For over 26 years, Sheila Fortson has worked with children and adults teaching piano, violin, voice, and acting lessons. She graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance in 2003. In 2011, she completed her master’s degree at Columbia College in Interdisciplinary Art where she studied the five major art forms of music, dance, drama, creative writing, and visual art. From 1998 to 2002 she traveled, conducted and sang in a collegiate choir around the country and across to globe to Norway, Sweden, Guatemala, and Mexico City. From 1990 to 2005, she founded and directed a college gospel choir. In 2012 she studied at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts in Manhattan studying on-camera and theater acting. From 2008 to 2009 she directed Liberty University’s LU Praise concert choir as well as several church choirs varying in size from 20 to120 people. These choirs traveled around the country performing concerts in large concert halls and small church settings. From 2011-2013 she was the resident creative director at a south side Chicago church organizing their creative arts and drama program where she wrote and produced several short films and theater style productions. As a result of all of these studies and opportunities she developed a deep passion for promoting and teaching music and fine arts, particularly to those that lack opportunity and resources to expand their learning in music and art. Sheila is the founder and executive director of FAME Center.
Michelle Marie Francis
Michelle Marie Francis is an experienced strategist and exceptional communicator with over 15 years’ experience managing global brands, serving in senior leadership roles and creating world- class PR/marketing campaigns, brand launches, and strategic plans for both small and large clients. She is a persuasive and effective communicator in coalescing support and buy-in from typically challenging stakeholders and works effectively with complex teams in a variety of industries to drive growth. Michelle is an innovative thinker with a global perspective and broad business acumen. She specializes in culturally competent, change management strategies and has extensive experience in healthcare, education, not-for-profit, consumer, hospitality, and economic development sectors. Michelle has worked internally, in leadership positions, in healthcare, hospitality and business. She is also an experienced consultant who has driven strategy and led marketing efforts for contract research organizations, luxury consumer products, colleges and universities, healthcare and education technology and development organizations. Her skill and ability to bring fresh ideas, perspective and best practices from varying industries to the table has been both recognized and awarded. Michelle currently owns and operates Michelle Marie Communications, a marketing and strategy consultancy serving clients in a variety of industries. Most recently she served as Vice President of Communications and Legislative Affairs with Sage Health Strategy (SHS) in Chicago where the team was instrumental in leading the strategy, marketing and communications efforts for a start-up, provider owned health plan (Accountable Care Entity). In less than a year, the team helped grow the plan to exceed the target of 60,000 enrollees with access to over 400 Primary Care Providers and 700 specialists. Michelle, born in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, graduated from Wheaton College and completed graduate level studies in Perth, Australia in Language Arts and Sustainable Development. She has lived and worked in St. Lucia, Indonesia, Timor Leste, India, Malaysia and the Philippines. She has a weakness for blue skies, sunny days and delicious ice cream of any flavor!
Dr. Margaret Diddams
Margaret is Provost of Wheaton College (IL), a liberal arts college grounded in its Evangelical Christian faith tradition and located 30 miles west of Chicago. Reporting to the President, she is a member of the Senior Administrative Cabinet and holds faculty status as Professor of Psychology. She oversees the undergraduate and graduate programs of Wheaton College. She is also responsible for the Registrar and Student Advising, Global and Experiential Learning, Institutional Research, the Library and Archives, theologically grounded vocational exploration programming, the Billy Graham Center, the Outdoor Center for Leadership at Honey Rock and the Black Hills Science Station. Diddams is a 1983 graduate of Wheaton College with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She earned a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from New York University. Diddams started her academic career as an instructor and program coordinator in the Social-Organizational Psychology Department at Columbia University. She joined the faculty at Seattle Pacific University in 1993 and held the rank of Professor of Industrial / Organizational Psychology before becoming the Director of the Center for Scholarship and Faculty Development and then Assistant Provost. In addition to her academic work, Diddams has worked as a Senior Manager at Microsoft Corporation and founded DuPlissis & Diddams Associates, a consulting practice specializing in survey research, organizational development and executive coaching.
