Leadership Development Institute
Each year, Miami’s Next Leaders hosts a selective, six-month leadership development institute which seeks to support and train the next generation of Miami’s progressive leadership.
Meet the 2019 MNL Fellows!
Virginia Ansaldi graduated from the University of Miami with a BA in Marine Affairs and Policy in 2010. She has been an educator since 2009, having worked for a variety of programs and institutions across the country. In 2015, she became a high school science teacher and in 2018 was awarded the Rising Star Award for Sustainability from the City of Coral Gables due to her efforts in environmental education. In addition, Virginia has been teaching yoga since 2013, working not only in yoga studios and schools, but also in rehabilitation centers, prisons, and juvenile detention centers. Today, Virginia is running her own nonprofit after school program for high school students in Miami-Dade County, Aim Miami. Aim seeks to enrich young peoples’ personal development with exercises that teach emotional awareness and interpersonal skills. By investing in our youth, Virginia hopes to build a healthier and stronger Miami.
Arohi is very excited to be a part of MNL’s inaugural cohort. A native of Toledo, Arohi studied Economics and International Development at Miami University (the one in Ohio). Her experience has largely been in non profit finance and operations and her current work allows her to learn about what makes organizations sustainable and maximize impact. She currently serves as a Manager on the Development team at Teach for America Miami-Dade and is a Civic Impact Fellow with Radical Partners. She is deeply passionate about women's leadership, progressive issues, art & design, travel, organizational development, and cultivating joy at work.
Andy Caesar is a 4th year math instructor at Miami Northwestern Senior High School where he teaches Financial Algebra, coaches both boys & girls soccer, and sponsors multiple clubs. As a socially-innovative entrepreneur, Andy serves as founder and CEO of "Smoothies 4 Students" which leads an effort to combat food deserts, diet-related illnesses, and the obstacles they create within underserved communities and schools. Outside of the classroom, he serves as a U.S Soccer Foundation National Trainer and coach for the Liberty City Optimist Warriors. A member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., Andy received his BA in International Business from Richmond The American International University in London.
Rachel Cohen graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelors of the Arts in Journalism and a certificate from the New Media Institute. Through her studies, she fused her passion for advocacy with the emerging tech world. She spent time in Washington, DC working at the Progressive Digital Agency, Mothership Strategies. As a Strategist, Rachel fine-tuned her communication skills to help progressive candidates raise money via email marketing campaigns. Through persuasive writing and creative web development, her team helped Democratic candidates win elections across the country. Upon relocating to Miami, Rachel worked as a Social Content Analyst at the digital agency, SapientRazorfish. Focusing on social media analytics, she helped develop creative solutions for a wide range of clients. Her passion for political advocacy led her to leave SapientRazorfish to manage a state house race in the 2018 cycle. As the campaign manager, she led a team of interns, organized the candidate’s schedule, planned fundraisers and meet and greets, and coordinated days of action. This experience allowed Rachel to immerse herself in the progressive movement of Miami and led to her current role as the District Coordinator for County Commissioner Eileen Higgins. As the District Coordinator, Rachel builds relationships with the members of the Miami Beach Government, neighborhood associations, and community organizations. She also leads the team’s small business initiatives and Mom and Pop grant program. When she's not working you can find her cheering on The Dawgs, scouting out Miami’s newest restaurants, and showing off photos of her golden retriever.
ALYSSA CUNDARI ROELANS
As a community activist, Alyssa Cundari Roelans has dedicated her life to building power and standing in solidarity with marginalized communities. Alyssa is currently the Florida Area Director for the Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU (CIR), a union representing resident physicians. In seven years she has grown the membership by 20%; prioritizing leadership development, collective bargaining and member engagement. She is a national leader within CIR, working to strengthen strategic planning initiatives, and implementing consistent and efficient systems and processes, while also managing CIR’s National Orientation strategy. She sits on the SEIU Florida State Council. As a result of her work, she was presented with an award of recognition in May 2018.
Alyssa was a Teach for America-Miami corps member, teaching middle school civics and language arts. Alyssa was awarded “Rookie Teacher of the Year” in 2010, and founded a girls soccer team and book club for students.
