Our twenty-six RISE Fellows for the 2020 program year represent some of San Diego’s best and brightest community leaders, activists, practitioners, and agents of social change. They have demonstrated their experience in and commitment to a variety of issues affecting urban communities across San Diego.

PETER ALKATIB

Peter is a public education professional who was been working with youth and young adults since 2007. He started his career in education in 2012 and has worked for two of the largest charter

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organizations in the state of California, initially serving as the lead community liaison for Learn4Life Charter Network and then as assistant director of charter affairs for Inspire Charter Schools. He has devoted his career to developing and managing strong and dynamic educational programs that provide students with twenty-first century skills and foster innovation, empowerment, and leadership.

Enthusiastic and passionate about community outreach and engagement, he enjoys developing real and meaningful relationships with people of diverse backgrounds and, as an individual from an underrepresented minority, he has always advocated for equity, diversity, and inclusion. In 2014, he led a group of high school students and community members to successfully advocate for the proclamation of Chaldean American Month in the city of El Cajon. These efforts were filmed in the documentary he co-directed and co-produced, Chaldean Voices, which was featured on KPBS and at the San Diego Latino Film Festival, and was awarded Best Feature Length Documentary Film at the 2015 San Diego Film Awards.

Peter holds a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from UC San Diego and is earning a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in organizational leadership from Point Loma Nazarene University. He has lived in San Diego his whole life and enjoys spending time outdoors and traveling, where he loves experiencing new cultures and, of course, the cuisine.

MARISSA BEJARANO

Marissa has served as a prosecutor for the past fourteen years as a Deputy Attorney General for the California Department of Justice and currently as a Deputy District Attorney for the

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San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. As an appellate prosecutor she argued numerous times in the California Courts of Appeal, once in the Ninth Circuit, and twice in the California Supreme Court. She is lead counsel in nineteen published opinions. In the trial court, Marissa has prosecuted hundreds of cases and tried over two dozen felony cases to verdict.

She currently serves as the Community Partnership Prosecutor for the South Bay Branch of the District Attorney’s Office, where her role is to engage community stakeholders including leaders, residents, and organizations to better understand their criminal and safety concerns and develop strategic solutions. She also represents the District Attorney’s Office at community meetings and events and works to prevent crime and disrupt the school to prison pipeline. In that regard, Marissa oversees Power League, a youth mentoring program designed and developed by the District Attorney’s Office at Harborside Elementary.

Marissa has taught as an adjunct professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. In the community, she served as a board trustee for the Chula Vista Elementary School District, vice chair for the San Diego County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, and board president for MANA de San Diego. She currently serves as a board member for the San Diego County Bar Association, where she is chair of the Lawyers as Leaders speaker series.

She has received numerous accolades for her professional excellence and commitment to the community, including Outstanding Service by a Public Attorney from the San Diego County Bar Association and a Top Lawyer Under 40 from the Hispanic National Bar Association.

A San Diego native, she attended public schools in the South Bay and went on to study political science and Spanish at the University of San Diego where she also received her law degree and served as Managing Editor of the International Law Journal.

Marissa is married to a local attorney and the proud mother of a nine-year-old son.

GEMMA BLAIN

Gemma is a diversity practitioner seasoned in strategy, EEO/AAP, program development, diversity recruitment, veteran hiring, relationship cultivation, community outreach and employee

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engagement. She is a senior diversity specialist with Becton Dickinson where she has expanded its inclusion and diversity initiatives across the company on a global scale and oversees external partnerships with diverse organizations to help cast a wider net for the company’s open slates. Additionally, she executes the company’s good-faith efforts and supports the auditing process to ensure government compliance. Gemma successfully grew the company’s employee affinity groups from one to now nine active groups that include LGBT, veterans, Asian, Black, Hispanic, people with disabilities, women, inter-generational, and women in STEM, and she provides them with strategy and HR business support to increase employee engagement and maximize overall business impact. A subject-matter expert in veteran hiring and employment needs, she recruits regularly on San Diego military installations and works with career readiness offices to provide feedback on talent as well as job skills that are necessary in the medical device industry.

