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African American Leadership Forum Is Growing, Fortifying Its Leadership Team and Working Better For You

Transformative Twin Cities leadership org announces key talent appointments across its chain of command, reinforcing its senior management.

{MINNEAPOLIS-September 18, 2021}–The African American Leadership Forum, a vastly diversified network of Black Thought Leaders, is expanding personnel-wise and how it operates. The organization remains committed to fostering a just society that works better for the Twin Cities and all of America. AALF identifies and addresses inequities regarding Economic Development, Health, Education and Family Culture. By convening it develops the leadership potential of African Americans locally, across Minnesota and throughout the U.S.

To that endeavor, following up from its formation in Q1, of the strategic alliance of alliances, known as United By Black Powered By All, AALF is pleased to announce several key appointments and new hires, bolstering its ranks in Administration, Finance, Programs, Communications and Senior Management. Please welcome the new leaders to the team.

KENNETH SCALES has come on board with AALF as Director of Development. 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). Kenneth is a former fellow of AALF’s Josie R. Johnson Leadership Academy, with extensive relationships and fundraising skills across the board. 

ADORA LAND TOLEFREE joins AALF after working nearly a decade in the nonprofit sector. She’ll work as a Program Director, leading AALF’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. Adora holds a master’s degree in Public and Nonprofit Administration from Metropolitan State University.

DESRALYNN COLE joins AALF as a Senior Program Director leading Network Insights strategy. Desralynn has worked in the nonprofit and public sector for more than 15 years. Her 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.

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

NIILA HEBERT joins AALF’s team as Senior Program Director, leading the community engagement arm of Network Alignment. 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. 

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

SHANAYA DUNGEY is promoted to Vice President of Administration overseeing 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. 

NINA ROBERTSON joins AALF as Vice President of Programs. She leads programmatic strategy and oversees implementation of the organization’s action-oriented community objectives. Nina’s most recent work paved the way for hundreds of employment opportunities for low-income young people of color. In 2021, she 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 Univ. of Minnesota.

MARC WATTS comes on board as Vice President of Communications and Narrative. He 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, Marc 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 Univ. of Minnesota and spent his youth in Minneapolis. 


“I’m extremely pleased with the quality and experience of all of our new team members,” AALF’s Executive Director, Marcus Owens said. “Their additions make us not only stronger, but more efficient, effective and thorough in the work we do in advancing racial justice and equity across our Region.” 


Recently the organization moved into its new office space in the Loring Park area of Minneapolis. Several events are scheduled for the rest of 2021. Stay tuned.

  • AALF’s Black Leadership Re-Defined podcast continues weekly, every Sunday from 12-1 p.m. on KMOJ-FM , hosted by the noted, Dr. Sylvia Bartley, an AALF board member and the Global Director of Medtronic Philanthropy.
  • Black Life Amplified, a bi-weekly virtual townhall takes place every other Wednesday.

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