Beyond in the Boardroom

Alfreda Bradley-Coar

EVP, Chief Legal Officer Obama Foundation

Alfreda Bradley-Coar is the Chief Legal Officer of the Obama Foundation. Alfreda is a business, civic, and risk leader with experiences in corporate and nonprofit organizations. 23 years at General Electric (GE), where Bradley-Coar held senior operational, general counsel, customer experience, and leadership roles in global divisions in the healthcare, insurance, and financial services divisions. Over the course of her tenure at GE, she managed and transformed business and law departments including legal, compliance, regulatory, product and licensing. Bradley-Coar was an architect of diversity and inclusion, change management and talent development initiatives, including being a National Operating Leader for the GE African American Forum.

Bradley-Coar is a long-time resident of Chicago and is actively involved in civic and community efforts as a Board Director for Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Chicago State University Foundation, and as a Strategy Advisor Committee Member of Advocate Aurora Health. She is a member of several national organizations including, Executive Leadership Council (ELC) and Black Directors Health Equity Agenda, Inc.

Alfreda holds a MBA from Northwestern University, Kellogg Graduate School of Management, a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and a BA, cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Beyond the Judiciary

Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman

US District Court Judge for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman is a United States District Court Judge for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. She was appointed in 2010 by President Barack Obama. Prior to her appointment to the federal bench, Judge Coleman served as a justice on the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, having been elected in 2008.  She is currently serving on the Seventh Circuit’s Executive Committee and she previously served three years on her district court’s executive committee.  Judge Coleman was recently appointed to the Judicial Branch Committee by  Chief Justice Roberts.  In addition to her regular trial call, Judge Coleman serves as one of two judges on the Judge Moran Second Chance Reentry Court working with felons who try to change the trajectory of their lives from a cycle of crime to one of positivity and purpose. 

 Judge Coleman served as a Cook County circuit court judge from 1996-2008.  For nine years she presided over civil jury trials in the court’s Law Division.  While a state court judge, Judge Coleman instructed new judges in ethics and civil jury practice.  The Illinois Supreme Court appointed her to the Civil Pattern Jury Instructions Committee and the Committee on Civility.

Prior to becoming a judge, Judge Coleman practiced as an Assistant State’s Attorney, Deputy State’s Attorney, and an Assistant U.S. Attorney, where she tried felonies and misdemeanors and supervised lawyers at the trial and appellate levels. She also wrote and argued cases before the Illinois Appellate Court, the Supreme Court of Illinois, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. She has served as an adjunct professor at Northwestern University School of Law and the John Marshall Law School.  Judge Coleman received her J.D. from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri, where she received a full-tuition fellowship. Judge Coleman was named as Washington University’s 2014 Distinguished Law Alumna and inducted as honorary Order of the Coif Member in 2019.

Judge Coleman is active in the Chicago-area legal community.  She is also a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow.  Judge Coleman has received numerous acknowledgements and awards, including the Earl B. Dickerson Award and the Vanguard Award from the Chicago Bar Association, the Justice John Paul Stevens Award from the Chicago Bar Foundation, the Mary Heftel Hooton and Esther Rothstein Awards from the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, the Career Achievement Award from the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Chicago and the Trinity United Church of Christ’s Trailblazer Award. In 2015, Judge Coleman was nominated for a Chicago/Midwest Emmy Award for producing “Bridging the Divide” for the Chicago Bar Association, which highlighted the anniversaries of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

 

Beyond in Business

Chris-Tia Donaldson

Founder & CEO, Thank God It’s Natural (tgin)

Chris-Tia Donaldson was the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Thank God It’s Natural (tgin) until November 2021. tgin is one of the leading textured hair care brands sold in 10,000 stores, including Ulta Beauty, Target, Sally Beauty, Whole Foods, CVS, other national retailers and online. In her role, Chris-Tia oversaw all aspects of day-to-day operations, sales, and strategic partnerships.

Chris-Tia earned her A.B. in Economics from Harvard University with high honors, and was a graduate of Harvard Law School. Prior to starting her own company, Chris-Tia represented Fortune 500 companies in complex business transactions involving technology and opensource code.

In 2015, Chris-Tia was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36. During her treatment, she learned that having money could make the difference between living and dying when it came to treating this condition. In her observation, few organizations existed that provided support and social services to help women with transportation, child care, parking, or seeking disability leave from their place of employment.

