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Press Release: 2021 Leadership in Democracy Cohort Announced


The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, GCR Consulting and the Executive Service Corps' Leadership in Democracy Program strives to develop high-capacity civic leaders, representative of the communities they serve, who invite constituent participation and advocate for and implement inclusive policies. 


“We are thrilled to expand our program through partnerships with Executive Service Corps with one-on-one coaching from seasoned executives, GCR Consulting to develop a shared cohort learning experience, and the ‘Managing to Change the World’ training through the Management Center to further support capacity-building with our leaders,” said Sonia Mathew, program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.


The McCormick Foundation works with communities in Chicagoland and across Illinois to develop educated, informed, and engaged citizens, offering assistance to communities, strengthening democracy, and helping to ensure that all families and children have the opportunities they need to flourish. 


By investing in senior leaders within leading Foundation grantee organizations, prioritizing leaders of color, and connecting them with executive coaching and other management training and supports, these leaders can enhance inclusiveness and impact at their organizations and contribute to a more robust pipeline of civic leadership talent in the region. 


“We at the Executive Service Corps have been fulfilling our mission of helping make nonprofits successful by providing consulting and executive coaching services to nonprofits for over 40 years’” said Rachelle Jervis Chopra, President and CEO of Executive Service Corps, expressed the organization’s honor in partnering with the McCormick Foundation on this Program. “The Foundation’s leadership in support of our democracy is inspiring, particularly during these challenging times. Our executive coaches are delighted to work with the incredible members of the 2021 Leadership in Democracy cohort who lead a wide range of critical community institutions dedicated to improving our democracy.” 


The Executive Service Corps’ mission is helping make nonprofits successful. To achieve the Executive Service Corps' mission, it provides consulting, coaching, and professional services to other nonprofit organizations impacting 1.2 million people annually.

“The work of the Democracy grantees in civic education, journalism, and invigorating public institutions is more important than ever. I am excited to work with the cohort to co-create a learning experience that equips these leaders with the tools and strategies that will enable their organizations to thrive,” added Genita C. Robinson, Principal, GCR Consulting.


Adeshina Emmanuel, Editor in Chief, Injustice Watch

Adeshina Emmanuel is the editor-in-chief at Injustice Watch, a nonprofit investigative newsroom based in Chicago. His work over the past decade has spanned hyperlocal and national reporting with a focus on race, class, and institutional injustice. Adeshina is also a former education reporter at Chalkbeat, a former investigative reporter at the Chicago Reporter, and a former neighborhood reporter at DNAinfo Chicago who worked on the breaking news wire at the Chicago Sun-Times before interning at the New York Times in 2012 at the start of his career. He was born and raised in the Uptown neighborhood on Chicago's North Side by an African American mother and Nigerian father and studied journalism at Loyola University Chicago. 

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Alisa Kaplan, Executive Director, Reform for Illinois 

Alisa joined Reform for Illinois in 2018, drawn to the organization’s long history of fighting for campaign finance reform and against systemic corruption. As Executive Director, she leads RFI’s policy development, advocacy, and educational initiatives and overseas operations. A Yale graduate with a J.D. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Northwestern University, Alisa brings expertise in law and the political process and a background in community organizing, grassroots activism, and nonprofit administration. She has been a Faculty Lecturer in Constitutional Law, Civil Rights, and Law and Politics at Northwestern, and is co-president of the Board of Open Communities, a Chicago-area civil rights and housing justice organization. In her role at RFI, Alisa feels fortunate to be able to spend every day fighting for a more ethical and equitable Illinois government that works not just for the wealthy and well-connected, but for everyone.

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Anwulika Anigbo, Director of Development, Invisible institute

Anwulika Anigbo is the development director at the Invisible Institute, a journalism production company on the South Side of Chicago working to enhance the capacity of citizens to hold public institutions accountable.

Anwulika joins the Invisible Institute after years of working in fundraising and communications, devoting her career to developing a fundraising and communication style rooted in black queer feminist principles, critical race theory, and Elinor Ostrom’s paradigm-shifting, Nobel Prize-winning work examining the use of trust, collective action and collaboration to manage common resources. Her practice is rooted in genuine and indiscriminate care as a viable approach to widespread social change.

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Bessie Alcantara, Executive Director, Alternatives, Inc.

Bessie Alcantara is the Executive Director of Alternatives, a Chicago nonprofit providing behavioral health services and restorative justice programming to youth in Chicago. Alcantara earned her Master’s in Social Work from Loyola University and has been working for youth-serving organizations in Chicago for more than a decade. Alcantara is passionate about youth advocacy and racial equity and believes that our young people cannot succeed until we dismantle systemic inequity. Alternatives’ mission is to facilitate personal development, strengthen family relationships, and enhance the community’s well-being.  

