Chicago's Top Black Women of Impact

February marks Black History Month. During this month, Make It Better celebrates black women of impact who are making Chicagoland a better place. These dynamic women are among a select group who continually demonstrate what it means to make an impact and improve the lives of others.

Join us in celebrating some of Chicago’s top black women of impact.

Leslie J. Anderson

SVP U.S. Head of Business Banking, Treasury & Payment Solutions, BMO Harris Bank

Chicago: Leslie Anderson

“As a prominent leader within the Chicago banking market, I have a unique and critical responsibility to demonstrate that WE can and should play a very important role in the growth and success of this ever evolving industry. That responsibility is why I dedicate so much of my time to working with the future leaders of this country — our youth. My role as Board Chair at OneGoal and as Advisory Board member at After School Matters allows me to reinforce how critical a good education is to developing the tools that will allow our youth to build a strong and successful future for themselves, and an even greater reminder that All Our Children Matter. My work with 1871 also provides a compliment to this mission by helping to encourage and create opportunities for young Chicagoans (especially women and people of color) to get involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) while advocating for them in this emerging world of technology-enabled enterprises.”

Constance Jones Brewer

President, Noble Network of Charter Schools

Chicago: Constance Jones Brewer

“Our children deserve a chance to access every opportunity their heart desires, regardless of their race or zip code. At Noble, we are opening doors to opportunity by providing a high quality public school education for over 12,000 high school students across Chicago from some of the city’s most under-resourced communities. We send thousands of students to college every year, which is impacting individual lives and changing the trajectory of our city.”

Angela Cobb

Founder & CEO, FirstGen Partners LLC

Chicago: Angela Cobb

“I have lived in the Chicago-area for nearly 20 years and it has become my adopted hometown. I treasure our city’s rich history, diverse communities, abundant cultural institutions, and the never-ending experiences that make Chicago a wonderful place to live. More than this, I love Chicago’s heart and heartbeat. Our citizens are passionate and deeply committed to making our city a better version of itself — and I, too, take this responsibility very seriously. Chicago — my home by choice — is a community that I continue to build and strengthen so that my children and children from across the city will know and share in its greatness.”   

Michelle Collins

President, Cambium LLC

Gwendolyn Perry Davis

Deputy Director of Development, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Chicago: Gwendonlyn Perry Davis

“As a native Chicagoan, I am committed to ensuring that our city has accessible and engaging experiences for youth and adults regardless of race, gender, or class. This is why I am so pleased to be working at the Museum of Contemporary Art where Chicagoans can count on seeing work by the most important artists working right now. This month, we have a major exhibition on the extraordinary African-American woman artist Howardena Pindell, who, as the first curator of color in a major U.S. museum, was an important pioneer in the field for so many of today’s museum professionals. I really connect with this exhibition because Howardena straddles the role of curator/artist/activist/educator in compelling ways through her work, which speaks to so many relevant social issues today. It is important that audiences of all ages — particularly youth under 18, who are free at the MCA — experience her contributions to history and the impact on our lives.”

Shelley A. Davis

President, Forest Preserve Foundation

Chicago: Shelley A. Davis

“I have dedicated my career to shepherding resources to underserved communities in Chicago. At the Forest Preserve Foundation, we are committed to all youth in Cook County being exposed to opportunities that allow them to learn and prepare for leadership responsibilities. Our investments will impact the future of Chicago.”

Kimberly M. Foxx

State’s Attorney of Cook County, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney

Chicago: Kimberly M. Foxx

“As the first African American woman elected to this office, I have the ability to transform the perception of the criminal justice system in Chicago and Cook County. The opportunity to change how we respond to those most affected by inequity and injustice is profoundly impactful.” 

Esther Franco-Payne

Executive Director, Cabrini Green Legal Aid

Chicago: Esther Franco-Payne

“As a native Chicagoan, growing up in the Englewood community, the importance of making an impact in this city includes addressing the specific needs of individuals, families, and communities of color that have been marginalized and prevented from receiving equal access to opportunities. My work involves supporting those who have been negatively affected by the criminal justice system. I aim to serve as a partner and a resource to communities to effectuate positive change. I believe that communities thrive when they are empowered — and that alone is the most important impact and creates a better Chicago for all.” 

Helene D. Gayle, MD

President & CEO, The Chicago Community Trust

Chicago: Helene D. Gayle

“I am excited to be newly at the helm of the Chicago Community Trust and part of the Chicago community. Chicago is one of the most dynamic and influential cities in the world. Chicagoans’ deep sense of civic pride is second to none, and as a new arrival, you feel this unwavering collective commitment to make this a city that works for every person that calls this place home.” 

