EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

MARCUS OWENS

Marcus has been the Executive Director of AALF since 2016. His mission is to improve the economic health of underserved communities in the Twin Cities by creating opportunities through public and private partnerships. A social entrepreneur and community developer, Marcus believes that expanding economic and educational opportunities while improving health and well-being for everyone, is key to building a healthier, equitable community.

Before joining AALF, Marcus was the President and CEO of the Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) in Minneapolis, for nearly four years. Under the direction of Marcus, NEON substantially grew its operating budget, staff size and launched a social enterprise business.

Prior to that Marcus worked for the Target Corporation, championing new initiatives in finance, DNI and human resources. He has also operated his own mortgage company and worked for TCF National Bank.

A native of north Minneapolis, Marcus received a bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of St. Thomas.

VICE PRESIDENT OF ADMINISTRATION

SHANAYA DUNGEY

As Vice President of Administration, Shanaya oversees organizational health and effectiveness strategies in Finance, Operations, and HR. Her passion and experience empowering communities through operational excellence and strategic efficiency span across sectors including government, corporate, nonprofits, and the arts. In 2020, Shanaya led a youth programming unit, honored as Standout Diversity Program which was highlighted in Forbes. She holds professional certifications from University of St. Thomas, Executive Education.

VICE PRESIDENT OF PROGRAMS

NINA ROBERTSON

As Vice President of Programs, Nina leads programmatic strategy and oversees implementation of the organization’s action-oriented community objectives. Her most recent work paved the way for hundreds of employment opportunities for low-income young people of color. In 2021, Nina was named by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, as a 40 Under 40 honoree, for leadership and service. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Family Social Services, from the University of Minnesota.

VICE PRESIDENT OF COMMUNICATIONS & NARRATIVE

MARC WATTS

As Vice President of Communications and Narrative, Marc will lead internal communications and external narrative strategies. A former CNN National Correspondent who got his start at WCCO TV/Minneapolis as a broadcast journalist, he has previously worked in senior management for various media companies and TV networks, bringing a wealth of knowledge to AALF. This role marks a homecoming for Marc who holds a master’s degree from University of Minnesota and spent his youth in Minneapolis.

EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT

PAULA NEELEY

Paula joins AALF with a distinguished 30-year administrative and writing background in the U.S., Europe and South America. She specializes in project coordination and process improvement. Paula also works as an independent journalist for the Minnesota Women’s Press Institute based in St. Paul and serves as Board Chair for The Uptake community news group in Minneapolis. An alumna of Indiana University-Bloomington, Paula enjoys reading, kayaking and archery. She volunteers for New City Church in South Minneapolis on the music and grant writing teams.
SENIOR PROGRAM DIRECTOR

ERNEST COMER III

As Senior Program Director, Ernest will oversee and lead Network Alignment systems engagement. His passion for building pipelines and fostering empowerment has shown through in his work for the organization. Ernest has more than a decade of experience in the nonprofit and private sectors. He is the author of The Opposite of Glory: Memoirs of An Amateur Philosopher (2014) and holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota in Communication Studies and African American Studies.

SENIOR PROGRAM DIRECTOR

NIILA HEBERT

As Senior Program Director, Niila leads the community engagement arm of Network Alignment for AALF. She carries a passion for inclusion, access, and justice in the Black and LGBTQ+ communities. Niila has worked with nonprofit organizations more than 15 years. No stranger to volunteerism, she brings a wealth of collaborative skills to her new role and is a specialist in creating partnerships and connections through innovative practices. Niila is a graduate of Cal State Long Beach University.

SENIOR PROGRAM DIRECTOR

DESRALYNN COLE

As a Senior Program Director, Desralynn leads Network Insights strategy for AALF. She has worked in the nonprofit and public sector for more than 15 years. Desralynn’s passion for being a change agent led to her receiving the 2020 Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Award, for her advocacy on behalf of businesses in N. Minneapolis that were destroyed during the unrest after the murder of George Floyd. Desralynn is an HBCU graduate of Fisk University, now pursuing her master’s degree.
SENIOR PROGRAM DIRECTOR

MARLA ETHERIDGE

As a Senior Program Director, Marla oversees the organization’s events, community convenings, and communications functions. She comes to AALF from the University of Minnesota, where she worked in a similar capacity with the College of Education and Human Development.  Passionate about creating collaborative and connective social experiences, Marla has worked for various corporations in project management for more than 10 years, and has served on nonprofit boards and community groups, including the Twin Cities Black Employee Network (TCBEN). She holds a bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University.
PROGRAM DIRECTOR

ADORA LAND TOLEFREE

Joining AALF after working nearly a decade in the nonprofit sector, Adora will manage the organization’s Leadership Development strategy, largely overseeing the Josie R. Johnson Leadership Academy. Adora is passionate about developing collective strategies to increase community wealth and is a firm believer that collective work is the best way to generate opportunities for community. She holds a master’s degree in Public and Nonprofit Administration from Metropolitan State University.

DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR

KENNETH SCALES

As Director of Development, Kenneth manages AALF’s initiatives in generating new partnerships and business. Well-plugged into the Twin Cities community and a 13-year veteran of economic development in the nonprofit sector, Kenneth launched his career as an AmeriCorps volunteer with the PEACE Foundation, now known as the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ). He is a former fellow of AALF’s Josie R. Johnson Leadership Academy, with extensive relationships and fundraising skills across the board.

Board of Directors

OFFICERS

John Taylor, Co-Chair, Director Strategic Sourcing, Medtronic

Dr. Nerita Hughes, Co-Chair, Dean of Business, Technology, Career & Workforce Development, NHCC

Anisha Murphy, Secretary, Adjunct Professor, Hamline University

Carolyn Smallwood, Treasurer, Executive Director, Way to Grow

MEMBERS

Sylvia Bartley, BSc (Hons), Pharmacology; PhD, Neurophysiology Global Director, Medtronic Philanthropy

Robbin Frazier, Associate Director of Equity and Community Engagement Center for Healthy Aging and Innovation, University of Minnesota

Duchesne Drew, President, Minnesota Public Radio

Stella Whitney West, CEO, NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center

Lauren Boulware, Director, Morgan Stanley

Kevin Lindsey, Executive Director, Minnesota Humanities Center