Consequently, she used her success in the beauty space to advocate for women experiencing financial difficulties, who were undergoing treatment, to highlight health disparities due to race and socio-economic factors, and to empower young women to listen to their bodies through the tgin Foundation.

Chris-Tia released her second book called This Is Only a Test: What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Faith, Love, Hair and Business.

Over the years, Chris-Tia was featured in major media publications such as USA Today, Marie Claire, Essence, Black Enterprise, Ebony, Heart & Soul, and the Chicago Tribune. Her book Thank God I’m Natural: The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Natural Hair is a #1 Amazon bestseller, and was hailed the “Natural Hair Bible” by Essence Magazine.

Chris-Tia passed away peacefully on the evening of November 13, 2021. She lived a life of service and was a force to be reckoned with inside and outside of the beauty community. Through her purpose and passion, she redefined beauty and created a community of women empowerment.

For updates about Chris-Tia’s legacy follow:
Facebook (www.facebook.com/thankgodimnatural), Twitter (@tginfoundation) and Instagram (@tginceo).

 

Beyond in Big Law

Patricia Brown Holmes

Managing Partner, RSHC

As a former state court judge, experienced prosecutor, and defense lawyer, RSHC Managing Partner Patricia Brown Holmes is renowned for her comprehensive trial experience and wisdom as a trusted advisor for clients. She focuses on high-stakes commercial disputes and litigation; class actions; investigations and white collar criminal defense; ESG; and risk, reputation, and crisis management counseling.

Patricia is the first African-American woman to manage and have her name on the door of a major law firm that is not women- or minority-owned. She has received countless accolades for her professional achievements and for her dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal industry. Recently Patricia was selected a Managing Partner of the Year honoree by Corporate Counsel Women, Influence & Power in Law Awards 2021 and appointed to the National Football League Diversity Advisory Committee.

 

 

Beyond in Politics

Toi Hutchinson

President & CEO, Marijuana Policy Project 

Toi Hutchinson served as an Illinois Senator, representing the 40th District from 2009 to 2019. During her time in the Senate, Hutchinson championed a variety of causes including protecting women and children from violence, modernizing the state’s tax structure, and legalizing cannabis. Prior to leaving the Senate, she served as the 46th president of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Toi is an original co-sponsor of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA), the most equity-centric law in the nation to legalize adult-use cannabis. The CRTA promotes equity and invests in the communities that suffered through the war on drugs, serving as a model for the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis. In 2019, former Senator Hutchinson was appointed by Governor JB Pritzker as the Senior Advisor to the Governor for Cannabis Control. In January 2022, Toi left the administration and became the first women President & CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization that’s focused solely on ending marijuana prohibition. 

Toi earned a Bachelor of English degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a law degree from Northern Illinois University College of Law. She resides in Olympia Fields with her husband, with whom she shares three adult children.

 

Beyond Reform

Candice C. Jones 

President & CEO, Public Welfare Foundation

Candice C. Jones joined Public Welfare Foundation, a private national foundation with headquarters in Washington, DC, as its President and Chief Executive Officer in 2017. Public Welfare Foundation has supported efforts to advance justice and opportunity for people in need for over seventy years. 

Since its founding in 1947, the Foundation has distributed more than $570 million in grants to more than 4,800 organizations. With current assets of more than $500 million, Public Welfare Foundation looks for strategic points where its funds can make a significant difference to advance criminal justice and youth justice reforms. Under Jones’ leadership, the Foundation announced and implemented a jurisdictional strategy to drive resources closer to the ground where promising solutions exist. 

Prior to joining the Foundation, Jones served as a Senior Advisor to former United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at Chicago CRED. The organization focuses on gun violence and establishing a continuum of care for young adults at highest risk of gun violence involvement in the city of Chicago. In that role, Jones worked with researchers at the University of Chicago Crime Lab and program providers to design and scale a program intervention and randomized control trial for citywide implementation. Jones also secured millions of dollars in investment for the project’s launch. 

In 2014, Jones was appointed Director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (“IDJJ”) to lead critical reforms to the state’s juvenile justice landscape—making communities safer by fostering better life outcomes for youth in custody. She led efforts to right-size IDJJ by reducing the use of secure custody for low-risk youth and ensuring that high-risk youth who are placed in custody receive the services they need to successfully reenter their communities.

