Joe Jones – Grand Rapids Urban League

Joe Jones currently serves as President/CEO of the Grand Rapids Urban League. As leader of the Grand Rapids Urban League, Jones leads the development and implementation of an agenda that promotes economic empowerment as a means of elevating the standard of living in the underserved urban communities of Grand Rapids. The League is a 70-year old civil rights organization whose mission is to provide the means to empower African Americans and other minorities to achieve economic self-reliance, parity and civil rights. Their vision is to be the leader, and preeminent agency in West Michigan effectively utilizing diverse and abundant resources to redress racial injustice and promote racial equality.


Dr. Veneese V. Chandler – Family Outreach Center

Veneese V. Chandler was born and raised in Chicago Illinois and is the youngest of three children. She is a 1973 and 1976 graduate of Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Master’s Degree in Education. In 2007, Veneese received her Doctorate in Ministry with an emphasis in Religious Education from Friends International Christian University.

Dr. Chandler and has been involved in the human services field for over thirty years, and is a licensed master’s level social worker with the State of Michigan. Veneese moved to Grand Rapids in July of 1978, where her professional career has included being the Coordinator of Prevention and Education Services at The Advisory Center for Teens and the Director of Special Services for Continuing Education Students at Aquinas College.

After serving as a member of the Board of Directors of Family Outreach Center, Inc., for approximately two years, she was recruited and hired as its Executive Director in September of 1983.

Dr. Chandler is committed to advocating for the needs of the underserved, people of color, low-income individuals, families and children with specific needs in the areas of family preservation, mental health and substance abuse. As a result, she is very active and serves on many committees, task forces, and boards in the City of Grand Rapids, Kent County, and the State of Michigan.

Veneese is a dynamic speaker and presents seminars and workshops on a variety of topics focusing on the needs of the poor and disenfranchised, women’s issues, conflict resolution, and working with children in the 21st Century. Veneese is also an ordained minister, and serves as an associate minister at the Lighthouse Full Life Center Church, where Dr. Marvin L. Sapp is the Senior Pastor.

Shannon Wilson – Grand Rapids African American Heath Institute

Shannon Wilson is an up and coming community leader focused on improving the health and well being of residents in the Grand Rapids Area. Ms. Wilson is passionate about strengthening the health care safety net for vulnerable populations and has devoted most of her career to studying the intersection between health and race, with a desire to improve the health care experience for minority populations.

Ms. Wilson is the Vice President of the Alliance for Health, a broad based community coalition encouraging optimal health for all through high quality health care services at the lowest cost. In this role, Ms. Wilson is responsible for grant management, development and retention of staff, volunteer and community relations.

In addition to this role, Ms. Wilson also serves as the Executive Director of the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute (GRAAHI), an organization working to improve the health and health care of the community through research, education and advocacy. As the Executive Director, Ms. Wilson is ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of all Institute activities, including but not limited to: strategic planning, community outreach, research initiatives, and local, state and national advocacy efforts.

Ms. Wilson received her Bachelors of Science in Microbiology from Michigan State University and her Masters of Public Health in Hospital and Molecular Epidemiology from The University of Michigan. Prior to accepting her positions in Grand Rapids, Ms. Wilson worked as the state of Michigan’s first Health Disparities Epidemiologist, and as a Domestic Scientific Program Coordinator for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA.

Shannon is happily married and has an adorable one year old girl.


Melanie Beelen – Baxter Community Center

Melanie Beelen has been the Executive Director at Baxter Community Center in Grand Rapids Michigan since 1996. Prior to her work at Baxter, Melanie was the Executive Director of Jubilee Jobs in Grand Rapids, Michigan from 1988-1996. Melanie is a graduate of Calvin College and Grand Valley State University. She works with a faithful and incredible staff and group of volunteers at Baxter Community Center. She lives three blocks from Baxter with her husband, David Beelen. Dave and Melanie have three children, Kendra (28), Jackson (25) and Acacia (22). Melanie has served on the Advisory Board for Grand Valley State University Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Non-Profit Leadership and Kent County Health Department Nurse Family Partnership Community Advisory Committee. She currently serves on the Community Advisory Committee for Blue Cross Blue Shield of West Michigan.


Roberto Torres – Hispanic Center of West Michigan


Roberto Torres is the Executive Director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. He started on January 20, 2015. Prior to joining the Hispanic Center, Torres served as the Executive Director of the Northwest Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Torres helped the Northwest Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and its Latino business develop relationships with the Regional Growth Partnership, Promedica, The University of Toledo, Lucas County Metropolitan Housing, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, Toledo-Lucas County Public Library System, Economic Opportunity & Planning Association, Toledo Public Schools and Toledo area developers and business associations.

