Warwick residents selected for statewide minority leadership program


The Rhode Island Foundation has selected 38 Rhode Island residents statewide , including four from Warwick  to participate in its Equity Leadership Initiative (ELI). The goal is to build a pipeline of leaders of color for positions of influence throughout the state. 

“The demographics of our state are changing quickly. Unfortunately, real opportunity for too many has not been keeping pace. Developing programs that raise up new voices is just one way the Foundation is ensuring the opportunity gap continues to close,” David N. Cicilline, president and CEO of the Foundation said in a statement. 

Justina Crawford, Michelle Fontes, Jamil Jorge and Janie Segui Rodriguez  of Warwick were selected from more than 80 applicants. The 12-month leadership development initiative includes monthly group work sessions, regular one-to-one coaching sessions, and networking with high-level connections across sectors.

 Crawford is the Innovation Manager at Children’s Friend and works in partnership with agency staff to administer grant-funded programs benefiting children and families. She earned a B.S.E. in Music Education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and an M.S. in Arts Administration at Drexel University.

 “Equity-driven leadership in action is deeply rooted in understanding, sharing, and believing in the ‘why.’ The ‘why’ forges and affirms pathways to connect, reflect and weave together multiple voices in response to difference and othering. This type of leadership calls for patience and grace as one or many may be required to explore new valleys, peaks, and waters that will not be fully realized or even navigated in one’s lifetime. There must be conviction to start, test, fail and re-try repeatedly,” said Crawford.

Fontes is the Assistant Vice President, Office of Community, Equity and Diversity, at the University of Rhode Island. Previously, she was Assistant Dean, Diversity, Retention and Student Success Initiatives, at the College of the Environment and Life Sciences and Assistant Director of Alumni Affairs at URI. She earned a B.A. in Communications and an M.A. in Adult Education at URI.

 “Equity-driven leaders want to make sure that they create a safe and confidential space, cares to make sure that people are heard, listens to their perspectives despite their differences, and communicates with integrity and honesty-even when it is difficult or challenging. It is also constant advocacy for those that may not be able to have a voice for themselves,” said Fontes.

 Jorge is the Education Director at FirstWorks and is the founder and board president of the Performing Arts Initiative for Students of Color. He earned a B.A. in Music at Connecticut College, an M.A. and a Ph.D in Ethnomusicology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Equitable leadership feels inspiring. Under equitable leadership, people feel like they belong. They know they are in an environment built for everyone to be heard and to have the agency and trust to do their parts effectively. And that is because an equitable leader constantly learns, listens attentively to others, values their team, can see the big picture and knows how to create the right environment for everyone around them to succeed,” said Jorge.

Rodriguez is founder and President of Stop the Wait RI. She previously was the Expeditions and Enrichment Operations Associate of a tri-state program at Achievement First and a Bilingual Community Liaison at Times 2 STEM Academy. Segui Rodriguez earned a B.A. in General Studies at Charter Oak State University and a M.A. in Community Development at Roger Williams University.

 “Equity driven leaders seek out new perspectives and ideas, and they are willing to change course when they realize they’ve made a mistake. There is a sense of urgency to the work because we know that real people are impacted by these inequities, and we must do our best to dismantle them! Equity-driven leaders are results-oriented and are focused on creating real, measurable change. They are willing to take risks and try new approaches in order to achieve their goals,” she said.

Thirty-eight people were tapped to participate in the program. Selected from more than 80 applicants, they work in the public, nonprofit and for-profit sectors. Applicants must have identified as Asian, Black, Hispanic or Latino, Indigenous or multi-racial.

 “We have the incredible privilege to offer this group of leaders the opportunity to be themselves, to respect their respective identities and to applaud their successes. We’re looking forward to developing pathways for them to achieve even more,” said Angie Ankoma, ELI’s executive director and a vice president at the Foundation.

The leadership program is just one facet of the Rhode Island Foundation’s core commitment to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and access in all its activities.

Recent work includes awarding nearly $2.2 million to help dismantle the fundamental causes of systemic racism in Rhode Island, awarding nearly $1.2 million to increase the number of teachers of color in urban school districts and creating a capacity-building program to support nonprofits led by Asian, Black, Hispanic or Latino, Indigenous or multi-racial executive directors or other decision-makers within an organization.


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