Marcus Owens, Executive Director:Marcus is a social entrepreneur, systems shifter and community developer. Owens believes that expanding economic and educational opportunities and improving health and well-being for all is key to building a healthier and just community. AALF’s focus is to improve the economic health of underserved communities in the Twin Cities by creating opportunities through public and private partnerships. Before joining AALF, Owens was the President and CEO of the Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON). Under his direction, NEON more than quadrupled its operating budget and staff size, launched a social enterprise business and created a co-working space for entrepreneurs. Owens also spent nearly a decade driving change and championing new initiatives in finance, diversity & inclusion and human resources for Target Corporation. Before his time at Target, he worked for TCF National Bank and owned and operated a mortgage company. A native of north Minneapolis, Owens received a bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas.
Ernest Comer III, Associate Director: Ernest has more than ten years of professional experience in both the not-for-profit and private sectors. He is passionate about professional development, career advancement, and uplifting leadership that is both holistic and collective. Ernest is committed to building pipelines to success through making connections and empowering people by creating awareness of and exposure to examples of leadership, success, and wealth development that may be unconventional. Ernest provides an additional layer of leadership to the African American Leadership Forum as the Associate Director while driving leadership development initiatives for the Network and the community. As an author, entrepreneur, professional and philanthropist he is dedicated to connecting individuals, organizations, and businesses to resources for continuous learning and enrichment.
LaCora Bradford Kesti (pronouns She/Her/Hers), Program Director: Hailing from Minneapolis, LaCora has over two decades of experience living, volunteering and working in the Twin Cities metro area. She is a Northside Community Member in the Camden-Lind Bohanon neighborhood. LaCora graduated from the College of St. Scholastica and completed two years of AmeriCorps, completing over 3,400 service hours for her community. Previously, she worked for the federal government at the agency the Corporation for National and Community Service as a Program Officer. As Program Director at AALF she manages our Collective Impact Work, working to solve community problems in a unified way and drawing many people together to speak a common language and align their efforts. In her free time LaCora enjoys spending quality time with family, going on bike rides, walks, and salsa dancing.
Rebecca Nichloson, Communications Director: Rebecca is a creative writer and multidisciplinary artist with ten years of communications experience, as well as an extensive background in the nonprofit sector, the arts, and academia. She has also written, edited, and developed content (digital & print) for Earl G. Graves LTD, a multimedia company and publisher of Black Enterprise, a premier business & wealth-building magazine with readership of over 2 million, centering on entertainment, career development, health, technology, and education. Moreover, she’s worked at The National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Columbia Journalism School, Miller Theatre, and Community Impact. Writing Awards/ Fellowships: Sesame Street Writers’ Room (Fellowship) 2017, NBC Universal’s UCP Pitchfest 2017 (Alternate), Liberace Award, Matthew’s Fellowship, and Howard Stein Fellowship. DRA Fellowship from Columbia University School of the Arts. 2014 America-In-Play Fellowship. 2015 finalist for the Atlantic Media Editorial Fellowship. Winner of the 2013 Jane Chambers Award for “Hello, I’m Eve” (a two-act episodic play). 2008-2009 Many Voices Fellowship (Minneapolis Playwrights Center). Rebecca holds an M.F.A. in Playwriting from Columbia University and an M.A. in English Literature.
Kitana Holland, Public Ally AmeriCorps Service Member: Kitana is an upcoming entrepreneur, healer, activist, foodie, and teacher. Initially she wanted to work in college access programs to serve first-generation and low-income students, and realized through this work that youth need social and emotional education before thinking about their identity, passions, and future. It made her consider that we don’t give youth choices or opportunities to play with their interests as a form of entrepreneurship. She reclaimed her purpose and passion for mental health and wellness awareness through movement. Kitana has been teaching hip-hop and Afrobeat cardio classes for a year and it’s helped her channel her trauma and grief while being free with her body. Her community always shows out as the village that is mentoring, challenging, and embracing her. She believes that movement is a form of radical self-care and activism and she hopes to continue this work spreading Black wellness with her platform. Kitana is excited to take a step back in her professional career to get a clearer idea of where her gifts lay in the community and nonprofit world, and it’s great to get that exposure through Public Allies and AALF!
Board of Directors
Stella Whitney West, Co-Chair, CEO, NorthPoint Health & Wellness
John Taylor, Co-Chair, Manager, Director of Supplier Diversity
Anisha Murphy, Secretary, Adjunct Professor, Hamline University
Carolyn Smallwood, Treasurer, Executive Director, Way to Grow