Announcing: The 5BF Fellows
We are pleased to announce our inaugural cohort of Five Borough Future Fellows. These 26 leaders were selected from a pool of 127 applications and were chosen because of their commitment to — and vision for — the future of New York City.
The 5BF Fellows come from each of the five boroughs. 54% are women and 69% are people of color. They bring an eclectic set of professional backgrounds: a Rhodes Scholar, a founder of Empire State Indivisible, a Public Enemy music video producer turned Sesame Street director, a former Division I college football player turned White House aide, a model turned political organizer, and many more. Together, they represent the future of New York City leadership.
Sasha Neha Ahuja
Sasha Neha Ahuja is a community organizer and social worker with almost 15 years of experience in advocacy and politics in New York City. Sasha’s career is driven by racial and gender justice, facilitating community-centered policy change in government and progressive organizations. She currently serves as Chief of Staff at Girls for Gender Equity, a Brooklyn-based organization that centers women and girls of color in the movement to end gender-based violence. She is also Chair of the New York City Equal Employment Practices Commission and a Commissioner at the New York City Commission on Gender Equity. An Adjunct Professor at a number of schools of social work across New York City, Sasha teaches social policy and serves as a trainer and facilitator for a number of leadership pipeline programs. She was recognized as part of City & State’s Class of 2015 40 Under 40 New York City Rising Stars. Sasha holds a B.A. from Hunter College of the City University of New York and a M.S. in Social Work from Columbia University.
Sanda Balaban is passionate about helping young people connect their interests with their ability to make a difference, at and beyond the ballot box. In response to the complex times we're living in, the vulnerability of democracy being demonstrated, and the desire to support young people on the front lines of change, she co-founded and directs two youth civic engagement ventures: YVote and Next Generation Politics. Sanda also helms FLIP Consulting (Future of Learning and Innovative Programs), which helps organizations improve their efficacy and explore new programmatic frontiers. She has held leadership roles in education and youth development for over 20 years, in the public sector at the NYC Department of Education, in education philanthropy at the Ford Foundation and the Goldman Sachs Foundation, and in nonprofits including Facing History and Ourselves, the Boston Private Industry Council, and The Teachers Network. Her most formative experience was teaching high school humanities in New York City and Boston, which still informs her thinking each day. Sanda is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Danielle Brecker has worked as an advertising executive in the beauty, fashion, and luxury categories for nearly 25 years, most recently as the VP Account Director at the second largest advertising agency in the world. She has led and motivated multi-disciplined teams with diverse opinions and turned theoretical and intangible ideas into effective and elevated communication. Her career in advertising gave Danielle amazing opportunities, experiences, and education, but it did not fulfill her desire to give back and do more for her community. After the 2016 presidential election, she became part of the grassroots resistance movement, eventually becoming a co-leader of Empire State Indivisible. This allows her to use her professional knowledge in a more entrepreneurial, start-up, people-powered environment and to work on issues and for candidates that matter and that directly impact the community. Her many other passions include travel, history, film, art, music, infrastructure, and going to the beach.
Rakim Brooks is a litigator at Susman Godfrey, where he focuses on appellate law, civil rights, and commercial disputes. He graduated from the Bronx H.S. of Science, Brown University, and Oxford University where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He received his J.D. and M.B.A. from Yale Law School and the School of Management. After Oxford, he became a fellow at the think tank Demos and wrote about poverty, inequality, democracy, and Black politics. He then served President Obama’s Treasury Department as a Policy Advisor on community development issues and remains engaged in policy as a consultant to the Black Economic Alliance, committing to political change in New York City. Rakim managed communications for former City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito in 2012; served as congressional campaign manager for Clyde Williams in 2012 and 2016; and was a policy advisor to Mark-Viverito during her bid for Public Advocate in 2018. Rakim was raised in Wagner Public Houses in East Harlem and has come home to the neighborhood that raised him.
