Meet the 2018 Broward Fellows
(back to NLC 2018 Fellows)
Associate Attorney, Gaebe, Mullen, Antonelli and DiMatteo
Neil W. Blackmon is an attorney who grew up primarily in the south, including Atlanta and Jupiter, Florida. A two-time graduate of the University of Florida, Mr. Blackmon earned a degree in English, graduating with honors.
While an undergraduate, Mr. Blackmon became the first University of Florida student selected three times to the Cross-Examination Debate Association All-American team. Before returning to the University of Florida for law school, Mr. Blackmon worked as the Director of Debate and taught argumentation at Pace University in New York City, and volunteered in Brooklyn high schools, teaching underprivileged students debate. In law school, Mr. Blackmon earned honors in courses on Criminal Law and Federal Courts and served on the Editorial Board of the Florida Journal of International Law. He was also a research assistant for the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations, the only center devoted to academic scholarship on race and racism housed in a southern law school. A proud Obama for America 08 alum, Neil worked in Tampa following law school before relocating to Atlanta, where he worked and was a volunteer debate coach at Georgia State University.
After two years in Atlanta, Mr. Blackmon returned to Florida where he worked six-plus years as an assistant public defender in multiple Florida jurisdictions. He has tried over thirty cases to verdict, ranging from misdemeanors to felony charges punishable by life. From 2012-2014, he was honored with the Broward Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers “Hat Trick Award” for three consecutive not guilty verdicts in a calendar year. More recently, in 2016, he received an award for pro bono excellence from Three Rivers Legal Services of Gainesville.
Mr. Blackmon currently works as an associate attorney at the law firm of Gaebe, Mullen, Antonelli and DiMatteo where his practice is focused on appeals, insurance coverage and complex civil and civil rights litigation. He is admitted to practice law in multiple courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States.
Neil is active in the Fort Lauderdale community, where he volunteers with the Wounded Warrior Project, works to help immigrant families facing a variety of legal challenges, and is a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. He is also a freelance journalist, having written for a variety of nationally-recognized publications on topics ranging from college football and soccer to politics and racial justice.
His most important job? Raising two amazing daughters, Mila and Elizabeth.
Special Projects Specialist, City of Miami
Elijah Bowdre is an international motivational speaker and creative marketing business consultant. His early career experiences in finance consisted of conducting financial and strategic due diligence on Hedge Funds and Private Equity Firms for internal marketing to ultra high-net worth clients for several leading investment banks in New York.
After the financial crisis, Bowdre reacted globally and launched his brand strategy group with a partnership in Shanghai, China. Utilizing this platform, Bowdre consulted small to midsized U.S. enterprises on best practices to expand strategic relationships within China. In addition to analyzing and synthesizing complex market data to advise clients, Bowdre created original branding strategy for local and multinational companies.
Currently residing in Overtown, Miami, Florida, Bowdre is national authority in intergovernmental cross-cultural and cross-generational leadership and is sought after as a thought leader on understanding and overcoming challenges in an increasingly culturally diverse global professional landscape.
Bowdre is a proud alumni of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University where he obtained his degree in business administration, with a concentration in finance, and serves as the youngest member of the prestigious International Advisory Board. In China, Bowdre attended Shanghai University where he studied Chinese economics. In Hong Kong he studied at the Hong Kong Securities and Investments Institute.
LoLo Lauren Evans Nyathi
Head of Experience, 10xU
LoLo Lauren Evans Nyathi is an experiential designer and collaborative strategist supporting organizations and entrepreneurs in their process to build strong, scalable cultures that can create greater impact for our world.
As the Head of Experience at 10xU (an educational platform for cobuilding exponential companies within the Rokk3r Labs ecosystem) and co-founder of VFlocks Consulting, LoLo designs interactions that generate trust, learning, engagement, cross-cultural communication, innovation and shared-growth opportunities.
Her work is rooted in “ubuntu,” a way of being that comes from the original cultures of Southern Africa that translates to ""I am because we are."" She works with teams to create solutions that break down outdated workflow paradigms and “thought-silos,” in order to strengthen ubuntu, creative thinking and collaborative momentum.
Director of Marketing, Tropic Ocean Airways
Alina Gavrushenko was born in Bila Tserkva, Ukraine and moved to Plantation when she was 10. Despite English being her third language, in addition to Ukrainian and Russian, she was placed in honors classes after her first year and became a member of her high school debate team. As a freshman in high school, she became a published author for her poetry and won numerous awards for her writing.
