AFRICA DAY STL SPEAKERS BIOS
WEAVING ST. LOUIS ECOSYSTEM
Yinka: Yinka Faleti was the 2020 Democratic nominee for Missouri Secretary of State. Yinka campaigned throughout Missouri over the course of 21 months, inspiring over one million votes–the first African American man to do so in the history of the state–while raising over $1M in a state with contribution limits and during a year dominated by COVID.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Yinka immigrated to the United States at the age of seven, arriving at John F. Kennedy Airport. Growing up, Yinka was no stranger to poverty. In search of where they could thrive as an immigrant family, his family moved often—from New York to Virginia to Florida to Mississippi and finally to Texas.
Yinka’s big break came through education. He graduated as valedictorian of his junior high school in Florida. In lieu of his last two years of high school, Yinka attended and graduated from the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science. From there, he accepted an appointment to and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Yinka moved to St. Louis to attend and graduate from law school at Washington University. He then practiced as an attorney at the global law firm of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and subsequently as a state prosecutor at the Circuit Attorneys Office, where he worked for justice for victims of abuse, assault, and burglary.
Sensing there was even more he could do to help his community, Yinka accepted a position as senior vice president with United Way of Greater St. Louis. There, he led the fundraising and volunteer engagement divisions, raising $300M over four annual campaigns to help one in three people in the Greater St. Louis region. From United Way, Yinka went on to lead as Executive Director of the successor nonprofit to the Ferguson Commission, Forward Through Ferguson. He led the organization to serve as conscience and catalyst in helping to inspire the St. Louis region on a path to racial equity.
Yinka lives in St. Louis with his wife, Ronke, and their four children.
Adam Layne is the current Treasurer of the City of St. Louis. A native of Boston, Massachusetts, he came to St. Louis in 2011 through the Teach For America program teaching high school math in our city’s public schools. He led an education nonprofit and started his own while consulting with organizations for curriculum development and diversity efforts. He served on the Board of Education after winning his 2019 election until being appointed to the role of City Treasurer by Mayor Tishaura Jones. Adam has a BBA form The George Washington University and an M.Ed. from UMSL.
Yemi:Yemi Susan Akande-Bartsch, PH.D.
President & CEO, FOCUS St. Louis St. Louis, Missouri
Yemi Akande-Bartsch is President & CEO of FOCUS St. Louis and Director of Leadership St. Louis. She is charged with providing direction and oversight in positioning the region’s premier leadership organization as a valuable community asset for developing and engaging citizens for the betterment of the St. Louis region. She develops and implements strategies to ensure program quality, content, and delivery for the community, FOCUS members and FOCUS leadership alumni. Through six leadership programs and numerous citizen engagement initiatives, the organization impacts 5,000 people each year.
Recognized as an accomplished, innovative, and visionary leader specializing in implementing strategic plans and organizational development, Akande-Bartsch has led FOCUS St. Louis since 2014. She oversees efforts to achieve financial sustainability and fund development goals by developing opportunities for regional partnerships and collaborations through professional relationships with a wide variety of civic, business, and government leaders. In addition to directing the acclaimed Leadership St. Louis program, she has spearheaded the Coro Women in Leadership Program, Experience St. Louis Program, FOCUS Impact Fellows Program, and What’s Right with the Region Awards. As a leader in the community, Akande-Bartsch is affiliated with and/or serves in key roles with various organizations. She serves as a Board Member of The Sheldon Arts Foundation, St. Louis Regional Chamber, and Downtown St. Louis, as well as Board Chair, Subdistrict Commission of Missouri Botanical Garden. Other commitments including Member of the Association of Leadership Programs, Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society, St. Louis Forum, and Urban Land Institute Advisory Committee. Akande-Bartsch was honored as a Diverse Business Leader by St. Louis Business Journal in 2019, as Female Executive of the Year from Queen’s Ministry in 2018 and received the Most Influential Business Award from the St. Louis Business Journal in 2017, and Who’s Who in Diversity in 2016.
