Meet our 2021-22 inaugural cohort 

Who they are:  These 27 influential civic leaders are bold and action-oriented, purposeful and persuasive. They span all spectrums of diversity in Cincinnati—from their own personal backgrounds, politics, and beliefs, to their professional and volunteer portfolios. But they share much in common.They are all connected influencers in the business, religious, civic, arts, education, law enforcement, or nonprofit sectors, who educate and inspire change within their own personal and professional networks. They are intellectually curious with track records of motivating others. They are authentic innovators with proven ability to drive transformative change. They are positioned to set the tone for our community, now and into the future.

What they have accomplished: Starting in September 2021, these incredible leaders engaged in nine months of transformative learning, exploring the relationship between extremism, antisemitism, racism, and inclusive democracy, and building skills for effective leadership in a polarized time. They have leveraged their learnings through action projects that enhance their individual work in this area, raise awareness, and catalyze community change.

Desiré Bennett is a community connector promoting racial justice, women’s empowerment, and economic self-sufficiency. She is a Senior Social Equity Specialist at Design Impact, a nonprofit social innovation firm that uses design to address pressing community issues, equip leaders, and inspire communities. Bennett is also an ambassador for the United State of Women, advancing gender equity in communities across the nation. She has served on several community boards, including the City of Cincinnati’s Gender Equity Taskforce and the Citizen Complaint Authority Board, the Women’s Fund’s Leadership Council, the WCPO 9 News Community Advisory Board, and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Community Advisory Committee. She is a former commissioner on the Hamilton County Commission on Women & Girls and a former MLK Coalition vice president. Bennett was awarded the “Outstanding Alumnx Award'' from the University of Cincinnati, where she completed a BA in Journalism and an MA in Communication.

Desiré Bennett

Senior Social Equity Specialist, Design Impact

Tammy Bennett is an experienced employment attorney who focuses her practice on equity, diversity, and inclusion training and consulting; Title VII compliance; and retaliation claims. She is a member of the firm’s Environmental, Social and Governance practice. She also serves as the Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer. In this role, she advises in the design, implementation, and management of the firm’s equity, diversity, and inclusion programs and initiatives. Bennett frequently consults with employers about, and conducts training, workshops, lectures, and keynote addresses on: diversity and inclusion, gender equity, implicit bias, inclusive artificial intelligence, neurodiversity, inclusive and agile leadership, cultural competence, emotional intelligence, and the multigenerational workplace. She also provides inclusive leadership coaching. Bennett is a self-described “sociologist with a law degree.” Before attending law school, she earned a Master’s Degree in Sociology with a concentration in Race, Class, and Gender; and Work, Labor, and Organizations.

Tammy Bennett

Partner, Chief Equity + Inclusion Officer, Dinsmore

Senator Bill Blessing has been a member of the General Assembly since 2013, having been first elected as a State Representative for the 29th District in 2012. In 2019, he was appointed to the Ohio Senate representing the 8th Senate District, which includes western Hamilton County, and the northern and northeastern suburbs. His areas of expertise and interest include: education, particularly school funding; alcohol issues; taxation; and housing. He currently sits on the following committees: Ways & Means, Finance, Transportation, Education, and the Select Committee on Gaming. Blessing continues to work as a licensed, professional engineer at Super Systems Inc. in Sycamore Township, where he has been since 2007. He received bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and Electrical Engineering from the University of Cincinnati. He and his wife and children reside in Groesbeck, a neighborhood in Colerain Township. Blessing’s father also served in both the Ohio House and Senate.

State Senator Louis Blessing III

State Senator, 8th District | Engineer, Super Systems Inc.

Paul Booth Jr. is the Lead Pastor of Legacy Pointe Church in Cincinnati. He previously served as the Executive Pastor of Cincinnati’s New Prospect Baptist Church. Booth graduated from DePauw University, and completed his Master of Divinity at Emory University. Having graduated from the Harvard Summer Leadership Institute, he recently completed a Ph.D. from Benedictine University. A recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award, Booth served on the International Commission on Evangelism in the Baptist World Alliance. He is a graduate of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce’s C-Change class of 2012. The Cincinnati Business Courier named Booth as a 40 under 40 recipient. Booth serves on the clergy advisory board for the Cincinnati Symphony. He also serves on boards including City of Cincinnati Human Services Commission, Forest Park Economic Development Council, Queen City Foundation, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center, and Festival of Faiths Steering Committee.