Easton K. Harrison
Easton K. Harrison is a community organizer within Broward County and focuses on improving the quality of life for the low-income residents in underserved areas. Easton’s work in the community began in freshman year of college when he joined an activist club on campus called ‘African Student Union’ (ASU). Once he joined the club he was approached by numerous members of the club to try and convince him to be President of the club. Despite being reluctant at first, he accepted and this was where he fell in love with having discussions around issues affecting Minority communities and learned about leadership skills in himself that he didn’t notice before.
Since then, Easton has been engaged in the community through volunteering, event planning, voicing issues at commission meetings, and starting initiatives intended to help people around Economics, Mentorship, and health. Easton did this by strategically placing himself on committees within the community that would give him the information needed to move forward and help the people in the community, and also partnering with several trusted and well established organizations throughout the county. One of these committees is the Diversity committee of the school board. This committee is responsible for eliminating any racial disparities that may exist within the education system of Broward County. Along with this, Easton also made it his duty to attend numerous city commission meetings within various cities in the county such as Ft. Lauderdale, Lauderdale Lakes, Lauderhill, Sunrise, etc. By doing this, he was able to keep in touch with the current political situation and had a sense of what the city’s priorities are in terms of the use of their budget.
This provide Easton with a skill set of understanding the mechanics of how the city operates which made him organize more strategically. Also, Easton has a deep interest and passion for African and indigenous history. He strongly believes that understanding what happened in Africa’s ancient history is key to helping to elevate African Americans today in America and the rest of the world. Easton is constantly reading books on Afro-History and he stills to this day uses this knowledge and philosophy to motivate his efforts in the community.
James R. Hepburn
Purchasing Agent, Broward County Government
James R. Hepburn is a US Army Veteran who served in the 82nd Airborne Division. While stationed in the 82nd AD, he was instrumental in the successful deployment of his unit to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. James also holds a Bachelor of Public Administration degree from Florida International University and a certificate in Professional Leadership. He has over a decade of public sector experience and was previously employed with Miami Dade County. He recently became employed by Broward County’s Purchasing Division as a Purchasing Agent. He is also the founder and President of YAHS, Inc., a nonprofit organization that mentors disadvantaged and at risk youth and families and also volunteers with Transition Hope and CMB Vision.
Instructional Coach, City Year Miami
Kamye Hugley is a native of Fort Lauderdale, FL and a proud product of Broward County Public Schools. An effective educator with more than five years of classroom teaching experience, she works to interrupt inequitable power dynamics in an effort to improve the education experience for all students. Kamye began her career in education with Teach For America, a nonprofit organization that places recent college graduates and professionals in our nation’s most under-resourced public schools to teach for two years. As a Corps Member with Teach For America, Kamye served as a Head Start Teacher in Prince George’s County, MD from 2009-2011.
CEO/Certified Community Health Worker, On-Call Leadership, Inc/YMCA of South Florida
Marie Huntley better known to the folks as “Miss Peaches” is a mother, a grandmother, a community advocate, and an organizer. Marie has an Associates of Art in Paralegal Studies, a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and a Master of Science in Criminal Justice. Marie experienced trials and triumphs in community organizing and grassroots mobilization and she continues to work tirelessly in the community to empower young community members to go higher in thinking and doing.
Staff Attorney, Catholic Legal Services, Inc.
Vanessa Joseph is an immigration attorney based in Miami, Florida. As an attorney at Catholic Legal Services, provides legal services to vulnerable populations. In addition to representing low-income immigrants, Vanessa conducts information sessions for immigrant detainees to inform them of their rights and the immigration court process. Through her work in the detention centers, she has provided these services to more than one thousand men and women through group and individual orientations and self-help workshops.
Director, NSU COLLEGE OF PHARMACY
Dr. Scott Kjelson, Director of Student Transitions and Assistant Professor at NSU College of Pharmacy, began his career in the healthcare industry with success on his mind. Dr. Kjelson has already had a huge impact in many lives. He has been a major speaker for organizations like Johns Hopkins University, The Biggest Loser TV Show, the South Florida Concierge Conference, and General Electric. Dr. Kjelson is a current Board Member of the FSHP Legal and Regulatory Affairs Council, an active member of the DEA Citizens Academy, and City of Fort Lauderdale Community Service Board Member, and a Broward County Community Task Force Member with the United Way, Broward Sheriff’s Office, and the DEA.