Akande-Bartsch holds three degrees from the University of Oklahoma, including a PH.D. in Communications, Intercultural, Political and Organizational Communication, an M.H.R. in Human Relations and Organizational Development, and a Master of Arts in Public Relations, Journalism & Mass Communications, and Marketing. She earned her B.A. in Speech Communications and English from Southwest Baptist University. Akande-Bartsch has written many articles and editorials for publication and has been featured as a guest speaker and presenter at numerous national conferences as an authority on a wide range of topics.
Suzanne Sierra is Senior Program Manager for the St. Louis Mosaic. In her role, she manages community programs and initiatives which focus on the Mosaic Project’s goal of transforming St. Louis into the fastest-growing major metropolitan area for immigration by 2025. This includes collaborating with business and university leaders and community partners to provide professional and social connections to foreign-born individuals, professionals, and entrepreneurs. Suzanne’s previous experience includes Senior Communication roles with Anheuser-Busch and Fleishman-Hillard where she worked on Hispanic marketing, corporate social responsibility, and crisis communication programs. After her time in Corporate America, she ran her own PR Consulting business helping organizations define and tell their story. Suzanne holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin, is of Colombian descent and speaks Spanish. She serves on the Boards of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan
St. Louis and The Collective Thread. She is a graduate of FOCUS Leadership St. Louis, formerly served on the Olivette, MO City Council and regularly provides communication coaching to first-time entrepreneurs through the BALSA Foundation.
EDUCATING AND EMPOWERING THE YOUTH
Mame Mor Ndiaye is originally from Senegal, West Africa and moved to the U.S. in 2011. After obtaining his High School diploma in Senegal, he moved to Clermont-Ferrand in France where he earned a diploma in Business Management at the University of Clermont Ferrand. Following that, he moved to Missouri and started his education at the St. Louis Community College. He is a graduate of the Forest Park campus with an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration and then obtained his Bachelor’s degree from Truman State University in International Business with a focus in International Studies. He holds a Masters Degree in Leadership and Organizational Development from Webster University. From 2017 to 2019, he served for 2 years as an Admissions Advisor at St. Louis Community College where he worked on recruitment strategies as well as mentoring programs for the college. Currently, he serves as an Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Washington University in St. Louis
In 2018, he started an organization called “Jokko Alliance” that provides an educational council to young immigrants in the St. Louis area. Mr. Ndiaye serves as a motivational speaker and mentor to young people within St. Louis and focuses mostly on the realm of Higher Education access and Career Services.
Igho Ekakitie was born in a small town called Sapele in Delta State, Nigeria. He currently attends Webster University where he majors in the Combined Degree (BA/MA) in International Relations as an International student. Igho is a lover of life, a believer in equality under the law, and a strong advocate for Human rights, all attributes he learned from his parents. Leadership to him means servantship and he’s been fortunate to lead in several positions to include the chapter Vice President and Missouri Regional Vice President of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society, and a National Council member of United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA). He currently runs his podcast called @igowithIGHO giving a platform for international students to own their journey. He hopes to create a difference in people’s lives here in St. Louis and across the world.
Brian Barlay is a native from Sierra Leone, West Africa and alumni of Saint Louis Community College- Meramec. At Meramec, he was the president of the International Club, cofounder/President Black Student in Education and Empowerment Club, Archer Peer Leader Dan was actively involved with TRIO Student Support Services and Student Activity Council.
Brian attained his Bachelor of Arts from SLU majoring in International Studies, Foreign Services, Sociology with an emphasis in Urbanization, Immigration and Demographics. At SLU, Brian was a MLK Scholar, McNair Scholar, Atlas Intern, student adviser for African Student association and he was also actively involved with Black student alliance. Brian is currently acquiring his master’s in leadership and Management with an emphasis in Organizational Development and Project Management at Webster University. At Webster, he is the graduate assistant in the of office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, he the Ambassador for Student Inclusion for SGA, and Vice President of AAAC. Outside of higher education, Brian has interned/volunteered with International Institute, Urban League, United Way, Action St. Louis, and was a student Ambassador for Missouri Department of Higher Education.
