9 Black trailblazers who are changing the way we think about social impact 

CGI Action Network on Inclusive Economic Recovery, Clinton Administration & Campaign Alumni, Clinton Global Initiative University, Clinton Presidential Center, Overdose Response Network, Presidential Leadership Scholars, Too Small to Fail

As part of our Black History Month celebration, we’ve compiled a list of Black leaders we’ve had the privilege of partnering, working, and engaging with who are making invaluable contributions to their communities and causes they champion. Keep reading to learn about their work and hear what they’ve learned.  


Brian Holland, Too Small to Fail partner: “Humanity is far more resilient than we realize and that good can come out of any crisis.”  

Brian is a laundromat owner committed to providing community services that support local residents and families. He’s working with Too Small to Fail to pilot two “Family Read, Play & Learn” spaces in Philadelphia to create literacy-rich and welcoming environments in his laundromats. 

With the community as the focus, Brian’s laundromats — “The Laundry Cafés” — not only offer a haven for residents in lower-income neighborhoods to complete laundry, but they deliver customer care and community support programs such as low-fee computer rentals, free wi-fi, video games, coffee kiosks, digital jukeboxes, and more.  

Read more about this work from Chalkbeat Philadelphia.  

Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, guest speaker, Overdose Response Network: “I’ve always seen that as a role for me as a physician and as somebody in public health and in research to be able to bring the voices of my patients to the table.” 

Throughout her career, Dr. Chinazo Cunningham has led efforts to create innovative programs to treat substance use disorders and fight the overdose crisis. Dr. Chinazo Cunningham serves as commissioner of the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports. In this role, she’s worked to find solutions that are driven by equity, evidence, and innovation.  

As we look to new ideas to fight the surging overdose crisis in the United States, Dr. Cunningham joined President Clinton, Patrick Kennedy, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, H.E. Dr. Mohammad Abdulkarim Al-Issa, and Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie in the Overdose Response Network’s virtual series Bridging Faith and Science to Combat the Overdose Crisis.  

Learn how faith can be a centerpiece in supporting those experiencing substance-use disorders and what that can mean in national efforts to combat the U.S. overdose crisis.

Dawn Chirwa, Clinton administration alum: “Sometimes we just need to have a goal that’s about human progress, redressing wrongs, and just doing the right thing.” 

Dawn Chirwa has spent most of her career working to advocate for others – through philanthropy, politics, and her work as a lawyer. Dawn spent five years serving in the Clinton administration as associate counsel, where she worked on a wide range of public policy issues including civil rights, immigration, education and criminal justice, government ethics, and regulatory matters. 

As a senior advisor at the Giving Practice, Dawn focuses on a wide range of strategic advisory work including strategy and business model development, sustainability planning, strategic human capital development, and supportive facilitation work. 

Donna Gambrell, guest speaker, CGI Action Network on Inclusive Economic Recovery: “We see the importance of helping communities revitalize and make sure that there is a pathway to economic self-sufficiency.” 

Every day, Donna Gambrell comes to work to increase opportunity across Appalachia, with a special emphasis on minority and women business owners and entrepreneurs.  As president and CEO of Appalachian Community Capital, Donna works to find unique ways to bring new sources of capital to small businesses and entrepreneurs throughout the Appalachian region. 

 Amid COVID-19, her team shifted to provide emergency capital to help small businesses, work with local communities to expand broadband capabilities, and support manufacturers as they pivoted to produce PPE. From financing renewable energy projects to farms and ecotourism centers to small businesses – her efforts reach nearly every corner of Appalachia. 

See how Donna is helping to inform our economic recovery work through her efforts at Appalachian Community Capital.

Donnel Baird, Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) alum: “Our goal is to expand clean energy in all of America’s inner cities.” 

As a child growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Donnel witnessed the realities of not having reliable power at home it was this firsthand experience that inspired Baird to found BlocPower, an organization dedicated to reducing greenhouse gases and lowering utility rates for families in communities across the country. BlocPower’s goal is to expand clean energy nationwide.  

As a student at Duke University in 2013, Donnel applied to CGI U with his Commitment to Action to bring clean energy to communities in major cities. He attended the annual CGI U meeting, where more than 1,000 student entrepreneurs and innovators committed to turning their ideas into action. Fast forward nearly 10 years later, Donnel has electrified 1,200 low-income buildings across New York City.  

Learn more about Donnel and BlocPower – and see how his team is expanding clean energy efforts one retrofit at a time.  

Fagan Harris, guest speaker, at the Clinton Presidential Center:  “We’re trying to find those entrepreneurs of color who are left out by virtue of their zip code and, yes, the color of their skin … Main Street will rebuild itself if we invest in it.” 

Fagan Harris founded his nonprofit Baltimore Corps in 2013 with one goal: to recruit talented young people to accelerate social innovation and advance a citywide agenda for equity and racial justice. 

In 2019, Fagan spoke at an event on domestic economic growth held at the Clinton Presidential Center and shared how through programs like the Baltimore Corps Fellowship, Fagan and his team recruit talented professionals and help place them in full-time social impact work in the nonprofit, public, and private sectors.  

Read Fagan’s story of working to make a difference with his city. 

Melva Williams, Presidential Leadership Scholar: “Being a part of this ‘all hands on deck’ approach is exactly what we need in this society and in this America.”  

Meet Melva Williams, a Presidential Leadership Scholar and vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management at Southern Shreveport. In her work, she supports students in their dream to become transformational leaders in higher education at the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities.  

She works with students and colleagues across the Southern University System, a historically Black Southern University System, to help to educate emerging leaders with skills training to thrive in their work.  

Read Melva’s reflections on building resilience amid COVID-19. 

Myeashea Alexander, senior impact and design manager, Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U): “I am what an anthropologist looks like! In a field where we’re fighting for representation and equity, that is pretty incredible.”

From CGI U student and mentor to CGI U team member, Myeashea Alexander pursues her passion for supporting student entrepreneurs through her work at CGI U while also working to increase representation in STEM through her blog, The Rockstar Anthropologist. 

When reflecting on what motivates her in a recent piece, she notes “I had never been taught by a Black biological anthropologist or met one in a classroom setting. That’s a lonely and isolating feeling. In fact, I was halfway through my Master’s before ever meeting one! However, for thousands of kids, I am the first anthropologist, let alone bio anthropologist, that they’ve ever met. For them, I am what an anthropologist looks like! In a field where we’re fighting for representation and equity, that is pretty incredible.” 

Check out her latest project on anthropology and Black history. 

Woody Keown, Jr., guest speaker, Clinton Presidential Center: “It’s important to inspire people to bring about the change that’s necessary.” 

Woodrow “Woody” Keown, Jr., president and COO of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, recently joined a Clinton Center panel on U.S. Civil Rights Then and Now, hosted in partnership with the Clinton School of Public Service.  

The insightful panel discussion featured leaders from Civil Rights museums and institutions from across the U.S., who are preserving Civil Rights history and making it accessible today as we continue our journey toward a more perfect, and equitable, union.  

Watch the conversation.