Prior to her role at Becton Dickinson, Gemma served as the membership and operations manager at the Asian Business Association, San Diego. She is a proud USMC retired wounded warrior spouse, a product of District 4 where she graduated from Morse High School, and mom to a one- and a three-year-old.

SINAI COTA

Sinai grew up in the heart of Barrio Logan, a lively and culturally vibrant community tucked away under the Coronado Bridge. The community became her lifeline after she became homeless at

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eleven when her mother was deported to Mexico. With the help of neighbors, classmates, and mentors, Sinai became the first in her family to attend a four-year university and went on to earn a master’s in higher education leadership studies. Her passion for education and mentorship inspired her career path and community involvement. Sinai holds a unique three-office appointment at UC San Diego where she works between the Graduate Division, School of Engineering, and Physical Sciences to coordinate mentoring programs for undergraduate first-year and transfer students and underrepresented minority PhD students pursuing STEM fields.

She is the proud product of the Barrio Logan College Institute (BLCI), a nonprofit offering free college access to underserved students in Barrio Logan, and Urban Life Ministries (ULM), a faith-based nonprofit dedicated to community development initiatives in City Heights. As an alum, Sinai has maintained a deep connection with the staff and students of these programs. She has facilitated workshops on studying abroad for Barrio Logan high school students and volunteered for BLCI’s career fair and scholarship committee, while ULM has given Sinai a home to grow her faith and leadership through coordinating college events for students from 2010 to 2012 and volunteering at their yearly fundraising banquets. Most recently, Sinai is working towards setting up a scholarship fund in honor of her mentor, Nancy Brusch.

JESSICA DICKSON

Jessica is a life empowerment coach and trainer who creates space for people who know they’re made for more to explore their heart’s desire and empower them to make their dreams and goals

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come true. She does this by using the Enneagram and identity work in one-on-one and small group coaching, and through workshops and seminars that help people move past the conscious and unconscious barriers that keep them stuck. She also supports people on their health journeys as a fitness instructor.

Originally from Michigan, she attended the University of Michigan and earned her master’s degree in counseling from the University of Central Florida. She has spent her career working in the education and nonprofit sectors, and was deeply shaped by her career working at an HBCU in Daytona Beach. Jessica’s passion is full-human flourishing and she believes that when Black women heal, the world heals; when we do our work, collective healing ripples out into our world.

After spending time in Ohio and Florida, she has been in San Diego now for almost three years. San Diego has captured her heart, and she loves spending her time in the ocean.

JEHOAN ESPINOZA

Jehoan is a community organizer who has worked to elect candidates that will work for our communities and to educate and engage communities in Los Angeles and San Diego

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counties. His passions are increasing civic engagement in communities often ignored by elected officials and working with youth to increase civic engagement within their age group. He is a first-generation American and the first in his family to graduate from college, where he earned a degree in international studies with an emphasis in political science and a minor in urban studies and planning. Originally from the San Fernando Valley, Jehoan moved to San Diego where he has stayed since graduating from college.

DANIELA GARCIA

Daniela strives for a better San Diego that commits to safety and beautification. Her career started in the customer service field where, as a part-time sales associate for Foot Locker

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and Kids Foot Locker, she worked her way up to assistant manager through her hard work and commitment. In these early years she learned that patience is a key factor in all customer service-related jobs and a skill that takes time to enhance. With every opportunity she received a push to make herself into a better sales associate.

She began barbering at her local hair salon in National City to make a change in not only in how she could guide youth and families, but also in the way people felt about themselves. It was here working with her community where Daniela learned how to appreciate different thoughts and ideas, communicate effectively, and see the needs of her neighbors, which had a huge impact on her career path.

Five years ago, she was hired as a maintenance ambassador for the Downtown San Diego Partnership. With her willingness to learn and motivation to move up in the organization, she became a captain and then a supervisor with the Clean & Safe Team. Now the organization’s operations manager, Daniela oversees a large team that commits to making positive changes within our community.

