Meet the Board Members
Rebeccah Bennett | Phillip Boyd | Zack Boyers | Trina Dyan Clark James | Carmen García Ruiz | Justin Idleburg | Perri Johnson | Adelaide Lancaster | Christy Maxfield | De Andrea Nichols | Nelson Williams
Rebeccah Bennett is Founder and Principal of Emerging Wisdom, a social enterprise that advances personal, organizational, and social transformation. Her work addresses leadership, community development, educational equity, environmental sustainability, diversity and inclusion, women and girls’ empowerment, and healthy lifestyles, and is supported by corporate, non-profit, government and individual clients.
“No single institution, government or organization has the insight, resources or manpower to resolve nearly 400 years of racial inequities,” she reminds. “This is an undertaking that is bigger than each of us though not greater than all of us. It asks of us humility – a recognition that our way may not be the only way and that others may have our missing pieces. It also leverages our diversity, turning a multiplicity of perspectives and experiences into groundbreaking interventions and novel opportunities.”
Bennett is a columnist for the St. Louis American. A native of Washington, DC, she has a B.A. in political science from Swarthmore College and a M.P.P from the University of Michigan School of Public Policy. In recent years, she has received leadership awards from the YWCA, the Urban League, the Professional Organization of Women, and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.
Read Rebeccah’s story.
Philip C. Boyd is an Assistant Superintendent in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. He has also served in the Jennings School District, as a prosecutor with the St. Louis County Counselor’s Office, and as a Children’s Service Fund Board member, all experiences that contributed to his understanding of the critical needs of North County, where he lives.
“It’s kind of funny to think that as a nation we still struggle with the idea that there can be long term trauma that can occur in communities,” Boyd says. “Somehow we accept PTSD when it comes to people who have been in war, maybe even people that have been in really bad domestic violence situations. But, for some reason, we have not acknowledged the full humanity, therefore, the full experience of trauma for African-Americans. Why wouldn’t we say that because of this multi-century history of oppression and denial of opportunity that there would be some fairly significant residue that’s being left on us as a people, as a nation?”
Boyd has a B.A. in general studies from Indiana University and a J.D. from the University of Illinois. He’s a member of the Leadership Council for Ready by 21, another role in which he addresses the needs of youth in distressed communities.
Read Phillip’s story.
Zack Boyers is Chairman and CEO of the U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation, which makes investments and loans to finance affordable housing, economic development in distressed communities, and renewable energy generation and historic rehabilitation projects throughout the country. For almost 20 years, Boyers has worked to support the renewal of downtown St. Louis, where he lives and works.
“I am committed to this work, within my own organization, in the St. Louis community, and elsewhere in the United States. I believe the opportunity for Forward Through Ferguson to lead and work with and on behalf of people and communities that have been for too long marginalized, diminished, harmed and forgotten will be enriching and humanizing for all of us who live here. St. Louis is growing and changing and is driving hard to be a place that cares for and believes in all of its residents. I believe the world is watching.”
Originally from upstate New York, Boyers has a B.A. from Harvard University and a M.B.A. from Washington University. He serves on the boards of Invest STL, St. Louis Regional Chamber, Downtown St. Louis, Inc., Full Circle, and Crossroads College Preparatory School, and also serves on the National Advisory Council for the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University. He was also a founder of Arch Grants and a founding member of the Alliance for Economic Development.
Read Zack’s story.
Trina Dyan Clark James
Trina Dyan Clark James is the Founder of Jamaa Learning Center, a full-service community charter school on St. Louis’s north side, where Clark James herself grew up. As a young person, she took part in St. Louis’s public school desegregation program, attending high school in much-wealthier Clayton, MO. She went on to study engineering, earning a B.S. from Georgia Tech and a master’s from Stanford, then rose in her career to a position in engineering management at Apple Computer at California.
In 2006, though, she decided to change course with the explicit purpose of returning home to St. Louis to contribute to education reform efforts aimed at fostering racial equity in the St. Louis community.
“I viewed the charter public school that I founded as not just a school but a village,” she says. “I believe that it takes a village to accomplish anything of substance in our community. For this region to be a true community where all people want to live, learn, work, play, and serve, we must seize this opportunity and build upon the honest and raw dialogue that has already begun, to put some action behind the words.”
Read Trina’s story.
Carmen García Ruiz
Carmen García Ruiz began her social justice work as a graduate student studying cultural anthropology at Princeton, four years after becoming a U.S. citizen. In the decades since, her work – both as a consultant and within organizations – has encompassed advocacy, group facilitation, strategic thinking and planning, and systems thinking, fostering a deep understanding of what impedes or drives deliberate cultural change.
When unrest began in Ferguson in 2014, García Ruiz was living Chicago:“I watched in astonishment as brilliant and courageous young protesters moved the tectonic plate I thought could not be moved. This could not possibly last,” she thought. “But it did. This could not possibly mobilize uprisings throughout the nation. But it did. I could not possibly return to St. Louis. But here I am. This was a movement, not a moment,” she knew, “and I knew a way to be part of it.”
Her current initiative, St. Louis Renewed, is an intensive training program that aims to foster a community of change agents in St. Louis, weaving together insights from cognitive and social psychology, cultural anthropology, sociology, and critical theory. García Ruiz was born in Cuba, and is a graduate of Fontbonne University.
Read Carmen’s story.
Justin Idleburg grew up in St. Louis’s West End – which he calls “the forgotten west side” – and attended school in both the St. Louis and Lindbergh School Districts through the Voluntary Interdistrict Transfer program. He hadn’t seen himself as a leader or advocate until he spoke up in a town hall meeting at the agency where he used to work, and a supervisor invited him to address state representatives in Jefferson City.