Dr. Kjelson started his career as a US Navy Corpsman where he worked as a surgical medic. Following his military experience and undergrad completion at Miami Dade College, he received his Doctorate Degree from Nova Southeastern University College of Pharmacy. Following his graduation Dr. Kjelson received his Pharmacy Consultant License and began to advance his knowledge and experience in Long Term Care Organizations. While consulting Dr. Kjelson also worked as a Staff Pharmacist at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Upon hi success and passion for the profession of pharmacy, he found himself pursuing and obtaining his role at NSU College of Pharmacy where he remains a mentor and leader.
Dr. Kjelson has been an active community member as well as professional to help others fulfill long healthy lives. He strives each day to make a difference and this is the reason for the many roles he assumes. His drive has become a highlight in his role and has boosted him to become recognized by many top leaders in the pharmacy profession. He is currently building a career development program at NSU College of Pharmacy, called the CAREERx SPACE, where he expects to build optimal professionals and maintain the role as an inspiration to others.
Staff Attorney, Capital Collateral Regional Counsel
Jason Kruszka is an attorney at Capital Collateral Regional Counsel in Fort Lauderdale, where he represents death-sentenced defendants in trial and appellate courts, in state and federal jurisdictions. He is a member of the Florida Bar and the Broward County Bar Association. He is admitted to practice in all Florida state courts, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. He has lived and worked in Broward County for almost two years and currently resides in Sunrise. Prior to that Mr. Kruszka worked for six years as a public defender in Fort Myers in the 20th Judicial Circuit. While there he was lead or co-counsel in more than 30 jury trials, representing clients facing charges ranging from second-degree misdemeanors to life felonies. Ultimately he became a felony track leader with supervisory responsibilities for four attorneys. Mr. Kruszka is a 2009 graduate of the Florida State College of Law. During law school he had the privilege of interning at the Innocence Project of Florida. As a result he had the opportunity on two occasions to be present when one of the organization's exonerated clients was released from custody. These experiences were deeply impactful and solidified his desire to be a criminal defense attorney. To prepare for his chosen career path he also interned at the Public Defender for the Second Judicial District in Tallahassee. Originally from Wisconsin, Mr. Kruszka earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, with minors in History and Philosophy. His interest in politics led him to become active in student government, where he was originally appointed and then subsequently elected as a student government senator. In addition to the law and politics, Mr. Kruszka is passionate about criminal justice reform, environmental sustainability and climate change issues, and college football.
Attorney, Federal Government
Julie Miles was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio and remains a loyal Buckeye. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Ohio State University and her law degree from University of Toledo. As such, Julie is grateful for the K-JD public education she received and strongly believes in the proper funding of public schools. While in law school, she was a Reinberger Fellow at the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia Criminal Law Division, clerked at the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, and served as a court appointed mediator. Julie began her career in Washington, D.C. as a Presidential Management Fellow for the Federal Government where she worked in strategic management, ethics, employment law, government contracts, border security, and immigration. Julie then spent over five years working on the Southwest Border based in Tucson, Arizona. During her time in Arizona, Julie also served for over five years on her alumni board and volunteered as a student recruiter furthering diversity initiatives for one of the nation’s largest universities. Julie currently serves as a Federal Attorney in Miami, Florida and is licensed to practice law in Ohio and Arizona. She is active in the Junior League, League of Women Voters for Miami-Dade County, Global Ties-Miami, Dade Heritage Trust, and YWCA. Julie holds the Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional (CCEP) designation and is a member of the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics.
Teacher/Consultant, Skipper Chuck's Childcare Center
From an early age Kelly Raben knew that education was her calling. After graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in Secondary Social Studies Education, Kelly moved to Washington, D.C. and worked in an inner-city middle school for five years. While in D.C., Kelly made it her mission to reach her students through lessons, activities, and field trips that helped them grow as critical thinkers. She knew that she could not teach the same whitewashed American History curriculum that she was taught growing up. Instead, she empowered her students to question, corroborate sources, and develop their own opinions and ideas about our nation's past, present, and future. Kelly then moved to Brooklyn, New York to switch paths and work as a Special Education teacher for Uncommon Schools, a high-performing charter network of 42 schools in New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. While teaching math to 6th-8th grade students with disabilities Kelly earned her Master's Degree during this time at Relay Graduate School of Education, becoming an expert in Individual Education Plans and interventions for her students' academic and behavioral challenges. Kelly has always believed in service, community, and equality and knows that these values all tie back to receiving an excellent education, which every child deserves, regardless of their zip code. Now, back home in South Florida, Kelly has a unique opportunity to improve and build upon the Early Childcare Centers that have been in her family for over 50 years. Kelly's love and respect for children of any age is apparent in her daily work and she is excited to embark upon a new professional path. In addition to her passion for education, Kelly is a proud feminist. Since moving back to South Florida, she has started a monthly women's group in order to build community, provide support, and share information on a range of topics that women face every day. She, like many others, attended and was inspired by the Women's March in January, 2017. Kelly considers herself to be a natural leader and loves to create spaces for people in her life to learn, grow, and give back to their communities.
