Mayor Brandon Johnson

As the son of a pastor and one of ten siblings, Brandon Johnson was raised on a foundation of hard work, faith and service. Brandon began his career as a public school teacher, first at Jenner Academy in Cabrini- Green and then at Westinghouse College Prep on the West Side, where he experienced firsthand how school closures, unemployment and gun violence impacted his students and their communities.

Brandon went on to become an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union, where he led multi-racial coalitions to defend neighborhood schools from privatization, reduce high-stakes standardized testing and expand access to state funding.In 2018, Brandon was elected commissioner of the 1st District of Cook County, where he led the effort to pass the Just Housing Ordinance, which prohibited housing discrimination against formerly incarcerated people. As commissioner, he also collaborated with colleagues to eliminate the gang database, secure legal representation for immigrants facing deportation and advance recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brandon convened a statewide “Save Our Seniors’’ response to the crisis in low-income nursing homes. In the wake of civil uprisings in the summer of 2020, he organized the Cook County Board to commit to the “Budget for Black Lives,” bringing new investments in health care, public transportation, internet access, and affordable housing.

Brandon and his wife Stacie live in the Austin community, where they are raising their children Owen, Ethan and Braedyn.

“The life I want for my family and neighbors is what I want for all Chicagoans…”

Mayor Brandon Johnson

Pamela Blackman

The BBF/Brighter Futures Center for the Arts, formerly Better Boys Foundation has requested that Pamela Blackman return to serve in the capacity of President/CEO. Pamela has been with BBF since 2020 when she was asked to return after being a member of the Board of Directors from 2007 to 2010 and Director of Project L.E.A.D. from 2010 to 2012. She is also The President and CEO of Joy Entertainment and Event Management, LLC. Dba Joy Management, Inc.

Pamela was born and raised in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s Southside where she attended Ruggles Elementary School and Lindblom High School. She graduated from both the University of Illinois at Chicago and Valparaiso University with a total of 3 bachelor’s degrees and 2 master’s degrees in the areas of childhood education, human behavior, social work, and psychology, and a minor in African American Studies.

In addition, Pamela earned a certificate and became a Certified Nurse’s Aide. Later she obtained her Illinois State License and worked as a Real Estate Broker. After working in various diverse capacities, Pamela combined her talents, skills, education, and experience and opened her first Kiddie Academy Learning Center.

Jahmal Cole

2022 Activist of the Year Chicago Reader, 2023 Honorary Doctorate Degree in Humanities from DePaul University

A champion of social justice, Jahmal Cole’s mission is to build a more interconnected Chicago on the pillars of service and education.

As the founder and CEO of the city’s fastest growing social impact organization, My Block My Hood My City, Jahmal is the creator of an exposure-based education program for teens and a network of volunteer initiatives that serve Chicago communities year-round.

Traveling, youth mentorship and community organizing are the subjects of Jahmal’s highly acclaimed books and speeches. He has spoken to audiences ranging from high school students to the Mayor of Chicago.

In 2022 Jahmal Cole received an honorary Doctorate Degree in Humanities and Philanthropy from Adler University and was voted best activist by the Chicago Reader. Jahmal was named one of the 25 Most Powerful Chicagoans by Crain’s Magazine. He has also been awarded the 2020 American Red Cross Community Impact Hero Award. In 2019, Jahmal Cole was named to Crain’s 40 under 40, he’s also the recipient of the 2019 Champion of Freedom Award, the 2018 Chicago Defender Men of Excellence Honoree, and the 2018 Chicago City Council Resolution Award. In 2018, he was also named one of the “20 Most Inspiring Chicagoans” by Streetwise Magazine and a Chicagoan of the Year by Chicago Magazine. He was recently voted 2021 Activist of the Year by Chicago Magazine.

