Atlanta Dream’s mission is to inspire, educate and empower in an effort to affect change by building a positive legacy on the following four pillars of:

Health & Wellness, Education, Diversity & Inclusion and Inspiring Women.

2016 Inspiring Women

September 21, 2016 – April Ross
Ross is an Assistant District Attorney for the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. Ross earned her Juris Doctor degree in 2011 from Atlanta’s Emory University School of Law. She also graduated summa cum laude with her MBA and Bachelor of Science in business degrees from Florida A & M University in Tallahassee in 2005. After becoming a Fulton County assistant DA in 2012, Ms. Ross was the youngest attorney to serve on the Atlanta Public Schools’ cheating scandal trial team and made significant contributions. In April 2014, Ms. Ross was shot multiple times by her husband after she filed for a divorce. She was shot in the face, arm and back, and left paralyzed from the chest down. Since this incident, Ms. Ross has been sharing her story and helping victims and survivors of abusive relationships rebuild their lives. She has returned to work where she has joined the Domestic Violence Policy and Trial Unit. Ross also helps mentor people at the Shepherd Center with recent spinal cord injuries, particularly those whose injury was the result of gun violence.

September 15, 2016 – Kisha Mitchell
Mitchell has served as a teacher, graduation coach and high school and middle school administrator with a passion for inspiring young people. While teaching, she began a girls club that has transformed into an empowerment movement at three different schools. Through this experience, she began Girl Inspired Inc., in an effort to break down stereotypes while unlocking opportunities for youth to pursue their dreams. She has authored the first book of a series which aims to address stereotypes while planting seeds of confidence at an early age.

September 13, 2016 – Priscilla Patterson
Patterson, a woman who has benefited greatly from the work the Bobby Dodd Institute does in the Atlanta community. In 2002, Priscilla was diagnosed with dysphonia, a neurological voice disorder that severely affected the recently-ordained minister’s ability to perform her new role, thus forcing her into retirement. She then connected with BDI, who helped her improve her office skills and connected her with an internship at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. She has since secured a full-time position at the Federal Reserve as a Support Specialist and speaks candidly about the impact BDI has made in her life.

September 6, 2016 – Elizabeth Sirk
Sirk has more than 10 years of experience working with Atlanta-area nonprofits in thought leadership, strategic and operational roles. She currently serves as the Director of Development of the Latin American Association.

September 4, 2016 – Amy Phuong
Phuong is the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation for the City of Atlanta and one of Mayor Kasim Reed’s youngest Cabinet members.  A member and active board member for six volunteer organizations in Atlanta, Amy is a partner on the Truman National Security Project, and serves on the Georgia Statewide Afterschool Network Leadership Council. She has been selected for numerous honors in and around the Atlanta area, most recently as the 2013 Georgia Diversity Council’s Most Powerful and Influential Women honor. 

August 28, 2016 – Major Barbara Cavender
Major Barbara Cavender serves as the Chief of Staff for the Atlanta Police Department. Major Cavender joined APD in December of 1986 and was promoted to Sergeant in 1996, Lieutenant in 2002, Captain in 2010, and Major in 2011.  Under her watch in 2012, Zone 3 was recognized as having one of the highest crime reduction rates in the city.  Prior to her appointment as Chief of Staff last year, she supervised units such as Homeland Security, Narcotics, Gangs and VICE.  

July 22, 2016 – Saniya Coleman
10 year old Saniya Coleman was a participant in the 2015 Summer LEAP Mentor Program.  In mid-July, Saniya organized a community cease fire in an effort to bring awareness and end violence in our community.  Her goal is to build nonviolent and kind leaders in her generation and beyond, and her efforts brought the community together, pledging to work together being nonviolent and kind for at least a seven-day period.

July 17, 2016 – Kyra Phillips
Phillips is an award-winning correspondent for the CNN investigative and documentary units, based at the network’s world headquarters in Atlanta. She joined CNN in 1999 and moved to HLN in 2012 to anchor Raising America with Kyra Phillips, a daily interactive, investigative program that focused on news impacting the modern American family. Phillips has traveled the world to cover and investigate a wide range of breaking news, including four tours reporting in Iraq, first as an embedded journalist aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, then covering the war, and its affect on the Iraqi people.

