Governor Whitmer Announces Appointments to the Black Leadership Advisory Council

Governor Gretchen Whitmer made appointments today to the Black Leadership Advisory Council, which brings a diverse group of Black Michiganders together to serve in an advisory role to the governor and develop, review, and recommend policies and actions designed to prevent and end discrimination and racial inequity in the state, according to a press release.

“Listening to a diverse group of leaders and creating partnerships in our communities has been a priority for my administration since day one. Since I was sworn in as governor, I have worked to ensure a diverse group of voices at the table, creating the most diverse cabinet this state has ever seen. And today, I am proud to appoint dedicated individuals from across the state to the Black Leadership Advisory Council,” said Governor Whitmer. “In order to confront systemic racism head on, we need members like those on this council to inform our work in state government. This group of leaders includes experts in economics, public policy, health, technology, the environment, and more. I know that those on the Council will continue to be a force for change in Michigan, and I am excited to work closely with them to create a more equitable and just state for all.”

“With the creation of the Black Leadership Advisory Council, we are affirming a truth that Michigan has benefited from for generations: the leadership shown by Black Michiganders in all areas of life and work is critical to the vitality and prosperity of our state,” said Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist in the release. “The Council affords the state’s largest racial minority group an empowered presence at the tables of policy- and decision-making. These leaders’ diverse perspectives will be essential as we work to fight to against systemic inequalities experienced by far too many Michiganders. I am eager to work alongside them to create a Michigan that enables all Michiganders to pursue their fullest dreams and potential.”

The Black Leadership Advisory Council is one of a number of diverse ethnic commissions within the state, the release added. Although African Americans are the largest racial minority in Michigan, this Council is the first of its kind in the state to bolster Black leaders.

Michigan has come out as a nationwide leader in reducing health disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 15% of Michiganders are Black, however in April, African Americans represented over 40% of COVID-19-related cases and deaths. The Michigan Task Force on Racial Disparities, chaired by Gilchrist, studied this issue and recommended actions to address it and the historical inequities behind it. And now, due to this work, the state has seen significant progress, according to the release: with Black residents accounting for 9.1% of cases and 5.7% of deaths as of early November, the release added.

Whitmer has appointed the following 16 people to represent Black leadership in various capacities:

The Rev. James E. Atterberry, Sr., of Benton Harbor, is the founder and pastor at the Brotherhood of All Nations COGIC Church and a former Berrien County Commissioner. Atterberry has a Certificate of Achievement in Ministry from Moody Bible College. Pastor Atterberry is appointed to represent Black leadership in the faith-based community for a term commencing Nov. 12- Dec. 31, 2022.

Donna L. Bell, of Southfield, is the global director of technology and features strategy and planning at Ford Motor Company. She holds a Master of Science degrees in Engineering Management and Electronics and Computer Control Systems, as well as a Ph.D. in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Wayne State University. Dr. Bell is appointed to represent Black leadership in technology for a term commencing Nov. 12- Dec. 31, 2022.

Christopher Burtley, of Flint, is an associate attorney with Foley & Lardner LLP. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Michigan State University’s James Madison College and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School. Burtley is appointed to represent Black leadership in law, and a member between the ages of 18–35, for a term commencing Nov. 12- Dec. 31, 2022.

Jerry L. Clayton, Sr., of Ypsilanti, is the Sheriff of Washtenaw County. He also serves as a training consultant for the National Institute of Corrections and CEO of The Cardinal Group II, a policing and corrections training company. Sheriff Clayton is appointed to represent Black leadership in community safety and preparedness for a term commencing Nov. 12- Dec. 31, 2022.

Kelli A. Ellsworth Etchison, of East Lansing, is the chief marketing & diversity officer for LAFCU. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Northwood University. Ellsworth Etchison is appointed to represent Black leadership in economics for a term commencing Nov. 12- Dec. 31, 2023.

Justin N. Onwenu, of Detroit, is an environmental justice organizer for Sierra Club. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Health and Policy from Rice University. Onwenu is appointed to represent Black leadership in the environmental sector, and a member between the ages of 18–35, for a term commencing Nov. 12 – Dec. 31, 2021.

Kelsey Perdue, of Grand Rapids, is the project director of Kids Count in Michigan for the Michigan League of Public Policy and the director of storytelling and communications for the Urban Core Collective. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Development from Howard University. Perdue is appointed to represent Black leadership in public policy, and a member between the ages of 18–35, for a term commencing Nov. 12- Dec. 31, 2022.

