PRESENTERS

SPEAKER

KEYNOTE

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MONDAY MARCH 1ST

LEADERSHIP

PEPSY WIRTH (KEYNOTE)

Hi My name is Pepsy (yep! Just like the soda) Wirth, and I am currently working as Compliance Chief of Staff, and a Program Lead for Gaming Readiness in Xbox. I was born in Los Angeles, California. I have 4 amazing sons, and an awesome Husband.

 

I started as a none full time staff member here at Xbox in 2012, I converted to Full Time 4 years ago. I had the honor of serving as Co-Lead for Woman in Gaming last year. I am a dedicated ally to our communities here and am one of the leads for Team Xbox LatinX. It is my personal duty and passion to make sure that underrepresented people voices are heard, and that we feel safe in our working environments. I am on a personal mission to share my journey and blaze a path for our young persons of color coming up.

 

In my spare time, I am obsessed with mental and physical wellness, Animal Crossing, Hamilton, and anything Comic Book related. My sons, hubby and I enjoy watching/playing sports (GO LAKERS!!!!), playing board games (Dominion or Catan) and consoles games (basically they laugh at how bad their mom is).

SHANNA L. HOWELL, PH.D.

Shanna L. Howell, Ph.D., is the Dean of the Bristol Community College New Bedford Campus in New Bedford, Massachusetts, after working as Director of Student Success at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Shanna earned her Bachelor of Science in sociology at The University of West Georgia in Carrollton, Ga.; her Master of Science in adult learning and organizational performance from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and her Doctor of Philosophy in educational leadership and policy studies, community college leadership program, from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

Following positions at The University of West Georgia in Carrollton, Ga.; Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and Des Moines Area Community College, in Des Moines, Iowa, Shanna joined Grand View University in 2018 as the institution’s Director of Student Success. During this time, Shanna provided leadership for the implementation of strategies to address degree completion challenges, directed the institution’s tutoring center, the ALT Center and developed activities related to increasing student success. She was also responsible for creating a comprehensive academic probation program and increasing the usage of the university’s tutoring center, by more than 15 percent.


Shanna is a proud member of the United Way of Greater New Bedford Board, where she serves as the Vice Chair of the Board and most recently accepted to be a board member for the Our Sister School located in New Bedford, an all-girls middle school, serving underrepresented students.

EUGENIA KUTSCH-STANTON (she/her/hers) MBA, PMP

Eugenia Kutsch-Stanton (she/her/hers) MBA, PMP is a native of St. Louis Mo, member of Sigma Gamma Rho and GDMLI 2015 graduate. A STEM professional and change champion.

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LATRECIA LEWIS

Born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, Latrecia lives a life of reflection and leveraging. She believes and believes by her self-made credo that each thing that is allowed to happen in our lives, both rain and sunshine, are merely preparers for tomorrow’s successes. As education is the family business, Latrecia began her career as a chorus and drama teacher however she currently serves as an educational consultant with the non-profit TNTP. There she serves as a Director and brings two decades of experience in education serving both at the school and district level as a Response to Intervention Specialist, Communities of Practice Coach, and Assistant Principal of Instruction. Because she focuses on the who and not the what in leadership, academics, and strategic planning, Latrecia has seen continued success leading others in creating sustainable systems to move and keep schools off the state’s needs improvement list. She believes that education is the great equalizer for students to be able to change their stars thus she leads literacy initiatives and school turnaround work across the country to ensure all students have equitable access to rigorous instruction. She has also been blessed to have the opportunity to use several of the skills that she uses with supporting school districts in creating workshops for teens, women, and faith-based organizations.

In addition to her credits as an educator, Latrecia has also performed in various stage productions to include operas, community theater, and singing in a funk band. Latrecia holds a Bachelor of Music Education from Mercer University, a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Lesley University, and an Educational Specialist in Educational Leadership from Georgia Southern University. Latrecia is ABD and taking a longer road home in completing her doctoral degree from Georgia Southern University. She continues in the pursuit of this degree for the 8-year old Latrecia who began signing her name as Dr. Latrecia Ellen Lewis in 3rd grade; it will happen. Latrecia’s greatest influence to do right by kids is grounded in her most gratifying title and role; being a mom.