Aide to County Commissioner Nan Rich, Broward County
Born in Silver Spring, Maryland, Stephanie Rosendorf grew up in Coral Springs, Florida, and received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Florida Atlantic University in 2013. While at Florida Atlantic, Stephanie fully realized her passion for government, law, and public policy, and she became deeply involved in her local Democratic Party. Because of her passion and involvement, she was privileged to serve as the youngest Florida delegate for President Barack Obama at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
After her undergraduate studies, Stephanie embarked on her legal education at the University of Miami School of Law. Here, she was privileged to be part of the Miami Scholars Program, which was started at the law school in 1997 for students who have a passion for public service as well as outstanding academic achievement.
During law school, Stephanie participated in various internships and clinics that focused on civil rights, immigration, fair housing, racial and economic justice, and more. She was also a member of the Public Interest Leadership Board, the Society of Bar & Gavel, and The Charles C. Papy, Jr. Moot Court Board, and she served as President of UM’s Law Students for Reproductive Justice during her 2L and 3L year.
Because of Stephanie’s work on fair housing with the UM Center for Ethics and Public Service and the West Coconut Grove community, she was honored with the Exemplary Service to the Poor Award just before graduation. After graduation, Stephanie passed the Florida Bar Exam and was sworn into the Florida Bar.
Since November of 2016, Stephanie has been working as a Commission Aide to County Commissioner Nan Rich. In this position, she works on a variety of important issues, including affordable housing, ending homelessness, climate change resiliency, juvenile justice, and more. Stephanie is also the Vice President of the Broward Young Democrats, and she serves as a Board Member of the Women’s Emergency Network, which provides funding for low-income women and girls who are in need of reproductive health services.
Owner, Lynete, LLC
Charles Sims is a real estate professional with extensive experience in development and project management.
He participated in the creation of over 560 units of affordable housing, 500 thousand SF of Retail Stores, and over 1 Million SF of Industrial Distribution and Cross-Dock Facilities
Charles is actively engaged in housing issues, and serves as the current Chairman of the Miami-Dade County Affordable Housing Advisory board, and sits on the Miami-Dade County Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board.
Attorney, La Cava & Jacobson, P.A.
Shari D. Smith was born in the Brooklyn, New York, but has lived in Florida since 1988. Shari earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida State University in 2008 and her Juris Doctor from University of Miami School of Law in 2011.
Shari currently is an attorney with the law firm of La Cava & Jacobson, P.A.
She focuses her practice of law on the defense of physicians, nurses, hospitals, and other health care facilities. Prior to joining La Cava & Jacobson, P.A., Shari worked with other prominent Fort Lauderdale based firms defending general liability, employment liability, and commercial and complex business litigation cases.
In addition to practicing law, Shari has a passion for public speaking and oral advocacy. She has taken her passion to schools and other CLE forums by being a guest speaker at Millennia Atlantic University and conducting a CLE at the T.J. Reddick Bar Association on “Introduction to Civil Litigation.