Dr. Paul Booth, Jr.

Lead Pastor, Legacy Pointe Church | President, Concentric Brands

Andrew Ciafardini serves as Chief Sustainability Officer & Head of Global Public Policy for FIS, a global leader in technology, solutions and services for merchants, banks and capital markets businesses. Previously, he served as Worldpay’s Head of Global Corporate Affairs & Communications. Before that, Ciafardini was Director of Corporate Planning and Communications at Chiquita Brands International. In Washington, Ciafardini served in numerous leadership roles including Special Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House. Previously, Ciafardini worked as Government-to-Citizen Portfolio Manager at the US Office of Management and Budget. Prior to OMB, Ciafardini was Assistant Chief of Protocol at the Department of State under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Shortly after returning to Ohio, Ciafardini was asked to fulfill the remainder of Jim Raussen’s term as State Representative for the 28th District. Ciafardini graduated from University of Cincinnati’s Blue Ash College and holds a BS in Management from George Mason University.

Andrew Ciafardini

Head of Corporate & External Affairs, FIS

Cofounder & Chief Strategic Officer at Box Kite Strategy Group, a design agency, Leo D’Cruz has nearly two decades of experience leading dynamic projects in political, policy, and public sector spaces that focus on structural social change. In 2020 he helped lead a national team to defend DACA. D’Cruz has worked the past three presidential elections; most recently as Senior Advisor for Jewish Engagement for Team Biden-Harris. A resident of North Avondale, D’Cruz has always been actively involved in civic volunteerism focused on economic, racial, gender, and sexuality inclusion. D’Cruz has served on multiple boards and task forces over the years from an early iteration of the United Way Poverty Task Force to the League of United Latin American Citizens' National Civil Rights Committee, and Vice Chair of the Cincinnati’s Citizen Complaint Authority. D’Cruz is currently a board member of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and Findlay Market Corporation.

Leo D'Cruz

Cofounder & Chief Strategic Officer, Box Kite Strategy Group

Pastor Norma Lynn Felts was born in Walterboro, South Carolina. She graduated from Wright State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biomedical Engineering. Felts received her Master of Divinity degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton. After other service, she was appointed pastor of Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Cincinnati in 2016, where she served for almost three years. In 2019, she was appointed pastor of Lee Chapel A.M.E. Church in Cincinnati. Felts served as secretary of the Dayton Methodist Ministerial Alliance for six years. She serves on the Ohio-South Ohio Board of Examiners. In 2019, she was elected the first female Treasurer of the Ohio-South Ohio Annual Conference. Felts is enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program at Payne Theological Seminary in Xenia, Ohio. Her favorite scripture is: “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it's in your power to help them” (Proverbs 3:27).

Pastor Norma Lynn Felts

Pastor, Lee Chapel A.M.E. Church

The CEO and founder of Cohear, Dani Isaacsohn began his career as a community organizer in Cincinnati on President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. He then helped launch “Battleground Texas,” an organization committed to helping make Texas more politically competitive. Isaacsohn has since held both policy and voter outreach roles for presidential, gubernatorial, and Senate campaigns. Isaacsohn is a graduate of Yale Law School, and worked for the Office of the White House Counsel and the North Carolina Attorney General’s office during that time. Isaacsohn received a Master’s degree from Cambridge University. Isaacsohn also serves as the founding president of the board for the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, the largest asylum seeker organization in the country. Locally he is on the board of Heartfelt Tidbits, a nonprofit that provides assistance to refugees and immigrants; Women of Cincy; the Jewish Community Relations Council, and Bonds of Union, an education nonprofit.

