Meet the 2021 Chicago Peace Fellows

By Travis Rejman
Executive Director

The Goldin Institute invites you to learn about each of our 2021 Chicago Peace Fellows representing 14 community areas across the city.  Founded in 2019 in collaboration with the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, the Chicago Peace Fellows program is the only leadership development program that is built by and for grassroots community leaders on the South and West sides of Chicago.

Peace Fellows participate in GATHER, an online asset-based community engagement course, as well as in-person training, collaborative action projects, and networking experiences with civic leaders, academic researchers, and policy makers. The Chicago Peace Fellows reduce violence by building relationships, engaging youth, collaborative peace building projects over the summer and by creating new networks among residents, families, schools, and nonprofit organizations.



Mekazin AlexanderMekazin Alexander is the Founder of Earl's Garden Mae's Kitchen. Over the past 20 plus years Earline “Mekazin” Alexander has been committed to ensuring that residents in the City of Chicago receive equitable services to improve the quality of their lives: be it housing, health services, economic stability, or any type of inclusion that promotes their wellbeing. She holds a Master’s degree in human service administration from the Spertus Institute. She has worked in government and the non-profit arena serving children, youth, adults, seniors and services for the developmentally disabled. Her interest has been working with pregnant women to reduce the infant mortality rate among women of color. In addition to this, she has created a community garden in Englewood focused on food education, artistic expressions, and community events. Mekazin states that “the challenge is making sure you always provide a continuum of service and that you are doing what is necessary to take people to the next level while addressing their critical needs.”


Pilar AudainPilar Audain is the Founder and Iya (Movement Leader) of the Wrap Your beYOUty Movement. For seven years, Pilar worked for the Chicago Department of Public Health/CDC as an Infectious Disease Community Epidemiologist after receiving her MS and MPH degrees from the University of Illinois. Desiring to have a more hands-on healing impact within the community, the next decade took Pilar on a journey through entrepreneurship; opening a healing shop featured on ABC7’s “190 North” and HGTV. She also launched Gele Day, an annual celebration of Healing for women of color and a non-profit organization, and the Wrap Your beYOUty Movement (WYBM). Based on Ancient indigenous artforms and healing practices, WYBM assists women of the community in their journey by facilitating safe spaces for women to share their experiences, learn and build together. WYBM empowers women to take what they learn back to their families, with an emphasis on training their own children. Pilar is also an Arts Vendor for Chicago Public Schools, a community healer and associate director at Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation.


Darius BallingerDarius Ballinger is the Executive Director of Chasing23 Youth Empowerment Group. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago as a young black man, Darius is open about his difficult beginnings characterized by suspensions and expulsions, drugs and guns, arrests and funerals, and other decisions that shorten life spans. On April 12, 2013, Darius was facing a mandatory minimum of 3-5 years prison sentence for past convictions but was offered a plea deal of 2 years probation and 90 days jail time. In that same evening, Darius spoke his last words to his mentor Wayne who was fatally stabbed the following day. Devastated and determined, Darius decided to make a change, one that would have a good impact, remembering the years of advice from of his mentor Wayne. The impact became Chasing23; Chasing Greatness.


Tia BrownTia Brown is the CEO of The Brown House Experience. Tia is a mother of 3 daughters, a 17 year Veteran Teacher, and CEO and co-founder of The Brown House Experience, a not-for-profit organization that provides at-risk youth with interactive opportunities to enhance their academic, social and emotional intelligence through STEM, the arts, mental health, fitness, and culture. Tia has been in the education field for over 20 years, educating all levels from day care, a freshman level English course at SIUC, to adults, as a Reading Specialist with CPS. The combined knowledge of the stakeholders allow The Brown House Experience to provide unique programming and events like Trade Day, that allow youth to interact with tradesmen & women to learn new skills, as well as after-school and summer programs geared to provide the most vulnerable youth with equitable experiences and mental health strategies. Tia’s goal is to enhance the lives of our youth one interactive experience at a time!


Maretta Brown MillerMaretta Brown-Miller is the Block Coordinator for the 1400 & 1500 North Long Block Club. Maretta is the Blessed Mother of 3 children and 4 grandchildren and a connector in the Austin community since 1982. She passionately works and serves with numerous organizations and community groups in Austin and throughout the City of Chicago. Maretta is employed with the Chicago Park District and is an active member of "The" Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. Maretta is a firm believer in equity and that equality is well deserved and wanted in the Austin Community. Maretta works with the 11th, 15th and 25th Police Districts, and is Chair of the Youth Committee in the 15th District. Maretta is involved with a wide range of organizations: Austin Community Action Council (ACAC), Chairman; 1400 & 1500 N. Long Block Club, Coordinator; Westside Stakeholders, Leadership Member; Prevention Partnership; Leaders Network; BUILD; ACT; West & Central Community Justices Centers; Westside Ministers Coalition; All Star Project; AAABNA; and wherever else she is asked to serve.


