Equity Leadership Initiative 2022/2023 cohort members
We are pleased to present the Equity Leadership Initiative (ELI) class of 2022/2023. This program helps build a pipeline of future leaders in established positions of influence throughout the state.
Michael Almonte of Cranston is a Quality Assurance Manager at Lifespan Coastal Medical. Previously, he was in regulatory affairs for cancer research at the Lifespan Cancer Institute and a Quality Consultant for Hewlett Packard.
Almonte earned a BS in health sciences and a BA in psychology at Rhode Island College, earned an MBA from Salve Regina University and is enrolled in the doctoral program in medical sciences and healthcare leadership at Northeastern University.
"I am humbled to be a part of this initiative of bringing awareness to the importance of diversity in positions of power. Ensuring visibility and representation of our diverse community is essential for the overall success of our state. I am looking forward to expanding my way of thinking and to apply that future knowledge in my everyday life," said Almonte.
Shameem Awan of Providence is the Talent Management and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Assistant Vice President in the Human Resources Department of Amica Insurance Company. Her professional insurance designations include CPCU, AIC, AIC-M, API, AINS and ACS. In addition, Awan earned a BS in Business Management at Providence College, is Assistant District Governor Coordinator of the Cumberland-Lincoln Rotary Club and serves on the boards of the Nonviolence Institute, Rhode Island for Community and Justice, and Diversity and Inclusion Professionals.
Also, she is also a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children in state Family Court, a member of the Providence College President’s Council, a 2015 graduate of Leadership Rhode Island (LRI) and an LRI-certified Strengths Coach
“I’m extremely honored and excited to be a part of this amazing program. I am looking forward to learning from everyone and building long-lasting friendships," said Awan.
Debasree Banerjee of Providence is an attending physician in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Brown University. She is the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Director for her division and is a member of several DEI working groups in Brown medicine.
She also co-chairs the Justice Equity Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee of the Association of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Program Directors. In addition, she is the director of the JEDI Brown Physicians curriculum. She earned a BA and an MS at Johns Hopkins University and an MD at New York Medical College.
"I am incredibly grateful to get to work with dynamic leaders from all different fields across the state. I believe firmly that racism in medicine needs to be uprooted in order to provide the best and most equitable care to the Rhode Island community. This opportunity will empower me to become a more effective advocate for justice,” said Banerjee.
Peter Chung of Providence is Executive Director of Young Voices. Previously, he advocated for children and youth with Save The Children Fiji and the YMCA of Greater Providence. He attended University of the South Pacific. Chung is President of the PTO at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Providence as well as a member of the Board of Directors of the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island.
"I'm excited to build collective power with other BIPOC leaders across sectors in RI. As a lifelong learner, I look forward to sharing this equity leadership journey with my fellow classmates and supporting our community," said Chung.
Betty Clinton of Cranston is Finance Director at Inspiring Minds. Previously, she worked in finance with Lutheran World Service-Liberia, Lutheran World Relief-USA, the Genesis Center, City Arts and the Southside Cultural Center of Rhode Island. Clinton serves on the Board of Trustees of Trinity United Methodist Church Board and volunteers as Family Ministry Coordinator. She earned a BS in Accounting at the University of Liberia, West Africa, a certificate in human resources at Bryant University’s Executive Development Program and an MBA with a concentration in Accounting from Johnson and Wales University.
“Information and relationships are very potent tools for transformation and change. I look forward to the shared learning, and engaging and networking with this diverse group of leaders as I expand my capacity as a change agent for the equitable and just space we envision,” said Clinton.
Bryanca Colvin of Cumberland is an assistant vice president of Sales and Client Services with Amica Insurance Company. Previously, she worked in the nonprofit sector, where she supported various human services and religious organizations. Colvin earned a BA in Communications and a BA in Religion at the University of Georgia.
“I am thrilled to take part in this broadening cohort of diverse thinkers and leaders in order to further our personal development and, thus, our reach into our various communities,” said Colvin.
Melissa Cruz of Providence is the Community Programs Manager at the R.I. Coalition to End Homelessness, where she is responsible for developing and overseeing the organization’s constituent and service provider programming. She earned an MPA with a concentration in nonprofit management at Troy University.
“I am beyond humbled and excited to have been given this wonderful opportunity to connect and learn from other leaders in my community. As a woman of color, I feel like I have a duty to give back and dedicate as much time I can to bringing change to my community,” said Cruz.
Frances Dalomba of Cranston is a team leader and a clinical social worker at the Bradley School – Providence of Lifespan School Solutions.