Brian is the founder and former president of Missouri Young African Professionals; he is a strategic consultant for Vitendo4Africa; Community Research Consultant for Washington University; and an Engagement Manager for Claim Academy.
He is passionate about the African community in St. Louis and he hope for St. Louis to have a unique African presence through inclusion in art, music, food and community involvement. Furthermore, he is passionate about creating new ways and being part of unconventional projects that seeks to elevate the African immigrants’ community for success and upward mobility. He draws his leadership styles and ideologies from the doctrines of Black consciousness, tenets from the late President Thomas Sanka, and the belief system of transformative leadership and compassionate leadership.
A native of Kenya, Soyiantet moved to St. Louis 16 years ago after graduating from college in Nairobi. He is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Vitendo4Africa.
Vitendo’s mission is to empower African immigrants through educational and outreach programs in Missouri. In Swahili, “Vitendo” means “action.” Vitendo 4 Africa exists to provide immigrant and refugee families with direct services and interconnected resources to improve their quality of life
A majority of Vitendo’s program participants enter the U.S. through the Diversity Visa program, also known as the visa lottery where no one receives any government assistance. Thus, Geoffrey becomes the lifeline for these newcomers as Vitendo offers services including increasing awareness of nutrition, home buying, and youth mentorship programs, workforce development, healthcare access, business startup and referrals to other agencies.
Geoffrey is co-founder and the Board Chair of St. Louis African Chamber of Commerce, a non profit organization whose mission is to promote business and trade in the African Continent and St. Louis Region. He also serves on the advisory committee of St. Louis Mosaic Project.
Geoffrey sits on several other boards in St Louis and still finds time to host cultural events, sit on community education panels, and answer the call when a collaborative opportunity arises. He served as a commissioner in the Environmental Quality Commission in the city of Florissant for a period of six years.
Geoffrey has received numerous awards and recognitions including Mary T. Hall Equity Award by United Nation St Louis, Immigrants Making a difference in St. Louis Award, Immigrant Advocate Award and among others. Geoffrey continues to work hard to promote immigrant entrepreneurs and community integration in St. Louis.
Geoffrey is a cohort member of FOCUS leadership St Louis class of 2018/2019. Geoffrey has a bachelor’s in Economics and a master’s in business administration from Lindenwold University. He lives in North County with his wife and three kids.
CULTIVATING THE COMMUNITY
Habiba A. Ibrahim, PhD, MSW
Dr. Habiba Ibrahim earned Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis and PhD in Public Policy Analysis from Saint Louis University. Her scholarship focuses on immigrants and refugees in the area of economic mobility and financial inclusion, resettlement experiences, and International Social Development. Dr. Ibrahim particularly examines the role of institutions and policies in enabling low-income households to gain economic stability through homeownership and microenterprise development. She has extensively worked with the immigrants’ communities in St. Louis over the past 15 years. She has also conducted interdisciplinary research in racial justice and equity in K-12 schools, focusing on the social and cultural processes that contribute to or disrupt disparities in school suspensions across race, gender and social class, and its impact on students’ outcomes. She also teaches graduate and undergraduate courses both at Washington University and St. Louis University.
Phillip Adeniyi Sangokoya
The son of two Nigerian immigrants, Phillip Adeniyi Sangokoya is a racial equity champion, strategy consultant, and banker with 10 years of experience in small business lending, economic development, and entrepreneurship support. As a John B. Ervin Scholar, Phillip graduated in 2011 with a double major in Entrepreneurship and Marketing and a minor in Psychology from the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.
In support of racial equity within the small business and entrepreneurship ecosystems, Phillip co-founded a social enterprise called the Business Resource Association for Networking & Development (BRAND) of St. Louis and a nonprofit called BRAND Foundation with his wife Chavelle. In recognition of his professional, entrepreneurial, and community efforts, Phillip has received the Young Leader Award from the St. Louis American Foundation and the 30 Under 30 Award from the St. Louis Business Journal for his commitment to strategic management consulting, business planning, and entrepreneurial development.