Dr. Felecia Thompson
Dr. Felecia Thompson is a native of the south side of Chicago, a mother of two grown daughters, and has been married for 39 years to Steve. Felecia received her bachelor of arts in sociology/psychology from DePaul University, a master of science in human services administration from Spertus College, and received her DM in leadership from Bakke Graduate University in Seattle. Felecia has also gone through senior management training with ServiceMaster Corporation and the John Templeton Institute’s program for non-profit board leadership and fundraising. Felecia’s teaching gifts have given her instructional roles at Moody Bible Institute, Trinity Christian College and numerous conferences. Her administrative and leadership gifts have been utilized in executive roles with the DeVos Family Foundation’s Urban Leadership Initiative, the Family Care Network, and the Crisis Pregnancy Center of Chicago. For most of the past 20 years, Felecia has directed community partnership programs for Trinity Christian College and then for World Vision, where she served as Executive Director of its Chicagoland operation for nearly three years. Felecia exhibits extraordinary intelligence, experience, and personal grace. She currently serves as the Executive Director for Community Development (The Roosevelt Road Initiative) at Christ Church of Oak Brook.
Dr. Stephen Michael Newby
A native of Detroit, Michigan, Dr. Stephen Michael Newby is an accomplished composer, gospel/jazz vocalist, and worship leader whose works have been performed by the Cascade Youth Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Ann Arbor Symphony, Canton Symphony Orchestra, New Haven Symphony, Savannah Symphony, and New World Theater Orchestra; and have earned him numerous awards and grants. In 1984 Dr. Newby earned a bachelor of arts in vocal music education and flute performance from Madonna College in Livonia, Michigan. In 1987 he earned a master of music in jazz composition and arranging from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where he did his studies in composition under Robert Sutton, Frederick Tillis, Jeff Holmes, and Robert Stern. Returning to Michigan, he completed his doctorate of musical arts in composition in 1994 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. There he studied with William Albright, Michael Daugherty, George Wilson, Fred Lerdahl, and Pulitzer Prize winners William Bolcom and Leslie Bassett. In addition to directing the Center for Worship, Dr. Newby serves as director of the SPU Gospel Choir and the Worship Arts Ensemble, and leads men’s ministry on campus. He has served as a worship pastor for more than 25 years in Michigan, Massachusetts, Washington, and California, and leads new worship music programs at Seattle Pacific University. Dr. Newby’s awards and grants include the National Endowment of the Arts 2005 St. Paul, Minnesota, Continental Harmony Grant; the King County Arts Commission of Washington Grant; The Rackham School Fellowship for Ethno-musicological Research in Dakar, Senegal; and the John Wesley Work III National Composers’ Award.
Dr. Monica Cook
Monica Cook is a long time resident of the South Loop neighborhood in Chicago, a mother to two young daughters, and has been married to Kurt since 2007. Monica received her B.S in Chemical Engineering in 1996, from the University of Illinois – Champaign-Urbana. In 2004, she received her MPM in Environmental Project Management from Northwestern University and just this year graduated from the University of Illinois Chicago, with her PhD in Chemical Engineering. From 1997-2003, Monica worked in technical support for National Starch and Chemical assisting industrial adhesives customers. Additionally, she served as a process engineer implementing custom Six Sigma inspired quality programs for strategic customers. At Dupont-Teijin Films, Monica served as outside sales for the Midwest region negotiating contracts and overseeing logistics for thin film customers. Monica is proud to support the mission and vision of FAME Center. She also a huge Chicago Cubs fan!
Rodger B. Jackson is a Morehouse College alumn and co-founder and managing partner of Independent Network Television (INTV). INTV works with artist and filmmakers by providing them with a place to create; and an outlet to distribute their work. INTV is the first production company in Chicago that provides distribution through the online streaming channel www.inde.tv. As an actor who has appeared on Chicago PD and Chicago Med, as well as local community theater, Rodger has been recognized by his peers for innovative thinking and ability to get results under challenging situations. His previous work at Victory’s Path, a college and career training non-profit, and Navistar, an American Holding Company, have provided him with the opportunity to directly report to the White House The Office of the First Lady under the Obama Administration. As a member of the military compliance and verification process board Rodger was responsible for making sure government standards regarding defense contracts between Navistar and the United States government were met. Rodger believes in working the process until you succeed and he lives by the quote, “Wanting to quit is not failure, quitting is”.