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RAQUISHIA HARRINGTON

RaQuishia Harrington is an Iowa native and graduate of the University of Iowa. She, along with her husband and their three children reside in North Liberty,IA where she proudly serves as the first elected black woman to City Council. She is also the program supervisor for Special and Underserved Populations with the City of Iowa City. RaQuishia is a true change agent, fierce advocate for youth and families and has been very instrumental in giving voice to the voiceless. Serving in a capacity both personally and professionally to provide opportunities for all.

 

Her passion and drive for helping others to succeed runs deep and was instilled in her from an early age. Prior to working in city government, RaQuishia, passionately worked at a local non-profit, serving some of the most vulnerable populations. Each day she worked closely with families to address disproportionality issues in education, employment, housing and accessibility to resources. She actively seeks ways of bringing together diverse populations and helping to build stronger relationships with city leaders.  RaQuishia, has had the pleasure of creating, planning and successfully developing programs that benefit families in the area. She finds joy in the small things but enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and learning about different cultures the most. She is cofounder to G!World and Sankofa Outreach Connection Working in various positions and serving on a variety of boards has been rewarding and beneficial to RaQuishia’s growth as a productive leader.

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KIRA CANADA

 Kira Canada is a sophomore at Lincoln High School currently maintaining a 4.0 GPA. She loves sports and currently plays basketball and volleyball. One of her hobbies is dancing. She’s actively engaged in Science Bound, National Honor Society, and Sisters for Success. Kira played a huge role in helping to plan the 2021 “Know Your Worth” Many Shades of Colour Conference. She’s excited to be one of the co-facilitators where she will be able to help ignite hope into her peers and others.

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AMICAH GARRETT

Amicah Garrett is a 16-year-old student and worker from Illinois. She plans to go to college to pursue a career in criminal justice and she is a Co- Facilitator for Many Shades of Colour. She enjoys listening to music and road trips. Is an active member in AIT Youth Over-comers and volunteered at a daycare for 2+ years helping young kids grow which in turn helped her develop into a well-rounded youth in her community.

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TUESDAY MARCH 2ND

SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE

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CHRISTINA HELENA (KEYNOTE)

Christina Helena is a speaker, playwright/performer and coach based in New York City. As one of the youngest pancreatic cancer survivors with a thirteen-inch scar across her abdomen, she is redefining the stigma behind trauma and pain with one simple thought: “Your scar is the sexiest thing about you.” Most recently, Goalcast featured Christina’s talk, My Scar is Sexy on mental strength, empowerment, self-image and mindset which received over 8 million views. Her story is currently in development as an off-Broadway, autobiographical solo show entitled SCAR. Her TEDx talk is about facing mortality and how death was the greatest catalyst to discovering who she is focusing on mental health, inspiration, mindset and overcoming adversity.

Learn more at:

www.ChristinaHelena.com  

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2309810302432260

TEDx Talk:

 https://www.ted.com/talks/christina_helena_dear_unresolved_soul_it_s_not_death_you_fear_it_s_life

My Scar is Sexy Talk: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrQbEMwhES0&feature=youtu.be

Instagram: 

@iamchristinahelena 

https://www.instagram.com/iamchristinahelena/

Facebook: 

@christinahelena 

https://www.facebook.com/christinahelena/

Clubhouse: 

@christinahelena 

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HEAVEN WASHINGTON

Heaven Washington is a 6th grader at Joshua Christian Academy. Heaven is the oldest of soon to be five. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, drawing, being a social butterfly, teaching Sunday school, and singing in the church choir.Heaven is a co-facilitator for the 2021 Many Shades of Colour Young Women's Conference.

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VICTORIA WILLIAMS

Victoria Williams is a sixth grader at Ames Middle School. She hasbeen attending HIP-HOPE’s-Helping Ignite People’s Hope Over Problems Everyday- programs since the third grade. She spent this past summer participating in their Executive MOLD- Microsoft Office Leadership Development program. Victoria now has an executive mindset which means to know your responsibilities and the consequences of not fulfilling those responsibilities. She practices by having her priorities straight and doing what she must do. Victoria loves gaining more and more wisdom and knowledge on everyday life things. Some of her hobbies are playing basketball for CY Select Wolves, cooking, coding, playing instruments, and LEARNING.  She plans to speak at this year’s Many Shades of Colour “Know Your Worth” Conference on friendship with Dr. Annissa Roland. 