Carlyn Cowen is an advocate, activist, and queer Filipinx-American who believes in the power of transformative systemic change to build social, racial, and economic justice. They are currently the Chief Policy and Public Affairs Officer of the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC), the nation’s largest Asian-American social services organization, where they are responsible for public policy, advocacy, government affairs, and community engagement. Previously, Carlyn worked at FPWA, an economic equity nonprofit, and at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, in addition to consulting for the United Nations Development Programme, Oxfam International, and Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities, among others. Carlyn has a Master's from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, and a double Bachelor’s in International Relations and Philosophy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Sally Frank is proud Queens native and graduate of New York City's public schools. She currently works at the city's Department of Education on Early Childhood and School Integration. Previously, she served in a variety of policy and legislative roles in city and state government and politics, including as Campaign Manager to Assemblywoman Nily Rozic's insurgent campaign. She holds a M.P.A. in Public Administration and B.A. in Public Policy from the University at Albany, SUNY. She serves on Queens Community Board 2 and resides in Long Island City.
Kristen Gonzalez is a proud daughter of immigrants, a passionate activist, and a community advocate. Born and raised in single parent household in Elmhurst, Queens, she is passionate about empowering immigrant communities and working families. Kristen attended Columbia University where she earned her degree in Political Science and Race and Ethnicity Studies and served as the first Latina President of Columbia University Democrats, while working in the office of Senator Schumer, as a part of the Senate Diversity Initiative and the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee. Kristen was part of the final class of interns under the Obama Administration, focusing on Latino engagement in the Office of Public Engagement. Kristen has written policy expanding resources for young women of color in for New York City Council as a part of the Young Women’s Advisory Council for the Young Women’s Initiative, and continues to advocate for youth and women as a member of Queens Community Board 4. Currently, she is pursuing the intersection of tech, policy, and business as a Product Manager for Data Democratization at American Express. When not working, she is perfecting her Elmhurst food tour by trying new restaurants, and walking her puppy, Sunny.
Alfred Johnson is Co-Founder and CEO of MobilizeAmerica, a volunteer management and events platform used by Democratic campaigns and progressive organizations. Prior to founding MobilizeAmerica, Alfred was Head of Sales and Head of People at Clara Lending, a venture-funded technology company later acquired by SoFi. Alfred began his career in organizing as a Regional Field Director for Barack Obama in 2008. From 2009 to 2012, Alfred served in the Obama Administration as a Special Assistant to the White House Chief of Staff and a Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Financial Markets at the US Treasury Department. Alfred holds a B.A. in political science from Stanford University and an M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Michelle Kuppersmith is director of Equity Forward, where she works as a passionate advocate for progressive change to protect and expand women's health care rights. She believes that women's health care decisions should be safe, affordable, accessible, and free from political interference. She has a decade of experience in corporate and political research and communications. She has helped blue-chip companies, political advocates, and individuals manage crises and find their voices. Michelle is a member of Manhattan Community Board 3, where she advises city agencies on critical infrastructure changes and serves as Vice Chair of the Transportation, Public Safety, and Environment Committee. She holds a B.A. in Modern American History from Brown University.
A Bronx native, Amy Larsen graduated magna cum laude from Yale University, achieving distinction in her major of political science. She worked for women’s political inclusion as the first American hired by a leading women’s rights NGO in Tunisia, conducted public health research in West Africa, published her research on independent sex trafficking in Southeast Asia, and served on a Fulbright in South Korea. Amy served as a White House intern on Vice President Biden’s team devoted to ending violence against women, worked on the U.S. foreign affairs budget on a human rights fellowship in Congresswoman Lowey’s office, organized for the Obama campaign’s field team in Colorado, and served as a Harvard Juster Fellow at the State Department’s U.S. Mission to the EU in Brussels. Amy holds a J.D. from NYU Law and an M.P.A. from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and currently works on cryptocurrency, funds, and other corporate matters as an Associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. She currently serves as President of the New York Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society and remains politically active.