In 2015, Ms. Jones assembled a coalition of juvenile justice advocates to develop a legislative reform package that was later signed into law by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner. The new laws helped IDJJ continue to right-size by: excluding youth convicted of misdemeanors from being sentenced to IDJJ; clarifying the length of community supervision; eliminating automatic transfers from juvenile court to adult court of 15-year-olds accused of certain crimes, and, prohibiting children under 13 from being held in county detention unless there is no viable community-based alternative.  

In 2016, Jones led the same coalition in abolishing the use of the parole board for juvenile release decisions by granting the Department release authority for all youth in its care; amending the use of intensive probation supervision; redirecting juveniles adjudicated delinquent of certain Class 4 felonies from IDJJ commitment to less restrictive, more effective rehabilitation settings; and clarifying the commitment of 17-year-olds to IDJJ when convicted as an adult. Under her leadership, the population of IDJJ’s youth facilities decreased by 36 percent, an all-time low. Both the reforms to the state’s youth justice system and ongoing reductions of youth held at IDJJ continue to this date. 

Ms. Jones’ career has been dedicated to public service, centering on transforming systems and applying the principle of adolescent development to system’s change. In 2012, she was named a White House Fellow, where she focused on developing a strategy for improving correctional education and reentry services for incarcerated youth and adults. Her work resulted in the United States Department of Education’s decision to issue a redetermination of Pell Grant eligibility for justice-involved youth and adults, marking a pivotal shift in making opportunities available for the formerly incarcerated.

In addition, Ms. Jones drove juvenile justice strategy nationally as a Program Officer at the MacArthur Foundation through their system’s change initiative Models for Change. Models for Change was a system’s change initiative of the MacArthur Foundation designed to apply the findings of the Adolescent Development Research Network, also a project of the MacArthur Foundation, to systems of practice across the country. While at MacArthur, she led partnerships that empowered state and local institutions to create the methods and programs that juvenile justice professionals now look to as best practices in areas including; the development of graduated sanctions, use of risk assessment instruments, and vocational programming.

Jones provides technical assistance to state system actors on issues related to the application of adolescent development to correctional settings. Notably, she contributed to the design of the Vera Institute of Justice Restoring Promise project, which applies the best practice in juvenile justice to specialized units for young adults in adult correctional settings. The project is currently being replicated in six states nationwide.

 

Beyond in BWLA

Mary Melchor

Assistant Attorney General, State of Illinois, Crime Victims Compensation Bureau

Mary Alice Melchor has been an attorney for 30 years and is licensed to practice in courts in Illinois, in the United States District Court for Northern District of Illinois, and before the United States Supreme Court. Mary is an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Illinois where she serves in the Crime Victims Compensation Bureau which provides monetary awards to victims of violent crimes. Mary previously served as the Inspector General for the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County (2005-2020), the Associate Clerk of the County Bureau (2003-2005) and as the Chief Deputy Clerk in Maywood (2002-2003).

A product of the Chicago Public Schools, and a graduate of Morgan Park High School, Mary entered Illinois Wesleyan University at age 16 and earned a B.A. in French/Education. Later she earned an M.S. from Chicago State University in Special Education and an M.B.A. from Roosevelt University in management. Mary taught special education for C.P.S. for twelve years. In 1992, Mary received her Juris Doctorate from IIT/Chicago-Kent College of Law, where she also received their Professional Achievement Award in 2013. Mary’s legal career included work as an insurance defense attorney with the Chicago Housing Authority and a private law firm. As a private attorney, she specialized in real estate law, family law, and estate planning.

Mary Melchor is a Lifetime member of BWLA and has been an active member, board member, and officer of the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago since 1992. Beginning her service with BWLA, when we held our meetings in Carson’s Lower Level, Mary would set-up refreshments at our monthly meetings for the membership. Her first office on the board was that of Corresponding Secretary in 1997. She was next elected as treasurer, a position that she maintained for five (5) terms. Mary served as Vice President and board member at large until she was elected President of BWLA in May 2008. Mary was ask to serve another term as Vice President, and remained on the board of directors as a board member-at-large until 2019-2020. Mary has chaired many BWLA committees: including membership, mentoring, judicial evaluations, the Progressives, awards and nominations; as well as organized and presented workshops for the membership. Mary was active in our early pipeline efforts at Hyde Park Career Academy, our high school moot court program, and our community service/outreach programs to shelters at  Thanksgiving and throughout the year.