A licensed, independent clinical social worker, she earned a bachelor’s and a master’s in social work at Rhode Island College. Dalomba co-chairs Lifespan’s Advisory Committee on Anti-Racism & Health Equity Collaborative as well as the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Community Engagement Committee sub-committee.
“I am so excited to be part of the Equity Leadership Initiative Class of 2023. This is such a wonderful opportunity. I look forward to meeting new people. I hope to fine tune my skills, and learn new skills and methodology. It will be such a joy to share ideas in a think tank and learn from others who are already doing great things in our community,” said Dalomba.
Amanda-Joy Febles of Providence is an attorney at WilmerHale. She served as a Fulbright scholar, founded Teach for America's R.I. Diversity and Equity Council, was a Legislative Assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives and led the Black Law Student Association at Boston University School of Law.
She earned a BA in English at Wheaton College, a master’s in education at Rhode Island College and a JD at Boston University School of Law.
"I am thrilled to listen, learn, and innovate with fellow like-minded problem solvers. I am eager to be a part of the solution to improving the lived experiences of my neighbors here in Rhode Island," said Febles.
Libertad Flores of Warwick is an attending physician at Women & Infants Hospital, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Brown University and sees patients at the Providence Community Health Centers. She earned a bachelor's at Cornell University, a Master of Public Health at Columbia University and a Medical Doctorate at Brown University.
"Since medical school, I often find myself surrounded by well-meaning professionals who miss critical pieces of the puzzle for our patients; if you’ve never been without a car, never been somewhere you didn’t speak the language or never been on the receiving end of discrimination, it is harder to support patients who live without those advantages," said Flores. "Many hands make lighter work, and my hope is that this will be true for our cohort in the Equity Leadership Initiative. I am so looking forward to connecting with leaders who share similar backgrounds and a singular purpose to improve equity for all Rhode Islanders."
Kassandra Florez of Pawtucket is the Constituent Liaison for the city of Pawtucket, where she focuses on strengthening relationships with residents and supporting community-based safety initiatives. Previously, she taught English as a Second Language in Madrid, Spain. Florez serves on the board of Progreso Latino. She earned a BA in Political Science at the University of Rhode Island and a master’s in International Relations and Diplomacy at Universidad Alfonso X el Sabio in Madrid, Spain.
“It is an honor to be accepted into the Equity Leadership Initiative. I am excited to connect with different leaders across the state and learn from one another. Through ELI's mentorship and leadership, I am eager to continue developing my career, and creating a foundation for future generations to learn from," said Florez.
Lehidy Frias of Providence is a restorative justice practitioner. Most recently, they were program coordinator at Brown University’s Center for Students of Color and the Restorative Practices Specialist at the RYSE Center in Richmond, CA. Frias earned a BA in Anthropology and Public Health at Brown University and an MA in Restorative Justice from Vermont Law School. They have an initial mastery completion certification for Restorative Justice through the Youth Restoration Project and are a certified mediator.
“I am excited to join the ELI cohort to learn new and innovative ways to empower communities of color. I am hoping to build networks of like-minded community members to propel forward methods of healing and circle-keeping to spread restorative practices in the wonderful state where I grew up,” said Frias.
Jennifer Gaviria of Lincoln is clinical faculty at Thundermist Health Center, an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College and co-founder of the Latino Mental Health Network of R.I. She earned a BA in Global Studies at Providence College and her Master of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. She serves on the board of Beacon Charter Schools.
“I am looking forward to making connections with a talented group of individuals and learning about the equity work that they are doing in Rhode Island,” said Gaviria.
Octavian Goncalves of Providence is a Financial Analyst in the Financial Analyst Rotation Program for International Game Technology (IGT). Previously, he worked as a financial coach at the Capital Good Fund, a nonprofit, certified community development financial institution that helps people improve their financial health. He earned a BS in finance at Rhode Island College and is pursuing an MBA in finance and management at Fitchburg State University.
"I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to network with, learn from, and share with established and rising leaders of color through the Equity Leadership Initiative," said Goncalves.
Tami Hughes of Lincoln is a Senior Associate at DBVW Architects. In addition, she is a mentor and board member with the ACE Mentor Program Rhode Island and was honored with the 2022 PBN Business Women Outstanding Mentor award. Hughes earned a BA in Fine Arts and Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet like-minded people so that we can learn from each other. I feel that, as a leader within the profession of architecture, and as a woman with a minority background, I have a responsibility to continue my growth and expand on the tools and vocabulary that will help me be a better mentor," said Hughes.