Lucy Merriam is a campaign staffer, CUNY student, and transit-oriented teen who wholeheartedly believes that New York is the greatest and most fascinating city in the world. Her experience in local government began at 14 through the Youth Leadership Councils within the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the Human Resources Administration. She went on to intern in the Mayor’s Office at NYC Service, on Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s 2017 campaign, and in the New York City Council. She starts her mornings in class at Baruch College, where she is a sophomore majoring in Public Affairs; in the afternoons and most evenings, she works on a 2021 citywide campaign. Lucy serves on the Executive Board of Manhattan Young Democrats as Social Media Director and on the Leadership Team of Amplify Her, focused on youth outreach. In her limited free time, Lucy enjoys watercolor, reading about New York, and hunting for NYC’s best cannoli. She lives with her family fewer than 10 blocks from where she was born in Manhattan.
Roxanne Mustafa is a Palestinian-American, born and raised in Brooklyn, who has been living with her husband and 2 boys on Staten Island for 15 years. She started as a recording and mix engineer for hip hop in NYC, then switched to UX Design. Now a Senior Product Designer, Consultant, Manager, and Diversity and Inclusion leader at Pivotal, Roxanne enables organizations to change the way they build software, think about design, and create functional teams. She leverages her skills in technology, consulting, creativity, and human-centered thinking to lead change in her community on Staten Island. She co-founded and led the group Staten Island Women Who March (SIWWM) after the women's protest in 2017. SIWWM has become a platform for women's issues, civic engagement, and progressive agendas, as well as provided a voice for Staten Island's under-served communities. Other successes include creating the first cross-sectional women's event on Staten Island, leading a major GOTV effort for the midterm elections, and organizing a new Democratic Party coalition to reform Richmond County Committee. Roxanne aims to continue to build a network of strong, smart, capable Staten Island women who will improve the standard of living and affect change in their communities.
Nekpen Osuan is a Manager in Strategy and Analytics at Deloitte Consulting and an Adjunct at Columbia University. Nekpen's background in analytics combined with her public sector experience in education and political organizing led her to create the nonprofit @WomenWerk, where she serves as CEO and Co-Founder. A Contributor for Women at Forbes.com, she is a BlogHer 2018 Voice of the Year, a 2018 92Y Woman in Power Fellow, a 2018 Walkers Legacy Women in Leadership Honoree, the 2017 Baylor University Young Alumna of the Year, and a 2017 Council of Urban Professionals Fellow. Nekpen serves on the DNC’s Young Professionals Committee and Women's Leadership Forum, and is a volunteer on professional boards for Vote Run Lead, the Lower Eastside Girls Club, The Council of Urban Professionals, The New Leaders Council, and the famed Apollo Theatre in New York City. Her campaign experience includes managing and advising races for Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, President Obama’s data strategy as a Deputy Director in Florida, and fundraising for Kamala Harris, Hillary Clinton, Congressmembers Antonio Delgado, Lauren Underwood and Ayanna Pressley, and Councilman Mark Levine.
Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mark Papish moved to New York to study at NYU. Upon graduating he took a job as a constituent caseworker. He spent the next two years fighting evictions, helping families navigate the American healthcare system, and doing his absolute best to ensure that working class New Yorkers weren’t forced out of the city they call home. He believes that housing is a human right. As a caseworker, policymaker, organizer, and as a person, he's committed to furthering the fight for housing for all New Yorkers until each and every one of our neighbors has a safe place to call home. Working in New York politics has exposed Mark to extremes of poverty, racism, and sexism: he is committed to changing this, and he looks forward to fighting alongside others to get this done.
Lisa Pino is a native New Yorker born and raised in Manhattan, an immigration attorney, an advocate, and a public servant. As a first-generation daughter of immigrant parents, she has dedicated her career to fighting for communities in need, no matter what the challenge. Her impact over the last two decades includes providing nutrition assistance, civil rights equity, agricultural capital, disaster relief, educational opportunities, fair wages, union representation, and affordable housing for families, children, seniors, and individuals across the country. She is determined to bring her experience in law, government, public policy, grassroots movements, and problem-solving to get good things done for the community she loves the most: New Yorkers.
