Fifteen Badgers recognized among Wisconsin’s Most Influential Black Leaders for 2023

Headshots in three rows of five headshots each. Top Row L-R: Dr. Angela Byars-Winston, Maia Pearson, Terra Allen, Rodney Lynk Jr., Richard Jones Jr | Middle Row 2 L-R: Martinez White, Terrence Thompson, Dominique Ricks, Uchenna Jones, Judge Mario White | Bottom Row L-R: Latoya Holiday, Shawn Anthony Robinson PhD, Afra Smith, James Bond, Rebecca Cooks
Top Row L-R: Dr. Angela Byars-Winston, Maia Pearson, Terra Allen, Rodney Lynk Jr., Richard Jones Jr | Middle Row 2 L-R: Martinez White, Terrence Thompson, Dominique Ricks, Uchenna Jones, Judge Mario White | Bottom Row L-R: Latoya Holiday, Shawn Anthony Robinson PhD, Afra Smith, James Bond, Rebecca Cooks

Fifteen University of Wisconsin–Madison community members were recognized in Madison365’s annual list of “Wisconsin’s Most Influential Black Leaders” for 2023.

Madison365, a nonprofit online news publication, has published annual power lists recognizing Wisconsin leaders from different racial and ethnic groups since 2015. The purpose of the lists is to “highlight the beauty of the diversity across our state,” according to Henry Sanders, Jr., the co-founder, publisher, and chief executive officer of Madison365.

Congratulations to the following current and former UW–Madison students and employees who received this well-deserved recognition. You can read parts onetwothreefour, and five of the complete list on the Madison365 website.

Dr. Angela Byars-Winston is a tenured professor in the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and the inaugural chair of the Institute for Diversity Science. In 2017, she became the first Black woman to hold tenure at the school. She joined the SMPH in 2007 as an associate scientist and has previously served as director of research and evaluation in the Center for Women’s Health Research and associate director of the Collaborative Center for Health Equity. In 2018, she earned the John Holland Award for Outstanding Achievement in Career or Personality Research by the Society of Counseling Psychology. She earned a doctoral degree in counseling psychology at Arizona State and master’s and bachelor’s degrees at San Diego State.

Maia Pearson is a member of the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education, elected in 2021, and the Mann Scholars program coordinator for the Mann Educational Opportunity Fund, a scholarship fund that focuses on providing prolonged and focused support and resources to high school students in need of a little extra help. She previously worked as a revenue agent for the Wisconsin Department of Revenue and at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County. She is also owner of Sweet Sorrel, which provides culturally relevant greeting cards and art. She is a UW PEOPLE program alumni who earned her bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Terra Allen is director of the Academic Learning Center at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison. She is also a Sergeant First Class in the US Army, where she is a human resources administrator. She previously spent three years at American Family and served One City Schools as preschool director. An accomplished vocalist, she sang both the National Anthem and the Black National Anthem when the Juneteenth flag was raised over the state capitol for the first time in 2020. A graduate of Austin Peay State University, she is on track to finish her MBA at the UW–Madison this spring.

Rodney Lynk Jr. is CEO of Milwaukee Excellence Charter School, a tuition-free public charter school serving students primarily from the challenging 53206 and 53209 ZIP codes. He took the role in 2021 after four years as the school’s chief academic officer. Under Lynk’s direction, the 550-student school recently received a third consecutive five-star rating from the state Department of Public Instruction. He received a bachelor’s from UW–Madison, and holds a master’s of educational policy and leadership from Marquette University and an MBA from UW-Milwaukee. He’s currently pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis at UW–Madison.

Richard Jones, Jr. was named the Executive Director of the Vera Court Neighborhood Center, Inc. in November of 2022. Vera Court Neighborhood Center, Inc. is the parent agency of Vera Court Neighborhood Center on Madison’s north side and the Bridge Lake Point Waunona Neighborhood Center on Madison’s southeast side. In 2015, he helped create WWMV-LP 95.5FM, a low-power community radio station, of which he was the first Radio Station Manager. When schools closed in the pandemic, Richard helped create and run the SMARTLY in the Park and School Without Walls Initiatives at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Both programs focused on agile educational and social emotional support for elementary aged students while they were displaced from in-person school. An entrepreneur, Richard owns and operates Oddly Arranged Media – a digital media company that creates content for creative artists and small businesses. He is also the Youth & Young Adult Minister of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. He received his bachelors of arts in African-American/Black Studies from UW–Madison in 2015 and was a First Wave Scholar.

Martinez White is a director of development for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, where he works to cultivate support for the University of Wisconsin’s School of Education. He joined WFAA two years ago after a year in a similar role at United Way of Dane County. He spent several years before that working in finance at both UW Credit Union and Northwestern Mutual. He is also a renowned entertainer, performing as DJ M White and producing events through his company, Intuition Productions. He is a 2010 alum of the UW–Madison.

Terrence Thompson is community services manager for the City of Madison’s Parks Department, where he oversees the department’s community services and public facilities. He also directly oversees the Warner Park Community Recreation Center and Goodman Pool. He took on the community services management role after four years as manager of the WPCRC and four years as sports specialist with the Madison Metropolitan School District. He has previously worked in sports recreation management for the YMCA or Greater Charlotte and YMCA of Dane County. He is an alum of Appalachian State University and holds a public management certification from the UW–Madison.

