley initiated and developed a conceptual design for the monitoring of congregate care settings and developed a standard operating procedure for comprehensively assessing congregate care programs that require intense oversight and corrective action. The development of this comprehensive assessment process led to system improvements that resulted in the stabilization of a high-intensity, high risk congregate care setting in Illinois. Ashley oversaw improvements in foster care recruitment which led to the development of a curriculum for the training of community-based providers in recruiting foster and kinship families for youth in foster care. Ashley also facilitated and led conversations with key internal and external partners for expanding services and supports for our dually involved population in an attempt to address long stays in juvenile detention.
As the Acting Deputy Director Licensing, Ashley developed an internal auditing process which led to the Department successfully claiming millions of dollars of Title IV-E Funding. Additionally, under her leadership the background check backlog was reduced by 90% due to requiring the unit review existing processes and eliminate erroneous steps to ensure timely completion of background checks.
Since 2022, Ashley has applied her professional knowledge and experience in the classroom as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), School of Social Work. Ashley has a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Sociology and a Master of Social Work (MSW) from UIUC and a Master of Arts (MA) in Public Policy from the University of Chicago, Harris School of Public Policy.
Ashley remains very passionate about improving child and family well-being and hopes to continue to use her knowledge of macro-level child welfare systems and her collaborative spirit to partner with biological parents, youth in or at risk of foster care, and key community stakeholders to achieve system change. She remains involved in macro-level collaboratives and committees to advocate for the legislative and institutional reform necessary to meet the everyday struggles of children and families involved in, and at risk of being involved in, the child welfare system.
Compass Working Capital
Dwayne Keys works at Compass Working Capital, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending asset poverty with a focus on Black and Latina women-led households specializing in HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. Dwayne joined Compass as a financial coach working one-on-one with Compass clients, worked as a Financial Coaching Manager supervising a team of financial coaches, and was recently promoted to Director of Programs, Multifamily to oversee Compass’s partnerships and growth strategy of FSS with multifamily owners. Prior to joining Compass in 2017, he spent 13 years working in for-profit banking and financial services, holding roles in customer relationship management, service and sales. For over 19 years Dwayne has advocated on behalf of historically excluded communities for economic justice and full inclusion in economic prosperity, with a focus on eliminating poverty, preventing displacement, and supporting anti-racism initiatives. He serves on multiple boards that are aligned with his advocacy focus, including such organizations as the Economic Progress Institute (EPI), Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG), and the Providence Revolving Fund (PRF). Dwayne attended Johnson & Wales University where he earned his A.S. in Retailing, B.S. in Marketing and M.B.A. in International Trade. He is an Accredited Financial Counselor® (AFC®) and certified in Financial Social Work
Executive Director, Alliance to Mobilize our Resistance (AMOR)
Catarina Lorenzo is the Director of the Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance (AMOR). Catarina is a Q’anjob’al-Maya woman from a small village in the mountains of Guatemala. She was the first person in her family, and one of the first from her village, to graduate university. In Guatemala Catarina worked for a number of human rights, women’s rights, indigenous rights, and social justice organizations. Since moving to Rhode Island she has worked as a community organizer and in June 2017 she began work as the director of AMOR. Catarina is also actively engaged in the large transnational community of Guatemalan migrants from her home region, producing and hosting a weekly radio program called ‘Rights in Action’ which airs online and via FM in Guatemala.
CEO, Real Access Motivates Progress
Tina Guenette Pedersen is a motivational speaker who currently is CEO, Founder and people connector of her own national non-profit RAMP real access motivates progress. Tina is a 4x cancer 4x stroke 2x heart attack survivor who 9 years ago walked into a minor surgery and took a stroke to her spinal cord, she is now paralyzed from the waist down. She didn’t let that stop her instead persevered and learned to navigate the world with her positive attitude. Tina devotes her life to helping others by raising awareness of accessibility for all. From talking to school age children on introduction to engaging the disability community to bullying and dealing with life’s curve balls. Tina works with all businesses, professions and first responders on all areas of communication and best practices of working to include the disability community. She was just appointed to the United States Access Board by President Biden, sits on the Governor’s commission on disability as Vice Chair and on Commission of Aging. She loves the opportunity to share her story, meet new people and advocate for all. She is currently the first person of physical disability to win a national title for the USA Ambassador organization or any main stream pageant. It’s all based on community service and to date in the last year she has completed 4735 community service hours. Community service isn’t something she does it’s all part of her DNA. It’s just who she is at the very core. Tina also hosts her national podcast live every Wednesday night to an audience of 50k and growing. With all she has been through in her life, to get up everyday with a positive attitude and to help others is a true testimony of the type of person she really is all around. Her two favorite quotes “ Don’t just sit there..make a difference” & “If you can’t stand up…Stand out”
Juan Wilson, Jr.
Husband / Father / Creative Entrepreneur / Philanthropist / Founder / CEO
Juan K. Wilson Jr. is a highly-effective communications professional with over 25 years of experience in creating marketing strategies that have made measurable difference in building brand awareness for B2B and B2C projects. Proven success in strategic guidance in the creation of marketing communication plans designed to help acquire and retain customers. Recognized ability to provide insights and educational tactics in supporting the development of people of color in various communities. A bridge builder for people of different cultures with strong relationship management skills.
