Spark! Talks




Jordan Ball
NLC-Pittsburgh ‘15 

Returning Appalachia to the Progressive Fold

Jordan Ball began his career in public service as a Panetta Congressional Fellow in 2012, where he interned under the guidance of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. He was inspired by his experience on Capitol Hill, and subsequently worked on local, state, and national campaigns across the country.  Jordan currently serves as U.S. Senator Bob Casey’s Southwest Regional Representative, where he works across the region to facilitate collaboration and work on issues impacting coal, rural, urban, senior and working-class constituencies.  He has quickly established himself as an advocate for rural Appalachia and an innovative, populist thinker who challenges orthodoxy.  In addition to serving as Co-Director of New Leaders Council Pittsburgh, he is active on several boards and has been featured in local and national publications, including “100 Days in Appalachia”, and was recognized in 2017 as a leading regional influencer by Pittsburgh’s “The Incline”.  He is currently pursuing his MBA at West Virginia University with an emphasis in Energy Finance.

Clare Brenahan
NLC-Washington, D.C. ‘12

The art of paying attention: Lessons from a LE Trainer

After 18 years of a gloriously Midwestern childhood in Cincinnati, OH, I moved to Washington, DC for college. Ever since I was THAT girl who called herself a feminist in grade school, I have dedicated my career to increasing women and girls’ representation through advocacy, political engagement, and social change efforts. So I often pinch myself that I currently serve as the Executive Director for She Should Run, a nonprofit inspiring more women and girls to run for office. Girl Scouts of the USA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office gave me my first big break in 2008, where I led GSUSA’s legislative and public affairs strategies for advancing the girl perspective in youth policy issues. Like all of us, there is so much more to me than my career history though. My 2012 New Leaders Council DC Fellowship opened my eyes to stepping out of DC’s rat race and focusing instead on my true purpose in life: joie de vivre a.k.a. the exuberant enjoyment of life. After participating in and leading multiple NLC Life Entrepreneurship trainings, I am jazzed to share my observations on how to make LE a way of life, long after that first NLC Institute weekend.

Ian Bridgeforth
NLC-Augusta ‘15

Our Young Voter Engagement Sucks, and It's All Our Fault

Ian's passion for civic engagement was sparked during an internship with his congressman. After graduating from Georgia College & State University with a degree in Mass Communication, he went on to work with local and national nonprofits in New York City. In 2014, Ian moved back home and founded Georgia Shift, an organization dedicated to giving young people a seat at the table of democracy. He is a member of the 2016 GALEO Institute of Leadership class and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Design Management from the Savannah College of Art & Design.

Vasco Bridges
NLC-Chicago '14

Being a Progressive CEO

As a 3rd generation entrepreneur and business leader, Vasco has always had a passion for positively impacting his community through entrepreneurship. From his home base in Chicago, he is currently doing this through two concurrent roles:

Vasco is the Executive Director of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, leading the Chicago efforts for the national initiative in partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago. In this role, Vasco and his team deliver practical business education and business support services to small business owners throughout the Chicagoland area.

Additionally, Vasco is the CEO of JANO Technologies, Inc. A family owned company with employees in both Mississippi and Illinois, JANO develops and maintains software for criminal justice institutions. JANO uses the latest in case management technology, electronic transaction capability and information integration to help Illinois circuit clerks drive change and improve efficiency in their respective organizations. JANO counts six of Illinois' largest counties as its customers.

Previously, Vasco was a manager in the Strategy & Operations practice at Deloitte Consulting with a focus on supply chain improvement and operating model redesign. Before that, he spent five years as a business development executive for Razor & Tie, a marketing, music and media company. He has business acumen and experience crosses multiple sectors including financial services, industrial manufacturing, non-profit, and government.

Originally hailing from just outside of Jackson, Mississippi, Vasco lived in Houston, Brooklyn, and Ann Arbor before settling in Chicago with his wife Brandi. Vasco is a 2010 MBA graduate of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He also holds a master’s degree from New York University in Music Business and a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Rice University.

