It seems like each month that passes brings unprecedented challenges for us all, especially for BUILD’s vulnerable black and brown youth, fighting hard to build lives and futures in the face of enormous odds. We still cannot gather in person, but in honor of Black History Month, BUILD is proud to present our annual Black Table event, a unique event that brings together many of Chicago’s most accomplished African American leaders to share their stories with promising African American high school youth from across metropolitan Chicago. BUILD is proud to be highlighting black voices for the week of February 21-25.
There’s nothing as powerful as a good story – especially when it is true. If a young person asked to hear the story of your life, what would you say? What dreams and aspirations drove you when you were young? What are the experiences – the triumphs and the challenges – that shaped your path to success?
Who taught you what it means to be a leader?
What legacy do you want to leave behind? The Black Table highlights some of the many ways success is possible, while providing an unprecedented look into the hearts and minds of exceptional role models. It is also a rewarding opportunity for the leaders of today to coach the leaders of tomorrow about what it takes to be successful, to overcome challenges, and to generate impact today and a legacy for tomorrow.
Risa Lanier, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office
Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, in the Roseland and Marquette Park communities. Risa Lanier graduated from Percy L. Julian High School and matriculated to Illinois State University, earning Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration. She then attended Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, School of Law, earning a Juris Doctorate in 1999. On February 14, 2000, Risa was sworn into the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office where she has practiced criminal law as a prosecutor for the past 22 years.
Under the leadership of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, currently sits on the executive staff of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office as the Interim First Assistant, where she oversees the operations of the office and works alongside members of the executive staff to create policies and procedures in the State’s Attorney’s Office that promote public safety while recognizing and combatting historical inequalities inherent in the criminal justice system through a progressive prosecution model. She also helps develop in-house training programs, engage with elected leaders, stakeholders, and community members, and prosecutes high profile cases.
Outside of her official duties, Risa serves the community in a variety of ways. She is a member of the National Black Prosecutors Association and the Chicago Bar Association where she has previously served as the General Chair of the Judicial Evaluation Committee for the past two years. serves as the General Chair for the Judicial Evaluation Committee of the Chicago Bar Association. Risa is an active member of New Faith Apostolic Church and has served on the Executive PTO Board at Oakdale Christian Academy and Child Care Center. Risa Lanier is also an alumni of the Civic Leadership Academy (Class of 2018) at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
Hosea Sanders, ABC 7 Chicago
Hosea Sanders is a 17-time Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist. Since joining ABC 7 Chicago in 1994, he has played a major role serving as News Anchor, Entertainment Reporter and program host at Chicago’s top-rated station. Sanders provides entertainment coverage for ABC 7 Chicago and other ABC owned-and-operated stations across the country. He also presents the “Chicago Proud” series of stories which give voice to everyday Chicago area heroes. In addition, Sanders spotlights the differently-abled community in a regular series of stories called “Celebrating Abilities.” His reporting on this beat was lauded in a story published in the Columbia Journalism Review.
On the programming side, Sanders hosts ABC 7’s Emmy Award-winning series, “Our Chicago: Black Voices of Change” (formerly “Heart & Soul”), which showcases Chicago’s vibrant African American community. He also helps host one of the highest rated local shows in Chicago, the popular New Year’s Eve special, “Countdown Chicago”, as well as ABC 7’s Bud Billiken Parade, the largest African-American parade in the nation. In addition, he is one of the faces of the ABC 7 Great Chicago Blood Drive in partnership with the American Red Cross of Illinois, as well as the station’s annual food drive campaign benefitting Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
Sanders is in constant demand nationally as a public speaker and has received more than 100 awards for community service. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and has worked at TV stations in Los Angeles, Dallas and Little Rock, Arkansas. He is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, the Chicago Association of Black Journalists, and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Nia Abdullah, EdD
Dr. Nia Abdullah has more than 16 years of experience in education as a high school principal, curriculum and data coordinator, and International Baccalaureate mathematics teacher. Raised by a family of educators, she now advocates for educational equity through the cultivation of learning ecosystems that include increased access to high-impact STEM out-of-school-time programming.
Dr. Abdullah holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Howard University and an Ed.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago Urban Education Leadership Program. Raised on the South Side of Chicago, she is committed to cultivating the social, emotional, and behavioral health of young people while supporting their academic growth.
Brandon Johnson, Cook County Commissioner District 1
Brandon has been a public servant for nearly 20 years. After working his way through college, Brandon taught social studies and reading in Chicago Public Schools at Jenner Academy Elementary & Westinghouse College Prep.
It was at Jenner Elementary School, in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood that Brandon’s passion and commitment to social and economic justice peaked. While his students were bright, energetic and full of promise, they lived in a neighborhood struggling to survive under the weight of poverty and high levels of unemployment and violence. After his experiences at Jenner & Westinghouse, Brandon was in search of opportunities that would not only help him positively impact his student’s school communities but their families and neighborhoods.