Nicole “Nikki” Hayes

Nicole “Nikki” Hayes is as passionate about helping others in business as she is in running her own business. Since 2012 Nikki has realized a lifelong dream of bringing an outdoor dining experience to Chicago’s gorgeous skyline on the South Side where she lives and works. She owns and operates Pier 31, the first black-owned restaurant and bar on the 18-mile lakefront.

Nikki’s passionate advocacy for small businesses is well known. She was appointed to the inaugural Cook County Small Business and Supplier Diversity Commission by Commissioners Dennis Deer and Stanley Moore in March 2019.

Nikki Hayes is currently the retired President of Laborers’ Local 1001 Union under the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA). In this role she oversaw organizing, the political action committee, laborer training and apprenticeship. Prior to Local 1001, Nicole served 15 years with the City of Chicago overseeing the Bureau Traffic Services Abandoned Auto Program, in the Department of Streets and Sanitation.

LaShaun “Sah” Jackson

Innovator, entrepreneur, businessman, leader, educator, change maker, husband and father of three children; LaShaun is best described as a modern renaissance man! Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, he has overcome many obstacles and has proved that he is at his finest in positions where visionary leadership is paramount.

LaShaun, affectionately known by his nickname Sah, is a founder and CEO of the following organizations: CIRCLE Foundation, Innovations High School, Benton House Court & Cafe, Good2Go Veggie LLC, Black Light Entertainment and BAGE LLC. He also works as a private consultant and is the author of two poetic children’s books.

Over the last 25 years, a major focus of his work has been focused on supporting the inner city youth of Chicago. Through his pioneering work with CIRCLE Foundation and Innovations High School, he leads a strong team of social workers and educators. Their team has made a major impact and provided opportunities for thousands of marginalized youth and young adults living in the Chicagoland area.

Monique Rodriguez

Monique Rodriguez is the founder and visionary behind Mielle – the fastest growing, Black-founded and woman-led beauty brand offering quality, natural products for textured hair consumers. After her own personal healthy hair care journey went viral on social media, Monique launched Mielle in 2014 with just one product, the Mint Almond Oil. Today, Mielle is a global sensation, with orders in more than nearly 90 countries around the world. The brand’s products can be found in more than 100,000 stores across the U.S. in retailers such as CVS, Rite Aid, Sally Beauty, Target, Ulta Beauty, Walgreens, and Walmart. Her brand’s widespread popularity has amassed nearly 1 million followers on social media, affectionately called Mielle Mavens.

Through education, innovation and transparency, Mielle has earned the trust and loyalty of consumers, cultivating a devoted community and ultimately attracting the attention and support of investors. In 2021, Monique became the first Black woman to raise a non-controlling, nine-figure investment from Berkshire Partners, and in 2023, Mielle announced its historic partnership with P&G Beauty.

Monique’s success has defined her as a leader in the business community, inspiring women and young girls alike. Driven by her faith and purpose, Monique is passionate about helping women and small business owners around the world reach their potential. From her Secret Sauce to Success annual retreat, to the Mielle Global Education & Entrepreneurship program and the work of the Mielle Cares nonprofit, Monique strives to provide Black and brown communities with education, mentorship and financial support.

Gloria Smith

Gloria Smith is an educator, administrator and dedicated community organizer. She has worked for over three decades with a variety of grassroots community initiatives – with a special focus on youth and families, social justice, and preparing students of color for college and professional education. Ms. Smith is currently executive director of The Black Star Project in Chicago — an organization founded in 1996 by Phillip Jackson to close the racial academic achievement gap and to advocate for those in disadvantaged communities. In her work with The Black Star Project, Ms. Smith has coordinated a range of events and activities including public policy forums on economic empowerment and participatory democracy.

Ms. Smith has also worked with The DePaul University College of Law, the Chicago Kent College of Law, the Iliff School of Theology as well as other educational and community organizations. In her earlier career, Ms. Smith was Associate Director of Regulatory and Public Policy before retiring from SBC- Ameritech Corporation in 1999.