Jackie Cornell
NLC-New York City ‘10
NLC-New Jersey Founding Board Member

Universal HeadStart

Jackie Cornell currently serves as a Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), covering New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. She is the highest-ranking political appointee for HHS in the Region and the youngest HHS Regional Director nationwide in the last five Administrations. Named one of 50 Women Who Made the Election by the Huffington Post, she served as the Deputy Field Director in southeastern Pennsylvania and as the State Director in New Jersey with President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. She has held leadership positions with Congressman Rush Holt (NJ-12), NJ Citizen Action, Organizing for America and Planned Parenthood. 

Jackie has run for local office and has held numerous board positions with both partisan and non-electoral organizations in the progressive and women’s movements.  She is the founder and a current advisory board member of the New Jersey chapter of the New Leaders Council (NLC), the nation’s premier progressive entrepreneurial leadership program for young professionals.

She is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Affairs and Politics at Rutgers University. She received her BA in English and Women’s Studies from The College of New Jersey. She lives in Central Jersey with her young son and far too many books.


Jesse Gilmore
NLC-Louisiana ‘13

Red State, White Whale: Winning Back the Elusive White Moderate Voter

Jesse Gilmore campaigns for good people and better causes, and works tirelessly to build a better tomorrow.  A native of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Jesse adopted Louisiana as his home 8 years ago when he attended and graduated from Centenary College. Jesse is a founding partner in Pelican Blue Strategies, LCC, a full-service political consulting firm with local, state and federal clients. Concurrently he also serves as the Director of Development for the LSU Health Sciences Foundation, an organization that supports the LSU schools of Medicine, Allied Health and Graduate Studies in Shreveport. In his spare time, Jesse volunteers as the State Co-Director of New Leaders Council Louisiana, and is an avid fantasy baseball player and accomplished writer. You can find him with his nose in an iPhone and a scotch neat in his hand after 5pm.


Kimberly Hayes
NLC-Augusta ‘15

Progress in the Presumption of a Postracial Era

Kimberly Hayes is a native of Augusta, GA. She holds a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Business from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. She is currently pursuing her Doctorate of Educational Leadership with an emphasis on Organizational Leadership and Behavior at Valdosta State University. Presently, she is employed with Augusta University where she serves as a Human Resources Training Specialist and a certified Crucial Conversations Trainer. Previously, she was the Supplier Diversity Coordinator at GRU for over 7 years within Materials/ Supply Chain Management.  Previously, Kimberly was an adjunct faculty member for Strayer University where she taught business courses to undergraduate students. In this role she has been a recipient of the Provost Circle Award for showing excellence in education and service to students. 

Kimberly is currently serving as the Curriculum and Institute Director for New Leaders Council-Augusta Chapter.  She is also a member of the United Way Citizens Review Panel and the Vice President of the Jessye Norman School of the Arts Parents Association. She volunteers monthly throughout her community to include the Ronald McDonald House of Augusta. Her interests include reading and spending time with family and friends.


Cesar Hernandez
NLC-Tampa Bay ‘15

Solving the Immigration Debate

Cesar R. Hernandez, is originally from Brooklyn NY, of Indigenous Mayan descent. Cesar has a long history of global engagement, social impact & development. He has managed engagement and development projects in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. He represented the United States at the Education Without Borders (EWB) global summit and the Festival of Thinkers (FOT) summit in Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively, where he held deliberations with world leaders and Nobel Laureates on current global challenges. At the summit attended by 3,000 participants representing 130 countries, Cesar had the #1 ranked policy presentation on his research and examination of American immigration and its contemporary challenges. 

Cesar Hernandez is currently the Government Relations Director at, primarily working on innovation and transportation policy objectives. In his prior roles he aided in legislative & community affairs efforts for the Tampa City Council's district 7 office, he was the Director of Community Engagement for the University Area Community Development Corporation (UACDC), Ambassador of Community Governance for the Haiti Recovery and Development Company (HR&DC) and former Student Body President and Trustee for the University of South Florida where he studied Bio-Medical Science, Political Science and Economics.


Adrienne Irmer
NLC-Chicago ‘16

Progressive Transportation Planning

Daughter.  Sister.  Auntie.  Friend.

Adrienne brings to NLC over 14 years of experience across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.  As a native of Chicago's South Side, proud graduate of Kenwood Academy (2000), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; 2004), and the Baruch School of Public Affairs (2014) as a National Urban Fellow, Adrienne is thrilled to continue to build on her legacy of service and strengthen her knowledge base through NLC.