Marion Gross

Sr. Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer, McDonald’s North America

Chicago: Marion Gross

“As the world’s largest restaurant company, we have an opportunity to use our scale for good to positively impact the communities we serve including Chicago, soon to be home to our new company headquarters. From making important changes to our food to setting goals to improve our packaging and reduce waste, we look forward to doing even more to benefit our customers and our communities.”

Myetie H. Hamilton

Executive Director, Epic Academy Charter High School

Chicago: Myetie H. Hamilton

“Creating positive impact in the lives of children is the greatest measure of success, as it will produce change that will last for generations to come.”

Claire Hartfield

Senior Education Consultant, Accelerate Institute, Author of “A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919

Chicago: Claire Hartfield

“The most powerful, impactful way to build a thriving city is to educate our youth to achieve their potential and lead us into a better future.”  

Mercedes M. Hill

Partner, Jenner & Block LLP

Chicago: Mercedes M. Hill

“Over the years, Chicago has become my true home. I believe each of us has a special responsibility to give of our time and our talent to both build up and give back to our homes and communities. This is why I choose to show my love of Chicago through my dedication to the people and organizations that make up this beautiful city.”

Mellody Hobson

President, Ariel Investments

Patricia Brown Holmes

Founding Partner, Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP

Chicago: Patricia Brown Holmes

Lisa Haley Huff

Head of Treasury Management Risk Organization, PNC Bank

Chicago: Lisa Haley Huff

“Chicago is a complex city with both great problems as well as great opportunities. I feel that our strong philanthropic culture is an asset. However, our approach to these complex problems is not preventative. Therefore, I think Chicago can truly make an impact through a comprehensive public/private initiative that focuses on jobs and employment. I try to do that through my work in tutoring and mentoring young women of color and providing them assistance with college readiness and career planning. No matter how strong our policing or crime policies may be, if we in the private sector do not work to provide stable and quality employment, our city will continue to have this conversation for years to come.”

Perri L. Irmer

President & CEO, DuSable Museum of African American History

Chicago: Perri L. Irmer

“The DuSable Museum’s purpose is to educate all people through African American history, art, and culture, and this mission is more important now than ever. We are a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate and the best, most credible narrators of black culture, telling our stories through a Black Chicago lens. As a major destination during the Great Migration, Chicago is and always has been the center of black leadership in America — whether in industry, business, the arts, scholarship, activism, or politics. Black Chicago stories are America’s stories, and have the ability to impact the future of our communities here and around the world. The DuSable Museum is elevating the often hidden histories of Chicagoans such as Jean Baptiste Point DuSable — the Haitian immigrant who founded our city — military leaders, educators, and other black Chicagoans whose contributions are illustrative of black accomplishment throughout society. But we aren’t just presenting history retrospectively; we are making history every day and providing a rich, positive, and innovative context for our youth and the city we serve. The DuSable is a key player among Chicago’s world-class cultural institutions and a major economic development engine in the growth and success of Chicago’s south side. As president and CEO, I am driven to realize the full potential of the DuSable Museum of African American History as a beacon of knowledge, arts, and culture for the benefit of all Chicago — and beyond.”

Janice K. Jackson, EdD

Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Public Schools

Chicago: Janice Jackson

“I have grown as a learner and leader in Chicago Public Schools from my first days of Head Start at Cook Elementary to serving as the Chief Executive Officer.  I have an unwavering commitment to Chicago’s children and it is my responsibility to ensure every student receives the support they need to realize college, career, and civic life. As a progressive, forward-thinking educator, I believe in setting the bar high. My three-year vision for Chicago Public Schools focuses on promoting academic quality, building stakeholder trust and integrity, and achieving fiscal stability. I am committed to providing all schools with a clear framework for excellence. This includes high-quality curricular options aimed at minimizing the achievement gap, especially among minority students. I believe that talent is equally distributed throughout the city; however, opportunities are not. Therefore, building excellence, equity, and access across the district is critically important to ensuring the success of every student. While I am proud to be a life-long educator with a wealth of experience in education, there is no role that has better prepared me to lead our school system than being a CPS parent. The same opportunities and rich educational experiences that I desire for my own children is what fuels my passion to build equitable opportunities in education for every CPS student and family. By holding true to these commitments and allowing my moral compass to be my guide, I will ensure Chicago has the quality school system it deserves.”