Jessica Knight of Cranston is an Assistant Regional Director at the Key Program, where she oversees the operations of the organization’s residential and community based programs throughout Rhode Island.
In addition, she also works as a License Clinician at Next Step Counseling. She earned a bachelor's degree in Social Work at Rhode Island College and a master's degree in Social Work from Simmons University.
"I am looking forward to the opportunity to learning from and building relationships with other individuals as we address disparities impacting our communities," said Knight.
Rodney Eric López
Rodney Eric López of East Providence is CEO of Rodney Eric Lopez Enterprises, which provides coaching and consulting services in the areas of arts education, fundraising and development, and nonprofit leadership. He earned a BS in communications studies at New York University and serves on the board of New Urban Arts.
"Iron sharpens iron. This opportunity for BIPOC leaders to spend significant time developing themselves and supporting each other will not only improve the participants, its effects will ripple through the communities we serve. I'm honored to be among the exceptional leaders in this cohort," said López.
Niko Merritt of Newport is the founder and Executive Director of Sankofa Community Connection. In addition to having working for several area nonprofit organizations, she is a certified community health worker, an advocate, crafter, public historian and creator of an award-winning walking tour that explores the lives of early Newporters of African heritage.
“This upcoming year will be one of professional and personal development. I am looking forward to sharing space with others who have similar lived experiences and are able to learn from each other. I will take everything that I learn and apply it so that I can be a better advocate, and continue to show up and fight for the common good of our community," said Merritt.
Erendida Montes of Pawtucket is Technology Director for the Central Falls School District. Previously, she was a Support and Technology Integration Specialist at the Segue Institute for Learning and a Techworks Field Support Technician at Fidelity Investments.
“Being part of this makes me feel both honored and thrilled. I am excited about so many aspects of this program, and through it, I intend to develop both personally and professionally as a leader for the community,” said Montes. “Along with the one-on-one coaching and relationships that will be made, I'm looking forward to the vast network of thought-partners I will get to interact with through a lens of equity, leadership and social justice.”
Elizabeth Moreira of Pawtucket is Public Health & Equity Leader for the city of Pawtucket. In addition, she volunteers as Director of Operations for Project Health CV, where she coordinates medical missions to Cabo Verde in order to strengthen the islands’ health care system and specialty care. Moreira earned a BS in Health/Health Care Administration/Management at the University of Rhode Island and an MS in Health Care Administration at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
“I am thrilled to be selected along with other leaders statewide who share a similar purpose. We have earned an opportunity to lead future generations and build community through shared perspectives and experiences to make Rhode Island a desirable place to live and work for all,” said Moreira. “I hold deep commitments to community, social justice and racial equity through my work in Rhode Island and globally. My ultimate goal is to develop healthy, inclusive, and equitable communities where people feel safe, understood, and empowered.”
Luckson Omoaregba of Pawtucket is Director of Pathway Programs at Brown University. Previously he was Director of Access at College Visions. He earned a BA in Communications Studies and an MS in Human Development at the University of Rhode Island.
“I am grateful, and honored to be part of the Equity Leadership Initiative. Ever since I learned about this transformative opportunity I have been looking forward to participating. As a member of the 2nd cohort I hope to deepen my personal and professional skills in leadership and build coalitions and community with the other individuals in the program," said Omoaregba.
Zoila Quezada of Providence is the Senior Talent Acquisition Partner for Workforce Partnerships at IGT. Previously, she was Director of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Roger Williams University. Quezada earned a BA in Communications at Ramapo College, a master's in Educational Leadership and Administration at Salem State University and a doctorate in Educational Leadership at Johnson and Wales University.
"I look forward to connecting and learning with and from the leaders in this cohort. I plan to engage, absorb and put into practice the experiences of the ELI program," said Quezada.
Dorca M. Paulino
Dorca M. Paulino of Cranston is Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity at the University of Rhode Island. Previously, she was Diversity Director for the Rhode Island Supreme Court and worked for Year Up. In addition, she is a Henry Toll Fellow, received the American Society for Public Administration Equal Opportunity/Exemplary Practices Award, and is a member of U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin’s Diversity and Equality Advisory Committee and the Rhode Island Senior Human Resources Management Legislative Committee.
"Meaningful and lasting change does not happen in isolation. I look forward to engaging with other like-minded leaders who are committed to promoting equity, growing, and making Rhode Island a state where all people, regardless of their protected class, feel welcomed to live and work," said Paulino.
Omar Reyes of Warren is Director of Adult Programs and Policies at the state Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner, where he oversees the RI Reconnect program, which support non-traditional students in higher education and short-term workforce training. He earned a BA in English Literature at Roger Williams University and an MA in Youth Development from Rhode Island College.