Also, after more than 20 years in public service, serving 5 mayoral administrations in Toledo and Canton, OH, Torres started his own consulting business, T&R Group, LLC, to better facilitate opportunities for economic growth in the Northern Ohio region through Latino and immigrant investment. T&R Group, LLC works in partnership with private and public developers, local municipalities, and marketing groups to capitalize on this growing international business, development, and investment market.

As Director of Economic Development for the City of Canton, Torres was instrumental in leveraging billions of dollars in public and private financing to support historic preservation and redevelopment projects, construction of industrial development parks, mixed-use facility development and the expansion of international investment. Torres helped to prepare Canton’s economy for growth through international investment in collaboration with the Ohio Department of Development’s Trade Office in Mexico City, The Instituto de Los Mexicanos en El Exterior, and the Consulado de Mexico, Detroit, Michigan. Torres helped to found a Sister Cities relationship between Canton and Saltillo, Mexico and a separate agreement with Akko, Israel. To further international economic investment in Canton, Torres and his department hosted the Ohio Department of Development’s Global Market Division Forum matching Ohio Trade Managers from eleven global regions to meet with Northeast Ohio businesses.

Under his direction, the City of Canton successfully attracted new national and international companies such as VXI Global Solutions, a Chinese-owned company, attracting 1,000 new jobs to the city, earning Canton the 2012 Team NEO (Northeast Ohio) Economic Development Plus Award for Business Attraction. He also helped to attract Chesapeake Energy, and national health care distributor Medline Industries to Canton.

Torres served in several mayoral administrations in Toledo, Ohio as the Manager/Development Specialist for the city’s Economic and Community Development Department, Director of the Board of Community Relations, Director of the Office of Latino Affairs and Director of the Toledo Youth Commission.  He is a Desert Storm Veteran having served as the Battalion Legal Chief for the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate General (JAG) in the United States Marine Corps.

He is a graduate of Bowling Green State University, where he majored in public administration / political science.  He has served as a community activist for many years, helping to found Toledo’s premier Latino family resource center, Adelante, Inc. becoming its first Board Chair. He has also served in elective office as the Vice President of the Toledo Board of Education.

His recognitions include the Northeast Ohio Visionary Award from the Northeast Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Military Service of Distinction Award presented by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland; Northwest Ohio Latino Caucus Trailblazer Award; Distinguished Hispanic Ohioan Award; Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Government Business Advocate of the Year; Diamante Award for Community Leadership; Twenty Under Forty Awardee; Leadership Toledo Class of 2001; and the Outstanding Alumni for Swanton High School.


Richard Clanton – United Methodist Community House

As a resident of the City of Kentwood since 1992, Richard has been actively involved in and committed to local communities.

Richard has been employed as the Chief Executive Officer of the United Methodist Community House since early 2010 and during that time has been diligent in his collaborative work with other organizations to ensure that our community’s most vulnerable citizens receive equal, effective, high-quality services through which they can meet their daily needs. Prior to his employ at the United Methodist Community House, Richard served as the Executive Director of the David Hunting Branch of the YMCA and Store Manager of Sears & Roebuck.

Richard’s service was recognized by his receipt of the prestigious “Walter Coe Public Service Giants Award” in 2005. In 2011, under his leadership, the United Methodist Community House was named the recipient of the “Raymond Tardy Community Service Giants Award.” This public acknowledgement of his leadership skills is evidence of Richard’s understanding of commerce (he holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Economics from Oakland University and a MBA from Trinity Southern) and how the growth of a community depends upon the forward-thinking acts of the community’s leaders.

As a founding member of the Anchor Organization Network of Grand Rapids (now the Urban Core Collective) Richard worked collaboratively to obtain funding for services and programs that promote education, health, family economic security, civic engagement and racial equality.

As a collaborating partner with the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative, Richard has diligently and consistently spread the message of ELNC: Designing and implementing an intentional preschool service system aimed at providing, expanding and sustaining the capacity of high quality early care and education programs in the vulnerable neighborhoods of Grand Rapids.

Richard accepted the position of the Mayor of the City of Kentwood, while also retaining his position as CEO of the UMCH. He will return to the United Methodist Community House following the mayoral election in November, 2013.