Dani Isaacsohn

CEO & Founder, Cohear

Dr. Robert Kahn is a Professor of Pediatrics and Associate Chair for Community Health in the Department of Pediatrics at UC College of Medicine and at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Kahn serves as Executive Lead for the hospital’s Community Health strategic plan, which helps to ensure Cincinnati’s 70,000 children are the healthiest in the nation through strong family and community partnerships. The plan focuses on excellent and equitable child health outcomes, all children achieving their full potential, and safe and supported families. Kahn's own interests lie at the intersection of poverty, racism, and child health, examining what leads to worse health and where we might intervene most effectively in partnership with families and community agencies. Kahn attended Princeton University, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and did his residency and fellowship at Children’s Hospital in Boston. He obtained a Master’s in Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Dr. Robert Kahn

Executive Lead, Community Health, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

State Representative Brigid Kelly represents Ohio’s 31st House District, from Northside to Amberley, in Hamilton County. Kelly focuses on the issues that impact the people of her district and all of Ohio. She has championed issues such as commonsense, affordable healthcare for women; relieving Ohio’s families of unnecessary financial burdens; providing additional resources for children in our state; and lifting hardworking Ohioans out of poverty. In addition to serving in the Ohio House, Kelly works for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 700, representing union members in the grocery and food processing industries. Kelly is a graduate of Xavier University and University of Cincinnati, and previously served on Norwood City Council.

State Representative Brigid Kelly

State Representative, Ohio’s 31st House District

Marie Krulewitch-Browne is the Founder and Executive and Artistic Director of ish, Cincinnati’s Jewish and Israeli arts and cultural festival. Krulewitch-Browne has shared expertise and creativity across a variety of Cincinnati-area initiatives, serving as a board member or committee chair for organizations including the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, Congregation Beth Adam, MUSE Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir, the University of Cincinnati’s Alpha Tau Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta, the League of Women Voters, and more.

Marie Krulewitch-Browne

Founder/Executive & Artistic Director, ish

Beryl Love is the Editor and Vice President of News at the Cincinnati Enquirer. He is responsible for news content and audience development for the Enquirer and He also serves as Regional Editor of the USA Today Network news organizations. In that capacity, he oversaw creation and launch of the USA TODAY Network National News Desk; and was responsible for several key content verticals, including Politics, Business, and Life. Love was Executive Editor of the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2006 to 2013. Previously he worked at the Enquirer in various newsroom leadership positions. Love serves on the boards of the Ohio Debate Commission and the Ohio News Media Association. He is former board president and VP of Finance of the Nevada Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. A Cincinnati native who went to Forest Park High School, Love received his BA in Communication from the University of Cincinnati.

Beryl Love

Editor and Vice President of News, Cincinnati Enquirer

Mack Mariani is a professor of political science at Xavier University. He served as chair of the political science department (2014-2020) and director of the Public Affairs and Urban and Regional Sustainability and Resilience MA programs (2020-2021). A Buffalo native, Mariani earned his BA at Canisius College (1991) and his MA and PhD at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University (1992, 2006). Mariani is coauthor of Diverging Parties (Westview, 2003) and co-editor of The Insider's Guide to Political Internships (Westview, 2002). His research has appeared in many journals including Political Research Quarterly, PS: Political Science and Politics, Politics and Gender, Representation, and The Journal of Terrorism and Political Violence. Mariani served as legislative aide and press secretary for US Representative Bill Paxon, and chief of staff for the Monroe County (NY) Legislature. Mariani started in politics as an intern for US Representative Jack Kemp.

Dr. Mack Mariani

Professor of Political Science, Xavier University

Kenji Matsudo is a “teacher of teachers.” He serves as the Superintendent of Madeira City Schools; he is Madeira’s first minority superintendent. He loves working with students, parents, and staff to help them find and remember their purpose as they journey through life. Kenji Matsudo’s family history is one of hard work and love of service. Originally from Okinawa, Japan, his grandparents were field laborers on a sugar cane plantation in Hawaii. Matsudo’s father, Jinchi Matsudo, is one of eleven children whose brothers served in the famed 442nd US Army Battalion. Jinchi a US Marine veteran, and was the only sibling to go on to college on the GI Bill. Matsudo holds a BA in Psychology from Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, a M.Ed. in Educational Psychology from Miami University, and a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from the University of Cincinnati. Before serving in administration, he was a special education teacher.

