25 Mentors of the Year + 25 Next Gen Leaders - Profiles

Mentors of the Year

Ebonee Davis

model, poet, actor + author

Ebonee Davis is an American model, poet, actor and author from Seattle, Washington.

Over the last six years Ebonee has become one of the fashion industry's most prominent voices, advocating for representation and diversity in front of the camera as well as behind it.

She has appeared on numerous campaigns and in publications such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, AllureEssence and CRWN.

In 2019, Ebonee founded Daughter Org - a non-profit, educational organization, dedicated to unifying children of the diaspora.

She now uses her platform to advocate for the wellness of marginalized groups.

Valeisha Butterfield Jones

vice president, partnerships and engagement, Google

Valeisha Butterfield Jones is an award-winning leader with proven impact at the intersections of tech, entertainment and politics. She is widely regarded as one of the most influential and dynamic emerging leaders of our time and in the business community globally.

Valeisha builds strategies for some of the world’s largest, most iconic brands. She is the current Vice President of Partnerships and Engagement at Google, Inc, responsible for driving change and accelerating DEI innovation for the global organization.

Valeisha also served in several historic roles prior to Google, including on the Obama for America campaign as the National Youth Vote Director, helping to deliver one of the highest youth voter turnouts in American history. Breaking further ground, Valeisha also served as the first-ever Co-President and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer for the Recording Academy, home of the GRAMMYs launching the music industries first inclusion rider, leading and implementing their racial equity commitments
with a 100% completion rate, establishing The Black Music Collective and helping to produce three consecutive GRAMMY Awards telecast shows on CBS with year over year linear and digital ratings growth and the most inclusive shows in the organization’s 64 year history.

This is her return to Google, Valeisha previously served as their Global Head of Inclusion and in the Obama Administration as the Deputy Director of Public Affairs for International Trade. She currently serves on the board of directors of GRAMMY Global Ventures, the GRAMMY Awards Television Committee, honorary chair of the Black Music Collective, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and i4cp Chief Diversity Officer Boards.

Valeisha has been recognized by FORBES, BILLBOARD, EBONY Power 100, ELLE Magazine’s top 25 leading women, ESSENCE and others. Valeisha is also a mom, graduate of Clark Atlanta University and the co-founder of the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network (WEEN).

Suzanne Lerner

co-founder, president and CEO, Michael Stars

Suzanne Lerner, co-founder, president, and CEO of contemporary fashion and lifestyle brand Michael Stars is an entrepreneur, activist, and philanthropist. Under Suzanne’s leadership, Los Angeles-based Michael Stars, the company that she co-founded with her late husband Michael Cohen, has evolved into a collection of beautifully designed fashion essentials. One of the first socially responsible apparel brands, Michael Stars has always ensured fair wages and was an early innovator in local sourcing and manufacturing. The company also received the Southern California Apparel Social Responsibility Award from the Los Angeles Business Journal.

Suzanne’s activism and philanthropy focuses on funding grassroots and community organizations that are building critical pathways to gender and racial equity—lifting up the voices of women to ensure equal rights; providing the access to capital, skills and leadership training needed for women and marginalized groups to get ahead; investing in community-led organizing; and building transformative power at the grassroots level. She is also broadening her focus to include U.S. and international organizations that engagement in gender equity advocacy and reproductive justice. She invests in communities both domestically and internationally through personal grants, impact investments, and the Michael Stars Foundation, which she and Michael established more than 20 years ago. She is a frequent contributor and speaker on business and activism, sharing her perspective and experiences around running socially responsible businesses, entrepreneurship, and the role of business in advocating for an equal world.

She received the “Woman of Vision” Award from the Ms. Foundation for Women and was recognized as one of “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” by Women’s eNews and as “2020’s 25 Most Influential Angelenos,” by Angeleno Magazine. Highly active in social justice organizations, Suzanne serves as a board member for the Fund for Women’s Equality and the ERA Coalition and the Foundation Board of the ACLU of Southern California. She previously served on the board of the Ms. Foundation for Women and is currently co-chair of the Ms. Foundation 50th Anniversary Capital Campaign. She is an advisory board member of Prosperity Catalyst, A Call to Men, and Children Mending Hearts, and a member of Women Donors Network (WDN), One for Democracy, the Maverick Collective at PSI, and the Forbes Business Council. An avid supporter of documentary film, Suzanne was an associate producer of "The Fight," winner of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize and an executive producer on “Shouting Down Midnight” (2022).