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WILLOW JOHNSON

Willow Johnson is an 8th grader from Ames Middle School. Since the 6th grade Willow has been active in sports and service. She has taken on leadership in ISTEP-Iowa Student Tobacco Education Prevention in her school and is currently the sole Story County member of Iowa's 12-member Executive Council for ISTEP. This year she was involved in Mock Trials at AMS. She was an attendee of the Many Shades of Colour "Know Your Worth" Women's Colour Conference, 2020. She is honored to have been selected to be a part of the 2021 conference planning committee. She is also a 2020 Hip Hope Inc. Executive Mold-Microsoft Office Leadership Development graduate. Willow enjoys crocheting and gifting friends and family.

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ASHLEY HOLMAN

Ashley Holman graduated with honors from Avon High School in Avon, IN.; Was a member of the National Honors Society and Dance Captain of the Unisex Show Choir. She is currently a freshman at Indiana University studying Tourism, Convention, and Event Management. She has her sights set on becoming an Event Planner after graduation.

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SOPHIA SLEDGE

Sophia Sledge spent her first 16 years traveling throughout Europe and the Pacific Northwest with her family; her father is a 26-year veteran of the United States Air Force. After high school, Sophia went on to play Division I basketball and earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from San Diego State University in Education.  

 

At an early age, Sophia learned the importance of building a strong foundation through commitment, integrity, and work ethic. While she has a passion for traveling abroad and all things sport, she lovesher family and believe in giving back to the community. She currently resides in Urbandale, Iowa with her spouse and two young daughters. Sophiais on the board for One Iowa a non-profit that seeks to support equality for LGBTQ Iowans and have been volunteering for various organizations since high school, most recently for Mercy Medical Center in the NICU and Easter Seals Iowa in their Life Club. Volunteering reminds her that the smallest acts can have the deepest impact.

 

Sophia is also a huge advocate for financial literacy and education. She spent many years after college in education roles and mentoring at risk youth. Sheis a current business owner of her own financial firm, Triple Heart Wealth, that operates under the corporate umbrella of New York Life Insurance Company and isvery excited about participating in the Many Shades of Colour Young Women’s Conference.

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ANNISSA ROLAND


Dr. Annissa Roland is an educator, community leader, and entrepreneur. Annissa was born in Des Moines and began her service there as well as a director of educational programs at the Willkie House, teacher in Des Moines Public Schools, director of the then Tiny Tots Learning Center, and member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. before marrying and moving to Georgia. There she continued her work as an educator in Savannah Chatham County Public Schools. Currently she is a national education consultant with the nonprofit organization, the Schlechty Center. For the last 13 years she has been consulting and partnering with public school systems across the nation to focus on designing quality, challenging, interesting, and satisfying work for students. At her church she serves as a deaconess, president of music ministry, mentor to high school girls. She is the owner and designer of AJ Stone Jewelry hand-making one of a kind semiprecious stone jewelry for men and women. Additionally, Dr. Roland is the board of directors secretary for the Greater Savannah Black Chamber of Commerce. And she still maintains her Iowa roots as the chief operating officer of Taste of the Junction Inc. in West Des Monies.

An alumnus of Iowa State University Annissa earned two bachelors of science degrees in elementary education and early childhood education. Her masters degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in integrating the arts is from Lesley University in Massachusetts. Dr. Roland studied organizational leadership at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

This proud mother of three, nana of three and wife to a veteran loves to learn and lives to teach.

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WEDNESDAY MARCH 3RD

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

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PAULA BELL (KEYNOTE)

Paula Bell is the CEO of Paula A Bell Consulting, LLC. She is a Business Analyst, Leadership and Career Development coach, consultant, speaker and author with 21+ years of experience in corporate America in project roles to include business analyst, requirements manager, business initiatives manager, business process quality manager, technical writer, project manager, developer, test lead and implementation lead. Paula has experience in a variety of industries to include media, courts, manufacturing and financial. Paula has lead multiple highly-visible multi-million dollar technology and business projects to create solutions to transform businesses as either a consultant, senior business analyst or manager. Currently she is a Business Support Manager leading a team of business process consultants to identify processes and process improvements.

Through her 5-tier consulting business model, Paula helps individuals find their passion, build their brand, and enhance their skill sets through consultations, coaching and customizable documentation. In hopes to empower and motivate others and themselves, through a structured journey of self reflection and awareness as a catalyst for unlimited success.