Kenji Matsudo

Superintendent, Madeira City Schools

Lucy May has been a reporter for WCPO 9 in Cincinnati since January 2013. Much of her work is devoted to reporting on poverty, social justice, and homelessness. Before working at WCPO 9, May reported for the Cincinnati Business Courier, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Dayton Daily News and the Greenville (S.C.) News. She is a Northern Kentucky native and a 1990 graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

Lucy May

Reporter, WCPO 9

Thomas McLaughlin is an innovative senior leader in the performing arts with more than 15 years of marketing, patron engagement, and customer relations experience at arts organizations of various sizes and disciplines. He has worked with Cincinnati Ballet for the past eight seasons in various patron-facing roles. His most recent position as the Vice President of Patron Experience and Community Engagement capitalizes on his passion for the arts and his community. McLaughlin has also been engaged with Know Theatre of Cincinnati for over a decade and currently serves as its Board Chair. Previously, he worked in communications at ArtsWave, the country’s oldest and largest united arts funder. His passion for the arts shines in every aspect of his life. McLaughlin believes the shared experiences we have through performances and cultural experiences shape our community, and encourage us to have genuine conversations with one another.

Thomas McLaughlin

VP of Patron Experience & Community Engagement, Cincinnati Ballet

Andrew Musgrave serves as the Director of the Catholic Social Action Office for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He is a proud Hoosier by birth, earned his BA in Theology from the University of Notre Dame and his MA in Public Service and Nonprofit Management from Marquette University. Prior to coming to Cincinnati, Musgrave worked in Milwaukee for 15 years, both in the nonprofit and faith sectors. He has focused his career on community building; gaining experience in food systems, education, social services, housing, and community organizing. His passions include racial justice, immigration advocacy, interfaith collaboration, and caring for God’s creation.

Andrew Musgrave

Director, Catholic Social Action, Archdiocese of Cincinnati

Susan B. Noonan became active in the Ohio Brain Injury Association (OBIA) after one of her sons was injured in an auto accident. Noonan has served on the OBIA state board and Ohio Brain Injury Advisory committee, and is a founding member of the Circle of Life Board. Noonan worked with the Cincinnati Human Relations commission (CHRC) as police-community relations coordinator and Acting Executive Director. She was Finance/Fundraising Director for Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune. Noonan is active on several boards including: President of FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association, Vice Chair of Greater Cincinnati Sports Corporation, Vice President of the Cincinnatus Association, Secretary of CrimeStoppers, and the Women’s City Club. Her many awards include: Glorifying the Lions Award of Urban League, Community Hero Award from Artworks, Women’s Political Caucus Annual Award; President's Award of Merit- Ohio Crime Prevention Association (3 times); Alpha Sigma Kappa Honor Society. Noonan received her Masters in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati.

Susan B. Noonan

Board President, FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association

Lauren O’Brien is a native Northern Kentuckian who is passionate about connecting and improving the Greater Cincinnati area. O’Brien has had the opportunity to play leadership roles in many policy initiatives, primarily focused on substance abuse disorders, infant mortality, and Covid-19 recovery. O’Brien’s current role is with the Northern Kentucky Area Development District as a Business Continuity and Disaster Resiliency Planner. Previously, she worked as the Director of Communications for Cincinnati City Councilwoman Amy Murray. Through these roles she has been recognized as a respected community leader with good political instincts who is well-connected, data driven, and builds strong community relations. O’Brien also served on the Kentucky 4th District Republican Party Committee, the Campbell County Republican Party Executive Committee, Greater Cincinnati Young Republican board, Cradle Cincinnati Policy Committee, Action Tank Advisory Board, and the Northern Kentucky Horizon Community Fund Accelerator.

Lauren O'Brien

Business Continuity and Disaster Resiliency Planner, Northern Kentucky Area Development District

Ioanna Paraskevopoulos co-founded Action Tank in January 2019 to provide free policy research and technical assistance to Cincinnatians, especially community and neighborhood groups. Previously, she served as Chief of Staff to Cincinnati City Council Member David Mann. Under her leadership, Mann’s office introduced and passed signature legislation to reframe conversations surrounding development in Cincinnati. This reframing included calling for a community benefits agreement in connection with the FC Cincinnati MLS soccer stadium; an ordinance to regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb; an ordinance creating an affordable housing trust fund; and a motion to create an energy efficiency benchmarking program. From 2010 to 2016, Paraskevopoulos worked at the US Department of State, where she was the Senior Human Rights and Congressional Affairs Officer for the Middle East Bureau. She also served as bureau coordinator for the UN General Assembly. Paraskevopoulos has a B.A. in Philosophy from Columbia University and a J.D. from Northern Kentucky University.

