Marcus Owens, Executive Director:Marcus is a social entrepreneur, systems shifter and community developer. Owens believes that expanding economic and educational opportunities and improving health and well-being for all is key to building a healthier and just community. AALF’s focus is to improve the economic health of underserved communities in the Twin Cities by creating opportunities through public and private partnerships. Before joining AALF, Owens was the President and CEO of the Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON). Under his direction, NEON more than quadrupled its operating budget and staff size, launched a social enterprise business and created a co-working space for entrepreneurs. Owens also spent nearly a decade driving change and championing new initiatives in finance, diversity & inclusion and human resources for Target Corporation. Before his time at Target, he worked for TCF National Bank and owned and operated a mortgage company. A native of north Minneapolis, Owens received a bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas.
Ernest Comer III, Associate Director: Ernest has more than ten years of professional experience in both the not-for-profit and private sectors. He is passionate about professional development, career advancement, and uplifting leadership that is both holistic and collective. Ernest is committed to building pipelines to success through making connections and empowering people by creating awareness of and exposure to examples of leadership, success, and wealth development that may be unconventional. Ernest provides an additional layer of leadership to the African American Leadership Forum as the Associate Director while driving leadership development initiatives for the Network and the community. As an author, entrepreneur, professional and philanthropist he is dedicated to connecting individuals, organizations, and businesses to resources for continuous learning and enrichment.
LaCora Bradford Kesti (pronouns She/Her/Hers), Program Director: Hailing from Minneapolis, LaCora has over two decades of experience living, volunteering and working in the Twin Cities metro area. She is a Northside Community Member in the Camden-Lind Bohanon neighborhood. LaCora graduated from the College of St. Scholastica and completed two years of AmeriCorps, completing over 3,400 service hours for her community. Previously, she worked for the federal government at the agency the Corporation for National and Community Service as a Program Officer. As Program Director at AALF she manages our Collective Impact Work, working to solve community problems in a unified way and drawing many people together to speak a common language and align their efforts. In her free time LaCora enjoys spending quality time with family, going on bike rides, walks, and salsa dancing.
Rebecca Nichloson, Communications Director: Rebecca is a creative writer and multidisciplinary artist with ten years of communications experience, as well as an extensive background in the nonprofit sector, the arts, and academia. She has also written, edited, and developed content (digital & print) for Earl G. Graves LTD, a multimedia company and publisher of Black Enterprise, a premier business & wealth-building magazine with readership of over 2 million, centering on entertainment, career development, health, technology, and education. Moreover, she’s worked at The National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Columbia Journalism School, Miller Theatre, and Community Impact. Writing Awards/ Fellowships: Sesame Street Writers’ Room (Fellowship) 2017, NBC Universal’s UCP Pitchfest 2017 (Alternate), Liberace Award, Matthew’s Fellowship, and Howard Stein Fellowship. DRA Fellowship from Columbia University School of the Arts. 2014 America-In-Play Fellowship. 2015 finalist for the Atlantic Media Editorial Fellowship. Winner of the 2013 Jane Chambers Award for “Hello, I’m Eve” (a two-act episodic play). 2008-2009 Many Voices Fellowship (Minneapolis Playwrights Center). Rebecca holds an M.F.A. in Playwriting from Columbia University and an M.A. in English Literature.
Alissa Paris (pronouns She/Her/Hers), Program Coordinator: Alissa Paris is an education facilitator and event planner in the Twin Cities area. With a B.A. in dance theater and social justice, she cares deeply about the intersections of social change and art. She is the co-founder and executive director of MidWest Mixed; host of a biennial community-centered conference and other educational programming. She has worked for over ten years as a hip-hop dance instructor facilitating movement workshops with youth and adults, showcasing her choreography on many stages both as a soloist and company member for several Twin Cities groups. Paris has been involved with the Black Box Theater Program at Washburn High School since 2009, co-directing plays and mentoring young adults as they explore identity and social change through performance art. She lives in North Minneapolis with her 3 year-old son and enjoys leisure time spent reading and visiting her grandmother’s goat farm. Paris is thrilled to be a part of the African American Leadership Forum, working to serve Black people in Minnesota.
Board of Directors
Stella Whitney West, Co-Chair, CEO, NorthPoint Health & Wellness
John Taylor, Co-Chair, Manager, Director of Supplier Diversity
Anisha Murphy, Secretary, Adjunct Professor, Hamline University
Carolyn Smallwood, Treasurer, Executive Director, Way to Grow
Sylvia Bartley, BSc (Hons), Pharmacology; PhD, Neurophysiology Global Director, Medtronic Philanthropy
Nerita Hughes, Dean of Business at North Hennepin Community College
Jeff Hayden, Senator, Minnesota State Congressman
Robin Frazier, Director, Alzheimers Association
Duchesne Drew, Vice President, Bush Foundation
Lauren Boulware, Director, Morgan Stanley
Kevin Lindsey, Executive Director of the Minnesota Humanities Center