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  • Writer's pictureChippewa Valley Equality Initiative

February is Black History Month - Get to Know Local Black Leaders & Influencers

Updated: Feb 25, 2022

The Chippewa Valley has multiple Black leaders and influencers who contribute to the community in major ways. In honor of Black History Month, please take a moment to get to know some of these individuals, and recognize their contributions, heritage, and value to our community as a whole.

David Carlson grew up surrounded by addiction, crime and violence. While he struggled in his past, he took his experience and re-defined not only who he was as an individual, but also made it his mission to contribute to others in his community and beyond.

David has served on many different boards and with organizations such as the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), and has fought for equal rights for incarcerated individuals by taking action to change the system, as well as applied his experience into rehabilitating different individuals in the community.

C.C. We Adapt was founded by David and his wife, Alicia, in an attempt to mentor youth and change their paths by providing

opportunities and advocacy for those who are underrepresented and marginalized in different communities in Wisconsin. The organization provides peer support and mentorship, and has not only changed the lives of the individuals who they offer services to, but also provided employment and growth opportunities for individuals who have pasts that are often overlooked by mainstream employers.

Overall, David continues to serve the community in so many ways, by advocating, educating, volunteering, and showing up. You can check out more about David's story HERE

Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton is a leader in the Chippewa Valley. She has lead change, and empowered so many individuals in the area who are underrepresented and marginalized. Selika fights on a regular basis for equity, diversity and inclusion. Despite the push against her, she has defied so many odds, by gathering respect from many leaders in the community, and working with many groups and individuals to create long term changes.

Not only has Selika contributed by seeking for justice and equity within different groups in the Chippewa Valley, she is also involved with almost every social justice organization in the area, as well as other parts of Wisconsin. Connecting with the community has been her mission, and she has successfully accomplished that with grace and humility.

Selika currently works as a history professor at UW-Eau Claire, is the president of social justice organization Uniting Bridges, is a founder and facilitator of live-streamed event Conversations in Color, acts as a liaison for the Eau Claire Police Department and the Eau Claire Area School District (educating in areas of racial justice and equity), acts as a state representative of the Chippewa Valley’s ACLU chapter, acts as co-regional lead for Toward One Wisconsin, is a community advisory committee member for Eau Claire’s Transformation Project, and is an Opportunity Wisconsin Steering Committee member. She has also was recognized in 2019 as one of the most influential Black leaders in Wisconsin by Madison 365. This year, she was awarded the 2021 Board of Regents Diversity Award from the UW System and the Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Leadership Award from UW-Eau Claire.

Selika is an integral part of the Eau Claire community and beyond, and continues to serve in so many areas through advocacy and education.

You can check out more about Selika's story HERE

Dennis Beale is the founder of Power of Perception, a mentoring program for Eau Claire students that creates opportunities for minority youth. Power of Perception's mission is "to create a valuable toolbox of resources that will equip these young kings and queens to become contributing citizens in today’s society."

Dennis was previously Assistant Director of Blugold Beginnings at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, and the 2019 Regents Diversity Award Individual Recipient. He also created the Black Male Empowerment (BME) group, which helps students develop academically, professionally, and personally.

The focus of Dennis is largely based on advocating, educating, and providing opportunities in education for youth in multiple areas. Providing safe spaces, and showing youth of color, as well as the community, the importance of uplifting, and elevating voices and opportunities of marginalized individuals.

In his own words, Dennis has said, "I created this opportunity (Power of Perception) so the African-American/ Biracial youth in the community can have support and a voice that represents them. Working in the school district with my previous professional role through UW-Eau Claire, I saw limited-to-no professionals of color in the building, as well as a lack of any sort of programming geared specifically to this population. However, I saw that there was representation for all other minority groups in the greater Eau Claire area."

Governor Evers has shown is support and appreciation for Dennis and his organization, and Dennis has continued to contribute the community by organizing multiple events to involve the community, and provide resources to youth of color.