Vince CarterVince Carter is the Executive Director of Project Education Plus. Vince is a life-long Chicagoan, a graduate of Chicago State University with a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education, and a Master's in Athletic Management from the University of Concordia, Irvine. He has taught and coached in the Chicago Public Schools since 1976. He has been awarded several educational and athletic accolades. In 1980, he co-founded of Project Education Plus (PEP), an academic and athletic program in the Cabrini-Green Near North community. Vince and others volunteered to tutor the students while they were not in school. He has served as PEP’s executive director since its inception. The Chicago Demons Baseball and Basketball Programs grew out of PEP’s recreational programming. He also was instrumental in developing the first Seward Park Raiders Jr. Bear Football Program and the Carson Field Baseball League. He has been instrumental in the growth of PEP into a program that includes youth, senior citizens, and families for forty years.


Christopher CraterChristopher Crater is the Community Engagement Associate for the Obama Foundation. In his role at the Obama Foundation, Christopher is a member of both the Public Engagement & My Brother’s Keeper teams where he helps to mobilize communities, stakeholders, and grassroots leaders around the construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park. In addition to community engagement oversight, Christopher aids in program management for the Obama Youth Jobs Corps (OYJC) which help to advance initiatives that support young men of color as they navigate social-emotional needs, education and career planning. Prior to joining the Obama Foundation, Christopher helped pilot the After School Matters PeaceMakers Program at Urban Prep Englewood. When he is not working on behalf of his community in his professional capacity, he is the Youth Ambassador for the Washington Park Chamber of Commerce.


Nicole DavisNicole Davis
is the Founder of the Talk2MeFoundation. Nicole is a proud Chicagoan raised on the West side of Chicago where she is a mother of 2 beautiful young ladies and 2 grandchildren. She is a proud owner of Xquisite Premir located on the westside of Chicago in the Austin community. Davis is also the CEO and Executive Director of Talk2MeFoundation for kids whose parents are incarcerated. Nicole is also the founder of The Sisters of Support house for formerly incarcerated women in Gary, Indiana. As someone who was directly impacted by the justice system and serving 13 ½ years in federal prison, she knows first hand how unfairly women are treated in the criminal justice system. She is a sought-after national speaker who advocates for dignity, decriminalization, decarceration and an end to the harm of women and girls. She is a passionate community organizer, dedicated to helping secure equality, basic human rights, and second chances for justice-impacted people.


Rashada DawanRashada Dawan is the Executive Director of B.Fli Productions. Rashada is a proud South Shore native, born and raised on the Southside of Chicago where she has been teaching and working since she was 17 years old. While serving in her church as a praise dancer, she worked with youth from ages 5-17. After graduating from Florida A&M University, she went on to work with the all-girls praise dance ministry at St. Paul CME Church for over 5 years. Her resume includes anti-violence and bullying prevention, touring in the Broadway show Disney’s “The Lion King” and she serves as the CEO of a community arts organization, B.Fli Productions, Inc. where the mission is to increase mental wellness and decrease violence through performing arts. She is also the mother of Genesis Denise Hale who plays Maisha on Showtime’s hit series, The Chi.


Messiah EquianoMessiah Equiano is the Executive Director of CHI-RISE. Born Daniel Bowden but known in the community as Messiah Equiano, Daniel is a writer, producer, director and actor born and bred in Chicago. He attended Holy Trinity and Holy Family elementary schools and DeLaSalle Institute for HS. He founded CHI-RISE in 2016 with a mission of saving, inspiring and empowering the lives of Chicagoans through helpful programming, inspirational media productions and empowering philanthropic efforts.


Rashorna FitzpatrickReshorna Fitzpatrick is Pastor of the Historic Stone Temple and a Coordinator of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council. Reshorna received a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration in 1986 from Talladega College; a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology from Argosy University, and a Master’s Degree in Theology in 2010, and a Doctorate of Biblical Studies in May 2013 both from North Carolina College of Theology. She is a Board Member at Faith in Place and I Am Able. She chairs the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and the Greening Open Water Soil Sustainability Committee. In December 2020, Reshorna and her husband, Bishop Derrick Fitzpatrick, were acknowledged in Time Magazine as 2020 Heroes for their pioneering leadership in the North Lawndale Community. She was born in Chicago and reared in North Lawndale and West Garfield Park. She is a member of the Chi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.