Obenson currently is CEO of International Institute of Saint Louis and the CEO of Transformunity LLC, a St. Louis-based consulting firm he co-founded in 2019 that assists businesses and other organizations with strategy development, advocacy and events.
He previously served as secretary general of Chesterfield-based Junior Chamber International (JCI), a nonprofit international network that develops leadership and community involvement opportunities for young people in over 100 countries. In that post, Obenson served as JCI’s chief administrative officer. His 17 years in leadership at JCI also included posts as director for Africa and the Middle East, executive director and deputy secretary general.
A barrister of law, Obenson is a member of the Cameroon Bar Association and worked at a law firm in Cameroon before moving to the United States in 2002.
Jessica Wernli is a community organizer, facili-trainer and coach. Her work centers around individual and community transformation. Jessica is passionate about helping groups amplify their voice and engage in collaborative decision-making. Her Community Brilliance LAB helps changemakers authentically engage their community to make big decisions, solve problems and create shared futures.
In addition to her LAB, Jessica partners with community stakeholders to cultivate resident power and advance racial equity in a variety of ways, including facilitating meetings for a collaborative of grassroots organizations who partner in promoting and fighting for social justice in the region.
Jessica believes that community transformation also requires transformed people. Anchored in the organizing principle, “the revolution starts within”, she helps changemaking women to uncover, affirm and activate their personal vision.
Jessica is originally from the Chicago area, and looks forward to celebrating her 10th year living in St. Louis this year. She has her master’s in social work from the University of Illinois in Chicago and certification for facilitation from both the Leadership Strategies Institute as well as the Interaction Institute for Social Change.
THE FUTURE OF ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
“We are a Zimbabwean e-commerce craft company that is based in St. Louis Missouri USA. We have a mandate to represent different African cultures through crafting. We focus on three branches of craft: fashion, fine arts, and literature. Meaning behind the name: YKG is an acronym of the Gandawa sister’s initials, Yemurai: is a science fiction author working on a book inspired by the future of a self-thriving Africa. Kumbirai: is an artist who creates under the brand Kumbie Art (a sibling company of YKG crafts).
(Founder of YKG Crafts): Gamu Gandawa is a Zimbabwean fashion entreprenuer. YKG Crafts designs are afrocentric inspired ioperating as a brand for African Print men and Women’s couture, ready to wear and accesories. It is Important to note that the COVID(19) pandemic inspired a pivot for the brand to focus on fashion editorial. Essentially, increasing the presence of African print in digital and print editorial spreads.”
Ono Ikanone moved to the United States from Lagos, Nigeria in 2004 where he attended Hazelwood East high school. After graduating high school he went on to pursue a higher education at University of Missouri Saint Louis where he graduated with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Biology in spring of 2012. Ono then went on to obtain a degree from Missouri University of Science and Technology in Petroleum Engineering in 2016. Between 2016 and 2018, Ono worked as a project manager in Nigeria organizing sustainable process structures for small businesses in the oil and gas and agricultural sectors.
Ono began his career at Boeing in 2018 where he served as a Process Quality Engineer working with a cross functional team tasked with the building of the 777x Airplane.
Outside of the work that he does for Boeing, Ono owns an Events, Marketing and Consulting Company by the name of Ono Celebrations M&C LLC. Since the company’s inception in 2010 Ono Celebrations has been a hub for young professionals to enjoy social and professional networking events. Ono celebrations has also branched out into affiliations with charitable events such as ‘kicks for the city” (An event geared to provide gently used shoes for underprivileged individuals in the city of Saint Louis) as well as political awareness events such as “The Woke voters’ brunch”. Most Recently, Ono celebrations acquired an ownership stake in a popular event/lounge space on Delmar called Blue Lounge with plans to expand his platform for multicultural and purposeful social events.
As a spring 2009 initiate of the Alpha Phi Alpha chapter (Alpha Eta Chapter), Ono has continued to stay connected with his chapter allowing him to participate in community service activities around the City of Saint Louis.