Ioanna Paraskevopoulos

Co-Founder/Executive Director, Action Tank

Rev. Nelson Jerome Pierce, Jr. is the Grassroots Power Builder for Democracy for America. He is also the senior pastor of Beloved Community Church in Cincinnati. From the preaching in the pulpit to marching with and protecting protestors, and from electing progressive candidates to organizing communities for change, Pierce’s lifelong mission has been the liberation and well-being of all oppressed people.

Rev. Nelson Jerome Pierce, Jr.

Senior Pastor, Beloved Community Church | Grassroots Power Builder, Democracy for America

Rincones is a Leadership Consultant and Advisor with Pope Consulting, Blue Circle Leadership Institute, and the Xavier University Leadership Center. Previously, Rincones was the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Senior Vice President for Fifth Third Bancorp. She was responsible for initiatives to achieve diverse talent excellence, a highly inclusive culture, and strong community partnerships. During her tenure, Rincones led initiatives that earned three prestigious Gallup Great Workplace Awards, 100 percent green status from the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, as well as numerous awards for initiatives focused on individuals with disabilities. Rincones received her bachelor’s degree, with honors, in business and HR management, from Davenport University. Rincones is a graduate of Leadership Cincinnati, Class 39. Rincones is 2nd Vice President of the Greater Cincinnati Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is a Board Member of the Hispanos Avanzando Hispanos Foundation. She serves on the DEI Committee for ProKids CASA.

Pamela Rincones

2nd Vice President, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

The Rev. Melanie Slane currently serves as Associate Priest for Mission and Liturgy at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Hyde Park. Slane represents the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio at the Ohio Council of Churches as Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer, and member of the Becoming Beloved Community Leadership Team. Slane graduated in 2013 from Virginia Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity. Before moving to Cincinnati, she served as Associate Priest at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Webster Groves, Missouri; and prior to that, as Assistant Rector at the Church of the Epiphany, Washington, DC. Slane served the Church in the Northern Philippines, working with local women to start a small business in organic jam-making. Her interreligious ministry has also taken her to Honduras, Turkey, the Navajo Nation, Tanzania, Hong Kong, Israel, and Palestine. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri, with a BS in business administration.

The Rev. Melanie Slane

Associate for Mission and Liturgy, Episcopal Church of the Redeemer

Rickell Howard Smith is a civil rights attorney and policy advocate specializing in criminal and juvenile justice policy reform. She currently serves as the Executive Director for the Center for Social Justice at the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio. Smith began her legal career as a Legal Aid attorney. She became the Director for the Human Rights in Prison Litigation project at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center. She then served as Director of Litigation and Policy at the Children's Law Center. Smith also was Senior Director of Community Strategies at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. Smith serves on the Board of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and is cochair of the Cincinnati Bar Association’s Criminal and Social Justice Committee. Her prior board experience includes Lighthouse Community School Board and Central Community Health Board. A Cincinnati native, Smith holds a BA from Howard University and JD from Temple University School of Law.

Rickell Howard Smith

Executive Director, Center for Social Justice, Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio

Julie Sunderland is a community educator, teaching artist and dancer, currently serving as Program Manager for the Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate. In her previous role at Cincinnati Ballet, she spent 11 years creating community programs designed to engage and diversify the ballet audience. As one of the founders of the Greater Cincinnati Access and Inclusion Network, she helped to make Cincinnati one of the most inclusive cities in the country. Julie is currently teaches at Uptown Arts, the Down Syndrome Association and DANCEFIX.

Julie Sunderland

Program Manager, Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate.

Kyla Woods is an experienced broadcast journalist, host, and communications professional, currently serving as Public Information Officer for Hamilton County Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey. Woods previously worked as a reporter and anchor at WLWT in Cincinnati. Woods started her own business, Crowd or Camera, in 2016 and has managed several communications and PR campaigns in Cincinnati and the Midwest. She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and a 40 Under 40 Honoree.

Kyla Woods

Public Information Officer, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office

Joey Taylor is the Director of Bespoken Live, a storytelling, story-listening, and mindfulness program designed to create safe space for people to find their voice together. With experience in interfaith engagement and community development in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Cincinnati, Taylor’s commitment to story began when he was encouraged to develop youth programming in the face of political and religious polarization and social isolation. He lives in East Price Hill.

Joey Taylor

Director, Bespoken Live