Institutional Marketing Specialist, Johnson Contols
Kendra Thomas, a Connecticut native, relocated to South Florida in 2016 to join Johnson Controls where she serves as an Institutional Marketing Specialist. Kendra is a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut, where she earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Digital Marketing and Analytics with a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. While in Connecticut, Kendra began her work to improve the communities around her by taking on a number of leadership roles such as the following: President of the Black Student Association, Resident Assistant for Social Justice Education, and Co-Founder of Sisters Inspiring Sisters. Kendra has often led the charge in her local communities by organizing rallies and most notably the Day of Protest in Hartford, CT: Against Mass Incarceration, Police Brutality, and Racial Inequality. As a new member of the Broward County community, Kendra has maintained her passion for giving back to her community and joined a number of organizations in the area to do so. Kendra is a member of the Urban League of Broward County’s Young Professional Network, Broward Young Black Progressives, and she has recently been approved to organize TedxSistrunk, an event which will aim to amplify the ideas and voices in the community. In addition, Kendra serves as the Communications Chair of Johnson Controls African & African American Business Resource Group of South Florida. Kendra has earned a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt from Purdue University. When asked about her work in the community, Kendra has said that she “wants to improve communities by empowering, encouraging, and motivating its members to be their best selves.” Kendra is constantly pursuing ways to improve herself, personally and professionally, by gaining more education, seeking challenging opportunities, and working to make her dreams a reality.
Owner, Probation Station
Monalisa Weber, Founder and President of Probation Station. An Educator, Mentor, Radio host and Community Activist was introduced to the criminal justice system after receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from Florida Atlantic University. During her years of employment with the Department of Corrections, she managed caseloads of up to 130 felony offenders and mental health cases. In doing-so, her civic duties included court appearances, interviews, field work to homes, work and rehab programs, and participation in sex offender and gang sweeps. She also served as a Senior In Court Probation Officer working alongside a Broward County Felony Judge. In this capacity, she served hundreds from within the public, advising on changes and important deadlines, and terms and conditions of supervision including house arrest, drug offender probation, prison splits, negotiating probation pleas and providing testimony and recommendations to State and Defense attorney’s.
Networking with attorney’s gave her the idea for Probation Station. It became apparent that the criminal justice system is organized and utilizes the benefit of communication, while many citizens are out of place and isolated within the network, often with the fate of the liberty of their freedom at the discretion of one person’s signature or ability to process a single correspondence.
For the past two and half years, Monalisa Weber has been educating the community about proactive measures as it relates to the Criminal Justice System. She has educated the community via her radio show Probation Station in which she interview ex-felons, bond man, community organizations, lawyers, probation officers, politicians and other locals. Her journey has landed interviews with Sabrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, Tariq Nasheed, author, film producer of Hidden Colors, Dr. Umar Johnson she has been on numerous panels throughout Miami Dade & Broward County and was honored to be a panel member on An American Conversation on Sirius XM in New York City. She recently aired on NBC 6 on a panel discussion about sexual harassment.
It is her wish to give anyone who enters the criminal justice system a voice by teaching them how to communicate first for themselves, and then with others, essentially providing everyone access to a functional component of the criminal justice network.
Teacher, Broward County Public Schools
Charlisa was born and raised in Nassau, Bahamas. She traveled to the United states after completing high school in 2009 to become the first person in her immediate family to receive a college education. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Florida Memorial University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a Concentration in Radiobiology. Ms. Whyms is currently employed as a secondary science teacher, at Lanier-James Education Center, in Broward County. She also works part time, as a teacher, with the Boys & Girls Club of Broward County, where she provides homework support, tutoring, and computer-assisted reading and math instruction in addition to mentoring youths between the ages of 6 and 18. She is a passionate educator who is dedicated to inspiring the youth through education and uses her life story and experiences as a tool to achieve this goal. Ms. Whyms is also dedicated to her community and volunteers with the Urban League of Broward County’s Young Professionals Network.
Owner, Pampered Roots
Toby Young is founder and CEO of Pampered Roots, a manufacturing company of hair care products located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida catering primarily to people with kinky curly textured hair. Toby is a graduate of Florida State University, where she received a BS in Accounting and Finance.
After graduation, Toby launched her career in Chicago, IL, where she employed her accounting knowledge as the Supervisor of Store Accounting at OfficeMax. She was later recruited by her former OfficeMax manager to fulfill the position as Payments Analyst for the global company, Walgreens. She currently works from home for Walgreens as a Senior Payments Analyst, where she has honed her skills in financial modeling, budgeting and variance analysis.
In 2015, Toby followed her passion for natural hair and officially launched the brand Pampered Roots to the public. Pampered Roots is on a mission to provide quality hair care products, celebrate the beauty within the natural hair community and provide a resource for the free flow of education as it pertains to natural hair.
Toby also serves her community as an active member of the Urban League of Broward County Young Professionals Network since 2013. She has served as the Professional Development chair and currently as the Senior Vice President. Toby has a personal passion to foster an environment for minority economic growth and professional development.