In honor of Black History Month, we are celebrating the accomplishments of several Black leaders in the Midwest and their contributions toward a cleaner energy future. Hear from our distinguished panelists as they share their experiences, successes, challenges, and advice for younger people. While we consider the racial injustices worsened by legacy energy systems and climate change, we'll discuss the importance of having Black leadership and community voices in solutions moving forward.
Deneine Christa Powell
FUSE Corp Executive Fellow on Climate and Equity, City of Milwaukee Environmental Collaboration Office
Deneine Powell is engaging the public on the forthcoming Climate and Equity Plan and supporting its adoption through the City's Common Council and County Board. Working with local partners, she will conduct community engagement and implement priority recommendations from the Climate and Equity Plan. Deneine believes that communities need to adopt a human-centered approach to safeguard the rights of vulnerable people and to share the benefits and burdens of the climate crisis equitably. Prior to joining FUSE, Deneine was the National Director of Path to Positive Communities—a program of ecoAmerica. In this capacity, she provided training, capacity building, program support, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities for local and regional leaders to elevate the benefits that climate solutions bring people and their communities. She inspires civic leaders and residents to support solutions at local, regional, and national levels. Deneine also served as the Executive Director for Groundwork Milwaukee, an organization devoted to transforming the natural and built environment of low-resource communities—working at the intersection of the environment, equity, and civic engagement. Deneine holds a MS in Organizational Leadership from Marian University, and a BA from the University of Minnesota.
Sandra is the President of Slipstream, leading the organization on its mission to accelerate climate solutions for everyone. She brings decades of experience working within utilities, nonprofits, and government offices to unite stakeholders across the industry and advance a more equitable and just clean-energy future.
Previously, she was Senior Director of Energy and Sustainability at Elevate, where she led the implementation of clean energy initiatives. As the first Black woman to serve as Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of Chicago, Sandra led the charge to advance the city towards 100% clean energy by signing onto Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign, committing Chicago to electrify its bus fleet by 2040 and to a community-wide transition to 100% renewable energy by 2035. She guided the effort to build ground-mounted solar systems on city-owned underutilized land and steered Chicago to a win in the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge.
Sandra is deeply committed to advancing energy efficiency in buildings as evidenced by her leadership in directing Accelerate Performance, a national initiative that brings performance-based procurement to scale for commercial new construction. Sandra also understands the importance of creating space to have crucial conversations and led the development of a Net Zero summit for private developers in Chicago that now serves as a platform for convening meaningful market transformation conversations with key stakeholders.
For more than 20 years, Sandra designed and managed energy programs for utilities in Minnesota and Illinois. She embraces market-driven strategies that integrate with the green building movement. Sandra has extensive knowledge of applied sustainability practices that can be measured successfully. She is a high-performance leader who has the unique ability to engage stakeholders at multiple levels and inspire constituents to embrace sustainable practices. She currently sits on Institute for Market Transformation Board of Directors and serves as Secretary.
Assistant Professor of Food Science, College of Agricultural & Life Sciences, UW–Madison
Dr. Victor Ujor is an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Prior to joining UW–Madison in 2021, Dr. Ujor was an assistant professor of bioenergy and Water Treatment Management at the Agricultural Technical Institute at The Ohio State University. He received his Ph.D. in applied microbiology and biotechnology from the University of Westminster.
As a graduate student, Dr. Ujor used omics tools to study the molecular mechanisms that drive strong biochemical responses during antagonistic interactions between fungal species. In his postdoctoral work, Dr. Ujor's worked on increasing the production of biofuels and bio-derived chemicals using metabolic engineering and bioprocess design.
Dr. Ujor's research explores metabolic engineering, synthetic biology, and bioprocess design for enhancing the production of biofuels and bio-derived chemicals, bio-based waste-to-energy technologies, and recovery of water from liquid waste streams.
Professor of electrical and renewable energy technology, Indian Hills Community College
Prof. John-Paul “Jp” Jones is a Native Iowegian from the Rathbun Lake area of Appanoose and Monroe Counties in Southeastern Iowa. Prof. Jp has been a Licensed Master Electrician & Electrical Engineering Technologist for over 30 years. Prof. Jp has been an educator at Indian Hills college since 2008 where he single-handedly developed, proposed and is the primary educator of the Electrical & Renewable Energy Program (TERET.AAS) at Indian Hills College in Ottumwa, Iowa, which is a comprehensive electrical & energy training program approved by the State of Iowa Electrical Examining Board in 2011 as part of the State of Iowa’s Electricians Post-Secondary Education Program (PSEP). Prof. Jp has volunteered countless hours on and off campus donating time and resources to community electrical & energy projects. He incorporates participation from his college students to help them gain real world experience on actual electrical and energy projects throughout the 10-County region.
Prof. Jp serves on the Board of Directors for the Iowa Association For Energy Efficiency and was elected to the Board of Directors for the Midwest Renewable Energy Association in 2022. He is an advocate for workforce development and serves as a member of the Iowa Energy Workforce Consortium.
Supreme Moore Omokunde
Representative for the 17th Assembly District in the Wisconsin State Assembly
State Representative Supreme Moore Omokunde was first elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in November 2020 after serving on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors from 2015-2020. Born and raised in Milwaukee, State Representative Moore Omokunde learned the values of community and social engagement through his parents, Rev. Dr. Tolokun Omokunde and Congresswoman Gwen Moore. From an early age, he has dedicated himself to the advancement of climate justice and spent many years working for the betterment of his community as an organizer before becoming a county supervisor and state representative.
Former Lt. Governor of Wisconsin
Mandela Barnes served as Wisconsin’s 45th Lieutenant Governor. He is the first African-American to serve as a Lieutenant Governor in Wisconsin, and the second African-American to ever hold statewide office. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Lt. Gov. Barnes is the son of a public-school teacher and a United Auto Workers member, to whom he credits much of his success. He grew up attending Milwaukee Public Schools and graduated from John Marshall High School in 2003. Lt. Gov. Barnes is an alumnus of Alabama A&M University. After his time there, he worked for various political campaigns and in the city of Milwaukee mayor’s office, eventually becoming an organizer for Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope, a Milwaukee-based interfaith coalition that advocates social justice. He also worked for the State Innovation Exchange, a national progressive public policy organization. In 2012, at the age of 25, Lt. Gov. Barnes was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly, where he served two terms. As Lt. Gov. Barnes used a platform of sustainability and equity to fight for solutions that invest in opportunities and fairness for every child, person, and family in Wisconsin, regardless of ZIP code.
In 2023, after coming within 26,000 votes of defeating incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson, Barnes founded The Long Run, to support diverse and groundbreaking pro-democracy candidates around the country who are helping to flip critical swing districts and bring more working-class voices to the table.