Leaders of Color NY Announces Advisory Board

Press Releases

June 18, 2020

New York, New York (June 18, 2020) – Today, Leaders of Color (LOC) announced its official advisory board for its New York chapter.

LOC proudly welcomes Henry Comas, Duncan Kirkwood, Dr. Anthony Andrews, Jr., Fransisco Diaz, Jr., Dr. Frances Wills, Ellie Jurado-Nieves, David McKnight, Joanne Smith, Ninfa Segarra, and Nicole Brisbane.

“We have recruited high level individuals with a wealth of experience and varied expertise to serve as Advisors to Leaders of Color NY,” said Leaders of Color New York Director Dr. Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez. “In this capacity, individuals will serve as thought partners for the organization, mentors for our fellows, and help spread the word throughout New York about the important work we’re doing to prepare Black and Latino leaders. I’m excited about the accomplishments and partnerships that we will forge together.”

About the Board

Henry Comas has over 21 years of successful executive performances and consensus building at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). He serves as an agency-level senior spokesperson at meetings of elected and policy officials ensuring HUD’s resources are appropriately and efficiently used. Mr. Comas is also the sole proprietor of Comas Concepts, Inc., where he advises on all phases of government and business continuity planning. He received his B.A. in Urban Planning from the State University of Buffalo.

Duncan Kirkwood is an author, speaker, and advocate for educational equity who has been recognized nationally for leading the organizing and advocacy effort to pass the Alabama School Choice and Opportunity Act in 2015, which allowed Alabama to become the 43rd state to create public charter schools. As a speaker, Mr. Kirkwood has done presentations in 34 states addressing over 31,000 people around issues related to organizing, educational equity or resilience. In the military, Mr. Kirkwood (or 1st Lieutenant Kirkwood) served as a Master Resilience Trainer tasked with helping to train soldiers to become more resilient to combat veteran depression and suicide. Having grown up in the inner city of Buffalo, NY and then attending Alabama State University a Historically Black College in Montgomery, AL, Mr. Kirkwood has a passion for justice and belief that an honest voice will always stand out in a crowd.

Dr. Anthony D. Andrews, Jr. was raised in Jamaica, Queens, and attended local public schools. He graduated from York College with a B.A. degree in Political Science and Baruch College where he received a master’s in Public Administration. While attending York College he became elected to the position of Democratic State Committee member of the 32nd Assembly District, and was the youngest person ever elected as a Democrat in the history of New York State. Dr. Andrews was subsequently named Chairperson of the Governor’s Youth Task Force and the then elected President of the New York State Young Democrats Organization (the first minority ever elected to that post). He eventually became a member of the Executive Board of the New York State Democratic Organization and was briefly seated on the Democratic National Committee. Over the years he has fought tirelessly in the areas of education, healthcare and youth recreational activities for the residents in southeast Queens.

Fransisco “Frank” Diaz, Jr. is currently working with several clients as a Strategic Consultant supporting organizational planning and implementation. Most recently, he spent 18 years as Senior Vice President of Development and Community Affairs at Tonio Burgos and Associates, Inc. where he oversaw educational consulting for clients. Mr. Diaz is a former NYS Assemblyman for the 68th District representing East Harlem where he was appointed to the following standing committees: Children and Families, Correction, Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Cities. He has been an active leader in the East Harlem community since his teens and served on Community Planning Board # 11 where he became its Vice Chairman. He majored in Economics and minored in Business at LaGuardia Community College, where he received his B.A.

Dr. Frances Wills served as Superintendent of Schools in Putnam Valley, New York, after serving as a consultant and Coordinator of Professional Development for Pace University’s School of Education. Frances was formerly Superintendent in Belfast, Maine and prior to that served for 20 years in the roles of Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Middle School Principal, Assistant High School Principal, Guidance Counselor, and Middle and High School English Teacher in Maine and Massachusetts. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Hunter College, Dr. Wills holds a M.A. from Cornell University and a M.Ed. from University of Maine, Orono. Dr. Wills was awarded her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Frances has served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maine, Orono and at Fordham University; she has taught for several years at St. John Fisher College’s Executive Leadership doctoral program located at Iona College and most recently in the Educational Leadership doctoral program of Long Island University.

