Mission and Objectives

There are few mechanisms for training the next generation of Black civic leaders targeted for politics. In the past, Chicago's Black Community has relied on its ward organizations and community organizing. Many of those systems no longer exist. The Bench can fill in this gap and increase the Black political IQ for the next generation of leadership.

The Bench brings individuals together to build community, foster creativity, develop leadership skills, and encourage more progress. During the program period, participants are challenged to think critically about leadership theories, traditions, and models to create, communicate, and carry out solutions to social justice and other challenges in Chicago’s Black Community.

Program Chairs

Jesse White is Illinois' 37th Secretary of State. White was first elected to the office in 1998 and won landslide victories in 2002, in which he won all 102 counties, and again in 2006, 2010 and 2014. On Nov. 6, 2018, White was re-elected to a record-breaking sixth term, winning another landslide victory in which he earned over 3.1 million votes statewide – the most ever by a statewide candidate in a midterm election. White became Illinois' longest serving Secretary of State on May 30, 2014.

The Illinois Secretary of State's office is the largest and most diverse office of its kind in the nation, providing more direct services to the people of Illinois than any other public agency. White's office issues state ID cards, vehicle license plates and titles; registers corporations; enforces the Illinois Securities Act; administers the Organ/Tissue Donor Program; licenses drivers; and maintains driver records. As State Librarian, Secretary White oversees the State Library and literacy programs, and as State Archivist, he maintains records of legal or historic value.

Under White's leadership, the use of new technology along with modernizing and streamlining operations has significantly improved customer service. Wait times in facilities are shorter than ever before. Illinois has become a national leader in road safety as White strengthened DUI laws, reformed the truck driver licensing program and overhauled teen driving guidelines. As a result, traffic fatalities have decreased, with drunk driving deaths down nearly 50 percent and teen driving deaths reduced by 51 percent. In 2014, White was inducted into the Illinois High School & College Driver Education Association Hall of Fame. Prior to his election as Secretary of State, White served as Cook County Recorder of Deeds – a job to which he was first elected in 1992 and re-elected in 1996. Before that, he served 16 years in the Illinois General Assembly, representing the most culturally, economically and racially diverse district in Illinois.

In 1959, White founded the internationally known Jesse White Tumbling Team to serve as a positive alternative for at-risk children residing in public housing in and around the Chicago area. Since its inception, more than 18,000 young men and women have performed with the team. White has spent 60 years working as a volunteer with the team to help kids stay away from gangs, drugs, alcohol and smoking, and to help set at-risk youth on the path to success. The program has received international praise. This year the team will make more than 1,500 performances using eight units, consisting of 225 young men and women. Currently, there are 51 members enrolled in college. In 2014, the Chicago Park District opened the Jesse White Community Center and Field House in honor of White's lifelong contributions to the community. In addition, a school in Hazel Crest, Illinois, was recently named the Jesse C. White Learning Academy, and Division Street in Chicago was designated Jesse White Way in honor of White.

White served our country as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division and as a member of the Illinois National Guard and Reserve. He played professional baseball with the Chicago Cubs organization, which was followed by a 33-year career with the Chicago Public Schools as a teacher and administrator. Jesse White earned his Bachelor of Science from Alabama State College (now Alabama State University) in 1957, where he was a two-sport athlete earning all-conference honors in baseball and basketball. In May 1995, White was inducted into the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame. He was an all-city baseball and basketball player at Chicago's Waller High School (now Lincoln Park High School) and was inducted into the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in June 1995. In 1999, he was inducted into the Alabama State University Sports Hall of Fame. Born in Alton, Illinois, he now lives on Chicago's Near North Side. White has two daughters, Glenna and Lorraine, and two grandchildren, Jesse and Susan.

Activist and public policy advocate Jacquelyne D. Grimshaw was born in Macon, Georgia, on May 15, 1942, to James Lane and Lovia Lane-Thorton. She graduated from Loretto Academy Catholic High School in Chicago in 1960 and earned a B.S. in biology from Marquette University in 1965. In 1967, Grimshaw received an education certificate from Chicago Teachers College.

After early work in the media industry, Grimshaw's career path turned to public policy when she joined the Illinois Department of Labor and Personnel. She was then employed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a program officer for the Indiana Work Incentive Program and Head Start.

Grimshaw worked for the campaign of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and, in 1984, she joined the Mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. In 1986, Washington named her his top legislative aide. There she played a critical role in pushing forth the mayor's legislative agenda. After Washington's untimely death, Grimshaw went on to serve as deputy city treasurer for economic development. In 1992, she joined the Center for Neighborhood Technology as its vice president of policy, transportation and community development.

Over the years, Grimshaw has had numerous civic and professional affiliations, including membership in the Surface Transportation Policy Project, the Transportation Research Board's committees on Environmental Justice and Women's Issues in Transportation, the American Public Transport Association, Congress for New Urbanism, Smart Grown America, Renew America/Renew the Earth, and the Center for Clean Air Policy.

She married William J. Grimshaw in 1964. They have two children, Kimberly D. Grimshaw-Bolton and Christopher M. Grimshaw.

Program Directors

Alexandra P. Sims believes that one's birthplace and economic status should not disproportionately determine one's life journey. Her career path has taught her that real change can be brought about when there is synergy and empathy of aligned purposes among all public affairs sectors: private, government, philanthropy and strong grassroots organizing. These forces working in coordination can create the “great leveler” intended by the country’s founding principles.

“Alex” came to Chicago by way of Metro Detroit, to attend Northwestern University, where she majored in social and educational policy. She graduated with honors in 2010 and reaffirmed her belief in the power of democracy and the commitment to advocating for the marginalized and undeserved.