Juan K. Wilson Jr. A/K/A J’Juan is a renowned Providence native with a wealth of experience in entrepreneurship, entertainment, tech, and the nonprofit sector. Juan began his career as a graphic designer, and through strategic partnerships and creative entrepreneurship, went on to become a successful concert promoter starting in the 90s where in 1996 bringing Jay Z to Providence for his first major appearance to later bringing Soldier Boy for his first New England appearance. His expertise in promotions, experiential marketing and design led him to a consultant role with Toyota Motor Corp., where he developed event marketing campaigns for their youth brand, SCION, in the Southern New England area. Juan has worked with clients such as Universal Records, Atlantic Records, Muzik Headphones, InMusic Brands, Genre-Defying Entertainment, PVDfest, City of Providence and many others. He has helped develop the careers of renowned artists such as international artist and producer araabMUZIK, and Atlantic Records recording artist Raiche.
Juan is still active in many fields of business development and brokering for profit deals, but has also shifted his focus to projects with social impact. His latest project is the formation of The MUSE Foundation of Rhode Island (MUSEOFRI), a nonprofit he founded in 2021. MUSEOFRI is the first foundation in RI developed and composed of people of color. MUSEOFRI serves as the umbrella organization to various initiatives that benefit the BIPOC communities including their youth initiative YESPVD!. In 2022 Juan established New England’s first Black Philanthropy Month in the state of Rhode Island by having Governor McKee sign a proclamation acknowledging the month of August as Black Philanthropy Month. That is also the same year he started a campaign to make Juneteenth a paid state holiday that passed unanimously at the state level. Juneteenth is now an official state holiday starting in 2024.
Juan is an experienced business consultant who specializes in innovative partnerships, and system building utilizing technology, branding, promotions. He has a wealth of knowledge and works hard to help his clients succeed. Juan is also an active consultant and board member in regards to strategic planning, fundraising, system building, and design thinking for the nonprofit sector.
Lastly, his passion is to help create lasting systems using his expertise in technology, branding, promotions to help create social enterprises and systems that benefit his community to work towards self-sustainability. Juan’s mantra is KAIZEN - Continuous Improvement.
State Representative (District 7)
David Morales is a community advocate and the State Representative for Rhode Island House District 7 in Providence. He was raised by a single immigrant mother in the rural town of Soledad, CA alongside his older sister. Inspired by his lived experience and background as an activist, Rep. Morales has sponsored and supported legislation to raise the minimum wage towards $15, cap the monthly cost of insulin, prohibit the act of tip theft, and expand Medicaid coverage to all children, regardless of immigration status. Having been sworn into office at 22, Rep. Morales is the youngest Latino to ever serve in any state legislature across the country. Outside of the State House, David serves as the Commissioner of the Renegade Wrestling Alliance, a local pro-wrestling organization. He currently resides in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of Providence with his cat, Mochi.
Mariam Kaba is highly motivated and ahead of her time. As the oldest daughter and first-generation student, an incoming senior at Woonsocket High School and Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center in the health careers pathway. She is a leader and advocates for community engagement, mutual aid, and equity across multiple disciplines: She serves as Woonsocket High School’s Chapter Vice President for Future Business Leaders of America-PBL. She is the Vice President and event coordinator for Silence Is Violence:401, a youth-led advocacy organization. Also, a peer mentor at her school, assisting ninth graders in their high school transition. She is the Vice President of her 2024 student class and a part of the student council. In addition, she is a youth ambassador for The WATCH Coalition and a 2023 Alexander Hamilton Scholar. Mariam is the first-ever recipient of the Transform Rhode Island Scholarship: Her three-plan proposal includes Restoring the Village: focusing on mutual aid and community engagement, career preparation, and preparing for the future curriculum, which: will be carried out in her community of Woonsocket, Rhode Island
Marco Antonio Lima graduated from Times2 Academy and is attending Brown University. Prior to graduating, he served on the Board of Young Voices as Co-Chair and was the Project leader for the Young Voices-RIDE Multilingual Learner project.
His work primarily centers around achieving a more equitable society for BIPOC individuals. In doing so he strives to uplift the voices of youth who experience challenges created as a byproduct of racism. Marco plans on majoring in Political Science, in order to continue his advocacy work.
Economic Progress Institute
Divya Nair graduated from Columbia University with an MSW in Policy Practice. She has worked with non-profit and government agencies in the areas of human rights, housing, and children’s nutrition and education, and she has experience in research, policy dissemination and community engagement. Her goal is to advance equity through an anti-oppressive lens. Divya’s passion for social change work stems from a genuine confidence in the expansive potential of human capability. As a policy analyst, Divya advocates for policies around paid family leave, childcare, and cash assistance. She aims to work in coalition with community members and partners to build an equitable society.
Sylvia is a peer support specialist for the drop-in center at Foster Forward, which serves youth that are homeless or experiencing housing instability. She is personally connected to this work due to having lived experience in the foster care system. Sylvia has had many national opportunities during her advocacy journey. Some of those being a NYTD reviewer (National youth in transition database), serving on a national council focusing on building permanency and authentic youth engagement, meeting with congressional staff on capitol hill about policy, etc. Sylvia’s goal is to make a real impact so the system serves youth better. She believes in order to abolish the injustices that plague the system you have to learn how they’re created in the first place.
Karriana Phoeun is a 17 year old Cambodian-American, rising senior at Providence Career and Technical Academy studying business and cosmetology.
A year ago she joined ARISE with the goal of becoming more active in her community, and to make change. Within the past year, she has learned more about her identity, and developed leadership and advocacy skills, learned about school systems, and has become more socially aware. Now, I have transitioned into the role of Youth Organizer.