Raynetta GreeleafRaynetta Greenleaf is the CEO of Greenleaf Motivation, Inc. Raynetta was born and raised in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood and attended John W. Cook Elementary School and Simeon Career Academy. Through her work at Greenleaf Motivation Inc., Raynetta engages youth and leads violence prevention efforts in her neighborhood. She also the owner of GreenleafTLC, which is geared towards health and wellness. Ms. Greenleaf is active with people all over the city of Chicago and is a lifelong learner who is ready for change.


Maureen HallaganMaureen Hallagan is the Chief Operating Officer for Marillac St. Vincent Family Services. Maureen has a Masters in Social Work and has worked on the West side for over 35 years. Active in the community, she has participated in many programs that promote the strengths of the communities and she remains humbled by her staff and the community in all of the positive things that occur every day in an area where the media only covers negative events. She had the honor on serving on many committees, networks and groups that promote safety and opportunities to give a hand up to people so they can succeed in their own personal goals. Maureen is a 5 year cancer survivor. She and her husband, Steve, have been married for 38 years and they have 3 adult children: Rachel, Jessica and Zachary. Her daughters are married and she has 2 grandsons named Cameron and Theo. 


Juliet JonesJuliet Jones is the Co-Founder and Program Director for The Original Sixty Fourth Street Beach Drummers. In addition to Founding the The Original Sixty Fourth Street Beach Drummers in 2015, Juliet is also a Health Educator and an HIV Counselor & Tester. Juliet is a Westside resident of Chicago who now lives on the Southside. She is a mother of 2 children and 2 grandchildren. Juliet is the great-granddaughter of Thomas Madison Haynes, the Co-Founder and Banker of Boley, Oklahoma. She dreams of hosting the world’s largest virtual Peace Drum Circle with participants drumming locally, statewide, and globally. This circle is to help eradicate violence, systemic racism; and to show support for ALL.


Annette KellyAnnette Kelly is President and Founder of FOUS Youth Development Services. She is a Certified Youth Development Practitioner with over 35 years of experience in positive youth development programming in the private sector, community settings, and faith-based arenas. Through the organization’s school-based girls’ mentoring program, Annette has mentored over 1,000 youth. Further, Ms. Kelly is an Independent Youth Program Consultant and Trainer, providing direct service to youth-serving organizations and schools throughout the city of Chicago and the State of Illinois. Annette has a Bachelor of Arts Degree from National Louis University. In her spare time, Annette is a women’s bible study teacher and speaker who also loves doing arts and crafts projects. In 2008, the makers of Pine-Sol and Ebony Magazine honored Annette with the Unsung Hero Award."


Bertha PurnellBertha Purnell is Founder and CEO of Mothers On a Mission 28. Bertha is the mother of 5 and the grandmother of 10. Her 2nd youngest son died at 3 months of SIDS and her youngest son, Maurice, was killed by gun violence at 28. Because of that incident, her life and career as a nurse changed course. Bertha started Mothers On a Mission 28 to help families get services also to be a support network for grieving families. She is also the Chapter Coordinator for CSSJ, which is a national organization supporting all survivors and others such as those reentering from prison and the currently incarcerated. Bertha is on the board of Nature120 which is an organization working to heal trauma for the 120 minute outdoors recommended by standards and more. She is on the community board of Axon hosting community meetings and town halls with the community including youth in the company. Bertha strives to do as much as she can without causing additional trauma. She prides herself on being a credible messenger and a listener who desires to learn and teach what she knows.


Tony RaggsTony Raggs is the Manager of Street Outreach for the Alliance of Local Service Organizations (ALSO). Tony has more than 20 years of experience working in various capacities for nonprofit organizations in Chicago. In the last 20 years, his experience has included many years of violence prevention work in the city. He has served as a volunteer outreach worker in West Humboldt Park and West Garfield Park, and, later, an outreach supervisor in West Humboldt Park. Most recently, he worked as a Program Coordinator at Breakthrough Urban Ministries. Over the years, he has also worked as a community activist for Bethel New Life. Tony’s background includes a dynamic creative side; he once worked as an illustrator and short story writer for Windy City Word, which was published on Chicago’s West Side. At ALSO, Tony says that “This work is about changing minds and saving lives.”


Andrea ReedAndrea D. Reed is the Executive Director of the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce. Andrea has been the Executive Director for the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce (GRCC) since it’s’ inception in April 2009 where she leads the organization's effots to attract, stimulate, rehabilitate, and transform the Greater Roseland community. The Chamber seeks to encourage business and community prosperity by providing technical assistance programs to educate aspiring entrepreneurs and existing businesses. Andrea designs programs to strengthen and promote financial opportunities for all businesses within the Greater Roseland business corridors, identify and overcome obstacles that are detrimental to the business climate and economic development of Roseland, and support civic, social, cultural and educational programs to increase and improve the functional values of the community.