Kathy Purnell, Ph.D., of Kalamazoo, is a staff attorney with Justice for Our Neighbors-Michigan, a non-profit providing immigration legal services. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Harvard University, a Ph.D. in Government from Cornell University, and a Juris Doctor degree from the DePaul University College of Law. Dr. Purnell is appointed to represent Black leadership in law, and a member who is an immigrant or individual with expertise in immigration policy, for a term commencing Nov. 12 – Dec. 31, 2021.

Rochelle Riley, of Detroit, is the director of arts and culture for the City of Detroit and a former award-winning columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Riley is appointed to represent Black leadership in media and communications, and arts and culture, for a term commencing Nov. 12 – Dec. 31, 2023. The Governor has designated Riley to serve as Co-Chair of the Council.

Theresa Roach, of Flint, is the program director of active communities for the Crim Fitness Foundation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Central Michigan University and a Master of Arts in Communications & Digital Media Design from Saginaw Valley State University. Roach is appointed to represent Black leadership in health and wellness for a term commencing Nov. 12 – Dec. 31, 2021.

Joel Rutherford, of Warren, is the chair of the Official Democratic Black Caucus of Macomb County. He is a veteran of the United States Air Force where he served as an air traffic control specialist. Rutherford is appointed to represent Black leadership in government for a term commencing Nov. 12- Dec. 31, 2022.

Michele Samuels, of Farmington Hills, is the vice president, general auditor, and compliance officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Windsor and an Executive MBA from Michigan State University. Samuels is appointed to represent Black leadership in health and wellness for a term commencing Nov. 12- Dec. 31, 2023.

Seydi Sarr, of Detroit, is the founder of the African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs (ABISA). She also works as a program associate for the Detroit Public School Community District. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Wayne State University and a Master of Arts in Social Justice from Marygrove College. Mrs. Sarr is appointed to represent Black leadership in education, and a member who is an immigrant or individual with expertise in immigration policy, for a term commencing Nov. 12- Dec. 31, 2022.

Michelle Sourie Robinson, of West Bloomfield, is the president and CEO of the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Administration from Oklahoma State University and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Kansas. Sourie Robinson is appointed to represent Black leadership in economics for a term commencing Nov. 12- Dec. 31, 2023.

Carl M. Williams, of Saginaw, is the vice president of the NAACP Saginaw Chapter. He previously served as a state representative for the 95th House District, mayor pro tem, and a member of the Saginaw City Council. Williams retired from Delphi Automotive Systems where he was a production supervisor. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Central Michigan University. Williams is appointed to represent Black leadership in public policy for a term commencing Nov. 12- Dec. 31, 2023.

Robert Womack, of Grand Rapids, is a county commissioner in Kent County where he serves on the Finance and Physical Resources Committee. He is also the general manager and program director for WYGR 94.9 FM and Community Empowerment Radio, Inc. Commissioner Womack is appointed to represent Black leadership in public policy for a term commencing Nov. 12- Dec. 31, 2023.
The Governor has designated Womack to serve as Co-Chair of the Council.

Additionally, Rep. Brenda Carter, of Pontiac, will serve on the council as an honorary representative of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus.

To assist the council in the performance of its duties, advisory committees will be formed specializing in select fields, including education, community safety, health, and business, according to the release.

Terrence D. Martin, of Detroit, is the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) and a former elementary teacher for Detroit Public Schools. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from St. Francis University and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Marygrove College. Martin will serve as the Chair of the Education Committee.

Teferi Brent, of Detroit, is co-chair of Dignity 4 Detroit, a coalition of community leaders created to address violence in Detroit. Brent is the founder, leader, and member of several criminal justice reform organizations and has been organizing against urban violence for over 25 years. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Eastern Michigan University and a Master of Business Administration from Baker College Center for Graduate Studies. Brent will serve as Chair of the Community Safety Committee.

Alexis Dye, of Muskegon, is the communications and development manager for Hackley Community Care. She currently serves as chair of the Muskegon Health Disparities Coalition and as a board member with Community enCompass. Dye will serve as Chair of the Health Committee.

Karen Carter, of Midland, is the chief human resources officer and chief inclusion officer for Dow Chemical Company. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Howard University and a Master of Business Administration in International Business from DePaul University. Carter will serve as Chair of the Business Leaders Committee.

The Black Leadership Advisory Council is housed in the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity and will act in an advisory capacity to the Governor and develop, review, and recommend policies and actions designed to eradicate and prevent discrimination and racial inequity in this state. The Council will also work to identify state laws, or gaps in state law, that create or perpetuate inequities, collaborate to promote legislation and regulation that ensures equitable treatment of all Michiganders, serve as a resource for community groups, and promote the cultural arts in the Black community, the release added.

These appointments are not subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, according to the release.

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