“When you see something that you’re passionate about,” he says, “you go all out. It’s helped open up avenues for me that i normally wouldn’t have gotten a chance to do if I’d of stayed quiet.” More importantly if where I live and have grown up is not right no one is stepping up. I’ll volunteer. I feel i owe it to the mothers of the city and the kids they’re trying to raise. 4th and long and I’m going for it.
Mr. Idleburg has since addressed many audiences, including internationally at the United Nations, and currently serves on boards at the City of Saint Louis Mental Health Board and Regional Health Commission as a consultant on advocacy for mental health awareness and community education. He provides research, insight.The Mental Health Transformation Grant from SAMHSA Continuum Of Care. During his membership, the board was able to secure this grant and provide permanent housing to more than 250 homeless veterans and single families.
Read Justin’s story.
Lieutenant Perri Johnson is a 24-year veteran of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and currently serves as Commander of the St. Louis Juvenile Division, where he has implemented the STOP program (Students Talking It Over With Police) in middle schools, and the GREAT program (Gang Resistance Education and Training) in elementary schools. Lt. Johnson also works as a mentor to classes at Gateway elementary and has coached youth and high school sports teams. All of these efforts – as well as his work teaching about racial profiling, implicit bias, and cultural policing within the department – aim to foster understanding between young people and police officers.
“This matters to me because as a law enforcement officer, I have seen and been affected by the negative effects that law enforcement can have on a community when the trust erodes or is diminished because of the actions of a few. Officers must be able humble themselves to listen to and ask the community for help to solve some of the problems that they created.”
Lt. Johnson Graduated from Central Missouri State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mass Communications and Television Broadcasting.
Read Perri’s story.
Adelaide Lancaster is an entrepreneur, community builder, advocate, and writer. Most recently, she co-founded We Stories, a program that uses children’s literature to support family conversation about race and social justice. In its first year, the program has helped to galvanize more than 600 white and multi-racial families in St. Louis City and St. Louis County who are concerned about racism.
“I have seen the impact of the Ferguson Commission’s public education on the individuals and families I work with,” she says. “I have seen the storytelling help to change not just hearts and minds but behaviors and beliefs. I believe that political will can shift and is shifting. I see it happening slowly but powerfully every day.”
Originally from Philadelphia, Lancaster has a B.A. in educational studies and sociology from Colgate University, an M.A. in organizational psychology and a M.Ed. in counseling psychology from Columbia University, where she studied racial identity development and group dynamics. She was co-founder of In Good Company Workplaces, a first-of-its-kind co-working space for women entrepreneurs in Manhattan, and is co-author of The Big Enough Company (Portfolio, 2011). She writes regularly for online magazines and blogs, including her own.
Read Adelaide’s story.
Christy Maxfield is director of entrepreneurship development services at the Center for Emerging Technologies (CET) – an affiliate of St. Louis’s Cortex Innovation Community – where she helps develop and deliver programs for startup IT, bioscience, and consumer/manufactured product companies. With a background in nonprofit management, she was the first to take on this new role at CET in 2015, five years after she’d co-founded The Mission Center, L3C, which provides varied support services to nonprofits and social entrepreneurs.
“When companies and other institutions set and live policy that moves us toward greater equity, what may start as grudging compliance has the potential to be inspirational, transformative,” she says. “Policy changes systems. Systems shape lives, allocate resources and create the status quo. I believe that at its best, government has the ability to be bold, forward thinking and courageous when its citizens can’t or won’t. When it creates and implements policy that reflects the best of who we can be, the world we want versus what is, that is when it is truly great.”
Maxfield earned her B.A. in political science from Montclair State University, and her M.B.A from Webster University.
Read Christy’s story.
De Andrea Nichols
De Andrea Nichols works hands-on as a social practice designer, lecturer, museum educator, and entrepreneur. Nationwide, she helps creative catalysts address social, civic, and racial equity challenges within their communities. In St. Louis, she serves as a community engagement specialist with the Contemporary Art Museum, and is Founding Director of Civic Creatives, which equips organizations and leaders to resolve critical social challenges using design thinking.
Nichols believes that “a crucial opportunity exists in galvanizing regional groups and organizations to adopt and activate shared values, programs, and policies that align with the Ferguson Commission report, helping stakeholders rethink and reframe the ways we navigate and respond to inequities within our educational, behavioral, social, and political norms and systems.”
Originally from Memphis, Nichols has a B.F.A. from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and a M.S.W from the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University. She’s a 2011 alumna of the Community Arts Training Institute in St. Louis and a 2016 recipient of the St. Louis Visionary Award for her community impact through the arts.
Read De’s story.
R. Nelson Williams is an attorney with the law firm Thompson Coburn LLP, where he specializes in employment litigation. His work toward equity and inclusion began in college, where he was co-director of Duke’s Center for Race Relations. It’s work that “consumed his life in the best possible way,” and that he’s carried on since moving to St. Louis in 2007 through service on the board of Shearwater Education Foundation, on the diversity committee at his firm, and most recently, as a big brother in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program.
“As an employment attorney, I have a unique understanding of the ways in which the law, race, and equity often interplay both within and outside of the courtroom. While the law is my chosen field, I have a passion to create change and empower others to tackle the challenges that our community and nation face. Inaction is not an option.”
Originally from Waterford, CT, Williams has B.A. in Spanish and cultural anthropology from Duke University, and a J.D. from Washington University School of Law.
Read Nelson’s story.