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2017 2ND ANNUAL F.I.R.E. AWARDS (Females In Recognition of Excellence) HONOREES

SISTAHOOD: Bianca Williams grew up in a rough Milwaukee neighborhood. The struggles her family
faced and seeing the pain of many others in her community has driven her to make a
difference. Bianca’s personal experiences have helped her connect with those she meets
everyday dealing with homelessness, hunger, lack of education, and joblessness. She
especially empathizes with youth not given the opportunities needed to thrive and
succeed, so they can have more and do better for themselves and their families. From
working with the community daily, she feels their pain through empathy. Eventually
Williams was able to do what she desired and s tart a n on-profit organization giving back
to suffering communities and providing a sense of hope. In 2015, A Cry for Help
Foundation was founded. Williams wanted to make a difference, help others, and revive
hope in her community. This opportunity has allowed her to meet with people from all
walks of life. It gives her a chance to work closely with them and offer resources to help
better their lives and futures. Williams has worked hard to established her non-profit and
carry out its mission, “To cultivate the less fortunate along with vibrant communities by
connecting credible organizations and like minded people with the skills, information,
and services they need to make a living”. The organization has been operating for a year
and a half and already has accomplished so much. Williams has been able to conduct
neighborhood clean-ups, feeding the the homeless, community services opportunities,
donation drives, and more. A Cry for Help Foundation is constantly growing and has been
recognized for its charitable efforts. Williams is known for her compassion and drive. She
looks forward to what her organization can do next to accomplish goals and ultimately
bring back hope and prosperity to the people she sees in difficult situations

SISTAHOOD: Latasia Gordon, 18 years old, was born and raised in Milwaukee Wisconsin. She graduated from Casimir Pulaski High School, class of 2017. “I believe women need to support and inspire each other so in turn I support my sisters, friends and other women by being there for them. It is important that we talk and keep talking about empowering each other. Instead of competing I try to to build others up through honesty, support, straight talk and positive energy” She believes women need to encourage each other to love themselves and believe in themselves- this is what she tells friends and other women. “We can inspire each other to take the right path, be there for each other, laugh and cry with each other. We have to fight against forces that encourage us to bring each other down. We need to always have each other’s back as women. I admire Oprah and we need to remember her advice, “…there is no such thing as failure, failure is just life moving us in another direction…”. We as women need to unite in supporting and inspiring each other to succeed and I try to always be an example of that for anyone I meet”.

 

ARTS: Catina Cole is a mother of a superhero, trauma survivor, counselor, and “artivist” in the
Milwaukee area. She founded MPower Theater Group (www.mpowertheater.com), a
theater troupe that is dedicated to empowering survivors and offering opportunities for
underrepresented artists with a social justice focus on activism, advocacy, and
awareness. MPower Theater has addressed issues of Black femininity, racial profiling,
molestation, rape, domestic violence and more that affects people of color and their
communities. Behind the scenes, MPower has been instrumental in creating a safe space
and providing transformational healing, in part due to Catina’s leadership and
counseling background, but also because the actors of MPower Theater understand the
primary purpose is not theatrical but healing. This work has been recognized by WCASA
(Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault) 2016 Voice of Courage award. Since 2015,
MPower has put on eight productions to sold out audiences with the most recent, Yetta
Young’s Butterfly Confessions. MPower also collaborates with other organizations and
“pays it forward” by donating a portion of proceeds to other local charities in the
Milwaukee area.

ARTS: Josie Thompson is a young lady that has a lot of talent in her. She is 17 years old, and she
is a senior attending Milwaukee High School of the Arts. She has been a part of the arts
industry since she was 3 years old. Growing up, all she did was dance, sing, play the
violin and piano, and act in plays and productions. She has worked with many
professionals such as Frank Gatson (choreographer and director for Beyonce), Cedric
Gardner, (Top 10 on So You Think You Can Dance), and many others. She has traveled for
local and national dance competitions as well.