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Eliza Bryant, Director of Academic Programs and Enrichment, Big Shoulders Fund

Eliza Bryant is the director of academics and enrichment at Big Shoulders Fund, an independent non-profit that supports Catholic schools in Chicago and Northwest Indiana which serve under-resourced communities. With nearly 15 years of experience in education, Bryant brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to her role overseeing a wide range of programs with the goal of increasing capacity in school personnel. Her aim is to ensure every school has access to quality, research-based curricular materials, engages in ongoing and comprehensive professional development, and participates in collaborative practices both internally and across the network. In addition, Bryant coordinates a life-changing student enrichment STEM camp that takes burgeoning middle school scientists to a ranch in Wyoming for six days. Under her leadership, this program has grown from under 100 participants each year to over 350, and it has expanded to include additional programming for camp alumni to return to the ranch in other capacities once in high school. Bryant is passionately committed to ensuring every child has unfettered and equitable access to a quality education.

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Erica Hodgin, Associate Director, Civic Engagement Research Group, UC Riverside

Erica Hodgin is the Co-Director of the Civic Engagement Research Group (CERG) at the University of California, Riverside. CERG partners with educational leaders and key stakeholders on district-wide reform efforts that seek to Leverage Equity and Access to Democratic Education (LEADE). Erica’s research focuses on the distribution, quality, and influence of youth civic learning and digital civic learning opportunities. She has authored articles in Social Education, Theory and Research in Social Education, and the Journal of Digital and Media Literacy as well as book chapters in Fake News: What is it, why it is problematic, and what educators can do about it; Digital Equity and Educational Opportunity; and #youthaction: Becoming Political in the Digital Age. Erica received her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Mills College and completed her dissertation on the ways cultural humility can enable teachers to build effective relationships with students across racial and cultural differences. Before joining CERG, Erica taught English and Social Studies and served as an instructional coach at the middle school and high school level. She also coordinated educational programs in several non-profit organizations in the U.S. and abroad.

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Frank Latin, Executive Director, Westside Media Project

Frank Latin is the founding Executive Director of Westside Media Project, an organization in its 15th year of providing exposure, guidance and support to area students in media-related fields.  He is a 2019 graduate of the Goldin Institute’s ‘Chicago Peace Fellows Program’, a leadership development and training program focused on effective methods of social change. He previously served as co-Chair of Chicago Youth Voices Network (CYVN), a city wide collective of youth-serving organizations working to amplify youth voices across Chicago. He holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Economics and a minor in African American Studies from Roosevelt University in Chicago.  With over 15 years of experience as an economist with the U.S. Dept. of Labor, Frank has worked extensively on labor issues impacting the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers. As a resident of the west side he is passionate about providing opportunities and pathways for area residents.

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Janeen Lee, K-12 Social Science Manager, Chicago Public Schools

With a career in education for over 20 years in Los Angeles and Chicago, Janeen Lee (she/her) has expertise in curriculum design and instruction, designing and leading professional development, and managing teams. Janeen is currently the K-12 Social Science Manager for Chicago Public Schools in the Department of Social Science and Civic Engagement and leads a team of social science content specialists who provide culturally relevant and sustaining instructional coaching, professional learning and curriculum design support to all Social Science teachers in CPS.  The mission of the department of Social Science and Civic Engagement is to partner with students, educators, and communities to build transformational schools that ignite curiosity, promote agency, and elevate active participation in our Democracy.

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Jaye Hobart, Director of Development, Civic Federation

Jaye Hobart is the Director of Development and joined the Civic Federation in September 2019. In this role, Jaye works directly with the President and alongside communications and membership staff to advance the overall development strategy for the Federation. Prior to joining the Federation, Jaye worked at Woods Fund Chicago managing a city-wide racial equity process. Jaye serves on the board of Korean Adoptees of Chicago and HANA Center and the steering committee of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy Chicago and IDEA committee member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Chicago. The Civic Federation is an independent, non-partisan government research organization that provides analysis and recommendations on government finance issues for the Chicago region and State of Illinois.

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Jill Bass, CEO, Mikva Challenge

Jill Bass is the Chief Education Officer at Mikva Challenge.  Jill has worked with Mikva Challenge for over 17 years -- first as a Mikva teacher teaching on the west side of Chicago, then as a consultant, and finally as a member of the staff for the past 10 years.  At Mikva Jill oversees curriculum development, professional development and partner site work for the organization’s work nationally.  Jill brings her past experience facilitating professional learning, writing curriculum, and coaching teachers and district leaders to her current work.  But most of all, she brings her work as a teacher of middle and high school students.  She taught in Chicago and New York City public schools for 13 years, an experience that has shaped her understanding of education, and the world, ever since.