David RojasDavid Rojas, Jr. is the Founder and CEO of The Alliance 98 (TA98). Under David's leadership, TA98 provides a range of services and youth-focused programs, including employment, entrepreneurship, education, and international development through an innovative social enterprise model. David is a "Davis 100 Projects for Peace” recipient, designing a paid summer internship program for first-generation college students in his neighborhood of South Lawndale (Little Village.) David transformed the summer internship program into TA98. He is a proud Little Village - Social Justice High School graduate and a Posse Scholar earning his Bachelor of Arts in Hispanic Studies with a concentration in global community development from Connecticut College in 2014. In 2019, Chicago Scholars named David a 35 under 35 for his work in the community. He earned an Executive Certificate in Social Impact Strategy from the Center of Social Impact at the University of Pennsylvania in 2020.


Randy SadlerRandy Sadler is the Vice President of the Monticello Block Club. Randy is a Community Psychologist (ABD) and Immediate Past President of the Chicago Association of Black Social Workers. He is a Psychology Professor at South Suburban College and a Clinical Consultant with McKinley Interventions. He is also the Founder and Executive Director of Youth 1st Counseling Services and Elite Community Counseling Services (ECCS), social service agencies that provided a myriad of clinical, psycho-therapeutic, and counseling services to individuals and families. Randy is known as a leader who takes people where they want to go and where they ought to be. Dr. Sadler displays a heartfelt commitment, a clear vision, and innovative actions. Dr. Sadler is the middle son to Emma Wesley (2015) and Sandy Sadler Sr., with two brothers, Sandy Jr. and Cartier.


Oscar SanchezOscar Sanchez is an Organizer at the Southeast Youth Alliance (ASE). Oscar is an organizer with a passion to tell the stories of others, and it’s fueled by the work and necessity to amplify these voices. Born and raised in Chicago to a family of Mexican immigrants, Oscar has spent his life advocating for others with the privilege he has. Oscar has worked with organizations such as Young Invincibles, the Obama Foundation, and the National Democratic Training Committee where he trains others on how to use their voice politically, socially, and for their own self-esteem. Working with both local to national institutions, Oscar is proud to give back to his community as a youth organizer and co-founder of the Southeast Youth Alliance in the Southside of Chicago. Oscar strongly believes that our own stories becomes our greatest assets.


Dorothy ThompsonDorothy Thompson is the Director of Bullying Prevention Awareness 365. Over her career, Dr. Thompson worked in CPS as a teacher, a Business Manager, an A. P., School Improvement Coordinator, and she retired from CPS as a Principal in 2012. Dorothy also worked in the field of alcohol and drug prevention in Iowa and Illinois. Dorothy began her Doctorate in 2015 and completed her studies at National Louis University in December of 2017 with a Superintendent’s endorsement. Her area of focus was Senate Bill 100’s equitable implementation related to bullying. Dr. Thompson collaborated with like-minded individuals to host the first BPA365 Anti-Bullying conference at National Louis University. BPA365 partners with Community in Schools, Dorothy is on the board of Global Girls, Inc. and ART-R Open Hands Ministry, Inc. She is also an ordained minister, and author of “What To Do When You Believe in Something.”



The Fellows are learning together through GATHER, which is both a mobile platform for shared learning and a curriculum for people who want to build on the talents of their neighbors and the assets of their communities to make real and lasting change. Gather Fellows learn and work together through an innovative curriculum that comes pre-loaded on a tablet device with all the connectivity, materials, videos, practices and tools necessary to provide a mobile classroom and toolkit for community leadership.

The Chicago Peace Fellows project connects and equips cohorts of past grantees of the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities to reduce violence and promote peace. The 2021 Chicago Peace Fellows is the third all-Chicago cohort to utilize the GATHER platform, an online learning hub built by the Goldin Institute to empower grassroots leaders.

The participants have been selected from past grantees of the Chicago Fund. They will engage in a 14-week course of intensive shared learning as well as group projects, culminating in a graduation event in November 2021. The curriculum has been designed in collaboration with the grantees themselves, based on their practical knowledge and hard earned wisdom, wit input from a wide range of civic leaders. Fellows will reflect on their past summer work, identify successes and lessons learned, and improve their abilities by sharing strengths and learning new skills.

The Goldin Institute and the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities have aligned missions that value authentic community leadership. The Chicago Fund is uniquely effective at finding motivated problem-solvers and community-builders. By connecting Chicago leaders through GATHER, their efforts to nurture safer and more peaceful communities will be more effective, interconnected and lasting.

A special thanks to the Chicago Community Trust, the Conant Family Foundation, the Polk Bros. Foundation, and the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities for making this program possible.


To follow along the learning journey with the Gather Fellows, please sign up for our newsletter and follow up on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

If you would like to apply for the next cohort of Gather Fellows, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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