July 8, 2016 – Women of AKA
The Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated began as the vision of nine college students on the campus of Howard University in 1908 and has grown into a globally-impactful organization of over 283,000 college-trained members in its 100+ years, bound by the bonds of sisterhood and empowered by a commitment to servant leadership that is both domestic and international in its scope. The women were in Atlanta July 9-14 for their 67th Boule. During this week, more than 20,000 AKA women took part in 23 community service projects, the Think HBCU Expo, and an EAF Scholarship and Awards Breakfast.

July 5, 2016 – Erika Ward
Ward is a multi-passionate entrepreneur, spokesperson, speaker and philanthropist who worked in the design-build industry as an accountant before turning her passion for interior design into a successful business.  Named by the Atlanta Tribune as one of the top design firm owners for the last two years, Erika is a highly sought after expert who has appeared in several media outlets, including House Beautiful Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, Fox 5, Huffington Post and  Her influential voice in the home improvement sector has lead to marketing collaborations with leading home and lifestyle brands including Home Depot, SC Johnson and Home Decorators Collection.

July 3, 2016 – Corene Darden-Smith
Darden-Smith is the director of the Success to Succeed Foundation, which assists veterans and their families living in the Gwinnett County area obtain benefits counseling and housing services following their serving in the military. She is currently undergoing a fundraising campaign, with goals of raising $1M to open a Community Support Center and 10 Military thrift stores in Georgia, all of which will be owned and operated by veterans, their families and the community. Eighty percent of all proceeds from the thrift stores would then go right back into supporting the veterans in the community, by providing employment, transportation, housing and counseling support, VA benefit support and outreach services. Corene is married to retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Wilford B. Smith, Sr., and they have two children – daughter Cristina and son – Navy Chief Petty Officer Wilford B. Smith, Jr.

June 22, 2016 – Dr. Evelyn Lavizzo
Dr. Evelyn Lavizzo serves as the executive director of the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home, a private, non-profit, non-discriminatory child caring agency that provides community-based child welfare services, including supportive education, health and wellness programs and a 24-hour residency for vulnerable youth.  The home is situated in the heart of a 35-acre wooded campus where children can run and play.  There are cottages where the children live, and all of the children gather together at dinner to dine together.  There is a 2.5-to-1 staff-to-child ratio, ensuring a warm, nurturing environment for all of the children that come to live at Carrie Steel-Pitts.

Inspiring GIRL – Aaliyah Rucker
Rucker is a 13-year old, 8th grade honor student from Marietta, Ga. who is a member of both the honor and jazz bands.  More impressive, however, is that she is the Founder and CEO of the non-profit A Touch of Warmth, an organization that collects and donates blankets to children homes, teen shelters, homeless shelters, cancer centers and neonatal intensive care units.  She dreamt up the concept as a four-year old, saddened to learn that there were children all over the world that didn’t have blankets to call their own.  She began the mission then of asking friends and family for blankets that she could donate to a local shelter.  In 2001, she formalized that dream of providing even more than her initial 160-blanket selection by establishing A Touch for Warmth.

June 17, 2016 – Leah Thomas
Thomas joined Georgia Tech in 2003 as the sports dietitian, and since 2008 has served as the Director of the Total Person Program and Sports Dietitian for the athletic program.  The Total Person Program provides student-athletes with opportunities for growth in leadership, career planning, community service, and a variety of other ventures.  As part of her role, she serves as the advisor to the Student-Athlete Advisory Board.  In addition to her work at Georgia Tech, Leah has authored a chapter in the fourth edition of Sports Nutrition: A Guide for the Professional Working with Active People and was a 2004 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier and competitor.  She and her husband Dwight have three children – Mazie Ruth, Bowen and Marney.