Having been awarded a prestigious CORO Fellowship following graduation, Alex was assigned by the CORO program to serve in the St. Louis, Missouri area and on completion of the program, followed her passion for educating and inspiring students and accepted the role of Vice Principal in a progressive school located in north St. Louis.

Motivated by President Barack Obama’s education and social policies, Alex was appointed to head his 2012 Presidential Campaign for the St. Louis region re-election effort. Following President Obama’s historic victory, Alex continued as a State Coordinator with Organizing for Action (OFA), and relocated to the Chicago headquarters. It was there that she more fully recognized the importance of voting rights and parlayed that invaluable experience and growing expertise towards founding the Chicago-based Every Vote Counts. As its first Executive Director, she directed the registration of over 120,000 voters in (4) four months - the largest voter registration campaign in the country that year.

As the Campaign Manager for Kurt Summers 2014 race for Chicago City Treasurer, she directed Treasurer Summers' broad and impactful platform.

Once elected, Alex was named Senior Advisor for the Treasurer’s Office and helped advance an aggressive and strategic agenda of financial equity and access. Their documented and widely lauded initiative called “Chicago’s 77” – visiting 77 neighborhoods in 77 days, aided the passing of landmark legislation for improved tax payer investments, developed constituent communication program, and served as liaison for all levels of government and political influencers.

The recent establishment of APS and Associates, distills the remarkable skills and talents Alex has honed and the launch of her firm will provide vast proficiency to a variety of clients in governmental affairs, grassroots organizing, non-profit and political strategizing.

To date, those partners include JB Pritzker, Kurt Summers, Kim Foxx, Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus, Bill Lowry, The Obama Foundation, Ichor Strategies, and more.

A seasoned organizer, Ronnie Mosley has created wins on local and national levels for issues like Gun Violence Prevention, Education Reform, Youth Health, Voting Rights and Entrepreneurship. Over ten years of professional experiences ranging from community outreach to intergovernmental affairs, he has proven his abilities to navigate through challenges and build an infrastructure effectively towards an organization’s goals.

His accomplishments include:

  • Coordinated successful campaigns that blocked harmful state legislation, won workers’ rights, elected a Mayor, State Legislators, Governor, U.S. President and influenced the confirmation of a U.S. Surgeon General nomination;
  • Founded a national network of organizers that works to prevent gun violence and reform the U.S. criminal justice system;
  • Organized events on behalf of the White House under the Obama Administration, and its cabinet departments;
  • Interviewed sitting U.S. Senators and Congressman on national platforms;
  • Written editorials on social issues for national blogs and local newspapers;
  • Featured on media outlets like CNN, NPR, Al Jazeera and DBC

In 2017, Ronnie co-founded Homegrown Strategy Group, a policy and organizing firm that believes in the power of community and in the idea that achievement comes through collective effort. It is there that he serves as Founding Partner and have managed clients that ranged from the JB Pritzker for Governor Campaign to the Obama Foundation.

Ronnie was elected to the Local School Council of Simeon Career Academy and John W. Cook Elementary. He also serves on the board of Mikva Challenge.

A native of the Southside of Chicago, IL, Ronnie completed his studies at Simeon Career Academy and Morehouse College (Atlanta, GA).

He resides with his wife in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Chicago and is a proud son and brother.

Program Assistants

Vilma graduated from Saint Joseph's University in 2020 with a major in Communications and concentrations in digital media and journalism. She currently works at LINK Unlimited as a Programs Associate, while participating in a fellowship program for young professionals in the nonprofit sector.

Program Advisory Board

Andy Zopp
Managing Director - Cleveland Avenue
Anton Seals
Executive Director - Grow Greater Englewood
Bamani Obadele
Program Director - Acclivus
Billy Dyson
Assistant - Secretary of State Jesse White
Brady Chalmers
Digital Director - Cook County Democratic Party
Candis Castillo
Former Organizing Director - Working Families United
Carl West
Chairman - Black United Fund Of Illinois
Charles Smith
CEO - CS Insurance Strategies
Chris Shaffer
Managing Partner - Cratic & Shaffer Consulting
Christopher Percy
National Training Director - MoveOn.org
Dane Tucker
CEO - Tactical Solutions
Donovan Pepper
National Director of Local Government Relations - Walgreens
Erica Bland
Executive Vice President - SEIU Healthcare IL/IN/MO/KS
Felicia Davis
President - Chicago Foundation for Women
Frank Thomas
Partner - Tactical Resolutions
Greg Kelley
President - SEIU Healthcare IL/IN/MO/KS
Isaac "Ike" Carothers
Director of Demand Skills Collaborative - Safer Foundation
Jacki Robinson-Ivy
Senior Vice President - Northern Trust
Jason Lee
Political Consultant
Jonathan Swain
Commissioner - Chicago Board of Elections
Kurt Summers
Former Treasurer - City of Chicago
Larry Luster
Co-Founder - GR Consulting Illinois
Mavis Laing
Executive Director - IMPACT Leadership Development Program
Melody Spann-Cooper
Chairman - Midway Broadcasting Corporation
Michael Strautmanis
Chief Engagement Officer - The Obama Foundation
Quentin Fulks
President & Executive Director - Think Big Illinois
Reverend Leslie Sanders
Senior Pastor - Hope Presbyterian Church
Stacy Davis Gates
Vice President - Chicago Teachers Union
Tarrah Cooper
CEO - Rise Strategy Group
Xavier Ramey
CEO - Justice Informed