Memo Salazar is a Mexican-American filmmaker, writer, and activist who has lived in Queens for almost two decades. He has directed music videos for bands such as Public Enemy and Paleface, has written and directed short films and animations for Sesame Street, Smithsonian.com, and The World Science Festival, and co-produced a feature-length documentary on the economics of farming called American Meat, which he also co-wrote. As a writer, he has collaborated on a TED TALK with theoretical physicist Brian Greene and has published several pieces via Medium.com on a wide range of subjects, from Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to Amazon’s recent battle with Queens to the co-opting of socially and politically conscious hip-hop in the 1990’s. He has also been co-running the Sunnyside CSA since 2007, which prioritizes economic food justice and supporting the local economy throughout Western Queens.
John Sanchez is a lifelong Bronx resident and currently the District Manager for Bronx Community Board 6 where he is responsible for ensuring city service delivery and submitting community budget requests to elected officials and city agencies. He successfully advocated to bring a Youth Court to The Bronx and worked with the Department of Small Business Services to receive over $200,000 in grants for storefront facade improvements on East Tremont Avenue. He has sponsored and organized free financial literacy workshops, youth sports programming, a college scholarship competition, and an annual Holiday toy giveaway for children living in shelters. John previously served as NYC Advocacy Manager for the Northeast Charter Schools Network helping advocate for increased charter school funding, and as Deputy Chief of Staff for a Bronx Assembly Member, managing the district office, resolving constituent issues, and implementing community outreach. He serves on the nonprofit boards of the Housing Rights Initiative, Legacy College Prep Charter School, and Immaculate Conception School. John is a graduate of New York University’s Stern School of Business.
Edda Santiago was born in New York City and raised in Puerto Rico and Florida. She represents low income tenants as a Housing Staff Attorney for the Legal Aid Society’s Harlem Community Law Office, in addition to being a Manhattan Borough Director for Amplify Her and an active member of the Uptown Community Democrats. Prior to moving back to New York City, Edda worked for a U.S. Senator, interned for the National Women’s Political Caucus and the U.S. Department of State, and was active in the 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections. She also served as Membership Director for the Women’s Information Network. In 2014, Edda graduated from St. John’s Law School where she served as President of the Latin American Law Students Association and earned several awards including the Puerto Rican Bar Association Scholarship, the Arent Fox Diversity Scholarship, and the National Women Lawyers Association Award. In 2015, the Hispanic Coalition of New York named her one of the 40 Under 40 Latino Rising Stars.
Ricky Silver is one of the lead organizers of Empire State Indivisible, a grassroots activist organization empowering constituents across New York to hold their elected officials accountable. Empire State Indivisible remains focused on developing a long-lasting progressive New York State Legislature and to lowering the barriers of engagement in our Democracy. In his day job, Ricky leads Innovation at a direct-to-consumer food start-up, Daily Harvest. He received his M.B.A. from NYU Stern along with his Masters in Chemistry from NYU.
Albert Suh is a New York transplant by way of Seoul and Dallas. He fell in love with the city while attending NYU and decided to make it his home. After slinging coffee and doing nonprofit work for a time, he went to Fordham Law. Since graduating, he has served as an Assistant District Attorney, most recently in Brooklyn’s Special Victims Bureau and then Brooklyn’s Law Enforcement Accountability Bureau. Albert has bounced all over the city, from Hell’s Kitchen to Flatbush to Astoria, among others. His favorite aspect of the city is the global journey that is the 7 Train from Flushing to Javits Center – how people from every walk of life and every place have come together, living and working side by side. The wealth of cultures, cuisines, and communities in neighborhoods like these are the beating heart of the city.
Ben Theodore currently works as the Alumni Manager at Run for Something, supporting previously endorsed, first-time candidates for state and local office by connecting them with resources, mentorship, and fellow alumni, and by engaging them as mentors for future candidates. Previously, his career was spent in public education – first as a high school algebra teacher, then as a program manager with DC Public Schools, and then the NYC Department of Education focusing on teacher retention, teacher recognition, and new teacher support. In Brooklyn, where he and his wife reside, Ben volunteers for local Democratic candidates and serves on the Executive Committees of both Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats and NY Senate District 17 for Progress. Ben is also a member of the Kings County Democratic Committee. He is a graduate of Haverford College and the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.