Although a Biologist (by undergraduate degree) she has applied her highly-tuned critical thinking and analytical skills to the study of the dynamic and complex systems that are communities in the arenas of public policy, community & economic development, advocacy, community & government affairs, and urban planning.  Her clients may span many sectors, but all of her work is done with the goal of leaving this city, this world, in a better plane of existence than when she arrived.  Adrienne firmly believes that our collective success relies upon our ability and willingness to work together to achieve great things:

"A blue fly, if it clings to the tail of a thoroughbred horse, can travel ten thousand miles, and the green ivy that twines around the tall pine can grow to a thousand feet." – Buddhist Parable


ali ishaq
NLC-Tampa Bay ‘16

Dreams, Ideas, Deferred, Realized

ali sohail ishaq is a citizen of the world having grown up/lived in Dubai (U.A.E), Karachi (Pakistan), Boise (Idaho), and Amman (Jordan). ali heads strategic business development for the Engineered Solutions Group at Jabil, a Fortune-200 company headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida.

ali previously worked in management consulting in D.C. where he helped leaders create and implement organizational strategy for a wide array of federal government clients including: law enforcement, IT, and disaster preparedness. He was recognized for “exceptional service” by the Coast Guard National Incident Command for his work during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

As a State Department Fulbright Fellow in Jordan, he worked with the United Nations University and Project on Middle East Democracy to train youth activists across the region in civic engagement. He subsequently rose to President of the National Capital Chapter of the Fulbright Association alumni group, developing and successfully deploying the organization’s young professionals initiative.

ali grew up in an entrepreneurial household, heavily involved in his family’s restaurant business. He is a graduate of Leadership Tampa Bay-a Chamber of Commerce leadership training program. He earned his MBA at Duke University and undergraduate studies at Boise State University.

Oren Jacobson
NLC-Chicago ‘14

Will The Real Men Please Stand Up

Oren Jacobson has spent more than a decade in the private sector working in leadership positions that range from startups to Fortune 150 companies. He earned his MBA with an emphasis in Strategic Management in 2009, and is currently working on a Master's in Economics and Policy Analysis at DePaul University in Chicago.

Oren’s contributions, though, extend well beyond the business world. In 2014, Oren was selected as a New Leaders Council Fellow and now serves as their National Budget Chair. In 2016, he was selected as to join the Truman National Security Project as a Political Partner.

Oren serves on the board of the Illinois Campaign For Political Reform, on the American Jewish Committee’s Chicago ACCESS Board, and was just selected as the 2017 AJC Global Forum ACCESS Co-Chair. He is also the founder and Executive Director of Men4Choice, an organization focused on engaging, educating, and activating young men into the fight to protect and expand reproductive rights.

Oren now works as a multi-sector consultant. Oren also serves as an economic advisor on political campaigns at the state and federal level.


Emily Manz
NLC-New Jersey ‘12

Bar Crawls, Tours & Inclusive Development

Emily Manz is Principal of EMI, a consulting firm specializing in economic development marketing and tourism planning that values inclusivity and innovation. She is also Co-founder of Have You Met Newark? Walking Tours, Brick City Bar Crawl, and Nom Nom Newark Food Tours. Before starting her firm, Emily worked in trade and investment promotion with OCO Global, and earlier as an Associate of Real Estate and Business Attraction at Brick City Development Corporation where she led inclusive tech sector development strategies for Newark.

Emily was an NLC-NJ Fellow in 2012 and Co-Recruitment Director for NLC-NJ for two years. She is a 2014 Emerge NJ Fellow. She currently serves on the City of Newark's 350th Anniversary Committee, a committee of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), and the boards of Gallery Aferro and the Essex County Young Democrats. She is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers in Newark.

Emily attended the University of Delaware for a BA in Economics and Political Science. She received a MA in International Relations at Central European University in Budapest, and a MA in City and Regional Planning from Rutgers.

She enjoys spending time with friends or family, reading, and exploring new places!

 Montaño_–_Headshot.jpg   Michael Montaño
NLC-San Francisco ‘15

Fairness, Flex Work, and the Citizen's Share

Michael is a lawyer and entrepreneur who advises legal, civic, and financial technology startups on business strategy and product design. Michael lives in San Antonio, Texas, and works for Organizer, a San Francisco-based political technology company revolutionizing the way campaigns win elections and people build grassroots political movements.