ARIEL GIBBS

Born in Chicago, Ariel she had early exposure to poverty and violence in urban areas. Desperate to create a better future, she involved herself in several activities in high school, including

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ensemble band and sports. These extracurriculars and her academics carried her to the University of Illinois at Chicago where she was a Division I track athlete and captain for two years. She began a master’s in sociology at San Diego State University in 2017. Through her thesis on the impacts of gang documentation in California, Ariel grew close with community members who shared a passion for ending gang documentation and fighting for civil liberties and rights. She decided to leave her family in Illinois and stay in San Diego to continue fostering change in communities affected by social injustices.

Ariel works with advocates and impacted individuals on this and many other criminal justice issues and she is passionate about the impacts of the criminal justice system on the San Diego community. Currently, she uses her talents to assist young men in building their social media presence to positively represent their businesses and entrepreneurship. She also works closely with political candidates who seek to create change in urban communities. Her previous experience includes working with Chicago Urban League, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, and Cook County Department of Corrections.

A member of New Life Baptist Church in Spring Valley, Ariel is the director of the Inspirational Voices of Praise Choir and a singer on the praise and worship team. She resides in City Heights with her small doxiepoo, Bentley.

LISET GODINEZ

A first-generation college graduate from Sherman Heights, Liset is currently in their fifth year of teaching at the Chula Vista Learning Community Charter School, where they are

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passionate about incorporating social justice into the classroom. Liset graduated from the University of San Diego with dual bachelor’s degrees in international business and Spanish and earned a master’s in education at San Diego State University. Their master’s thesis focused on LGBTQ student support by providing teachers with professional learning workshops that can better prepare them with the skills to be more compassionate and effective with all students. In Liset’s spare time they love to spend time with their partner, binge watch Netflix shows, and take naps!

SHOPHAR AUBREY GRAVES

Shophar is a qi gong, sensual energy, and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner and the author of S.O.L: Sacred Orgasmic Living. He uses his podcast, Fo Sho Holistic Health, and

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group/couple/individual healing sessions to help support others to heal.

SHANE HARRIS

“Motivating”, “relevant”, “ambitious”, “educational”, “connected”, “consistent”, and “committed” are just some of the words that have been used to describe Shane. As a child,

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Shane would give a Sunday service to teddy bears in his bedroom to practice his preaching ministry. He began giving some of his first sermons in the church at sixteen and was later ordained at twenty-two. From the start, he has used his platform in the pulpit to speak out against systemic issues impacting foster children and communities of color. Shane calls himself a preacher for the “rejects” who empowers people that have been thrown out to get up and fight.

Shane’s passion for social justice and equality stems from his childhood, where he spent over thirteen years in the welfare system and lost both of his parents before his sixteenth birthday. Born and raised in southeast San Diego, he and many of his contemporaries encountered difficult challenges like gangs, drugs, educational failure, and denial of self-worth. A victim of an unjust juvenile penal system, educational inequalities, and the challenges of foster care, Shane has devoted his life to fighting for the voiceless and unheard in our communities across the country.

He was the lead founder and organizer of the National Action Network’s San Diego chapter, where he worked with the organization’s national founder and president, Reverend Al Sharpton. He served on Sharpton’s national staff as a civil rights organizer on the west coast for over four years and cut his teeth on real civil rights and social justice organizing across the country.

A mover and shaker, Shane has grown to be recognized as a national voice for the underrepresented. He has been praised and honored as a “voice for the voiceless” by California Governor Jerry Brown, former California State Senator Isadore Hall, former California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, New York State Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, US Senator Bernie Sanders, entertainer/activist Nick Cannon, San Diego’s past and present mayors, and a host of other regional and national figures.