She resides in Manhattan Beach, California, New York City, and Mykonos, Greece, with her #feministpup @ms_simba. For more information visitsuzannelerner.com.

Sonia Menon

Chief Operating Officer, Neal Gerber Eisenberg

Sonia Menon is the Chief Operating Officer at Neal Gerber Eisenberg, a Chicago based law firm with over 140 lawyers, where she leads the day-to-day operations of the firm, including information technology, facilities and space planning, human resources and talent management, knowledge management, marketing and information governance. She has overall responsibility for the design and implementation of the firm’s corporate social responsibility program, talent management initiatives and operating policies for lawyers and staff at the firm. She works with the firm’s leadership to ensure that the recruitment, development, advancement and diversity policies and programs are aligned to support the firm’s strategic agenda.

Ms. Menon is a certified practitioner of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and conducts training workshops for leadership development, team building and management development. Ms. Menon chairs the firm’s Sustainability Committee, and is an active member of the firm’s Hiring Committee, Women’s Network, and Diversity & Inclusion Committees, developing new initiatives to enhance the recruitment, advancement and retention of traditionally underrepresented lawyers.

Ms. Menon has been a featured speaker on subjects relating to pathways to create a sustainable legal organization, law firm economics and profitability, information governance, competency talent management, diversity and inclusion, managing a multigenerational workforce and alternate career models. She serves on the boards of All Stars Project of Chicago, a not-for-profit focused on after school development for underprivileged youth. She also serves as a member of Profit Recovery Partners’ Advisory Board. She is an active member of NALP and has held various leadership role over the years. Ms. Menon is also actively involved with the Law Firm Sustainability Network, the Society for Human Resource Management, Professional Development Consortium, Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago, Human Rights Campaign and International Legal Technology Association. Ms. Menon graduated in 1988 with an honors degree in Psychology, and is an alumnus of Harvard Business School Executive Education.

Jodie Turner-Smith

actor, activist + mother

Jodie Turner-Smith now shines in Netflix's MURDER MYSTERY 2, starring alongside Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston for Jeremy Garelick. She recently wrapped filming the Disney+ series THE ACOLYTE created by Leslye Headland with select episodes being directed by Kogonada. She also recently starred in Noah Baumbach's WHITE NOISE on Netflix, opposite Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig and Don Cheadle, which premiered opening night in Venice. She also stars in THE INDEPENDENT opposite Brian Cox for Emmy-nominated director Amy Rice which premiered on Peacock November 2nd. She recently completed filming the forthcoming Apple TV+ drama BAD MONKEY, starring alongside Vince Vaughn, Michelle Monaghan, and Meredith Hagner. The series is executive produced by Ted Lasso co-creator Bill Lawrence and directed by Marcos Siega. Previously, Jodie appeared to rave reviews starring as the title role in the convention defying, limited series ANNE BOLEYN, for Sony International and Channel 5.

She can be seen in the lead role opposite Colin Farrell in AFTER YANG directed by Kogonada for A24. The film premiered at Cannes Competition un Certain Regard and Sundance.

Jodie can be seen starring in WITHOUT REMORSE, opposite Michael B. Jordan for Amazon, and the critically acclaimed QUEEN AND SLIM, starring opposite Daniel Kaluuya written by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas for Universal.

Beverly Williams

philanthropist and Step Up matriarch

My name is Beverly Williams and I am so honored to be chosen with twenty-four other mentors in celebration of Step Up's 25th Year of inspiring

limitless potential in our girls. I began as a volunteer with Step up in the early 2000's and became a member soon after. I've enjoyed participating in the many programs Step Up offered and was most active in the Saturday program at Alliance Gertz-Ressler High School and the Step Up after-school program at West Adams Prep where as a mentor on both campuses, I was able to engage with the girls and talk with them about their future hopes and dreams, encouraging them to stay positive and dream big!

Most memorable for me were the "College Send Offs," where our graduates heading to college were loaded up with every essential necessary for a successful start. The excitement on their faces was unforgettable.

I have also been a longtime volunteer with other organizations such as Caring For Babies With Aids, Aids Project Los Angeles, Project Angel Food, Joy Community Outreach To End Homelessness, and for many years, donated toys during the Christmas season to shelters housing women who were victims of domestic violence and their children. And while employed at Northrop, I participated in the Toastmasters International Success Leadership Program, where I spoke to students at Carver Jr. High about their future aspirations and goals for college and careers.