Michael’s political work includes Obama for America 2008 and Secretary Julian Castro’s successful effort to provide free early childhood education to San Antonio children. In politics as in policy, Michael embraces a data-driven approach that aims to synthesize empirical rigor and thoroughgoing moral clarity.

Michael was a 2015 New Leaders Council Fellow, previously managed alumni engagement for the organization’s San Francisco chapter, and now advises the executive board in San Antonio. He is also a member of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, an NLC ally.

Michael received his JD from Stanford, where he focused on statutory interpretation, the political process, and behavioral economics, and served on the managing board of the Stanford Law Review. Michael earned his BA from Yale, where he studied political philosophy, economy, and practice.

Michael is the grandson of Mexican immigrants on his father’s side and descends from a centuries-old Tejano family on his mother’s. Michael remains a proud son of a progressive Catholic education.


Keith Nolan
NLC-Maryland ‘16

Fighting to Fight: Deaf in the Military

Keith Nolan has long wanted to serve our country in the US armed forces, following the example of his grandfather and great uncles who fought in World War II. From 2010 to 2011, he participated in the Army ROTC program at California State University, Northridge where he completed the first two levels of the program and be recognized in the top 20% of his class. He however could not advance to the next level because of his deafness and the Army’s current policy on hearing losses. His cadre nevertheless encouraged him not to give up and to go to Congress. After countless of meetings and emails, two identical Congressional bills were introduced, S. 1864 and H.R. 5296, which proposes to have a demonstration program for deaf and hard of hearing Americans to receive training to become officers in the Air Force. The House bill was reintroduced and is now H.R. 1722.  Furthermore, language for a feasibility study report on a disability pilot program was inserted in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.  Ultimately, Keith believes that the accession into the military services of deaf and hard of hearing members can help with the military’s national security and missions.

 Michael_Passante.jpg   Michael Passante
NLC-Washington, D.C. ‘11

The New Drug Epidemic

Michael Passante is Deputy General Counsel at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy where he works on a wide array of legal and policy issues.  He was previously New Jersey State Director of the President's Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and Legislative Counsel to the Housing Subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee where he worked extensively on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill and housing legislation.  He also worked on the campaigns of then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker and President Obama, was an Assistant Prosecutor in Newark, and worked in litigation at a law firm in New York.  Michael earned a bachelors in economics from Harvard College, a law degree from Harvard Law School, and a master's degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.

He grew up in Alpine, New Jersey and lives in Washington, DC with his wife Sarak.  


Kylie Patterson

NLC - New Jersey ‘15

Wealth and Millennials

Kylie Patterson is a Senior Program Manager for the Racial Wealth Divide team at CFED. In this role, she works to bridge best practices in program implementation to policy and research solutions, with the goal of decreasing income and wealth disparities in communities of color.Prior to joining CFED, Kylie worked as a consultant and engagement manager for BCT Partners, a national, minority-owned consulting firm. She also worked as the Manager of the City of Minneapolis STEP-UP youth employment initiative, as the Strategic Development Coordinator at EMERGE Community Development and as Pew Leadership Fellow for the Pew Center on the States.Her work has led to the expansion of a high-performing charter school in Trenton, NJ, the annual employment of over 1,200 low-income youth in the City of Minneapolis and the development of more than 250 jobs for low-income adults nationally.Ms. Patterson has served on multiple boards, including the Essex County (New Jersey) Workforce Investment Board.Ms. Patterson holds a B.A. in African American Studies and Political Science from Temple University and M.P.P. from the University of Minnesota. She is also a Truman Scholar, Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow and proud NJ New Leaders Council Fellow (2015).