IMAGE: Aisha Carr, Milwaukee native and 4th District School Board candidate, currently serves as the Culturally Responsive Teacher Leader for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) James Madison Academic Campus. Prior to serving in this capacity, Carr worked as an MPS Secondary Special Education Teacher, a Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee Community Learning Center (CLC) Club Manager and Legislative Assistant for Former State Senator, Russell Feingold. Carr has experience in the areas of community organizing, educational policies and youth leadership and development. During her time as a CLC Director, Carr had the privilege of serving over 300 youth in the Milwaukee community,developing educational youth serving programs to build character and leadership; career and college readiness skills; promote healthy lifestyles by creating health and life skills programming, in addition to intensive and content specific tutoring, community service and civic engagement opportunities and conflict resolution tactics including restorative practices. A single mother of a school-aged child, a
first-generation, professional Graduate student, a product of foster-care and a single-father household, and lastly, a product of the public and private education sector, Aisha’s experiences and proven track record of success is an immediate result of her life’s story of pain, struggle, defeat, victories, education and success. Carr has devoted her
entire professional career to the advancement of  students of color, in the fight for racial
and educational equity and justice. Carr is a proud graduate of Marian University (Fond Du Lac, WI.) where she earned her Bachelors of Science in Social Work. Carr completed the Special Education Teacher certification at Cardinal Stritch University and is currently completing her practicum for her Graduate studies with the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she will earn her Graduate degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. Carr’s graduate research is centered around Restorative Justice and the School-to-Prison pipeline.

 


IMAGE: Sierra Roberson is 15 years old and currently attends Rufus King High School. She has two younger sisters and strives daily to make sure they know that they are loved, beautiful and can become anything that they put their hearts and hard work into. She
prays that they look up to her as a positive role model. She wants her younger sisters to know that their grandmother, mom and aunts are so proud of them and will always be there to assist even if they stumble. Those women are a great example of what
encouragement and motivation looks like. Her passion for writing enables her to think outside the box and allows her to relate and form relationships with other girls her age or younger. “I believe I am a strong black girl who rocks, because it is my hope and dream to
uplift young ladies who not only have or share the same dreams as myself, but have the same ambition and drive to motivate and encourage those who lack a strong positive support system. I contend that one day I will leave my mark on the world by
accomplishing much more than what I set out to achieve and being a perfect mentor for younger girls.” One of her goals is to become a successful real estate agent and give back to her community. Joseph Campbell once wrote “We must be willing to get rid of the life
we’ve planned, to have the life that is waiting for us.” A proud member of Pearls for Teen Girls and Dream Keeper, she wants us all to keep God first and work hard to uplift one another in future endeavors.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Jessica Bruss knew since she was a little girl that God placed her on this earth to do great things for all people. With that realization, she rolled up her sleeves and worked hard to create a better life for herself and all those around her at a young age. Living in the Milwaukee area and graduating from Milwaukee Lutheran she found a true love and appreciation for the city and excitement for making it the best city possible. A professional insurance career was the stepping stone needed to hone into her strong leadership and speaking skills. Starting as the secretary she always had the vision that she would one day run the agency, and she did! Eventually becoming the V.P. She created large shifts in insurance utilization and expenses, focusing on teaching & leading others
regarding health. Jessica has impacted Milwaukee and Waukesha businesses in a positive way. With the blessing of her 9 year old son William she dove into every volunteering opportunity, starting the ball rolling, to allow what God has made her excel at, helping
others through leadership. Working with many local organizations and creating her own programs whenever she saw a need. Currently holding the title of Mrs. Wisconsin Globe. Competed in Mrs. US of A in June 2017 placing 3rd. She placed 2nd in Mrs.North America. All positions desired to help create larger platform and voice to help those who need it the most. Crowns of Encouragement is a product of my pageant journey and mission. Passionate, enthusiasm, dedication and excitement to give back and assist in the surrounding communities can be felt to her core.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: D’Naya Collins, a 16 year old junior at Rufus King High School is a leader and role model in her community. She is very involved in the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee, where she is president of Keystone, a community service program. D’Naya has won multiple awards, in which one was called the Argosy Award. The Argosy Award was presented and awarded to 5 students who proposed a plan to help their community. D’Naya decided to create Community Care Packages, which consisted of toiletries, small snacks, and water bottles, that were delivered to homeless shelters and the Salvation Army. Being very passionate of her community, D’Naya got to interview Mayor Tom Barrett on issues she is concerned about in her community. This interview was featured in the January 2017 issue of the Milwaukee Magazine. D’Naya enjoys cheerleading, traveling, and reading. She is excited for what her future has to bring for her.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Kimberly Hall is a cake artist and owner operator of Signature Sweets. Signature Sweets
is an upscale, full service dessert bakery. Kimberly has been a contestant on several Food Network competitions including Hometown Showdown, Cupcake Wars, and Sugar Dome. Most recently she was a competitor on one of Food Network’s highest rated shows,
Halloween Wars Season 6. Kimberly is active member in the event community, she is also a member of the The National Association of Wedding Professionals Inc in Wisconsin and is part of the Wisconsin Bakers Association as well as Icing Smile an organization that
provides custom celebration cakes and other treats to families impacted by the critical illness of a child. Recently Kimberly received a proclamation from Mayor Barrett recognizing Nov. 3 as “Signature Sweets Day” in celebration of local entrepreneurship and Hall’s achievements. At Signature Sweets, we create hundreds of signature cakes annually for the Milwaukee community – and even for customers around the nation,” “We look forward to keeping our roots in Milwaukee while expanding our footprint and market share in the region. My story is a story about Milwaukee talent earning recognition throughout the entire nation.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Erica Lofton is a 16-year- old entrepreneur, facilitator and a performer. Miss Lofton conducts youth leadership workshops, small group presentations, panel discussions and keynote speeches. Also passionate about violence prevention and diversity, in 2014 Erica produced a song after the death of Trayvon Martin entitled “No Time Left” which she has been performing in venues across Milwaukee. Erica is a member of Sunset Playhouse and in March of 2018 will be starring in a production of Motown. Erica is also the founder of a small charity for girls, Girls in Action, Inc. T he charity has helped girls find their voice and in 2015 the charity was recognized by the White House for starting a local violence prevention campaign called #ViolencePreventionMKE. Miss Lofton received a personal letter from President Obama and she also got the opportunity to meet and introduce Vice President Joe Biden while in Washington. Her charity adopted, and is in the process of revitalizing, a community garden in the Harambee neighborhood this summer. Miss Lofton serves on the Milwaukee Youth Council, sits on the cabinet of the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County’s Campus Engagement Cabinet and takes part in the City of Milwaukee’s Choice Neighborhood Initiative as a steering committee member for the City of Milwaukee Housing. Erica has won numerous awards for her service and youth leadership, including her most recent scholarship award, the Zonta Club of Milwaukee’s Young Women in Public Affairs award. As a Freshman, Erica learned that a Black History program had not been put on at the school in several years, so she spearheaded one, along with two of her classmates. This sparked interest from administration which has led to more diversity activities on campus, including a Black student union. Erica hopes to one day attend Stanford, NYC or Howard to become a corporate attorney and to join Congress.