Paula is originally from Brooklyn, NY.  She graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Management Information Systems from Oral Roberts, University located in Tulsa, OK.  Paula is currently married and resides in Iowa with her husband and twins (boy/girl).  Paula is extremely active in her community as she is the Past President of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund which provides scholarships to minorities attending Iowa institutions as well as volunteers for many different community events.  Paula also studies and trains martials arts and achieved her 2nd degree black belt designation in August of 2018.  

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LASHAINA

LaShaina is a Registered Nurse in one of the busiest Emergency Departments in Iowa. She is also a mom to two amazing boys. Those accomplishments were not met without a challenge, however. While shifting her life to walk in her purpose, she was also forced to reintroduce herself to 'herself' - learning the epitome of self-love in the midst of major life events that would understandably rock someone's world should they experience them. Being a major "go-getter", LaShaina learned the value in slowing down, trusting the process, and flourishing in emotional wellness. Today, LaShaina continues to set her professional and personal goals high and takes pride in aligning her mindset to manifest them. She believes in 'keeping moving forward' and living life to the fullest!

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BREANNE WARD

Breanne Ward is a nationally recognized certified rehabilitation counselor with the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). In 2014, she founded ForWard Consulting, LLC to provide culturally relevant speaking engagements and motivation-led conversations for community change. The business also offers therapy services to individuals, couples, and families.

Her graduate alma mater is Drake University where she earned a Master’s in Counseling at Drake University. Her undergraduate degree was obtained at Iowa State University, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Child, Adult, and Family Services with a specialization in Youth. Ward has her license to provide mental health counseling for the state of Iowa. She has great faith that she will continue to be a vessel to carry out the work of her community and welcomes new opportunities to strengthen and empower others.

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MATOYA WOODS

Matoya Woods was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, IL and relocated to Des Moines, IA in August 2006.  She has a  B.A. in Business Administration from Barat College of DePaul University. Matoya started her career in the non-profit sector working with Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly as a program assistant. She later began working with at risk teenage girls at Lawrence Hall Youth Services.  Upon transition to Des Moines, she began working for Wells Fargo Bank N.A.  Matoya is currently a Quality Manager in the bankruptcy Center of Excellence. During her 13 years at Wells Fargo, Matoya has served the community through volunteer work. She currently serves as a board member for the MLK Scholarship fund of Des Moines and is passionate about helping people.

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ALANA BURTON

Alana Burton is a Sophomore at Ogden High School. She plays volleyball for her school and has been involved in club volleyball leagues for the last two years.  Alana has also performed in various stage productions for the Boone Community Children’s Theater and her school honor choir. This is her first time participating in the Shades of Colour Conference and is very excited to be involved. Alana has a strong interest in film and music production and is exploring future opportunities in this area. In her free time, she works for her dad, likes to travel, and enjoys learning about foreign cultures

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ANGEL BAYLARK

Angel Baylark is 19 years old from Burlington, Iowa. She plays volleyball at Iowa Central Community College; and is currently studying to major in accounting. Angel is alsopart of a new group at Iowa Central for diverse student athletes. She is extremely excited to be a co-facilitator at the 2021 “Know Your Worth” Many Shades of Colour Young Women’s Conference.

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THURSDAY MARCH 4TH

ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE

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ALICIA HILLIGAS

Alicia Hilligas is Assistant Director of Admission and Diversity Initiatives at Drake University Law School. Originally from El Salvador, Mrs. Hilligas grew up in Miami, Fl.

Mrs. Hilligas has worked for over a decade in higher education as an admission professional. Her work in higher education has given her the opportunity to provide students and parents college readiness information and guidance navigating the college application and financial aid process. In her current role at Drake Law School, she works to recruit a diverse student body to the legal profession.

Mrs. Hilligas attended Wellesley College and received a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Economics. Before joining Drake Law, she worked at American University and the University of Central Florida. She is married and is the proud mother of two boys and two Chihuahuas.

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CLAUDIA "BRANDIE" YOUNG

Claudia “Brandie” Young is the administrator and lead teacher at Joshua Christian Academy West campus. Prior to that she was a professor at Iowa State University, teaching Social Justice Education. She has received her Social Justice Certificate as a doctoral student studying Social and Cultural Education with an emphasis on colorism. Young presented at the 2018 NASPA Conference sharing research on the Health Identity and Wellness of Women of Color in Higher Education. As a former educator for Des Moines Public Schools, Young became impassioned to elevate the self-esteem in young women of color. As the founder of EMERGE, Young is lead to develop critical consciousness in youth which forms a healthier social and emotional well-being. Caring deeply about her community, she is involved with many aspects serving in the youth department at ELPIS Christian Fellowship, consultant and board member for the Urban Experience Magazine, Banquet Chair of Iowa Juneteenth, planning committee member for I’ll Make Me A World in Iowa, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and working with the Sisters for Success Program.