Dominique Ricks is the principal at Kromrey Middle School in Middleton. When he took the job in 2019, he was the first Black principal in the history of the district and, at the age of 27, the youngest, as well. Before stepping into the role at the helm of Kromrey, he was dean of students at Glacier Creek Middle School. Ricks previously taught eighth-grade literacy in Verona Area School District and also taught middle school in his home state of Louisiana, where he was named his school’s Teacher of the Year in 2015. Ricks is also a spoken-word poet and performer and a 2014 graduate of the University of Wisconsin.

Uchenna Jones is the Community Impact Director of Health at United Way of Dane County. She is a Registered Nurse and alum from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with Bachelor of Science degrees in both Bacteriology and Nursing. Since 2002 until now, Uchenna, as a certified Doula, has been committed to working with all women, especially women of color, to receive the best maternal and infant health care possible through her business, A Doula Just For You. She is also a Nurse Consultant and Doula Trainer at Harambee Birth and Family Center. She is currently a 2nd year Midwifery student at the Midwest Maternal Child Institute.  Uchenna is a published author of two children’s book, “Hello, My Name Is” and “Pretty Black Girl.” Uchenna founded the Madison Gospel 5K Foundation, which is a charitable non-profit that is focused on creating healthier families through faith, fellowship and fitness. Since its inception, Madison Gospel 5K Foundation has encouraged over 600 families to be more active on the Southside of Madison. Additionally, Uchenna is one of three founders to create Sole Sistas Run Madtown, an exclusive multicultural women’s walk/run group. Lastly, in February of 2021, Uchenna, along with two other community leaders came together and founded Soles United. Soles United is an organization that is focused on creating an inclusive, diverse, equitable and welcoming running/movement fitness community for all. Through physical movement, Uchenna hopes to shift people’s mental space to a better place.

Judge Mario White was appointed to the Dane County Circuit Court bench in 2020 by Governor Tony Evers. He handles both criminal and civil cases. Prior to being appointed to the bench, Mario was a Dane County Circuit Commissioner. In that role, he presided over an array of cases, including small claims, family law and criminal law. Before that, Mario was an Assistant State Public Defender. The Wisconsin Law Journal named him a 2017 Leader in the Law. White has been on the faculty of the National Criminal Defense College in Bristol, Rhode Island and teaches at the Wisconsin Public Defender Trial Skills Academy. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2008, Judge White became an adjunct professor, coaching mock trial. A 2005 graduate of Oklahoma State University, Judge White was named a 2018 OSU Outstanding Alum by the Oklahoma State University College of Arts and Sciences.

Latoya Holiday currently serves as the executive director of the Multicultural Student Achievement Network (MSAN) at UW Madison’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research. MSAN is a national network of school districts working and learning together to eliminate racial disparities in schools. Latoya has spent her entire career in education working and advocating for equity and change to ensure success for all students, especially for students of color.  Latoya spent many years of her career working at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in various roles including school administration consultant and federal grant project director. Latoya has had the pleasure of serving as an executive cabinet member and Special Assistant for two Wisconsin State Superintendents including Wisconsin’s first black state superintendent–Ms. Carolyn Standford Taylor.  Latoya has also served as associate director of the Office of Educational Opportunity at UW System and Chief of Staff for One City Schools.  Latoya provides service to the Sun Prairie community as an elected member and Vice President of the Sun Prairie Board of Education.  Latoya attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Wisconsin–Madison earning degrees in English and Educational Policy.

Shawn Anthony Robinson, PhD, is a social entrepreneur, co-founder of the award-winning graphic novel Doctor Dyslexia Dude, a research affiliate with the Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (Wei LAB) at the University of Wisconsin Madison, served on the advisory council of Benetech, and a former Board member with the International Dyslexia Association. Robinson has received several distinguished honors throughout his early career such as: an honoree of The Reading Center’s 4th Hall of Fame class (2023), the 2022 Wisconsin Innovation Award (with his wife – Dr. Inshirah Robinson); the 2017 Alumni Achievement Award/New Trier High School Alumni Hall of Honor; the 2016 Outstanding Young Alumni Award from UWO; “Educator of the Year” from All-State Insurance (Chicago) 2005. Robinson is also a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Despite being unable to read until the age of 18, he earned his Ph.D. in language and literacy from Cardinal Stritch University.

Afra Smith is manager of diversity, equity and inclusion at UW Health, a role she took on in October after three years as a DEI consultant with UW Health and the UW–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. She is also founder and CEO of The Melanin Project, which aims to eradicate wealth disparities for women of the Black and African diaspora through programs that support building generational wealth through advocacy, personal empowerment, and financial wellness coaching. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State and an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

James Bond is the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs. Appointed in January 2023, he became the first openly LGBTQ+ person to lead one of Wisconsin’s cabinet agencies. Bond joined DVA in 2010 and served as the administrator of the Divisions of Veterans Benefits and Veteran Services before being appointed deputy secretary in 2019. Prior to his time with DVA, Bond was employed at the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development as deputy division administrator in the Divisions of Employment and Training and Family Supports and as bureau director of management services in the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. He served on active duty in the United States Marine Corps from 1983-88. After receiving an Honorable Discharge from the Marine Corps, Bond returned to Wisconsin, enrolled at UW–Madison, and earned Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees. Bond has over three decades of service – service to his country, the State of Wisconsin, and fellow veterans and has dedicated himself to helping others in his professional career opportunities.

Rebecca Cooks is hospitality & student enrichment manager at Upper House, a Madison organization that aims to curate experiences of Christian thinking, being, and doing in the University of Wisconsin community through programs and hospitality. Rebecca has worked at Upper House for six years, joining in 2018 after two years at High Point Church. She is a 2016 graduate of UW–Madison, where she was a member of the Varsity Band.