Mary Melchor is a very energetic bar leader outside of BWLA and has served as our liaison with the many sister/brother bar associations in Chicago, in Illinois, and nationally. Mary is a member of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, the Cook County Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association. Mary is an active member of the National Bar Association, having served as the Treasurer for Region VII (Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin) from 2013 until 2021. She is the current Assistant Treasurer for the NBA-Women Lawyers Division, having served as Treasurer for four years. Mary also serves as the Treasurer and Investment Committee Chairperson for the Women’s Bar Foundation of Illinois where she oversees a portfolio of over $2 million dollars. Mary is a member of the Association of Inspectors General and the Illinois Chapter of the Association of Inspectors General where she served as treasurer from 2009 to 2021.

Mary also has served on the Board of Directors of the Cosmopolitan Community Church of Chicago since 1985 and has been the treasurer since 2012. She is very active in fundraising events at her church. Mary is also a licensed insurance broker who managed/owned an insurance agency for ten years and had been a special education teacher in the Chicago Public Schools for twelve years. A seasoned entrepreneur, Mary also previously owned/operated a motel and a pest control business.

Mary Alice Melchor was honored by the National Council of Negro Women—receiving their 2018 Women Making History Award. Mary was also honored by the Chicago Defender Newspaper at its 2016 Women of Excellence Awards Luncheon Program. The Chicago Defender described their 50 honorees for 2016 by stating “We honor women who inspire others through their vision and leadership, exceptional achievements and participation in community service. They are women who exemplify stature, poise, grace and inner beauty.” Mary Melchor received the Woman of Excellence Award for her work with her community, her church, and the legal arena.

 

Beyond Practice

Alexis P. Robertson

Director, D&I, Foley & Lardner LLP

Alexis Robertson is the director of diversity & inclusion for Foley & Lardner LLP. She provides firm-wide strategic direction and oversight on all diversity and inclusion related matters. She works closely with the firm’s Talent Management, Recruiting, Business Development, and Human Resources departments and supervises the firm’s diversity and inclusion team.

Alexis is also the host of Foley’s podcast, The Path & The Practice. Each episode features a different one-on-one conversation with a Foley attorney exploring their unique background, path to law school, and legal practice. The show features many diverse Foley lawyers and illustrates that there’s no such thing as a prototypical lawyer or prototypical path to law.

Alexis joined Foley from Baker McKenzie, where she was North America manager of Diversity & Inclusion. In this position, she managed the implementation of all diversity-related programing, initiatives, and client reporting in the North America region.

Prior to joining Baker McKenzie, Alexis spent two years as a Legal Recruiting Director for The Partners Group where she focused on placing diverse attorneys with law firms and corporations.

Alexis earned her law degree from the University of Michigan Law School and practiced with Kirkland & Ellis and Seyfarth Shaw following graduation. She earned her undergraduate degree from the American University in Washington, D.C.

Alexis is enthusiastic about all things related to health, wellness, and human connection. She’s a certified Whole30 Coach—a 30 day reset that lets you learn what foods work best for you—and an avid Vedic meditator. Outside of work, if Alexis isn’t listening to a podcast, or wrangling her two sons, she can probably be found at her local Pilates studio.

 

Beyond in the Community

Arielle Williams, Esq.

Ari Williams Law, LLC

Born and raised in Chicago, the Englewood area, Ari witnessed black men’s civil rights being violated daily. From being stopped and frisked, to warrantless searches inside of individuals’ homes, Ari has seen it all. These examples of injustices that black men face daily inspired Ari to become a criminal defense attorney. She started her journey obtaining a Bachelors in Social Work and a Masters in Social Work from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UofI). From UofI, she studied law at DePaul University, where she received her JD. 

During law school, she interned at the Public Defender’s office, a private criminal defense firm and was a key member of DePaul’s mock trial team.

After graduating from law school and working at a firm for one year, she realized that she needed to start her own practice. She quickly understood that people of color needed a leader and a true fighter behind them. In August 2019, she opened Ari Williams Law, LLC. The firm handles criminal defense, personal injury and traffic cases. 

Not only is she working hard in the courtroom but she volunteers her time on the Board for BWLA as well as on the Associate Board for Marillac St. Vincent Family Services Center.