Alexis Paza
NLC-Silicon Valley ‘13

Bricks & Beams: The role of the built environment in social justice and equal opportunity

Lexi Paza is originally from Williamsport, Maryland, a bucolic but unimaginative town in the Appalachian foothills. Before settling in the Bay Area she gave the Midwest a try, attending graduate school at the University of Chicago to study social work. With a career-long focus on the impact of the built environment on social fabric of communities, bearing witness to the literal and ideological dismantling of one of the world’s greatest public housing project failures while living on Chicago’ South Side was confounding, especially while juxtaposed with local hero and then-presidential nominee Obama’s meteoric rise as a symbol of a post-racial, hopeful nation. Following the sunshine, Lexi landed in California in 2009 and became a Fellow with NLC-Silicon Valley in 2013. Finding NLC an exceptionally effective way of ensuring that the pipeline of civic leaders is filled with progressives with the resolve and skill to participate thoughtfully in local, national, and global issues, she became the co-director of NLC-San Francisco in February 2016.  Professionally, Lexi serves as Community Catalyzer at Tides, where she is transforming Tides' Presidio campus into a hub for the organization’s vast ecosystem of changemakers by building communities of practice, holding compelling events, and forcing collaboration on the unsuspecting.

 Dan_Peterson.JPG   Dan Peterson
NLC-St. Louis ‘15

Failure is Your Greatest Strength

Dan Peterson is the Client Coordinator at CIC St Louis, a 2015 NLC fellow, and co-chair of NLC St Louis. He is relentlessly passionate and optimistic about NLC and the future or our country.

Dan studied Computer Science and Psychology at The University of Tulsa, but left without graduating in 2010, carrying over $60,000 of student loan debt. Since then he has worked as a cook, a camp counselor, as a direct service provider for people with with disabilities, an ACA Navigator, a field organizer, a field director, and a campaign manager in Ferguson, MO. In June of 2016 he returned to school at St Louis University to finish his degree. He lives in St Louis, Missouri.

 Dave_Rini_Headshot.jpg   Dave Rini
NLC-Boston ‘14

Prison and the Internal Combustion Engine: Ideas past their prime

Dave Rini is the Prison Rape Elimination Act project coordinator for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, working to support survivors of rape and sexual assault who are currently incarcerated in Massachusetts. He is an attorney with a focus on housing law and civil rights. Previously, Dave served as BARCC's staff attorney, as the assistant director for Boston's Inspectional Services Department, overseeing the city's rental housing inspection ordinance, and an independent public speaking consultant. Dave was a fellow of NLC Boston '14, and is one of the current co-chairs for alumni.


Samantha Sexton
NLC-Tallahassee ‘14

Bringing Marginalized Girls to the Center of Policy Work

Samantha, who received her B.A. and M.A. in Political Science from the University of Florida, moved to Tallahassee in 2012 while working with Pew Charitable Trusts. Prior to her role with Pew on the Southeast Forage Fish campaign, she worked with Project Payback in Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit helping youth offenders complete their court-ordered restitution and several nationally recognized political campaigns. In 2013, the University of Florida’s Political Science Department presented Samantha with the Ralph Gonzales Memorial Award for her electoral experience. She has also been recognized as a Golden A.C.E. by the Tallahassee Network of Young Professionals, “30 under 30” rising star of Florida Politics, up-and-coming lobbyist by INFLUENCE Magazine, Distinguished Young Alumnae of the White House Project and Bob Graham Civic Scholar. Samantha currently serves as the Director of Government Affairs with PACE Center for Girls, Inc., a juvenile justice prevention and education program, and is passionate about civic-engagement and restorative justice practices.

Samantha serves as the NLC Tallahassee Co-Director, Treasurer for the Junior Leagues of Florida State Public Affairs Committee and is a Florida Juvenile Justice Association Board Member and member of the Leadership Florida Leadership Team, Connect Florida Board of Governors and Florida Blue Key. Locally, she mentors with Big Brother Big Sisters of the Big Bend, volunteers with the Junior League of Tallahassee and serves as the President of the Capital Area Gator Club.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys scuba diving, red wine, traveling and reading.

 shane_smith_headshot.jpg   Shane Smith
NLC-New Jersey ‘15

Democracy at Work: Worker Ownership Transforms Lives, Communities, and Industries

Shane Smith is a 2015 Fellow of NLC New Jersey and the Executive Director of Democracy at Work, a nonprofit media organization that advocates for workplace democracy as the keystone of a new and better economic system. Shane brings over a decade of leadership and program experience in a variety of settings, including grassroots advocacy and direct-service organizations, a Trenton-based policy research institute, New Jersey's largest hospital, a UN field office in Colombia, and other international NGOs. He was the founding publisher of the Jersey City Independent, an online newspaper covering politics, culture, and community news in Jersey City, NJ. Shane holds an MA in International Affairs from the New School University in New York City, where he developed a passion for the question of how to organize and mobilize local reform movements and leaders, developing the tools and perspective to work together for broad social change.