Alyssa is an avid volunteer and has worked with the Miami Workers Center, Power U Center, and New Florida Majority; she has served on the steering committees of the Student Farmworker Alliance and United Students Against Sweatshops and the boards of the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade County, Miami-Dade County Living Wage Commission, and Miami Springs Educational Advisory Council. Alyssa participated in the 2015-2016 United Faculty of Miami-Dade College’s Candidates Academy.
Alyssa received her Masters in Education & Social Change from the University of Miami. She lives in Miami Springs and loves to travel with her husband, Ryan, and daughter, Madison.
Nicole Graham is a proud third generation Miamian who relishes the daily chaos of her hometown. She currently works as an Associate Director of Development at the Anti-Defamation League’s Florida Region, focusing on engaging the Miami community.
Nicole graduated from the Johns Hopkins University with a B.A. in the History of Science and a concentration in Public Health. She holds a law degree from UF and is licensed to practice law in Ohio and Florida. Nicole began her career in government affairs at the Maryland and District of Columbia MS Society. After law school, Nicole served as a federal judicial clerk in the Southern District of Florida and later as a legislative aide in the Florida Senate. Nicole then returned to the legal field, specializing in health care and intellectual property law. As a Woodrow Wilson fellow at Hopkins, Nicole researched health policy as applied to Medicaid eligible women and children in Baltimore city. She also focused on health policy throughout law school, analyzing the applicability of electronic medical records in the context of HIPPA and related state laws.
Nicole is committed to Miami and improving social justice throughout the community. She is member of the National Council Jewish Women’s Listen and Engage Leadership Program and co-chaired NCJW’s 2018 “You Be the Judge” event designed to inform voters about the federal judiciary. She is a member of the Junior League Public and Governmental Affairs Committee, working with state and local officials on legislation benefiting children and women.
Born and raised in South Florida. Karen is a public health professional and advocate with 6+ years of experience in community engagement and program implementation and evaluation. She currently works as a Health Education Supervisor with the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County, STD/HIV Prevention and Control Program. She oversees all risk reduction efforts and educational initiatives to lower the rate of HIV/AIDS in Miami and leads community mobilization efforts for Latinx communities as the Chair of the Hispanic Initiative. Karen also serves as co-chair of FIU’s Center for Latino Health Research Opportunities (CLaRO) Board that looks to research intervention approaches to address substance abuse, psychological trauma and HIV/AIDS among vulnerable Latinx communities.
She graduated with her Master’s Degree, specializing in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, from Florida International University and is currently the Founder and President of the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work Alumni Chapter as well as member of the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society. Karen has a passion for social justice issues and has focused most of her work and efforts in leading initiatives for farmworker communities in South Dade. She is committed to addressing the intersectionality of health inequities in order to create an equitable Miami and values storytelling and spaces that foster human connectivity and mutual understanding.
DAVID L. JACKSON
“He who sits and eats with turmoil and triumph at the same table with the same regards will surely be successful.”
David L. Jackson is a teacher, author, workshop director, and motivational speaker who prides himself on the above quote. Born in the inner city of Miami Dade County to immigrant Jamaican parents, Jackson has become a young mover and shaker in his home county. Through several juvenile run ins with the law, family financial issues, and survivors guilt, he has learned to turn adversity into possibility. Upon earning the Posse Academic and leadership scholarship (1 out of 1100 selected in 2013), he went on to completing his Undergraduate Degree majoring in history and secondary education at Syracuse University.
As a student activist Jackson has answered a call to fight injustices against an underrepresented people, addressing cuts to scholarships, study abroad programs, and financial aid which all support Black students. Jackson has fearlessly placed himself on the forefronts of action, in an effort to voice the voices of those who feel their voices don’t exist. As a motivational speaker, Jackson has engaged students of all ages in hands-on activities and lectures to inspire them to reach their true potential; even serving as the key-note speaker at several commencement ceremonies, and on campus seminars. As a workshop director Jackson has designed and implement workshops spanning from work in the Juvenile sector, to summer workshops for high school students, which proves the versatility in Jackson’s work. As a teacher Jackson teaches at the high school in which he graduated from. He currently serves as The Law Academy lead teacher over at Miami Central Senior High School.