Ono enjoys helping youth reach their full potential as he channels the wise words from his favorite mantra “Be who you needed when you were younger”
Yvonne Osei is an acclaimed German-born Ghanaian interdisciplinary artist, conceptual designer and arts advocate living in St. Louis, MO. Her international creative practice explores topics of beauty, colorism, the authorship and ownership of history, and the residual implications of colonialism in postcolonial West Africa and Western cultures. Her work also utilizes textile she designs and clothing she constructs as artistic mediums to foreground socio-political issues of global concern.
Osei received her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a Chancellors Graduate Fellow, Mr. and Mrs. Spencer T. Olin Fellow, and Danforth Scholar. She holds an MS in Fashion Design and Business from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO as well as a BFA in Graphic Design and BA in International Studies from Webster University in St. Louis. As a visiting artist scholar, Osei has been invited to Pentecost University in Accra, Sterling College in Kansas, Indiana University Bloomington, University of Missouri, Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland and TEDxStLouis. Osei is the 2016–17 Romare Bearden Graduate Minority Fellow at the Saint Louis Art Museum and the 2017-2020 Curator-In-Residence for the Millstone Gallery at the Center of Creative Arts. She is the recipient of the 2018 Saint Louis Visionary Award for Emerging Artist, the 2018 Creative Stimulus Award by Critical Mass for the Visual Arts and the 2019 Futures Fund Grant by The Luminary in St. Louis.
Osei has performed and exhibited nationally and internationally including Everson Museum of Art (Syracuse, New York), Lambert International Airport (St. Louis, MO), Ariana Park (Geneva, Switzerland), Asafo Market (Kumasi, Ghana), and Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Lisbon, Portugal). She has attended residencies at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, Fountainhead in Miami, and Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her solo exhibitions “Who Discovers the Discoverer?” and “Sea to Shining Sea” were recently on view at the Bruno David Gallery, where she is represented. Osei currently serves as the Membership Chair for Women and the Kemper at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, the Equity, Access and Integration Cochair for Surface Design Association, an adjunct professor at Webster University and an art-based corporate training coach at COCAbiz. She has been invited as a guest juror for the 2020 and 2021 St. Louis Art Fair, the 2021 RISE Exhibition in Alton, IL and the curator for the 2021 Creative Stimulus Exhibition in St. Louis.
Growing up without technology made me curious and eager to learn more when I came to the U.S to attend college. With the MBA I got, the Digital Marketing Certificate, my passion for helping people and my good storytelling skills, I have become an expert in strategic marketing and communication.I am currently working as a freelance marketing strategist consultant (check out www.flamesdigitalmedia.com). Prior to starting my consultancy, I worked at Odd Couples Housing as the Marketing Communications Director providing marketing services for prospective and existing customers. While pursuing my MBA, I worked as a graduate assistant (GA.) for the International Business Institute (IBI) at UMSL. In my GA role, I assisted faculty and staff in carrying out teaching, research and other administrative activities and I worked as the department’s website designer.
From the last semester of my undergraduate years until when I earned my MBA, I also served as a Digital MarketingTeacher Assistant.The focus of this position was to teach and supervise student Digital and Social Marketing account management and strategies. I also served as an International Student Leader when I was in undergrad. I was responsible for reaching out to, and welcoming new international students to UMSL and promoting intercultural interaction between all UMSL students. I served in a
leadership and mentoring role to all international students and to domestic students seeking to expand their cultural awareness.
I have also worked as the Project Manager for the UMSL-CUIBE International Business Case Competition and the Annual International Business Career Conference, helping with the events’ publicity and bringing hundreds of students around the country to compete and participate in the events. Worked as a social media media specialist for several brands and up to date I still non officially work as a coach and peer mentor to several young adults.
I have led several organisations throughout my school life and have earned both academic and leadership awards due to my involvement in different organizations. I am a proud founder and co-founder of several organizations since primary school. Some of the organizations I founded that I am very proud of include the Women Empowering Women at UMSL and The Community for African Female Entrepreneurs.