Young holds a Master of Science degree in Teacher Effectiveness and Professional Development with a Middle School endorsement in Global Studies and Language Arts, from Drake University. Her undergraduate degrees are in Elementary Education from Drake University and also Child and Family Services from Iowa State University.

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DIANNE SIASOCO

Over the past seven years, Dianne Siasoco has worked with refugees and immigrants of all ages in Des Moines, Iowa. She taught in bilingual public schools in Spain and was a middle school teacher in Seattle, Washington.  Dianne earned a Masters in Teaching (MIT) from the University of Washington.

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KIYA LYTLE

Kiya Lytle, lives in McKinney, Texas and the author and self-publisher of a 30-day interactive book called "Middle School Girls Listen Up". This book was meant to help direct middle school girls who may be struggling in their confidence. She attended a program called Year Up through El Centro Dallas College earlier this year, where she studied Business. In life, Kiya’s passion is to be a good individual to look up to. Her belief is that no matter what color, age, shape, religion or gender, everyone should be treated equally. She hopes to be an industrial or product designer in the future where she can use her creativity to transform functional items into something that would make people smile.

TRACY DURAN

Tracy Duran is the Director of Studio Education and Inclusion at the Des Moines Art Center where she provides vision and strategic leadership for programs that link the Art Center’s studio and community educations classes to the museum and community through the development of innovative programming. In addition to her work in education, Duran provides vision and leadership for the organization’s inclusion efforts as they strive to be a cultural resource for all in the community.  Duran works with community partners and schools to strengthen external relationships with diverse audiences. Over the past twelve years, Duran has developed and provided leadership for the Art Access program, which provides innovative and engaging art programs to underserved communities in the Des Moines area. Through the Des Moines Art Center, she has worked with various programs including at-risk youth, displaced children at a local youth shelter, women from the Department of Corrections, and residents in an Alzheimer’s care facility.  Duran has dedicated her life to empowering youth and began mentoring youth when she was 17 years old in Las Vegas, Nevada. She holds a BFA in painting and drawing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and an MFA from California State University, Fullerton.

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RACHEL JACKSON

Rachael Jackson is the Community Access Education Manager at the Des Moines Art Center she is responsible for providing leadership for all art access and community educations programs. Jackson and her team work in the community to develop new and sustainable programs that serve underserved audiences and make art education and the museum accessible for all segments of our community. Jackson works closely with schools and non-profits to provide integrated art programming that focuses on healing and positive modes of self-expression. She uses art education to inspire students and at –risk youth to acknowledge their uniqueness through the use of artistic expression to overcome adversity. Jackson holds a BA in art history from the University of Northern Iowa, an Art therapy certificate from Grand View University and is currently at Drake University pursuing her Masters in Mental Health Counseling.

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KARMON LONG

Karmon Long is a Des Moines native. She was educated in the DMPS district and a proud graduate of Roosevelt High School, University of Iowa (BSW), and Drake University (MPA). She currently resides with her husband and four kids ranging in age from 20 to 6. Karmon is the Program Coordinator for the GEAR UP Iowa (GUI) Program which serves 12 school districts, 25 schools and over 7,000 students across the state of Iowa. As a former TRIO student, her professional calling is to ensure underserved students have equitable access to life changing educational opportunities.

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FRIDAY MARCH 5TH

FINANCIAL EXCELLENCE

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ALEXIS 

Alexis currently works for United Way of Central Iowa as a Strategic Communications Project Manager. A native of Country Club Hills, Illinois, Alexis came to Des Moines in 2009 to attend Drake University where she received her Bachelors in Journalism and Mass Communications in 2013 and a Masters in Communications Leadership in 2017. In her former role with Financial Capability Network (now Financial Empowerment Center) she was a certified Personal Financial Counselor. This position provided her the opportunity to engage with the community in various ways, educating those of all backgrounds about the importance of maintaining Personal Finances in a responsible manner.
Alexis is very passionate about community engagement and diversity. She currently serves on several boards including the Friends of the Drake Arts, the James B. Morris Scholarship Fund, African American Leadership Academy’s Advisory Board and the National Association of Black Alumni at Drake University where she serves as board chair. She is a devoted member of the Des Moines Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Alexis is also a founding member and current Managing Director of Pyramid Theatre Company, a local theatre that focuses on storytelling from the Black perspective.