Patrick is passionate about education, innovation, and the arts. Patrick is originally from Holland, MI where he first learned to cultivate these passions through participation in school choir and theater and through his job at the city greenhouse. His passion for music led him to Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, IL where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education in 2004. Upon graduation, he continued his studies at Michigan State University where he received a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting in 2006. During his time at MSU, he served as the Director of Music for Christ United Methodist Church in Lansing, MI and was a section leader in the Greater Lansing Arts Chorale. In the summer of 2006, he married Kutu, whom he met at Trinity, and they settled permanently in the Chicago area. Patrick began his career in education in 2006 a music teacher and choir director for Rich Township High School District 227, moving from there to Leyden High School District 212 in 2008. While teaching, he also served as the Choir Director and Traditional Worship Leader for Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, IL from 2007-2011. In 2011, his passion for education led him to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where he received a Master of Education degree in Educational Leadership in 2013. In 2015, Patrick shifted from teaching to administration and became the Fine Arts Coordinator for Joliet Public Schools District 86 in Joliet, IL. While there, his work included growing the teaching staff from 21 to 36, restarting the elementary music program after a 50+ year absence, expanding the visual arts program, restructuring the districtwide fine arts master schedule, and writing a fully aligned K-8 curriculum - these efforts provided access to the arts for all students in District 86. Also in 2015, Patrick became the Choral Coach for the West Suburban Symphony Chorale in Hinsdale, IL, a position he held until 2018. In the summer of 2019, Patrick became the Fine and Performing Arts Coordinator for Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205. There he serves as the District’s first district-level administrator over the arts and as the Fine and Performing Arts Department Chair for York High School. His responsibilities include curriculum development, budget and inventory management, program development and alignment, teacher evaluation, professional development, and master scheduling for the district. Patrick is currently pursuing a Doctor of Education degree in School Executive Leadership at the University of Illinois which he hopes to complete during the 2020-2021 school year. Patrick and Kutu love to travel and try new restaurants, they share a passion for coaching and consulting, and they enjoy hanging out with friends or with their dogs.
Lenise S. Lee, owner, and principal of Presentation Is Everything, LLC, is a native of Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. Against adversity, Lenise went on to obtain a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Northern Illinois University, and a Master of International Management from ENAE Business School in Murcia, Spain. In addition to her education, Lenise has served as Business Manager at the University of Chicago, and Director of Operations for the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE). Currently, Lenise serves as the Director of Operations for Kindling Group, a nonprofit organization that crafts powerful documentaries on social issues and campaigns in order to ignite change. Because Lenise is passionate about social justice, specifically issues affecting low-income families and urban communities, she has spent approximately 5 years advocating for and mentoring to youth in the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice and with the Pretty Brown Girl Foundation.
Kerri is currently the Vice President of Human Resources, Americas where her core responsibilities include partnering with the Leadership Team to deliver Bel US’ long-term strategy and business objectives, and leading the Americas HR team in strategic development, planning, and implementation of key HR initiatives and practices to meet Bel’s growth ambitions. This includes being able to partner with leaders and employees to drive business results, working together to build employee engagement and cultivating a dynamic and values-based culture. Prior to join Bel in 2015, Kerri worked for the Wrigley/Mars organization for 10 years is various HR roles supporting the US business. Kerri received a Master’s Degree in Labor and HR from Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University and a Bachelors of Communications from the University of Dayton. While not at work Kerri loves spending time with friends and family. She and her husband Bob have 4 children and enjoy cheering them at their various activities ranging from Cheer competitions to football and lacrosse games. Kerri also enjoy taking advantage of Chicago’s wonderful city life when they have time away from their home in suburbs.