Valerie Jarrett

Distinguished Senior Fellow, The University of Chicago Law School

Nicole Johnson-Scales

Senior Vice President, Fifth Third Bank

Chicago: Nicole Johnson-Scales

“Impact is a small word which holds so much responsibility and yet everyone has the unique ability to create it. Individuals, small businesses, or large corporations all have the resources to create lasting change. It is my privilege to steward Fifth Third Bank’s $3.5 billion commitment into Chicagoland communities. Our goal is to be a part of the economic engine that helps neighborhoods grow and thrive. We are all a part of the fabric that makes our communities great. It’s up to us to identify where our strengths and resources can make a difference.”

Karen Lewis

President, Chicago Teachers Union

Connie L. Lindsey

Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility and Global Diversity & Inclusion, Northern Trust

Chicago: Connie L. Lindsey

“Making an impact in Chicago requires relationships, resilience, and a strategic understanding of the interconnectedness of institutions and individuals. My model is fierce faith, focus, and follow-through!”

Deborah Liverett

Senior Vice President, Director of Community Affairs, Northern Trust

Chicago: Deborah Liverett

“Chicago citizens and corporations have an obligation to uplift people with less fortunate circumstances in our surrounding communities. When we listen and lend support, we empower hidden talent and brilliant minds to help solve our city’s issues and create a brighter future for everyone.”

Dr. Suzet McKinney

CEO/Executive Director, Illinois Medical District

Chicago: Dr. Suzet McKinney

“The rich culture and fabric of this city, from our neighborhoods and people, to the arts, education, business, and many opportunities that exist here have all combined and made Chicago one of America’s greatest cities. Chicago is also a global city that enjoys millions of visitors every year, both domestic and international. I want to see our city continue to grow and develop, not just for those who will visit but for those who live here as well. It is important to make an impact on Chicago to ensure that our city continues to move forward, in a manner that breeds opportunity for us all, especially those that have historically been marginalized, but also in a way that attract the best and brightest talent from new college graduates and young professionals to innovative businesses so that the city continues to grow and advance. I’ve dedicated my work at the IMD to that exact mission!”

Dorri McWhorter

Chief Executive Officer, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago

Chicago: Dorri McWhorter

“As a global economic center, the success of the City of Chicago is inextricably connected to the success of the women of Chicago. When women thrive, the city thrives.” 

Dara T. Munson

Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Child Care Society

Chicago: Dara T. Munson

“The creativity, perseverance, and potential found in Chicago is unmatched. Though, in order for Chicago to reach its fullest potential, everyone must be supported in their pursuit of wellbeing. Equipping those who encounter barriers in life with the tools they need to thrive will lead to the wellbeing of the Chicago community at large. I believe we are strongest when we support one another and all Chicagoans are well worth this investment. That’s why at Chicago Child Care Society, we provide resources to our clients that help them create a strong foundation to build their own positive future.”

Olufunmilayo Falusi Olopade, MBBS, OON

Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor Department of Medicine and Human Genetics, Associate Dean for Global Health, University of Chicago Medical Center

Chicago: Olufunmilayo Olopade

“I came to Chicago more than 35 years ago as a young, inexperienced doctor from Nigeria. It was in Chicago, at Cook County Hospital and the University of Chicago, that I developed my vision for the future. My dream is to bring scientific advances and precision medicine to those who face the greatest challenges and have the fewest resources. We cannot advance our promising research without addressing health equity and fighting for social justice. That is why my work is grounded in Chicago, a diverse vibrant city that welcomes immigrants from all over the world and celebrates our ethnic communities. Chicago, a global city, can lead the struggle to eliminate disparities in health outcomes here and abroad.”

Monica E. Peek, MD, MPH, MSc

Associate Professor of Medicine and Associate Director, Chicago Center for Diabetes Translational Research, The University of Chicago Medicine

Chicago: Monica E. Peek

“Chicago is a historic, vibrant city whose promise and potential depends on the commitment of each of us to work for equity, justice, and peace within our great city.”

Angelique Power

President, The Field Foundation of Illinois

Chicago: Angelique Power

“Deeply scarred, dazzlingly innovative, and fiercely scrappy, Chicago has always held an electricity that pulses beneath the streets, compelling us to do more, to work harder, to think more creatively, to do all we can to solve its pressing issue. This is an important moment in Chicago — and as a foundation we are pushing ourselves to focus on systems instead of symptoms of the problems that plague us. I am honored to work with the incredible board and staff at the Field Foundation as we chart new paths for ourselves within philanthropy.”