As a powerful voice and a visionary, Shane is taking the fight for civil rights and social justice to the next level. Currently, he is working with elected officials to address criminal justice reform policy, educational inequality, and regional discrepancies in the school system, leading movements to address the systemic issues people face every day. His work in making sure the voiceless are heard continues on a much broader scale through his founding of a new national civil rights group, The People’s Alliance for Justice, which is headquartered in San Diego and has chapters emerging across the country. Armed with education, his personal journey, vocal clarity, national connections, and his personal salvation and walk with the Lord, it is abundantly clear that Shane—though a young man—has the ability to inspire belief and action.

EBONĀY LEE

Ebonāy is a thirty-three-year-old Hawaiian-born, El Cajon-raised mother of two beautiful children. Raised by her mother in a single parent home, she maintained a 3.5 GPA in high school and had

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high hopes of attending an HBCU before she began to hang out with the “wrong” crowd. Eventually running away from home, she began her life in the streets. For fourteen years, she found herself-involved in many illegal activities and was in the sex industry for most of that time.

Almost two years ago, she began the process of finally freeing herself from the “life”. Through activism and the passion to change, Ebonāy obtained her first legal job by becoming a personal assistant. From there she was asked to join the Paving Great Futures team as their executive administrative assistant, where over the past year she has overseen three executive calendars and become a program manager and facilitator for many of its programs.

In 2019, Ebonāy was accepted into the master’s of nonprofit leadership and management program at the University of San Diego. After obtaining her degree, she plans to continue to work in her community, where she is active by helping to provide ways to empower. She often says, “WE ALL WE GOT,” and these words are represented by the action that always follows.

CHIARA LEROY

Born and raised in Anaheim to Haitian-American parents, Chiara moved to San Diego over fourteen years ago to attend San Diego State University. There, she earned a Bachelor of

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Science in biology and began working in stem cell research studying pancreatic cancer and therapy treatments for stroke victims. She later achieved her Master of Public Health from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Through her travels, Chiara has interacted with health care and public health in varying capacities in Haiti, Ghana, Panama, South Africa, Mexico, and Cuba. Some of her notable work includes coordinating a medical mission to Haiti in which over 500 patients were treated within three days and conducting ethnobotany research in Ghana to study a plant traditionally used in the treatment of various diseases.

She passionately believes that access to adequate health care is a right that everyone deserves regardless of their circumstances. Her unquenched curiosity about the world has granted her insight into the complex relationships between health, economics, politics, ethics, and religion. She works tirelessly to improve the inequities caused by these systems to increase the quality of life for vulnerable communities.

Chiara works for the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, where she helps empower residents to create positive changes in their communities. She also advocates on behalf of opportunity youth to connect them to resources throughout the community and provide safe spaces to learn, work, and play. Chiara continues to build on her years of local community work, including promoting S.T.E.M. to grade school students, providing mentorship to youth, conducting global health research, and promoting diversity and inclusion. She enjoys reading, playing soccer, traveling, and anything else that allows her to enjoy life to the fullest.

MICHAEL MARKULIN

Michael began formal work at the age of sixteen as a busboy and progressed through opportunities at Macys, Chanel, UC San Diego, and Mesa Community College. During his teens

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and early twenties, he worked in supervisory roles at Starbucks and Calvin Klein where he was responsible for sales goals and personnel development. It was during this time, however, that he fell for social pressures and found his life spiraling out of control.

Upon being released from the penitentiary, Michael enrolled full-time at San Diego City College while starting his seven-year probation sentence, working full-time at Fashion Valley, and living under the poverty line. He was later admitted to UC San Diego, where he worked for the Chancellor’s Associates Scholars Program (CASP) as a mentor to first-generation students who come from underserved communities. Michael also became a program assistant at CASP where he planned and organized a CASP 101 Welcome Event for over 160 incoming students to promote comfort, belonging, and success.

His experiences studying and working at UC San Diego led Michael to pursue his master’s in leadership studies at the University of San Diego. While taking graduate courses he worked in the Academic Enrichment Programs (AEP) as an administrative assistant and later as a graduate intern at Mesa Community College.

Currently, Michael is focused on researching how education promotes lower recidivism rates among formerly incarcerated populations. He is looking at opportunities to create alternative programs for formerly incarcerated individuals to reenter the education system and not the penitentiary system. These opportunities include programs he has conceptualized such as the Educational Reentry Course and the Educational Reentry House, which are born from his experiences and research he conducted throughout his collegiate career.

CARLOS McCRAY

Carlos, also known as Smiles, is a social entrepreneur and a lover of life. You can spot Carlos wearing a smile and reminding us of the choices we each have in our pursuits of

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happiness. As a true believer in the power of human connection and extracting the good from every interaction, he often leaves the people he interacts with walking away in the direction of his or her dreams. Powered by the belief that anything is possible, especially through mutually beneficial partnerships and collaboration, Carlos brings that into every moment of his life. He is determined to shatter the “because that’s how we’ve always done it” ideology and eclipse it with models of sustainable change by blending the for-profit and nonprofit worlds. Through his passion to empower those living in underserved communities, he works daily on illuminating and leveling the playing field. He has channeled his Master of Social Work degree while co-founding several social enterprises, including The Dojo Café, StaySmilinLife, and the nonprofit Get Empowered Today. Carlos can also be found motivating, inspiring, and teaching social work classes at Cuyamaca Community College and San Diego State University.

CHRISTIAN MONTOYA

Born to a Mexican-Filipina mother and an African American father, and raised by his Spanish-speaking immigrant grandmother, Christian is a true multicultural San Diegan native. This has

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given him a unique perspective on navigating the dynamics of race and socio-economic culture in fluid settings. He has leveraged his diverse background and served as a consultant in the healthcare field for over ten years, where he has facilitated the implementation in over twenty hospitals and sixty clinics the transition from paper filing to fully electronic medical records. Christian has since started his own consulting company and a nonprofit dedicated to affordable and natural herbal healing for our economically vulnerable population.

Christian is an activist and advocate for the unsheltered, those with mental health challenges, and addicts. He regularly volunteers as a gardener with the City of San Diego Balboa Park ground maintenance crew, several local churches and spiritual centers, and sober living facilities.

IGNATIUS NGUYEN

Ignatius is the lead youth support at Urban Beats, where he uses the arts to destigmatize mental illness. It’s here where he discovered that one of his gifts is simplifying mental health concepts

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and making the learning process fun and engaging. He can be found at open mics or hosting his own events and trainings to educate the community on mental well-being. He is the founder of the San Diego chapter of the Asian Creative Network, which strives to inspire and elevate Asian-American creatives to explore and pursue their creative passion while building up a community. He believes collaborations are extremely empowering and can have lasting impacts on the world.

His core values include mindfulness, intention, and connection, which he attempts to exemplify daily through meditation, thoughtful conversation, and freely sharing the knowledge he has learned. In his free time, you can catch Ignatius partaking in various art forms such as dancing, DJing, photography, film, and freestyle rapping. He enjoys being creative and believes in the power of the arts as a transformative experience in one’s life.

NADIA NUNEZ

Nadia is a San Diego-Tijuana bicultural woman who has focused her efforts on promoting art as a healing and empowerment tool. Her love for art, the built environment, and community

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empowerment led her to A Reason To Survive (ARTS), a creative youth development organization in National City, where she currently manages the Community ARTS program. Through this work, she creates multiple opportunities for local youth to explore deep aspects of art, culture, and community through creative self-expression and collaborative projects. One of the projects she’s most proud of is the National City Bike Racks, a three-part series spanning three years working with cohorts of students at Sweetwater High School to design, prototype, and ultimately install bike racks. Her ability to work with civic leadership, school leaders, artists, and students shows tremendous versatility.

As a trained architect, Nadia has experience working in both small- and large-scale construction companies on both sides of the border. After obtaining her architect license in Mexico in 2009, she continued her studies by earning a Master of Architecture degree from the New School of Architecture and Design in San Diego, where her area of interest and focus was on urban design and environmental solutions.