Katherine has spent the past seven years advocating for students as a teacher and leader in South Florida schools, with a particular focus on equity and social justice. A perpetual innovator, she has co-founded two companies in the last three years: her first venture is FitLit, a non-profit that blends fitness and literature for students, and her second is MetaMindset, an LLC that trains teachers, parents, and students on mindfulness, understanding the brain, and the importance of emotional intelligence. She has a Masters in Education from Johns Hopkins University, claims Spanglish to be her first language, is a twitter aficionado, and is a natural born storyteller.
Oscar Londoño is a Skadden Fellow and Staff Attorney at the Community Justice Project. As a community and movement lawyer, Oscar partners with workers’ centers and community-based organizations in South Florida. He provides wage theft representation, community education, and strategic litigation and policy support to low-wage immigrant workers, including domestic workers, day laborers, and farmworkers. Born and raised in Miami, Oscar received his J.D. from New York University School of Law, where he was a Root-Tilden-Kern Public Interest Scholar and a Derrick Bell Scholar for Public Service, and his B.A. in Sociology from Cornell University. During law school, Oscar interned at a number of community and movement lawyering organizations, including Make the Road New York, the Community Activism Law Alliance in Chicago, and the Community Justice Project. Prior to law school, Oscar worked at City Year Miami, Public Allies Miami, and the Children’s Movement of Florida. Oscar was a 2018 Legal Innovator Fellow with Law for Black Lives and Movement Law Lab.
Francisco is a Senior Associate at the Council of the Americas (COA), an international business organization whose members share a common commitment to promoting democracy, open markets, democracy and the rule of law in the Western Hemisphere. At COA, Francisco facilitates dialogue between Miami’s business community and public sector leaders from across the Americas for substantive public policy discussions. He also leads the Young Professionals of the Americas (YPA)—the young leaders initiative of COA. Francisco’s work in the YPA initiative focuses on uniting future leaders who share a passion for business, policy, and culture in Latin America, by providing a unique opportunity for Miami’s rising stars to develop professional and social networks and to share ideas, advice, and experiences, under COA’s umbrella. Prior to COA, Francisco worked in Washington D.C, where he gained broader professional experience in public affairs, strategic communications, and business associations. He graduated from the University of North Carolina (UNC) - Chapel Hill with a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science. He is also a proud alum of Miami Dade College and completed courses at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Danny Mendoza is a Cuban-American producer, director, writer, and actor who was lucky enough to be born and raised in Miami. He is a proud graduate of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. During more than a decade of work in film and television, he has directed and produced a wide variety of documentaries, independent films, television shows, web series, and commercials. His interest is primarily in the intersections of the arts and service, building his career on the foundational belief that stories can effectively further the cause of justice.
After graduating from North Carolina State University in 2010, Walker moved to Miami to complete an AmeriCorps year of service with the education-focused non-profit City Year. Upon completing his year of service, he accepted a Program Manager position and oversaw City Year’s implementation in Allapattah and Liberty City public schools. In the Fall of 2014, Walker moved to Philadelphia to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and completed a master’s degree in Public Administration and Organizational Development. While in graduate school, Walker was a Lipman Leadership Fellow with the Wharton School of Business and worked for the Committee of Seventy, a think tank focused on ethical governance, where he launched a successful pilot program that engages juniors and seniors in Philadelphia high schools through elections-focused service learning.
Upon completing his graduate degree, Walker accepted a position with the School of Education at Drexel University. At Drexel, he oversaw the creation, development, and implementation of a pilot program called DragonsTeach Middle Years, which aims to expand the middle school teacher pipeline in Philadelphia by creating a pathway for Drexel undergraduates, from any major, to add a teacher-certification track to their plan of study without changing their major. Walker moved back to Miami in the Summer of 2018 and joined Guitars Over Guns (GOGO) staff as the Miami Regional Director. With GOGO, Walker oversees the successful implementation of their model in Miami, which engages students from disadvantaged backgrounds through a powerful combination of arts education and mentorship with professional artists.