Please consider donating, to show your support for Power of Perception HERE

Dr. Jeneise Briggs was recently hired by the city and county of Eau Claire as the equity, diversity, and inclusion coordinator and was also named among the state's top 48 most influential black leaders.

Jeneise has a wealth of career experience creating EDI programs and fostering relationships with underrepresented communities in positions including Senior Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion for Marian University in Fond du Lac, WI from April 2017 – June 2020 where she developed and implemented Marian University’s first strategic plan for diversity and inclusion and strengthened Marian’s image and relationship with over 15 community organizations in the Fond du Lac community. Since August, 2020, Dr. Briggs has served as the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist, Law School Outreach Coordinator, for the State Bar of Wisconsin where her responsibilities included implementing, monitoring progress, and recommending adjustments in connection with the State Bar Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan and related programs.

In her own words, Jeneise has said, "I’ve dedicated my life to giving back and being a voice for the otherwise voiceless, and helping to educate around justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. And just having conversations across differences or different experiences or insights or perspectives because it’s what enriches the learning for all of us – because you don’t know what you don’t know”

Jeneise continues to develop relationships in the community, by continued involvement, and advocacy. She works with multiple social justice organizations in the Chippewa Valley, and fights for equity and inclusion throughout the city of Eau Claire and beyond.

You can check out more about Jeneise's story HERE

Dr. Rod Jones is an assistant professor at UW-Eau Claire, and was recently chosen to fill a vacancy on the Eau Claire City Council. Rod was the second Black person to ever serve on the City Council in Eau Claire’s history.

In Rod's position and beyond, he has made it a point to ensure that the voices of those who have been historically marginalized, are included and valued in conversations. He also recognizes the urgency of acting responsibly toward environmental and criminal justice, toward providing residents safe, functional, and accessible public transportation and infrastructure. Toward appreciating the humanity and securing affordable housing and child care for families. Toward helping residents find and maintain employment so they can take care of their families with dignity.

Rod fights for a better world for the youth of tomorrow, specifically inspired by his children. In his own words he said, "Spaces like this, spaces of decision-making, of leadership, of service, are spaces that I want her to see herself in as she grows up and navigates our community. Growing up, I did not see myself in such spaces. They were difficult to aspire to for reasons told and many unstated." We continue to see growth, participation, education and advocacy from Rod, and a fight for a better future for marginalized individuals.

You can check out more about Rod's story HERE

Tashai Atkins is the executive director for The Community Table in Eau Claire, WI. This is a safe and welcoming place that serves nutritious meals to those in need.

After living in the Chippewa Valley for over 20 years, Tashai has recognized the duplication of efforts and lack of community as a whole. Since then, she has been fighting to provide in inclusion and welcoming spaces through her contributions, specifically with her organization.

Through The Community Table, Tashai has worked to create a sense of community through volunteer work, and promoting diverse volunteers through service. The Community Table operates 365 days a year and relies solely on the support of volunteers to run the organization and serve meals to the hungry in the community.

Please consider DONATING or VOLUNTEERING with The Community Table to support Tashai and her cause.

Casaiya Keyser is one of the co-founders of the Cultivative Coalition which is a support system and platform to challenge the school districts to make changes, specifically related to discrimination.

After experiencing racism through the Chippewa Falls School district, along with other marginalized individuals, Casaiya made it a point to take action and stand up for future students, to help ensure that they didn't experience the same issues that she did.

Recently, the Cultivative Coalition has worked directly with the ACLU to take more direct action, in association with major discrimination throughout the Chippewa Falls school district towards students of color and LGBTQIA+ students.

In her own words, Casaiya explained her school experience by saying "I was very outspoken, and a lot of teachers, I feel like, in the district used that against me, so I also didn’t feel like I had a lot of people to go to."

Overall, Casaiya continues to fight for equal rights in the school district and beyond, by showing up and advocating for different marginalized individuals in the community.

Please consider signing petitions and showing support HERE

There are many other Black individuals that are serving in different ways in the Chippewa Valley. It is vital that we continue to include and elevate them in different positions and groups, to inspire equity and inclusion, and change the systems for more people of color.

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