In her free time, Nadia enjoys playing with colors and forms and exploring diverse mediums from watercolors to wall transformations, often renovating living and work spaces. She currently resides in National City with her twelve-year-old son, who is an artist.

THERESA PALAFOX

Theresa is a first-generation college graduate with a passion to support and create loving, healing spaces for all students through narrative writing. While away from home at college she

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realized the importance of having a strong sense of identity, which until then had been a foreign concept to her. She spent the rest of her time in Riverside writing poems, short stories, and journals to track her most memorable and devastating moments at school.

Upon completing her degree in political science from UC Riverside, Theresa returned home to Logan Heights and worked with students to develop their best selves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. While completing her master’s in multicultural counseling, Theresa had the opportunity to work with community partners including Monarch School, The Center for Community Counseling and Engagement, San Diego Youth Services, and the International Rescue Committee to support their youth through bilingual therapy services and non-verbal art groups.

At the core of Theresa’s work is her desire to attain educational equity while helping others discover their magic. Theresa believes in the power of advocacy, community engagement, love, and empathy, all of which she learned from family, friends, femtors, mentors, and peers.

OLIVIA QUINTANILLA

Born and raised in San Diego, Olivia is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC San Diego. Olivia’s family is from Guahan (Guam) and she’s used her academic

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opportunities as a Chamorro scholar to research the unique histories and futures of Pacific island life. Olivia is committed to improving education success opportunities for people of color and works to educate San Diego communities on the importance of civic engagement and community building. She currently serves on the board of directors for Chamorro Hands in Education Links Unity (CHE’LU), teaches US history from a Chicanx perspective at Mesa Community College, and is part of the San Diego Race and Oral History Project team. She is currently a UC President’s Dissertation Fellow.

LORAIN KHALIL RIHAN

Lorain is an interdisciplinary visual artist, arts educator, and community organizer. She holds a BA from San Diego State University in applied arts and sciences with an emphasis in

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printmaking and painting, and a minor in women’s studies. She has worked as an educator and teaching artist with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego Art Institute, The AjA Project, and Arts for Learning San Diego. Lorain’s pedagogical approach takes on a social justice framework as she invites students to consider their surroundings and examine the social and political realities that impact them as individuals and their communities. Her community organizing is focused on building power intersectionality across communities of color.

Lorain’s personal practice as an artist challenges dominant discourses around refugees, investigates relationships of power, and explores art as an instrument for healing.

ANNE RIOS

Anne serves as the lead attorney for Al Otro Lado’s Otay Mesa Detention Center Release Project. Previously, she was a managing attorney and executive director of Think Dignity, where

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she was in charge of all impact litigation, oversaw a criminal defense program for homeless and at-risk youth, and provided direct representation to homeless individuals in a variety of civil legal issues. Anne has represented hundreds of sexual assault, domestic violence, and elder abuse victims in her past positions with the San Diego Family Justice Center Foundation and the Center for Community Solutions, and has worked for the Department of Defense as a Certified Level II Sexual Assault Victim Advocate for the US Navy.

Anne’s passion lies with being an advocate for marginalized populations, which can best be seen with Uprise Theatre, a program she founded that teaches inner city populations about the law and their constitutional rights.

She completed her undergraduate education at UC Berkeley and attended law school at California Western School of Law. Anne’s special recognitions include the Center for Community Solutions’ Freedom Award, being a nominee for the 2014 Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention Innovation Award, the Adrianne Baker Fellowship post graduate award from California Western School of Law, and the State Bar of California Wiley W. Manuel Award for Pro Bono Legal Services.

Born and raised in southeast San Diego, Anne loves spending time with her son Daniel and the rest of her incredible family. She is wholeheartedly dedicated to the mission of disrupting oppression and reclaiming power with the power.