But it is to Step Up that I gave not just my time as a volunteer and member, but also my heart. Happy 25th Step Up, you are changing the world

one girl at a time!

Next Gen Leaders

Rosy A. Garcia

senior marketing operations associate, Care.com

Rosy Garcia is a first generation college grad from Guatemala that was raised in Los Angeles. She has been involved with Step Up since high school as a program participant and has continued to stay involved for over 10 years as a mentor, speaker/moderator, and even hosted Step Up teens at UC Berkeley for the Bay Area College Tour. Rosy is an enthusiastic supporter and advocate for Step Up's mission.

Since graduating from UC Berkeley, Rosy has been working in Marketing and Operations across multiple industries within the tech space such as retail, healthcare technology, and benefits. She currently serves as the Operation and Campaign Lead for the Care for Business Marketing team at Care.com.

Kalen Isreal

sales + marketing coordinator, hospitality

Kalen is a multi-passionate young woman with over 7 years in the hospitality industry.

Kalen is a mother to a 5 year old son named Kasche (pronounced cash), a rising sales coordinator at the SLS Beverly Hills Hotel, and the founder of Mother’s Desk. Mother’s Desk is the brand Kalen started in 2018 as a stationery products ecommerce store that has evolved into virtual assistant services for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Kalen’s goals and aspirations are to own multiple innovative spaces for students, entrepreneurs, creatives, or even moms planning social gatherings, to commune and to thrive. She desires to prosper as a philanthropist, giving so freely and so easily to young people for a confident and creative future.

Kalen’s greatest accomplishments have been graduating Cal Poly Pomona, with a degree in Hospitality Management, starting a business that serves women across the US, and raising a beautiful, respectable Black boy in America.

When Kalen is not working or serving, you can find her exploring through food of many nations or through dangerous adventurous sports like skydiving, ziplining, hot air balloon riding, horseback riding and much more (she is looking for more friends to join, smile).

Kalen’s favorite quote is by Dr. Maya Angelou: “I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.”

Jessica Naves

MBA candidate and consortium fellow, UCLA Anderson School of Management

Jessica Naves was born and raised in Los Angeles. She graduated from UCLA with a Bachelors in Sociology. After graduation, Jessica worked in various marketing roles, from marketing assistant in theatrical brand marketing at NBC Universal to social media coordinator at a non-profit called Fulfillment Fund. Most recently, Jessica worked as a marketing manager for a marketing and advertising agency specializing in reaching multicultural audiences. Currently, she is getting her MBA at UCLA Anderson, where she seeks to pivot her career to product marketing for a streaming service. Jessica is interested in advocating for diverse representation in the entertainment industry as she works towards becoming a marketing leader in the space.

Olivia Saha

federal law enforcement officer

When Olivia first joined Step up as a sophomore in the 10th grade, she was on the verge of dropping out of high school. She was lost and had no direction in her life. Out of boredom, she joined Step Up while a student at The Young Women's Leadership School of Astoria. Olivia went on to Quinnipiac University and graduated with a dual degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice. After spending a few years in the corporate world in Manhattan, she knew public service was still calling her. After an extensive 2 year process she became an employee for the Department of Justice as a Federal Law Enforcement Officer. At her current role, she spends her time hunting down fugitives, protecting some of the most important people in the American judicial system and is pursuing her niche in combating human trafficking and working with missing and exploited children.

Vanessa Salomon

credit risk analyst, First Republic Bank

Vanessa Salomon has over 6 years in the Banking and FinTech industry. Her experience is in enterprise risk management, financial analysis, and data analysis. She is a Credit Risk Analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co., one of the leading global financial services firms (formerly First Republic Bank). Her mission is to optimize credit risk management with data and innovation, ensuring the quality and consistency of the firm's diverse loan portfolio. In her current role, she leverages technical skills to produce quarterly reports that inform senior executives of the risk issues and recommendations related to the loan portfolio. She also manages loan review audits with bank leadership and issue resolution with business owners. Previously, she worked at a FinTech, Upgrade, Inc., where she designed and operationalized processes to root out high-risk activity, organized company-wide risk projects, and drove innovative risk solutions through third-party evaluation and integration. To add, she worked at Wells Fargo underwriting a variety of loan products with a value of up to $10 million.

Additionally, Vanessa serves as a board member of a non-profit based in San Francisco, Latinos in Finance, that aims to strengthen the Latinx community in the finance industry through education, connectivity, career advancement and community service. Vanessa wants to ensure that the finance industry is accessible for individuals from marginalized communities.

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