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SHANNON SIMONE SELLERS

Shannon Simone Sellers is the Founder of Own Your Check, where she teaches millennials, parents, and college grads how to excel financially, using a relatable and non-intimidating approach, that everyone can understand! Within 2 years, Shannon eliminated $27,000 of debt, increased her savings from $0 to thousands of dollars, raised her credit score by over 170 points, decreased her credit utilization by 91% and more, while raising a newborn! Through private coaching, group coaching, online masterclasses and speaking engagements, Shannon helps people accomplish their goals while living their best life!

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DEBRA CARR

Debra has more than 25+ years serving as an administrative leader for federal, state, and local government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Currently, she is Principal Consultant and owner of Carr& Associates, a consulting firm that focuses on helping individuals, organizations, and business to achieve their full potential and owner of a health & wellness company for Life Vantage. In addition, Debra works for Des Moines Public Schools.

 

Highlights of her community service include founding the first Miss Black Iowa U.S.A. Scholarship Pageant where she served as director for more than 20 years. She previously served as Executive Director for the Miss Black U.S.A. Pageant and served on the National Board of Advisors. Debra was instrumental in securing an international humanitarian delegation “Journey to the Motherland,” leading a national delegation of more than 150 people to witness the crowning of Miss Black U.S.A. on the continent of Africa. She led international efforts to secure essential medical supplies for area hospitals and established a book drive for schools throughout Banjul, Gambia, West Africa. She developed an international ambassador mentorship program between young African and American women that remained operational for more than 15 years and adopted a village for a year.   

 

Debra’s work has been nationally recognized by the White House in addition to her leadership efforts led to assist an organization to become the recipient of the Families Count Award from Annie E. Casey Foundation and National Points of Light Award. She has served as guest lecturer at schools of Social Work and as a practicum field supervisor.

 

Debra holds a BA degree in Human Services from Upper Iowa University and a Master of Social Work from the University of Iowa School of School Work. In addition, Debra received a Certificate of Nonprofit Management from Iowa State University, graduate of the Larned A. Waterman Nonprofit Management Institute, and holds an Honorary Doctorate of Letters Degree from Aspen Theological Seminary. She is a Licensed Master Social Worker, Certified Financial Social Worker and recognized by the National Association of Social Workers with the Academy of Social Workers distinction. Debra previously served as National Trainer & Volunteer for American Red Cross and President for Cheatom Park Neighborhood Association. Debra is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Economic Development Committee and holds membership in the National Association of Social Work.

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ARIA BURNSIDE, CHARMIAN AARON

Aria Burnside is a 16-year-old entrepreneur currently living in Edwardsville, IL. She is a member of Anchored in Truth Ministries where she sings on the teen/young adult praise and worship team, Called to Greatness (CTG). After years of struggling in school with peer pressure and reckless behavior, her mother made the decision to homeschool her. During that time, she discovered her God-given gift of baking. She started baking cupcakes and cookies for members of her church, now she is now the Owner and Chief Operating Officer of Aria’s Cookies & Confections, LLC! Serving the St. Louis Metropolitan area with delicious gourmet baked goods.

 

Her mother, Charmian Aaron, is a single mother of four beautiful children. She left the busy corporate world of hotel management inMarch 2020 and made the tough decision to work from home to pour into her children. She is the Director Marketing & Social Media for Anchored in Truth Ministries and Edwardsville NAACP. She also is a Beauty Consultant with Mary Kay Cosmetics, and is the Co-Owner and Chief Executive Officer of Aria’s Cookies & Confections, LLC!

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MALIEGHA PAGE

Maliegha Page is a sixth grader at Clive Learning Academy. Maliegha is the youngest of  five and is a social butterfly. In her free time she likes to cook, organize spaces, draw, dance with her dog, play the viola and the clarinet, and she loves to play basketball. Maliegha is excited to be a co-facilitator for the 2021 Many Shades of Color Young Women's Conference.

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SATURDAY MARCH 6TH

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT / S.T.E.M.

