Leaders of Color NY Graduates Inaugural Cohort

Press Releases

October 1, 2020

New York, New York (October 1, 2020) – Today, Leaders of Color (LOC) officially graduates its first cohort of fellows from the New York Chapter.

Launched in April, the New York arm of LOC quickly blossomed with its inaugural cadre of 12 talented and promising leaders. Joining in the celebration will be New York State Assemblyman Michael Blake, LOC NY Advisor and Former New York State Assemblyman Frank Diaz, along with Education Reform Now President Shavar Jeffries and keynote speaker, Marisa Rivera, President of Mpowerment Works.

“Right now, as a nation, we are experiencing a crisis of identity—battling ongoing unrest amidst a backdrop of fear. To navigate this climate and establish true equity for our people, we must have strong leadership, especially in and for communities of color,” said LOC New York Director Dr. Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez. “I’m proud of the level of skill, knowledge, and empathy these graduates exhibit, and humbled by the chance to help provide them with an expanded professional network, and the confidence to become agents of much needed change throughout New York.”

You can learn more about LOC here.

About the Graduates

Constance Barnes began her commitment to social change when she helped start the New Millennium Youth Initiative in Mt. Vernon, New York, to provide culturally relevant educational opportunities for local teens. She shifted her energy from computer programming to education after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Lehman College and enrolling in the Urban Teaching Academy at Mercy College. Constance obtained her Master’s in EDU and Certificate of Advanced Studies in School Administration and continued her pedagogical journey to become a School Administrator, Director of Special Education, Program Director of Charter Schools and hold a host of other educational leadership roles. In 2003, she helped to co-found Prison Families Community Forum (P.F.C.F.) to support the families of the incarcerated in New York State. She is currently the Tech Career Coach and Business Developer for the CUNY2XTECH/Tech Talent Pipeline initiative at Lehman College and recently completed an adjunct teaching stint at Hostos Community College.

Biena DePena came to the United States from the Dominican Republic at the age of 14. She holds an associate degree in Psychology from Nassau Community College and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Dowling College where she majored in Psychology with a dual minor in Education and Political Science. Ms. DePena was an Adult Education and Literacy Instructor at the Westbury School District where she taught English as a second language to young adults and adults. She went on to earn her Master of Arts degree in Public Administration from LIU POST and subsequently, created C&C Group, a language-consulting firm where she provides translation services to businesses and nonprofit organizations. Currently, Ms. DePena serves as Project Director for the United Way of Long Island where she oversees, manages and executes a variety of state funded projects geared towards the reduction of poverty, work readiness and an alternative school.

Abou Diakhate currently works at New York State Unified Courts. Prior to this position, he worked as Constituent Liaison for NYS Assemblyman Matthew J. Titone. Mr. Diakhate has extensive experience working on peacekeeping and humanitarian issues including United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire as UNV Training Officer and UNAIDS as consultant Technical Assistant of the Special Adviser on Security Humanitarian and Fragile Countries. He has assisted the HIV/AIDS Unit in UNOCI to provide access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services for all sections within the mission including peacekeepers and other uniformed services personnel. Mr. Diakhate holds a master’s degree from Wurzweiler School of Social Work and a Social Science degree in Social work from City University of New York Medgar Evers College. He is fluent in three languages, is a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), and has received numerous awards for outstanding contributions throughout his professional and academic career.

Priscilla Dominguez is a bilingual, bicultural Afro-Latina education management and community outreach professional that currently works to support the city of New York by bringing in alternatively certified teachers to the New York Public School system. Since beginning this role, she has supported in enrolling and preparing almost 2,000 new teachers into our students’ classrooms.  Prior to her journey in the DOE, she was a sales and account management professional in the digital marketing world. She is a graduate of the Mujeres de HACE leadership program. She also aspires to procure a doctorate in Organizational Psychology to support organizations in addition to attaining a Bilingual Education extension to be able to provide her services in both Spanish and English.

Teresa Hernandez received her degree from Marymount Manhattan College with a major in English Literature and Secondary Education, where she graduated with honors and is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. Ms. Hernandez pursued a career in healthcare management and went on to complete her MBA at Mercy College in Business Management with a triple concentration in Business, Human Resources and International Business. She graduated from this program with honors and is a member of the Delta Mu Delta International Honor Society. Ms. Hernandez is currently the Administrator for Quality Care in the Department of Neurology at NYU Langone Health. Prior to working at NYU, she worked for Columbia University Medical Center, Columbia Doctors.