Emerita Torres is a proud Bronxite and passionate about public service and community development. She has over a decade of experience as a U.S. diplomat, where she developed and coordinated policy on human rights, conflict prevention, counterterrorism, and development in South Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Her proudest achievements were lifting up marginalized voices during Colombia’s peace process, advocating for international workers rights, supporting Afghanistan’s peace process, promoting rehabilitation and reintegration efforts, and serving at the United Nations. Emerita is an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the public policy space, having served as a mentor for incoming diplomats of color and a guest lecturer to students. She is a board member for two non-profit organizations focused on improving the livelihoods of children and families in the Bronx and across NYC: the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation and I Challenge Myself. Emerita has a Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School and a Bachelor of Arts from New York University. She is also a member of the New Leaders Council and a Member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Julienne Verdi, a lifelong Staten Islander, is the Owner and Principal Attorney at J. Verdi Law, LLC where she provides legal services, strategic planning, management, and operations consulting to small businesses, nonprofits, and political organizations. Julienne is a graduate of Brooklyn Law School where she was an associate managing editor of the Brooklyn Journal of International Law, Chair of Brooklyn Law Students for Reproductive Justice, and recipient of the Platinum Public Service Award and Evelyn Reid Memorial Prize. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Special Honors from CUNY Hunter College, graduating magna cum laude and a member of the Thomas Hunter Honors Program. Julienne founded Move Forward Staten Island in 2016, which emerged as a leading progressive voice on Staten Island, and she received the Terence H. Benbow Environmental Award in recognition of her work as a lead organizer for the Staten Island People’s Climate March in April 2017. Named one of ten “Up & Comers” on Staten Island by City & State magazine in 2018, Julienne is the proud wife of Kevin Lawrie, and mother of Jude and Sloane.
Kevin Wei is a political organizer, activist, and policy researcher with a STEM background. He is an Associate at tech startup DigitalOcean, building and scaling their educational program for underrepresented communities. His main policy interests are economic inequality, education policy, LGBTQ+ issues, and technology and innovation. He is currently working on a free and open-access platform expanding students' access to policy debate (PolicyDebate.org), a project stopping unfair enforcement of fare-skipping in the NYC MTA, a platform to help tech workers unionize, and a project expanding LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education in NYC. Kevin was a 2019 Fellow at the Internet Education Foundation and a 2018 Beto Senate campaign staffer. He has also worked in the Office of Nancy Pelosi, the Council of Foreign Relations, the Techstars IoT Accelerator, and the Smithsonian. He is a proud member of Stonewall Democrats and Uptown Community Democrats and, when time permits, an avid Overwatch player and science fiction fan. He graduated from Columbia, where he studied Mathematics-Statistics and Economics, with some politics coursework.
Curtis D. Young
Curtis D. Young is the Executive Director of Artistic Noise, where his work centers around youth empowerment, job readiness, and bringing the power of artistic practice to those who are incarcerated, on probation, or otherwise involved in the juvenile justice system. He joined Artistic Noise in 2017, after more than 10 years working with education nonprofit organizations, including the International Education Resource Network and the Ross Institute. Curtis currently serves as a member of Manhattan Community Board 12, on the Youth and Education Committee and the Land Use Committee. He is also a member of the Manhattan Neighborhood Advisory Board 12, under the Department of Youth and Community Development. Curtis’s dedication to service began while an undergraduate, when he was awarded the White House Internship under the Clinton Administration. He continued his work in the Office of Congressman Bobby Scott and as a Legislative Aide to Delegate Mamye BaCote in the Virginia House of Delegates. Curtis studied Political Science at Hampton University, Urban Planning at NYU Wagner School of Public Service, and most recently completed Columbia Business School Executive Education Program for Senior Leaders of Nonprofit Organizations, obtaining a Certification in Business Excellence May 2019.
Micky Ayoub works very hard to make sure that everyone he comes into contact with doesn’t feel alienated or disenfranchised, whether he is teaching pre-K, working at a food bank, or community building for progressive companies and political campaigns.