June 12, 2016 – Dr. Arica Johnson 
Dr. Johnson currently serves as the Vice President of the Calvin Johnson, Jr. Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to assisting youth with achieving their collegiate and career dreams through participation in relevant and rigorous programs.  She is also the owner of Education Transformation, LLC, which is an education consulting company designed for parents, educators and students in the pursuit of Excellence.  Prior to joining CJJRF, Dr. Johnson served 15 years with the Atlanta Public School system, including in roles such as principal and the Math and Science Project Manager for the Atlanta Public School system.   Dr. Johnson is wife to Calvin Sr., and mother to a bio-medical scientist, a retired all-pro NFL wide receiver, a medical school resident and another current college student. How about that, for an Inspiring Woman!

June 10, 2016 – Shan Cooper
Cooper is the chief supply chain and technology officer for WestRock, where she has been since February of this year, after serving as Vice President of Lockheed Martin and general manager of their Marietta facility.  She is an active sponsor and supporter of the Girls Scouts of Greater Atlanta, most recently named their 2016 Changing the World honoree.  In addition, she exudes GIRL POWER through her support of Girls, Inc., Cool Girls, Inc., and by mentoring girls on how to be successful while getting them to believe that they can achieve whatever they want to.  Recently, Atlanta Technical College honored her with the 2016 Bridge Builders Award, in recognition for her contributions in bridging the gaps between the underserved and mainstream communities in Atlanta.  She’s joined at the game by her husband (Eddie), parents (Walter and Dorothy Carr), niece (Sydney Carr) and goddaughter (Chelsea Patterson).  Her daughter just gave birth to Shan’s first grandchild last Monday (5/30) – a baby girl named Teigan Milan Williams.

June 5, 2016 – Joan Angelini
Angelini is an SAP Finance Specialist for Delta, where she has worked for 27 years.  In her role, she works to make the Delta system run smoothly while also writing and publishing the training documentation for the SAP system.  Since 2003 (13 years), she has also served as a director for People First of Henry County, which works with learning, developmental and/or physically challenged members of the community.  In what little spare time she has, she is also active in several other community ventures, including the Henry County Therapeutic Parks and Recreation, American Heart Association, Delta Military Lounge, Atlanta Food Bank, ALS, Open Hands, and several Blood Drives.

May 29, 2016 – Denise Peterson
Peterson is the owner of Yo’ Mama’s Restaurant, which she opened in 2014 following her retirement from AT&T.  While working for AT&T, she began catering on the side, so when it came time to retire, she decided to open a restaurant with her family.  She and her daughters spent a year planning the restaurant layout and menu before opening the doors to Yo’ Mama’s on Nov. 17, 2014.  One of eight children, Denise was born and raised in Birmingham, earning her first job at the age of 14.  She has one son and two daughters, and she and her husband never missed a game– all three children were active in sports.  Yo’ Mama’s has been featured in numerous magazine articles, while Denise has been named one of the top female entrepreneurs in Birmingham.  The restaurant is a significant supporter of the community through regular donations to organizations like F.A.I.R, UAB Group, Delta Sigma Theta Scholarship Fund, Firehouse Shelter of Birmingham and Georgia Tech FCA.  An inspiration to her family, her youngest daughter graduated from UAB at the top of her class and is currently the co-owner and manager of Yo’ Mama’s, while her oldest daughter was a three-time All-Conference volleyball player at FAMU who has two masters’ degrees – one from FSU and another from Georgia Tech.  She owns a web design and web application development company in Atlanta – Burnt Orange Design.

May 22, 2016 – Jackie Cannizzo
Cannizzo is the executive director of the JCI Foundation, a 501c3 dedicated to helping young women become leaders in life and business with a primary focus on programming for college-aged women and those new to the business world.  One of the largest events for JCI is the Judson Women’s Leadership Conference, which took place on June 21st at the Georgia World Congress Center.  A professional golfer who has played in the Women’s US Open, Jackie is founder of the Esther Cannizzo Junior Golf Foundation and co-founder of DARE to Golf, which aims to help women advance their professional careers through the game of golf.  In her spare time, she serves as the director of golf instruction at the Country Club of Roswell, where she has trained all levels of golfers for nearly 20 years.

Source: EY