As part of his fight, every Sunday morning Brandon challenges corporate interests and oppressive policies that harm poor people and working families as the host of 'Sunday Mornings' with Brandon Johnson on WCPT 820AM Progressive Talk Radio from 9:00 AM-10:00 AM. Brandon holds a B.A. in Human Services, Youth Development Programming and Management and a M.A. in Teaching from Aurora University. He resides on the West Side of Chicago with his wife, Stacie, two sons, Owen and Ethan and daughter, Braedyn.
Antonia Ruppert, local artist and entrepreneur has been painting for over 25 years. Growing up in the Austin community, she creates paintings that connect people and tell a story. The oldest of six siblings, she recalls drawing on discarded paper inserts from her Mom’s stockings because there were no funds to purchase art supplies.
These humble beginnings have been instrumental in inspiring hundreds of paintings and drawings, where hope, faith and community are central. Ruppert is inspired by the artistic storytelling found in the art of Artemisia Gentileschi, Jacob Lawrence and Archibald Motley. A city of Chicago artist in residence for the Austin Community in 2021, Ruppert has been featured in the Museum of Science and Industry Black Creativity Exhibition, Moraine Valley Community College Regional Showcase and the Dupage Art League’s Best of the Best Exhibition.
Her favorite paintings and murals can be found in numerous regional venues. These include: University of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago Public Library, Acorn Public Library, Austin Childcare Network, Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Forest Park Park District, Berwyn North School District 98, Elmwood Park Public Library, Grand Prairie Services, Living Springs Community Church, Markham Public Library, Near North Montessori School, Oak Forest Park District and the Oak Park Area Arts Council. Ruppert seeks to uplift her entire community with artistic expression. Ruppert has taken to heart the words of sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, “To do something for the betterment of all of us.”
Principal Charles Anderson
Charles Anderson is the principal of Michele Clark Magnet High School. A native Chicagoan from the west side of Chicago, Charles has been committed to serving young people in communities that mirrors the neighborhood he was raised in. After attending Bradley University, Loyola University, and a host of marketing and management positions, Charles began his career as a teacher and school counselor at Westinghouse Career Academy. Since then, his career in education within Chicago Public Schools extends over 18 years of service.
As principal, Charles Anderson, has prioritized his work in making sure students have opportunities to soar and believe in themselves. Unapologetically, Charles Anderson is an advocate for all children and their holistic well-being. Through his expertise, creative transformational leadership style, innovative lens, and genuine personable approach Charles has been able to create educational climates that are academically thriving, student centered, community inviting, and provides shared leadership opportunities for all staff.
Charles is excited about teaching and learning through the PLC on Social Emotional Supports. His heart is in helping educators pull out the best in themselves. Charles also participated in the second cohort of the Chicago Principals Fellowship. Outside of school, Charles enjoys reading, writing, dancing and biking. His philosophy is to always look for the best in everyone he meets.
Special Youth Interview!
Siobhan Sanders, BUILD
Siobhan Sanders currently serves as chair of BUILD’s Board of Directors, she has served on the Board since 2014. Siobhan was first introduced to BUILD by way of the Associate Board, where she served as a member for two years. She became interested in volunteering for BUILD because the organization is a valuable resource to the community and helps the youth of Chicago along with their families deal with everyday life. BUILD is an organization that puts its boots to the ground with the help of the dedicated staff, board members and the various services and programs that are offered.
Siobhan currently works for Nuveen as an Assistant Vice President in the Compliance department. She is a graduate of DePaul University and Keller Graduate School of Management. In addition to serving on the Board at BUILD, Siobhan is also an active member at St. Sabina Catholic Church where she participates in various church ministries. She is also a volunteer for the Ariel Education Initiative, and is an active member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
Mike Simmons, Illinois 7th State Senate District
Mike Simmons family was one of the first Black families to integrate Lincoln Square after the U.S. Supreme Court mandated that public housing be built on Chicago’s Northside. With his lived experiences and equity mindset, Mike Simmons has committed his life to advocacy and public service. He is dedicated to amplifying the voices of seniors, refugees, the transgender community, people experiencing financial instability, single mothers, and other silenced voices in our democracy.
He is the first black person to serve the 7th District, the first openly gay member of the Illinois Senate, and the third openly gay, black state senator in the nation. Mike Simmons has been honored with awards such as: Crain’s Chicago 40 under 40 award (2020), Craines Chicago Notable LGBTQ Executives (2019), Leadership Greater Chicago (2016), IMPACT Leadership Development Program (2016), Windy City Times 30 under 30 (2012), served on the Brennemann Elementary School Council from 2010-2014, Board Member of Equality Illinois (2010-2016), and a Co-Founder of the New Leaders Council Chicago.