“I applied to ELI because I crave a community of change-makers who are working towards the same goal as me: to make Rhode Island a more equitable and prosperous state,” said Reyes.
Arthur Robinson of Providence is an assistant director with the state Department of Labor and Training as well as Director of its new Office of Community Engagement.
Most recently, he was a probation officer with the state Department of Corrections, where he received the 2018 Community Corrections Award. He earned a BS in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Rhode Island, where he participated in the Talent Development Program.
“I am excited and honored to have been accepted into this year’s ELI cohort. I feel as though it’s a unique opportunity to be able to meet, learn from and share ideas with some of the best and brightest that our state has to offer,” said Robinson.
Hannah Ross of Providence is Community Partnerships Manager at the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & Music School, where she oversees music education programming for thousands of youth. In addition, she also is a classically trained violist who has performed in the United States, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Denmark and Tanzania. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Viola Performance at The Juilliard School, where she also developed and co-directed a student-led performing arts initiative in Tanzania for five summers.
“I’m excited to join the second cohort of the Equity Leadership Initiative and to collaborate with leaders across the workforce who are passionate about social change. I look forward to listening and learning from my cohort peers,” said Ross.
Ratha Sen of Providence is the Assistant Health Program Administrator with the state Department of Health. Previously, she worked with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the YWCA of Northern RI and was a Vista volunteer at NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley. In addition, Sen is Treasurer/Union Rep for NEARI Local 859 and serves on the boards of the YWCA and the Rhode Island College Alumni Association. She is an alumna of College Leadership Rhode Island.
She earned a bachelor's in Health Education with a concentration in Community Health at Rhode Island College and a master’s in Healthcare Administration and Management at Salve Regina University.
"I am excited to connect with like-minded individuals to continue the work to fight for social justice and racial equity, and to eliminate health disparities in Rhode Island. I look forward to a full year of opportunities, growth and personal and professional development. I am ready to dig deeper and have challenging conversations most people tend to avoid, so I can continue to be a change-maker and better serve the people of Rhode Island," said Sen.
Nakita Thomas of Johnston is a Care Manager with Elevance Health, formerly known as Anthem. She earned a BA in Psychology at the University of Northern Colorado, a Master of Social Work at Colorado State University and a Master of Public Administration at Virginia Commonwealth University
“I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet and work with supervisors, managers, presidents, and leaders, across all disciplines, who look like me,” said Thomas. “When I became aware of the initiative and learning more about it, I was excited to learn that a participant in the inaugural class, Michael Cancilliere, was selected. Michael was my first manager when I moved to Rhode Island and he was only the second person of color that I had ever had as a manager.”
Jessica Vega of Central Falls is Dunamis Synergy Initiative Director with the West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation. In addition, she is President of the Central Falls City Council President and chairs the Central Falls Juvenile Hearing Board.
Vega earned her BA in Psychology at Rhode Island College, which recently presented her with a 2022 Faculty of Arts & Sciences Honor Roll Award; and earned an MA in Community Development at Roger Williams University.
“I’m honored to be among such incredible and talented Rhode Island leaders. This is an incredible opportunity, and I’m eager to learn from and grow with this year’s cohort,” said Vega.
Maria Elena Wah-Fitta
Maria Elena Wah-Fitta of Barrington is a certified “At Home With Diversity” Realtor with Coldwell Banker Realty and serves on the Grievance Committee of the Greater Providence Board of Realtors. Previously, she was Associate Dean of Diversity and Director of Multicultural Affairs at Roger Williams University and held several public information positions at the state Department of Health. She earned a BS in Human Nutrition and Food Science at Universidad Iberoamericana, Ciudad de México and an MS in Health Communication at Tufts University.
“I feel extremely fortunate to have been selected for this program. I definitely do not take it for granted. I look forward to learning from and networking with experts in the DEI field, and to contributing to the group as well,” said Wah-Fitta.
Wendy Wallace of Johnston is Director of Engagement and Development for Brown University's National Student Support Accelerator. Previously she led an inter-agency team for the PrepareRI initiative at the state Department of Education and was Associate Director of Year-Up. She earned a BS in Criminal Justice and an MBA at Johnston & Wales University.
“I applied to the Equity Leadership Program because it is unique in recognizing and developing leaders of color across the state. Rhode Island is unique in so many ways, politically, educationally, economically, etc. It is wonderful to connect with current and future change agents, who truly care about the affairs of the state. It will be wonderful to exchange personal perspectives and grow together,” said Wallace.