Ellie Jurado-Nieves is Vice President and Counsel, Government Affairs at the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America where she is responsible for the company’s state government relations activities in New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Tennessee. She coordinates the formulation and execution of Guardian’s legislative and regulatory agenda in those states and she provides strategic advice to executive management. Ms. Jurado-Nieves is also the Founder and President of Leadership Strategies for Women®, LLC where she develops seminars and webinars to help high achieving women to show up, speak up and step up in their careers and personal lives. Jurado-Nieves attained a B.A. in Communications from Fordham University and a J.D. from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. She received her MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business with specializations in Leadership and Global Business.

David A. McKnight is an executive coach, image consultant, author, and speaker. He is the President and CEO of McKnight Image Lab, a coaching and consulting firm based in New York City, which he founded in 2006. Mr. McKnight has 20 years of experience as a strategy and operations management consultant and financial services executive, and he is the author of The Zen of Executive Presence. Mr. McKnight earned a B.A. in Sociology from Rutgers University as well as an M.S. in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

Joanne N. Smith is an author and Founding President and CEO of Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), which works toward its mission through strategic advocacy, development, and leadership cultivation. Ms. Smith is a Haitian-American social worker born in NY. A staunch human rights advocate, Ms. Smith co-chaired the nation’s first Young Women’s Initiative, a cross-sector Initiative coordinating government, philanthropic, and community efforts to create the conditions for cis, trans girls of color and GNC youth to thrive. Ms. Smith’s leadership helped to facilitate a $30M commitment from government and philanthropy to invest in community-driven recommendations. Ms. Smith is an alumna of Hunter Graduate School of Social Work and Columbia Institute for Nonprofit Management.

Ninfa Segarra is currently employed in St. Barnabas Hospital as Senior Vice President for Government. She has over forty-seven years of outstanding service and experience in municipal government, the not-for-profit and private sectors. Her professional accomplishments include thirteen years at Tonio Burgos and Associates where she advised clients from Fortune 500 to community organizations, with a specialty in health care/human services and not for profits. She served as Executive Director of NYC Police Museum with a focus on minority community interaction with the Department and honoring the 9/11 legacy. Additionally, she was Deputy Mayor for Education and Human Services of the City of NY.

Nicole Brisbane has dedicated her career to advocating for high quality public education as a lever for social change. Ms. Brisbane started her career in education as middle school Intensive Reading teacher in 2005. After law school, she joined Teach For America as a Director of District and Community Partnerships in Miami, FL, before moving on to become the national Managing Director of New Site Development, where she led expansion into six new regions. Currently, Ms. Brisbane is running her own consulting practice focused on public sector and nonprofit organizational improvement. Ms. Brisbane is also a Project Director at the Center for Public Research and Leadership at Columbia Law School where she leads graduate students on consulting projects focused on improving public education. Ms. Brisbane is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of the Florida State University and received her Juris Doctor from Emory Law School.

About Leaders of Color

The Leaders of Color (LOC) program recruits Black and Brown leaders for public office. These leaders are respected in their communities and are provided a suite of resources to help win elections and increase their influence. Not only are community-based leaders uniquely essential to the sustainability of education reform, local leaders who support reform values are also the least likely to receive the supportive services necessary to launching and winning elections. The LOC Training Program is the launch of our long-term development to unapologetically usher in a new, bold group of Black and Latino elected officials.

The LOC provides 70-plus hours of training content, delivered over a span of five months with in-person training weekends, focuses on cultivating leadership abilities, building education policy knowledge, and honing campaigning skills — all with an equity lens.