 Eboni_Wells.jpg   Eboni (Wells) Taylor
NLC-Detroit ‘15

Giving For Girls

Eboni (Wells) Taylor is the former public policy fellow at the Skillman Foundation in Detroit. In her role, Eboni managed special public policy projects and conducted research on public policy issues at the state and local levels affecting neighborhoods and children. Prior to her start at the Skillman Foundation, Eboni received her master’s degree from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). Mrs. Taylor received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) with a double major in Political Science and African & African-American Studies and a minor in International and Comparative Studies. Eboni is a native Detroiter and has intentionally established her interests at the intersection of community development and public policy. Mrs. Taylor is currently a developer with her family’s business, Welco & Co., and is actively building the infrastructure for Giving for Girls (giving circle). She serves on three boards, the Michigan Afterschool Association, Eastside Community Network and the Mary Turner Center for Advocacy. Mrs. Eboni Taylor lives in Detroit, MI with her husband and is expecting a baby boy in the fall of 2016.


Vince Vu
NLC-Twin Cities Founding Board Member

The Fourth Sector

Vince Vu is a founding partner of YES&, a social business dedicated to designing experiences that bring people together. Vince's passion lies in growing social business infrastructure and operationalizing sustainable social change. Vince is interested in redefining the traditional three-sector approach to include a fourth – a sector which marries social impact with sustainable revenue generation. In addition to his professional work, Vince is an executive board member for the New Leaders Council – Twin Cities chapter, the Impact Hub – MSP, and the Minnesota Organizational Development Network. In his free time, Vince is an amateur marathoner, corgi enthusiast, and unapologetic advocate of bread. Vince received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas and his Masters in Public Policy from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. 

  Donald Washington
NLC-Boston ‘16

Mental Health in Communities of Color

Hello. My name is Donald Washington. I was a 2016 Fellow of the Boston Chapter of the New Leaders Council. I work as a Residential Counselor at North Suffolk Mental Health Association. I also work as a peer trainer and mandated reporter for Mass Advocates Standing Strong through an initiative called Awareness and Action. I teach individuals with disabilities about abuse prevention. Before that, I worked at Brigham and Women's Hospital for 13 years in Radiology. I credit the New Leaders Council for aligning my career compass because before this, I always asked myself, "Is this the right path for me?" I am so proud to be a part of the NLC Family and I am so glad that the NLC gave me the support to guide me in my path to success.


Fran Watson
NLC-Houston ‘15

Surviving the Rollercoaster

Fran Watson is a native Houstonian who has a passion for equality and believes everyone deserves a life of dignity, equal access, and fair treatment. Fran is one of the founding partners at Simoneaux & Watson, P.C., a Houston based law firm that focuses on protecting the legacy of families. Fran is an active member of the LGBT community, whose focus is on the intersection of equality and racial justice.

Fran is the current President of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, the South’s oldest civil rights organization dedicated to advancing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights through the endorsement of pro-equality political candidates.  She serves on the Executive Board of the Houston chapter of New Leaders Council (NLC), a progressive leadership institute that recruits, trains, and promotes innovative leaders to affect change in their surroundings.  Additionally, she is a member of the newly formed NLC4 Women’s Caucus, a policy team of women from across the country seeking to promote an agenda of equality for women.  

Outside of politics, Fran is the board president of Montrose Grace Place, a drop-in center that provides a safe environment for vulnerable, homeless youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities.   She recently joined the board of directors for Standard of LOVE, an empowerment movement for Black Americans.

In her free time, she enjoys traveling with her wife of twelve years, Kim Watson.


Sunny Williams
NLC-Chicago ‘14

Increasing Health Literacy with Cartoons

Sunny wants to live in a world where more people follow a passion driven life, Shark Week is twice a year and he could grow an award-winning, hirsute beard. In the past, he has been an English teacher in Spain, producer of a couple short films, and an attorney at a big law firm. He is the founder of Tiny Docs, a media technology company that helps kids and families understand issues related to health & wellness. Every day he gets up motivated to help Tiny Docs reach its goal of making a billion people smile in one hundred languages.