Carson is an Immigration Attorney at Americans for Immigrant Justice. She has worked in AI Justice’s Lucha Program for five years, providing representation to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking in their immigration matters in and out of court. She also provides ‘Know Your Rights’ presentations and other information to immigrant communities.
Prior to joining AI Justice, Carson was a Public Interest/Public Service (PIPS) Scholar at the American University Washington College of Law, where she focused on immigration law and workers’ rights. While in law school, she interned and volunteered at various non-profit organizations, including Ayuda, KIND, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project, CARECEN, and CAIR Coalition. Also an active student organization member, Carson chaired the board of her school’s Equal Justice Foundation, which raised funds to provide summer scholarships for unpaid work in the public interest sector. She also wrote and edited for the Human Rights Brief and co-chaired the Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.
Prior to law school, Carson worked at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), managing a family reunification program providing reunification assistance for human trafficking survivors choosing to remain in the United States. She has a B.A. from Tufts University, a J.D. from American University Washington College of Law, and is a member of the Maryland Bar. Carson speaks Spanish and has lived and volunteered in Spain, Mexico, and Ecuador. In Miami, Carson enjoys biking, outdoor yoga, book club, and supporting her friends’ public interest endeavors.
Gustavo currently works for FIS Global, a financial software firm, as a consultant focusing on the retail and commercial banking sector. He mainly works doing implementations for new clients and helps clients manage liquidity, credit risk, and keep up to date with regulations. Gustavo has been with FIS Global for eight years. Outside of work, he is involved with several Democratic clubs, but mainly with the Miami-Dade Young Democrats, where is currently the treasurer of the club. Additionally, he is part of the Miami Forever Bond oversight board and the Community Advisory Board within the City of Miami. Born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, Gustavo came with family to Miami in 1996 and attended Coral Gables Senior High School. He graduated from Babson College in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science. In his spare time he reads non-fiction books and plays tennis.
Vanessa Pierre is a community leader with a S.T.E.M. and Arts education program in the city of North Miami serving youth in grades K-8 and teaches students the fundamentals of science, art, and technology. Art-Cademics Academy provides afterschool, weekend, and summer programming year-round. Miss. Pierre has been an educator for the past 7 years specializing in Reading and English for K-12 and adult education. Vanessa matriculated at Bethune-Cookman University : Bachelor of Science in Exceptional Student Education with a minor in Spanish, Nova Southeastern University : Master of Science in Curriculum, Instruction, Technology, and Morgan State University : Doctor of Education in Community College Leadership. As an engaged community leader, Vanessa also serves on the City of North Miami Parks and Recreation Commission as well as the Quality Education Board. Vanessa was a Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2017 nominee and overall, prides herself in focusing on identifying barriers to student learning and providing relevant and meaningful K-12 and adult education. Her passion for education is at the core of who she is and shapes her desire to serve and lead. Miss. Vanessa Pierre models her steps in life by the words of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman University, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve.” As a millennial community servant, Vanessa is a progressive thinker and do-er in terms of effectuating change and progress amongst her peers and community.
A Program Officer at Planned Parenthood, Kamila specializes on sexual and reproductive health in Latin America. She focuses on the integration of innovation and technology to remove barriers that exist in accessing services and information. She has worked to strengthen health systems and improve access to quality care in Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. With over 10 years of experience, she has has worked with the Centers for Disease Control, Northwestern University School of Medicine, Harvard University, Partners In Health, and PEPFAR. Kamila envisions a community that genuinely supports women; at work, at home, and in our democracy. She is the co-founder of Femme Book Club Miami -- a group of 40+ members who are engaged in their communities and active in local politics -- and a volunteer for Ruth’s List Miami. A Miami-transplant, Kamila was born in Poland and raised in Spain. She has a Masters in Epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a BA from Boston University.
Lasonya Rodgers is a Miami native and a proud first-generation American. She is a 2012 graduate of Florida State University where she earned a B.S in Sociology and a minor in Child Development. She is also a 2014 graduate of Florida International University where she earned a Masters in Public Administration .