PERSEVERANCE: Tonda Thompson, also known as Tonda Nicole, is a Milwaukee native who is known for being a high fashion model, whose work has been seen in both Obvious Magazine and Premier Bride. She’s also done numerous amounts of runway shows throughout the Midwest and West Coast. Inspired by the loss of her infant son Terrell, Tonda joined Public Allies Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (MKE LIHF) in his honor to help inform on the importance of healthy birth outcomes for babies of color within the city of Milwaukee. Tonda is now the Community Engagement Coordinator for Milwaukee LIHF, a position funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program and convened by United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County. In her role, Tonda is lead organizer for the HaRUNBee Walk/ Run for Healthy Birth Outcomes of Milwaukee, a U .S. Track & Field Certified 5k, designed to gather the community together to honor babies such as her son, Terrell and to reduce racial disparities in infant mortality. Aside from her modeling and advocacy, Tonda is also the owner of Vogue Dreams, a professional photography business for aspiring models. She has a strong passion for uplifting her community through the world of fashion, advocacy and ensuring that babies are born strong and healthy. Through both of her sons, Terrell and Jehlani, she aspires to bring a positive change to her community.

PERSEVERANCE: Aliza Mills, taken away from her mom at the age of 5, was adopted by a relative at 6 years old. “I was removed from the home at age 11 and put into a foster group home. When I moved to a group home I felt like I didn’t have anyone. My family talked about me and no responsible member would take me in. I felt like no one loved me or cared!” She was a victim of bullying, theft, peer pressure, etc. After months went by she started to rebel, disrespect staff, skip school, runaway and became sexually active. Her social worker told her if she didn’t get it together she would send her to residential treatment. She dismissed it and continued to do what she wanted. One day she realized that she needed to change. By the end of freshman year she only had 1 credit and her attendance was only
40% .Lack of clothes to wear, depression and insecurities caused her to dislike going to school. Her worker finally put her in residential. Wanting to do something different, one day she went to a church and felt like she found herself. “I kept going, people started to
care for me, I started going to school and I kept pushing no matter how dumb I felt.” Not only did she start going to school but she started taking other girls from the group home to church with her. She helped and encouraged them to do better and now loves working
with teen girls to show them that things can get better ! She is now a senior in high school and will be going to college for human services and psychology. “Each day I’m striving for better, for greatness no matter what comes my way or what I’ve been
through.