Harry Laguna, Jr. was born in East Harlem, New York and grew up in NYCHA housing projects in a 3-bedroom apartment with his mother, sister, grandparents, and two cousins. As a high school student, he was diagnosed with learning disabilities but managed to overcome the adversity by earning his liberal arts diploma. He then attended the College of New Rochelle for 3 years but wasn’t able to complete his degree due to financial difficulties, forcing him to enter the workforce full time. Mr. Laguna has taken every opportunity afforded to him, which has provided a diverse work experience as a hands-on laborer. While working in the construction industry, he joined the Union and became familiar with labor laws and practices. What he saw and experienced propelled him into passionate pursuit of politics, where he aims to bring about positive change for underserved communities.

Mariela Meza currently serves as KIPP NYC’s Manager of Advocacy. She also currently serves as a committee member for Youth and Education on her local community board and on Teach For America’s NYC Collective Board. Prior to joining KIPP, Mariela joined Teach for America and taught in South Carolina while pursuing her master’s degree in Education from Francis Marion University. Mariela is a first-generation college graduate from Hamilton College.

Carolina Ramirez serves as the Director of Operations at the Equity Project Charter School (TEP). Prior to joining the TEP team, she served as founding partner and Chief Program Offer at Teach For Ghana (now, Lead for Ghana), a two-year leadership development program focused on recruiting, training, and developing a cohort of educational leaders who champion education equity worldwide. She earned a master’s degree in Sociology and Education from New York University (NYU) and a bachelor’s in International Relations and Peace and Justice Studies from Tufts University.  While at NYU, she joined a team of seasoned researchers at The Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity (METRO) to better understand the educational opportunities of Latino immigrant youth. Additionally, she’s spent significant time abroad, particularly in Ghana understanding the Ghanaian educational system. Prior to graduate school, she served as an academic advisor at Legal Outreach, a non-profit organization bridging the educational gap between low-income communities and their wealthy counterparts by expanding their educational opportunities.

Tatiana Rivera was born in Bushwick, Brooklyn and raised in Cypress Hills, where she currently resides with her four children. Ms. Rivera currently runs the field department for Red Horse Strategies, a political consultant firm in Brooklyn. In her role, she hires and trains all field staff. She has worked in all campaign roles from manager to organizer. In addition to campaign work, she was a Community Organizer for the IDNYC Program, an initiative with the Mayor’s office and the Department of Homeless Services. Ms. Rivera also spent time working with HRA HEAP, and at Girls Incorporated, where she facilitated diversity work and managed a database of prominent Latinas.

Desi K. Robinson is a health and lifestyle journalist, a media literacy educator, a professor, a diva farmer and an urban belle. In her work, she uses the media as a lens to view the intersection of pop culture and public health. She created, produced and hosted Women in the Making: Tomorrow’s: History Today, a health and lifestyle radio show, and was an educator in Ecuador. She has also served as a freelance reporter for WBAI Radio in New York and Rice N’ Peas magazine in London. Desi is currently a doctoral student in Health Education and Behavior Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University, and she holds an M.B.A. in Media Management, a B.A. in Communications and a certificate in Community Health Work.

Janna P. Rodriguez is owner of The Innovative Daycare Corp, located in her hometown of Freeport, NY. She is a graduate of CUNY York College with a major in Political Science and a minor in Medical Anthropology. Ms. Rodriguez began volunteering for different political campaigns at age 16 working on campaigns from local school boards to presidential. She helped a seasoned elected official become the first Hispanic Trustee in the Village of Freeport. In recent years, she has worked on campaigns for County Executive, State Assembly, and Senate, among others. In addition to her political efforts, Ms. Rodriguez interned and worked in the medical field since the age of 16, and has focused on her entrepreneurial pursuit and community involvement as an active member of many community organizations including DANR, NAACP, and the Nassau County Democratic Committee.

Jermaine S. Smith has been on a life journey of helping others, particularly the most vulnerable populations within our society through a track-record of civic engagement ranging from church to fraternity community service projects. The journey began on the frontlines through work in the Office of Mental Health Children’s Community Residence. Currently, he is responsible for the successful implementation of youth development programming for over 246 youth in foster care. Prior to working in youth development, he worked in a department where he earned four promotions within five years including roles as a Youth Counselor and Recreational Specialist, where he created and implemented a revolutionary recreation model. 
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.

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.