She is currently employed by the City of Homestead where she serves as an Assistant to the Mayor and Council. In her position she helps to facilitate projects, tasks and events spearheaded by the various members of the Homestead City Council.
In her previous position at the YWCA of Greater Miami, Lasonya served as the Director of the Economic Empowerment Program. Through the Economic Empowerment program, participants learned how to take charge of their financial situations by learning various financial skills such as budgeting, credit establishment and improvement and how to create a savings plan. Clients attributed their participation in this program with their ability to make the best financial decisions for themselves as well as their families. It was also here at the YWCA that Lasonya’s passion for social justice and economical development blossomed.
Lasonya believes that, “service never sleeps”. In her free time, she continues her mission of being invested and involved in her community as the Co-Founder of The Women’s Empowerment Circle, a member of the Junior League of Miami, and a mentor with Women of Tomorrow.
JOSHUA A. SIMMONS
Josh is the first African-American Commissioner to be elected to the Coral Springs City Commission since the city became incorporated in 1963. With a mother who serves in the United States Navy, Josh was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, but moved to - and attended - high school in Virginia, before relocating to Florida. A graduate of Florida Atlantic University, Josh earned a B.S. in Political Science. After earning an M.S. in Psychology, Josh worked in the mental health field for a company that provided services in Broward County. In 2015, Josh was offered an opportunity to teach in the Broward County School System. He is currently assigned to Coral Springs High, where he teaches 12th grade Government and Economics and 10th grade Modern World History. During Josh’s run for Commission Seat 4, he knocked on more than 4,500 doors of City residents engaging in hard, but beneficial conversations. He believed this was the best way to introduce himself, while better understanding the pulse of the Coral Springs community. Josh believes the City is a microcosm of the State of Florida, with great diversity. Of the City, Josh is proud of the 49 parks, multitude of events, schools and outstanding restaurants. His goal is to ensure Coral Springs remains a great, safe community for people of all ages, races and religious backgrounds. Josh enjoys reading, sports, video games and traveling. As a history teacher, he enjoys learning about other cultures, history and the people he meets.
MONICA SKOKO RODRIGUEZ
Monica Skoko Rodríguez is a first generation college graduate and Miami-native dedicated to the public health of the South Florida community. She is a University of Miami trained nurse who has done minority health disparities research with the NIH, provided oncology care, worked with the DOH in Title 1 schools in Miami-Dade County, and currently is a nurse providing reproductive healthcare at Planned Parenthood. Before nursing, Monica studied writing, theater, and film at New York University, and worked in media. She uses that creative training and deep understanding of communications to inform her work in public health programming, policy, and campaign organizing. She is currently finishing her Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University and works as the Public Health Director for the Florida Health Justice Project. Monica has worked to effect systemic change at a policy level by working as a fellow on a congressional campaign, lobbying extensively for reproductive rights, and working on immigration policy. She marries this work with grassroots efforts like door to door canvassing to get out the vote, mentoring young women on reproductive health, going to at risk neighborhoods to explain Zika prevention, and gathering hundreds of felony voting petition signatures. Through her work, Monica keeps in mind the goal of eliminating inequities regarding health outcomes and access to healthcare in South Florida. She is excited to continue working with the people of Miami to find solutions to mitigate injustice and improve outcomes in matters most important to this community, such as climate change.
Sabrina V. Velarde is currently the Housing Program Manager at Miami Homes For All, a housing advocacy organization seeking to ensure that all Miami residents have a safe and stable home. Miami Homes For All does this through policy advocacy, research, and collective impact initiatives. Sabrina is a passionate public servant who has focused her career on addressing the need for affordable housing in Miami-Dade County and protecting the rights of those living in affordable units. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Political Science and Philosophy from Florida International University and is a 2013 graduate of St. Thomas University School of Law, where she received the St. Thomas University Pro Bono Commendation Certificate for completing more than 100 hours of pro bono service. As a law clerk and Certified Legal Intern at Legal Services of Greater Miami, Sabrina worked directly with many Public Housing, Section 8, and Low-Income Housing Tax Credit tenants and helped them apply for, maintain, and reinstate their status as housing benefit recipients.