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NATHALIA MARIE JACKSON (KEYNOTE)

Enthusiastic, outspoken, and insightful, born in the San Fernando Valley, Nathalia Marie Jackson is a bright and kind-hearted 12-year-old, with a fun and vivacious personality. Nathalia is an aspiring actress, gun violence advocate, entertainment personality, and film critic. Nathalia has always known she had an aspiration for acting. At the age of 8 years old, she took “a leap of faith” and began her acting career. Since then, some of the commercials she’s worked on include: Burger King, American Association of Retired Persons, Alzheimer's Campaign, and Target just to name a few.

Nathalia has learned to be generous with what she has, as evidenced by volunteering her time in the community, being open-minded with new things, showing compassion to those in need, being respectful to others, and most importantly continually learning and growing both spiritually and intellectually. Acting has not only become a part of who she is but has opened other opportunities and experiences in the entertainment business.

 

When Nathalia is not acting and attending auditions, you’ll find her practicing gymnastics, performing her hip-hop routines, advocating at Justice for Homicide Victims events as a Community Advocate to end gun violence. After losing her father to a senseless murder at just 5 years old, Nathalia has since used her voice to reassure children that after a tragedy, the best way to heal is through helping others.

Nathalia joined KIDS FIRST! Film Critics, a nationwide team of 60 plus youth entertainment reporters who attend press screenings, press junkets, premieres, and red carpets and other media events. They give you the latest news about media for kids, by kids. Through KIDS FIRST!, Film Critics, Nathalia has gotten the opportunity to interview filmmakers, actresses, actors, the hottest musical artist such as Sky Katz on Disney Channel, to Offset from the music group Migos, Meg Donelly from Disneyś Zombies, and Seth Carr from Nickelodeon's Night Squad, just to name a few.

Stay connected with Nathalia on Instagram (13.K) @nathaliajackson.la

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BRIDGET CRAVENS-NEELY

Descriptors: Woman of God, Wife, Mother, Business Professional, Entrepreneur, Community Leader/Advocate, Mentor, Friend

Bridget Cravens-Neely is a native of Illinois, but has lived in Iowa for 25 years. She currently works for Nationwide as a Business Consultant in their Agribusiness unit. Bridget is also co-owner of Bottle & Bottega Des Moines, a wine and art party business located in Downtown Des Moines. Her educational background includes a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Illinois State University and a Masters of Business Administration with an Entrepreneurship focus from Keller Graduate School of Management. Having worked in the insurance industry for over 25 years, Bridget has had many opportunities to grow and excel in various business capacities. She has held various roles throughout her career from formal people leadership to individual contributor. She has been afforded the chance to develop a very versatile skill set as result. Her experience includes positions in administration, operations, sales, service, project management, and organizational leadership. These roles have helped establish her brand as a thought leader who is collaborative, entrepreneurial, and innovative. Bridget and her husband, James, have learned several important lessons about the successes and trials of entrepreneurship since becoming small business owners. One important lesson is the essentials of resilience, determination, and self-motivation. Another is to become relevant and stake their position in the competitive market of social experiences. A strong social media presence and community-based connections has been key to growing their clientele. Introducing a new brand to the Des Moines community is humbling and has required strong leadership, drive, patience, and time management. At a very young age, Bridget was taught the value of possessing a strong character - particularly one that emulates a “paying it forward” attitude. In addition to her career, she has raised three sons and is very active in the greater Des Moines community. Her passion to serve others comes from family influences. She credits the people who opened doors for her and invested in her as the reason she has achieved success in her life. It is also because of these influencers that Bridget’s passion is mentoring young people and sharing her life lessons with them. “Perception is the opportunity to learn the truth” is Bridget’s personal mantra that keeps her grounded. It helps her stay focused on always looking beyond the surface to understand the depth and breadth of a person, situation, or environment to avoid passing judgement but rather learn how to engage. As a result, Bridget has been fortunate to identify opportunities and make an impact through her professional and civic work in organizations like Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., the Des Moines Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute, Women Lead Change (Central Iowa Conference), Many Shades of Colour Conference, the Willkie House, and the YMCA MLK Prayer Breakfast Steering Committee.

