Equity Leadership Initiative Inaugural Class of 2021/2022

Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies and Rosedelma Seraphin selected for inaugural Equity Leadership Initiative class

Goal is to build a pipeline of Asian, Black, Hispanic or Latino, Indigenous and multi-racial future leaders in established positions of influence throughout the state

Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies and Rosedelma Seraphin of North Providence have been selected to participate in the inaugural class of the Rhode Island Foundation’s Equity Leadership Initiative (ELI). Through the program, the Foundation will build a pipeline of Asian, Black, Hispanic or Latino, Indigenous or multi-racial future leaders for positions of influence throughout the state.

“I am excited to get to work to cultivate the next generation of industry leaders – bank presidents, hospital CEOs, leaders in academia and kindergarten through 12 education, corporate executives, policy-makers, judges and more – who are people of color,” said Angie Ankoma, ELI executive director and a vice president at the Foundation.

Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies of North Providence is executive director of the Economic Progress Institute. Previously, she was the managing attorney of Community Legal Aid’s (CLA) Worcester County offices. In addition to her role as managing attorney, she directly supervised several special projects including the Asian Outreach Project, the Medical-Legal Partnership pro bono project, the CORI/Reentry Project and the Veterans Legal Assistance Project. She also co-chaired CLA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

“I am looking forward to sharing this transformational space with other leaders of color as we learn together and from each other’s stories of challenges, struggles, successes and hope."

- Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies

Nelson-Davies earned a JD at the Roger Williams University School of Law. She has served as a small group faculty, capstone project mentor and co-facilitator at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and taught a civic engagement law-based course as an adjunct professor at the Community College of Rhode Island.

In 2020, she received the Roger Williams University School of Law Alumni Public Interest Champion of Justice Award. In 2017, the Massachusetts Bar Association presented her with the Access to Justice Rising Star Award. She is an alumna of Leadership Worcester and City Year Rhode Island.

“I started my legal aid career more than 13 years ago as a Bart Gordon Fellow at South Coastal Counties Legal Services focusing on the cumulative effects of structural racism on communities of color. I specialize in general poverty law, medical-legal partnerships, public benefits and housing law,” she said.

Seraphin is the Assistant Director of the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. The North Providence resident earned a BA in Graphic Design/Studio Art at Southern Connecticut State University and a MS in Intercultural Relations at Lesley University. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Educational Leadership in Higher Education at Johnson and Wales University.

“I am honored to be part of the inaugural class of 2021 Equity Leadership Initiative, and excited to take advantage of all that this leadership journey has to offer. I am especially excited to collaborate and foster valuable relationships with other like-minded individuals in order to increase the visibility and influence of leaders of color within the state of Rhode Island and beyond."

- Rosedelma Seraphin

She continued, “I am committed to addressing disparities within and outside of higher education in order to foster diverse, inclusive and culturally competent learning and training environments. Through mentorship and training, I support students, faculty and trainees from under-represented communities within, and outside, higher education."

Akinbi, Nelson-Davies, Seraphin and the other members of the inaugural class were selected from nearly 100 applicants. Members identify as Asian, Black, Hispanic or Latino, Indigenous or multi-racial. Nearly 75 percent identify as women. Members of the cohort work across a variety of sectors.

The 12-month leadership development initiative is scheduled to begin in September. In addition to monthly half-day group meetings, participants will receive regular one-to-one coaching sessions, will develop a personal leadership vision and goals; will be matched with a mentor and will make high-level connections across industries.

The other participants are Adetola Abiade, Adewole Akinbi, Rose Albert, Janelle Amoako, Ana Barraza, Doris Blanchard, Madeline Burke, Michael Cancilliere, Krystal Carvalho, Angelyne Cooper, Steve Craddock, David Dankwah, Rupa Datta, Yvonne Heredia, Teddi Jallow, Stacy Jones, Silvermoon Mars LaRose, Francisco Lovera, Ray Nuñez, Nwando Egbuche Ofokansi, Monsurat Ottun, Alisha Pina, Manuela Raposo, Victoria Rodriguez, Juan Rodriguez, Kajette Solomon, Edward Tavarez, Carla Wahnon and Kilah Walters-Clinton.

The leadership program is just one facet of the Rhode Island Foundation’s broad, 3-year, $8.5 million plan to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and access – with a first focus on racial equity – above and beyond its traditional yearly grant-making.

Recent work includes creating a capacity-building program to support nonprofits led by Asian, Black, Hispanic or Latino, Indigenous or multi-racial executive directors or other decision-makers within an organization; and launching a grant program to help nonprofits create anti-racist organizational cultures.

“Eliminating disparities and inequities is among our core values, and is a major focus across all of our work in the community. We use a racial equity lens while making decisions about allocating resources to improve health, educational success and economic security among other critical issues."

- Neil D. Steinberg, Foundation president & CEO

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $68 million and awarded a record $87 million in grants in 2020. Since its centennial five years ago, the Foundation has awarded more than $284 million in grants and has raised more than $328 million. Through leadership, fundraising and grant-making activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.