CASSANDRA SCHAEG

After laying roots in the "hidden city" known as Escondido, Cassandra immersed herself in the community and was amazed to see the evolving agricultural presence. Growing up in Temecula

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and watching it turn into a wine destination, she envisioned the same in her new home and founded SIP Wine & Beer (SIP), a destination to empower, inspire, and exchange knowledge. Her goal is to make wine and beer simple and fun while supporting women and minorities in the industry.

Through community, culture, and conversation, she encourages wine and beer lovers to share their experiences, partake in thought-provoking discussions, and learn the facets of wine and beer whether they are new to them or curious about Escondido’s charm. Since opening in 2015, she’s connected with thousands of wine and beer lovers invested in the community and she’s grateful to create a movement that gives people the platform to sip, connect, share, and support the city’s growth.

JONATHAN VILLAFUERTE

Jonathan personifies a story of courage and resilience. As a teenager, he fell into street culture and began to cope with his problems by affiliating with a local gang. Fortunately, he

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transformed his life and earned a full-ride scholarship to Point Loma Nazarene University, where in 2009 he became a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He has since earned a Master of Science degree in counseling with a PPS credential from San Diego State University.

After working with multicultural communities for many years, Jonathan noticed that the educational field was labeling some students as “at-risk” and “low-income” youth, categories often used to identify high-opportunity students. However, those terms are grounded in deficit-based language that immediately informs students about their obstacles and disadvantages, which may result in a young developing mind quickly falling into the abyss of doubt and uncertainty. In 2019, he set out to reframe the narrative for first-generation and low- income youth (FLY) on the TEDxPLNU stage by coining the term FLY Scholars as an alternative phrase for identifying resilient students.

Jonathan’s work is strongly grounded in equity and empathy for FLY Scholars. As an educated man of color, he is cognizant that with positive and culturally-relevant programs, all students have a higher chance of accomplishing their goals. He has made a lifelong commitment to bridge the opportunity gap as an educator, public speaker, and urban-education consultant.

JOSHUA WILLIAMS

Joshua graduated from the University of San Diego in 2016 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He was captain of the football team, founder and president of the campus chapter of

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the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and a board member of the Black Student Union for four years. Currently, he works as an Engineer II at SDG&E where he helps maintain San Diego’s natural gas distribution infrastructure. Joshua serves as co-chair on the SMSE Alumni Council and is eager to use his resources to help its development. Inspired by his campus involvement, he looks forward to creating opportunities for youth development and mentorship.

CHERISCE L. WILSON

Cherisce serves as a lieutenant with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, where her current assignment is as a watch commander at the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in

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Santee. As the highest-ranking supervisor in charge of her team, she is responsible for the supervision of approximately fifty sworn staff members as they conduct the day-to-day operations of a women’s detention facility with an average daily population of 800 inmates. In her role, she routinely liaisons with local, state, and federal agencies and the public. She credits her strong work ethic for the level of success she has achieved in developing both her team and the facility. During her nineteen-year career Cherisce rose through the ranks, serving as a deputy working at the old Las Colinas facility before being promoted to sergeant and assigned to San Diego Central Jail. There, she was selected to serve in the Administrative and Training Sergeant assignments before ultimately being selected for the Reentry Services Division prior to being promoted to lieutenant in 2019. While assigned to Reentry Services, she managed programs that advocated wellness and education for offenders. Of significance during her time at Reentry Services was the collaboration she faciliatated between the Honorbands nonprofit organization and the sewing program at Las Colinas: this partnership led to the joint production of Honorbands, the personalized mourning bands worn by officers to honor their fallen partners. The ultimate goal of the many inmate programs provided by the Sheriff’s Department is to reduce the rate of recidivism by participants; hers is to foster good relationships with the communities she serves by recognizing the needs of others and lending support with available resources.

Cherisce was born in southeastern San Diego and is a seasoned local, having spent her childhood familiarizing herself with the community. She graduated from Patrick Henry High School and went on to attend San Diego Mesa College and California State University, Los Angeles. She is a member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church and attends regularly with her family. Prior to joining the Sheriff’s Department, she held positions with Cox Communications and Immigration Services (INS).