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RIZAN TORHALA

RizanTorhala (she/her/hers) was born in Sudan and raised in Chad. She moved to Iowa in 2010 and is a 2017 graduate of Roosevelt High School in Des Moines. While at Roosevelt, Rizan, along with her fellow classmates, found a gap for students of color to get involved in AP courses and decided to do something about it. This was the beginning of what is now known as C.O.R.E. (Community of Racial Equity) and this student group now has a presence at all 5 Des Moines high schools and most metro suburban high schools. Civic engagement has been a big part of Rizan’s life; she started volunteering on campaigns her freshman year at Roosevelt. She has worked and/or volunteered with Staci Appel, Deidre DeJear, Kamala Harris, and Eddie Mauro. Currently, Rizan is working towards her realtor license through a fellowship at Iowa Realty and expects to be selling houses as early as Spring 2021. After receiving her citizenship at the beginning of 2020, Rizan was very excited to vote for the first time in the 2020 Presidential election.

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HEATHER M. JONES

Heather M. Jones (she/her/hers) is a Des Moines, Iowa native and proud graduate of Des Moines’ East High School (‘02). Jones holds a BA in International Relations and Political Science from William Jewell College (‘06) and a Masters in Business Leadership from William Penn University (‘11).

Jones aided a South Korean company in starting their US branch in Kansas City, MO, helped video store owners across the United States enhance their stores through independent film, and spent four years in Tokyo, Japan teaching English along with various roles in the indie film industry. Jones returned to the United States in 2015 with one goal: working to eradicate systemic racism and uplifting communities of color. She spent most of 2016 assisting Betty Andrews, with work for the NAACP on state and local levels, planned the Iowa Summit on Justice and Disparities, and the 19th Annual I’ll Make Me A World In Iowa. Jones was the general manager for the local start-up DSM Brew Coffee Co., through its first year operation, until being hired as the Deputy Campaign Manager for Deidre DeJear’s historic run for Iowa Secretary of State in February 2018. In 2019 she had the pleasure of serving as the Executive Director of Iowa Sisters States with highlights that included working closely with the Republic of Kosovo.

Currently, Jones works for the Polk County Financial Empowerment Center to help infuse financial literacy into our county. Her community work includes the Executive Board of Urban Dreams, Executive Board of Des Moines Branch of the NAACP, Advisory Board of Languages at Grand View University, Advisory Board of New Leaders Council Des Moines, Advisory Board of Greater Des Moines Y-Camp. She is also a 2020 graduate of the Community Leadership Program at the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute and a 2020 Des Moines Business Record 40 Under 40 Honoree. She is also a sought after thought leader on allyship and supporting Black communities.

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NANCY MWIROTSI

“Nancy Mwirotsi is many things to me, and not just because she is my mother. She is a person who is sympathetic, generous, outgoing, positive, supportive, humble, admired, and loved. She is driven, determined, innovative, impactful, and a visionary.” The accuracy of this description is evident upon merely skimming Nancy’s story.
Nancy advocates for underrepresented individuals, mainly girls and people of color. She has spent time advocating at our state capitol and continues to deliver presentations nationally. She inspires and provides a pathway for many to attend college; in 2016, all five seniors in her program entered college to study various fields within STEM. Nancy courageously started something from nothing, because she saw a need and an opportunity. This powerful fact is why we are proud that Nancy is the founder of Pursuit of Innovation 515.

Nancy has been recognized as an innovator and for her work to increase opportunities for women, girls and minorities in the tech industry. She was recently awarded the Iowa Educators award by National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), awarded a $10,000 Nation of Neighbors℠ grant from Royal Neighbors of America, one of the first and largest women-led insurers in the US.and she was also featured by Technology Association of Iowa as a Catalsty, technology leaders who inspire change, forge new paths and ignite technology innovation in the state of Iowa.
 

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JADE

Jade is a senior at Ankeny Centennial. Last year, she won second place in the Student Shark Tank Competition for her invention prototype. Since then, she has continued to develop the invention with Nancy, pursuing a patent, while she balances her high school course work, university applications, and extracurricular activities. She’s also a youth planning committee member for the Many Shades of Colour Young Women’s Conference. Although Jade wants a career related to cultures, languages, and international relations, she is still passionate about innovation and hopes to maintain entrepreneurship in her life. In the future, she aspires to help ethnic groups see themselves represented more and obtain greater equity. Beyond intellectual and career endeavors, Jade enjoys travelling with her friends and family, creative projects like sewing, and her cat, Stubby (who doesn’t have a tail).