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Juan Cruz, Immigration Organizer & Communications Coordinator, Communities United 

Juan Cruz is the Communications Director at Communities United, a community-based organization. A graduate of Northeastern Illinois University, Juan has been a community organizer since 2007, and the Communications Director since 2017. As an organizer, he has worked with youth and adults through local and collaborative campaigns to improve the quality of public education and promote immigrant rights at the city and state levels. In 2015, he managed the expansion of CU’s education work, building strong partnerships with over six neighborhood schools, and developing immigrant parents’ leadership to drive their identified priorities of funding inequities and overcrowding relief. Juan is a graduate of Northeastern Illinois University.

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Lawrence Benito, Executive Director, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Lawrence joined the staff of ICIRR in October 2002 to direct the health and citizenship programs.  Since 2002, he has also organized in the north and northwest suburbs of Chicago, lobbied in Springfield, and directed the electoral work of Illinois Immigrant Action (ICIRR’s 501c4 arm).  Prior to ICIRR, he worked for the national Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees. The son of immigrants from the Philippines, he has spent nearly 30 years working on social justice issues in various communities.  In his spare time, he enjoys political campaigns, cross fit training, and studying the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Marquette University, and Master of Social Work from Loyola University of Chicago. He is a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana, West Africa, and lives with his wife and four children on the southside of Chicago.

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Maureen Loughnane, Executive Director, Facing History and Ourselves

Maureen Tatsuko Loughnane is the Executive Director of Facing History and Ourselves, Chicago, and has served in this capacity since 2016. Maureen has devoted her career to the advancement of social, economic and racial justice. She believes that the racism, hate, and divisiveness we witness today are the legacies of brutal injustices of the past, and that only by facing our collective history and how it informs our attitudes, behaviors, and social structures will we be able to work towards the creation of a truly just and equitable society. 

Prior to joining Facing History and Ourselves, Maureen was the Development Director of the ACLU of Illinois and began her career at the University of Chicago where she was the Associate Director of the Pozen Center for Human Rights.

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Oi Eng-Crandus, Chief Financial and Operations Officer, Chicago Lawyers' Committee

Oi Eng-Crandus is the Chief Finance and Operations Officer of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.  In this role, she oversees finance, human resources, information technology, and office management for the organization.  Prior to joining Chicago Lawyers' Committee, Oi served as Vice President of Customer Development at Essendant and held positions in strategy, finance, and business development at Sears and BP Amoco.  Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights works to secure racial equity and economic opportunity for all through partnerships with communities of color and law firms to implement community-based solutions that advance civil rights.

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Sangini Brahmbhatt, Director of Development, Asian Americans Advancing Justice

Sangini Brahmbhatt is the Director of Development at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago. Advancing Justice | Chicago builds power through collective advocacy and organizing to achieve racial equity. She has a deep understanding of the philanthropic and civic sector in Chicago and experience within the arts, education, civic engagement, and social services sectors. With equity at the core of her work in this unprecedented time of heightened racial and social injustice, she is committed to community and movement building. She currently serves as a committee member of Edgar Miller Legacy and is an emeritus board member of Latitude Chicago. A first-generation Indian American and Chicago native, she resides in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood and is a novice art collector supporting black and brown artists.

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Stephanie Manriquez, Communities Amplified Multilingual Initiative Executive Producer, Lumpen Radio and Editor-in-Chief, Contratiempo

Stephanie Manriquez is an award-winning writer, radio producer, journalist, and teaching artist with a passion for highlighting social justice issues affecting Latino communities. She is Editorial Director at Contratiempo magazine and a Social Justice News Nexus Fellow at Northwestern University, leads the National Museum of Mexican Art’s youth journalism program, and was recognized in 2020 by the Field and MacArthur Foundations as one of 11 "Leaders for a New Chicago." She regularly produces and creates content for Lumpen Radio, which includes leading the Communities Amplified multilingual radio initiative. The Spanish language Communities Amplified programming is an initiative of Public Media Institute and Contratiempo nfp; that opens doors and builds a growing network of Latino radio producers, hosts, and talent across Chicago; producing and airing new Spanish content from home every week. Revista contratiempo is an arts and literature publication with a mission to preserve and highlight the cultural identity and contributions of the Spanish-speaking Latino population in the United States.

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