Toni Preckwinkle

Cook County Board President, Cook County Government

Linda Johnson Rice

Chief Executive Officer, Ebony

Desiree Rogers

Chairman, Choose Chicago

“It is an honor to live in and serve this great city of Chicago. Today, as the chair of tourism we continue to work to ensure that Chicago is the number one destination city both nationally and internationally. Last year, over 55.2 million visitors came to Chicago with over 146,000 jobs being created. I can think of no greater satisfaction than to help create economic viability for the citizens of Chicago.”

Shari Runner

President and CEO, Chicago Urban League

Chicago: Shari Runner

“Chicago is a great city that also has challenges that can seem overwhelming. We must not let our inability to do everything prevent us from doing something.”

Ayoka Mota Samuels

Center Director, Gary Comer Youth Center

Chicago: Ayoka Mota Samuels

“It is critical that we do all we can, in the best way we can to ensure that the quality of life improves for our communities. When this happens we all benefit.”

Irika Sargent

Evening News Anchor, CBS Chicago

Chicago: Irika Sargent

“I take my responsibility as a journalist here to heart, striving to objectively bring Chicagoans stories that impact their lives and make them feel our newscast is a meaningful addition to their busy days. It is just as important to connect with my fellow Chicagoans outside of the studio. So I regularly work with nonprofits and other community organizations to bring resources and hope to those in need.”

Alysia Tate


Chicago: Alysia Tate

“Most outsiders only know Chicago by its problems, and describe it that way. But this is a city full of people doing more innovative things to make change on more issues than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. It’s an exciting time to be alive and I can’t think of a more exciting place to be. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, if we can do it in Chicago, it will be a ‘fire on the prairie.’”

Liz Thompson

President, Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education

Chicago: Liz Thompson

“I was born and raised in Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project on Cleveland Avenue. I often share that I didn’t know our circumstances were considered to be ‘less than’ by society at large, because our neighborhood was so infused with love, support, and an undeniable work ethic.

My life experience, education, and career in philanthropic leadership have strengthened my determination to help expose young people to opportunities that can change their trajectories in life. So, I’m honored to now lead The Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education, known as The CAFE — a 501c3 that financially supports organizations that provide mentorship, assistance with college and career access, and guidance to young professionals. Our goal is to help young people discover the greatness that already exists within them all.”

Manika M. Turnbull, Ph.D.

VP & Chief Diversity Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois 

Chicago: Manika M. Turnbull

“I started my career in Chicago, earned both my Masters and Ph.D. in Chicago, and in 2015, I was named a Leadership Greater Chicago fellow. Simply put, Chicago has impacted my life in many ways and afforded me countless opportunities. Now, it’s my responsibility to positively impact others and help create pathways for success in much the same way those pathways were created for me.”

Dominique Jordan Turner

President & CEO, Chicago Scholars

Chicago: Dominique Jordan Turner

“I am very clear that the only reason that I am here today is because of someone who invested in my gifts and talents. I also believe that ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ I’ve made it my life’s mission to invest in the gifts and talents of others — especially young people. When I look at our city, I see so much potential and talent! Imagine what our city could be if each young person actually lived up to their fullest potential. That’s my mission.”

Melissa Washington

Vice President, External Affairs & Large Customer Services, ComEd (Commonwealth Edison)

Chicago: Melissa Washington

“Chicago is by far one of the best places to live, work, or visit. Being a change agent to make things better is everyone’s responsibility, and it’s my passion. If we all operated according to the words of Maya Angelou — ‘When you learn, teach, when you get, give’ — the positive impacts of change would be much more visible.”

Amanda Williams


Chicago: Amanda Williams

“How could I not give all of my artistic fiber to a city that’s given me so much? Chicago over everything.”

Andrea L. Zopp

President and CEO, World Business Chicago

Chicago: Andrea L. Zopp

“Chicago is a global hub of transit, technology, diversity, international culture and community, and home to one of the most diversified economies in the U.S. But most importantly, Chicago is about opportunity; a city where one can truly make a difference. Making sure that we are focused on driving equal access to opportunity is critical to our city continuing to stand as a global leader. This is why I’ve devoted my career to working for change — championing job creation, access to education, corporate responsibility, and promoting economic development initiatives in underserved communities. As CEO of World Business Chicago, I will continue to strive for a more equitable Chicago and to make a transformative impact for the city we love.”


More from Make It Better: