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Board of Directors

Mercedes Barragan, President, Executive Board
Mercedes Barragan was born in Rochester, Michigan. She attended Grand Valley State University and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Advertising and Public Relations. Currently, she is working at Spectrum Health as a IS Social Business Community Manager. She is a graduate of the Heart of West Michigan United Way Project Blueprint program. She also earned a Master of Business Administration from Cornerstone University. Mercedes joined the BL²END Board in January 2011.
Contact Mercedes:
Favorite quote: "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand." ~ Albert Einstein

Aquoinette Blair, Digital Media & Marketing Chair
Aquoinette Blair was born in Birmingham, Alabama and lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan before moving to Grand Rapids. She attended Grand Valley State University and pursued her Bachelor of Arts in Broadcasting with an emphasis on Film and Video. She works as a Media Producer at Blair Unlimited Media Productions. Aquoinette's desire is to impact community, the small business and entrepreneurs through media. Understanding that success is defined individually, she encourages gradual changes for permanent results to maximize and fulfill the difference that we all were created to make. Aquoinette joined the BL²END Board in December 2013.
Contact Aquoinette:
Favorite quote: “It always seems impossible until it's done." ~ Nelson Mandela.

Tiffany DeMyers, Vice President, Executive Board
Tiffany DeMyers was born in Lansing, Michigan. She attained her Bachelor of Business Administration from Western Michigan University, after which she selected a career path in Strategic Business Development and Human Resources. She later received her Master of Science in Management from Wesleyan University. Tiffany is a driven professional that's passionate about impacting the business world through talent development, community service, diversity and inclusion. She is also a Life Member of Alpha Kappa Psi, Professional Business Fraternity. Tiffany joined the BL²END Board in March 2015.
Contact Tiffany:
Favorite quote: “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus." ~ Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ebony Holt, Secretary and Community Outreach Chair, Executive Board
Ebony Holt was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She attended Ferris State University. Ebony is a Unit Communications Manager and Administrative Assistant for Mary Kay Cosmetics. Her passions include mentoring young girls, traveling, reading and shopping. Ebony joined the BL²END Board in January 2013.
Contact Ebony:
Favorite quote:
“You face your greatest oppositions when you're closest to your biggest miracle.”  ~ Bishop T. D. Jakes

William Jackson, Treasurer, Executive Board
William Jackson was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan and is currently enrolled at Davenport University obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Health Service Administration. He is a recent graduate of the Heart of West Michigan United Way Project Blueprint program. His passions include cinema, basketball and advocating for those poverty-stricken and under privileged. William joined the BL²END Board in May 2012.
Contact William:
Favorite quote: "A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked." ~ Psalms 37:16

Jenine Prus, Participant Engagement Chair
Jenine Prus was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She graduated from Humbolt State University with a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Spanish. Jenine studied abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico. Extensive travel created an opportunity for her to live in multiple states and countries. Resettling in Grand Rapids, Jenine earned a Master of Public Administration from Grand Valley State University. She currently works for Family Futures as the Chief Advancement Officer. Because of her passion for children and community, she also volunteers at the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center. Jenine joined the BL²END Board in April 2015.
Contact Jenine:
Favorite quote: “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyways." ~ John Wayne.

Christopher Sanders, Professional Development Chair
Christopher Sanders was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He graduated from Davenport University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. In 2015, Christopher received the Outstanding Adult Learner Award from Davenport University. He has been an active mentor in the community since 2008 and has served as a Family Promise Evaluation Committee Member since 2014. Christopher received a Master of Business Administration from Davenport University. He is a Personal Trainer that is passionate about healthy alternatives and lifestyles for everyone with a focus on the under privileged. Christopher joined the BL²END Board in April 2015.
Contact Christopher:
Favorite quote: “We all have come on different ships but we're in the same boat now." ~ Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

BL²END Founder

Erayna Gamble relocated from Detroit, Michigan to attend Grand Valley State University, where she received her Bachelor of Business Administration degree in marketing and general management. She transitioned into the professional workforce at Haworth, Inc. where she performed a variety of roles within the marketing discipline under the title of Marketing Associate. As someone that loves to be involved, Erayna has been a member of the Haworth diversity council, GVSU African American alumni association, Heart of West Michigan United Way Project Blueprint program, and a member of the board of directors at Camp Blodgett. In July 2008, Erayna's desire to learn and refine her business skills, led her to pursue her Master of Business Administration degree at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

Favorite Quote: “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” ~ Japanese Proverb

Contact Erayna:
Erayna Gamble
BL²END Founder, and Board Co-Chair Emeritus

Advisory Council Members

Jamon Alexander currently serves as Annual Fund Director for the YMCA of Greater
Grand Rapids. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Public and Nonprofit Administration from Grand Valley State University, along with his American Humanics nonprofit management certification. He is active in the community, serving on the board of Grand Rapids Urban League, volunteering as a reading tutor at Coit Elementary through Schools of Hope, coaching youth basketball at Seidman Center Boys & Girls Club and with the Grand Rapids Storm AAU program, and helping to support other local organizations. Jamon is a founding member of BL²END and joined the BL²END Board in August 2006.

Mindy Ysasi Castañon was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She obtained her B.B.A in Management-HR emphasis and Marketing from Grand Valley State University and also holds a Senior Professional in Human Resources certification. Mindy has been on the board of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan since 2006, and served on the GVSU Alumni Board of Directors from 2009 to 2011. Currently, she serves on the Board of Directors for the YWCA of West Central Michigan. Some of her accomplishments include receiving the Grand Rapids Business Journal 40 Under Forty in 2010 and being a 2009 nominee for the Young Athena Awards by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. Mindy currently works with Herman Miller as a Human Resources Consultant for Operations and Supply Management. Mindy joined the BL²END Board in May 2012.

Janean Couch is a native of Flint, MI. Since she joined the GVSU community in 2001,
Janean has earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Public and Nonprofit Administration and a Master of Education degree in Adult and Higher Education. She currently works in the Career Center at GVSU, as an Assistant Director serving students, faculty, and alumni from the College of Community and Public Service which includes Social Work, Public and Nonprofit Administration, Legal Studies, Criminal Justice, and Hospitality and Tourism Management. Couch is also a member of the Division of Student Services Intercultural Training Committee, Veterans Network, and acts as a liaison for federal internships and jobs. Prior to joining the Career Center Janean worked as a Program Coordinator in the Johnson Center for Philanthropy where she served the nonprofit community by coordinating workshops and trainings for nonprofit organizational capacity building. In the community, Janean has been an active mentor with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program for over five years. Janean is a founding member of BL²END, and joined the BL²END Board in August 2006.

Maxine Gray was born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and graduated with her Master of Science in Communications from Grand Valley State University in 2009 and her Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Hope College in 2004. She currently serves as a Project Manager Global Employment Brand and Channels at Starbucks Headquarters in Seattle, Washington.. Her passions include a combination of professional, educational, and community activities, including marketing, communications, diversity and inclusion for young professionals of color and women. Gray is a member of the InForum West Michigan Regional Council, the Varnum Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation Advisory Council. She is also a 2007 graduate of the Heart of West Michigan United Way Project Blueprint program. Maxine joined the BL²END Board in November 2006.

Floriza Genautis has over seven years of experience in the accounting and financial arena with over eighteen years of specialization in the professional staffing industry.  Her previous professional responsibilities include a comprehensive background in accounting, human resources management, benefits administration, and computer/network administration.  Floriza possess a BS in Mathematics with an emphasis in Computer Application.  She particularly enjoys interfacing and developing good rapport with clients and candidates and the marketing aspects of the staffing profession.  Active Memberships at AWE (Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs) and Programs Chair of the Board, APO (Asian Professional Organization), APACC (Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce), GR Chamber of Commerce, CEED, AVRF (Asian Victims Relief Fund) and Inforum.  Active participation in helping with the education for WBE (Women Business Enterprise) and serving in the Council for WBENC (Women Business Enterprise National Council) in the certification committee.  Presently, Founder/CEO of Management Business Solutions a professional staffing firm with national capabilities offering clients personalized and relationship driven organization specializing in placing candidate in the areas of Accounting, Finance, Human Resource, Information Technology, Sales and Marketing, Engineering and Nursing. 

Joseph D. Jones, President/CEO of E.E. Milestone + Associates, Inc. offers a very unique base of strategic communications and cultural competency expertise working with major organizations within industries such as healthcare, public education, construction, telecommunications, sports and entertainment, philanthropy, community development, faith-based and human services. Joseph is committed to the community, and currently serves on a number of boards including the Chemical Bank – GR Community Bank Advisory Board, Kent County Department of Aeronautics, Grand Rapids Symphony, LifeQuest Group, Christian Counseling Center, Brown Hutcherson Ministries, and Grand Rapids Ellington Academy of Arts and Technology. His professional experience includes over 10 years of service in the metropolitan Detroit area in the non-profit sector as a community organizer, program coordinator and project manager. Prior to Milestone, Joseph was the director of marketing and public relations for a national construction-trades employment service and a Managing Partner of Strategic Communications Group, LLC. Joe holds a bachelor's degree in communication arts from Oakland University.

Marlene Kowalski-Braun has worked in higher education for the past 16 years, and has been at Grand Valley State University since 1996. During her time as Assistant Director of Housing at GVSU, she led the taskforce that created the GVSU Women’s Center and became its first Director, serving in this role since 2001. While Marlene is involved in gender equity through her position, she is also committed to broader diversity efforts and higher education associations, including Great Lakes Association of College and University Housing Officers (GLACUHO), National Student Personnel Association (NASPA), National Knowledge Community Chair for Women in Student Affairs (WISA), Women’s Centers through the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) and the American Council on Education (ACE) Michigan Network for Women. She is also a member of the West Michigan Women’s Studies Association. In the community, she has served on the United Way Women’s Leadership and Community Investment Councils, co-chairs the Annual GVSU United Way Campaign and was just awarded with “Campaign Captain of the Year” for Kent County, Michigan. Marlene earned her bachelor’s degree at Central Michigan University, her master’s degree from Ball State University, and is currently working on her doctorate at Western Michigan University.

Rodney Martin is a partner in the law firm of Warner Norcross & Judd LLP. Having started his career with the firm over 30 years ago, today he chairs the Firm’s Financial Services Group. He regularly advises clients regarding bank regulatory issues involving mergers, acquisitions, the expansion of banking activities, as well as fair lending, financial privacy, and other compliance matters. In addition, Rodney serves as the firm’s Diversity Partner. The firm’s commitment to diversity has brought it numerous recognitions, including the 2009 Diversity Visionary Award from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Rodney chairs the Council of the Multiracial Association of Professionals and was recently appointed by the President of the State Bar of Michigan to serve on the Presidential Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group, which advises the leadership of the State Bar in implementing its Pledge to Achieve Diversity and Inclusion. Rodney also serves as president of Comprehensive Therapy Center, Inc., a not-for-profit that helps children with disabilities walk, talk, learn and play.

Brian Parks was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He attended Grand Valley
State University where he obtained a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance and Economics in 2008. Brian began his career as a commercial credit analyst for Mercantile Bank of Michigan then transitioned to Herman Miller in 2011 as a financial analyst and leader of the Black Inclusiveness Resource Team. He is continuing his education as a graduate student in Grand Valley State University’s MBA program. In the community, he volunteers as a trustee for Revolution Christian Ministries and participates on the Junior Achievement Titan Business Challenge organizing committee. Brian joined the BL²END Board in January 2009. .

Eddie Tadlock obtained a B.A. in Communications and a B.S. in Public Relations from Boston University and serves as the Assistant General Manager of DeVos Place. The exhibit hall hosts a variety of events and is home to the Grand Rapids Symphony, Grand Rapids Ballet Company, Opera Grand Rapids and Broadway Grand Rapids. In addition to his position at DeVos Place, Tadlock is a member of Grand Rapids’ Diversity in Government Group and part of the Leadership Team for the Community Sustainability Partnership. Tadlock also serves as board member of the American Red Cross Grand Rapids branch and is part of the Income Council of United Way of West Michigan. Other professional organizations include International Association of Venue Managers, Meeting Planners International, and Professional Conference Managers Association.

Dr. Sandra Upton is the Dean of Business Programs in the Professional & Graduate Studies Division at Cornerstone University. As part of her responsibility as Dean, Dr. Upton plays an integral leadership role in Cornerstone's MBA Global Business Experience (GBE), facilitating experiences in Central Europe, China, Israel and South Africa. In addition, as a Management Consultant and Certified Cultural Intelligence (CQ) Facilitator, Dr. Upton has conducted several CQ training and consulting projects with global leaders and organizations around the world. Her professional affiliations include the Cultural Intelligence Center (CLC), the Consortium for the Advancement of Adult Higher Education (CAAHE), the Center for Adult Learner Research (CRAL) and the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). Her broader community involvement includes membership with Inforum and the West Michigan's President's Compact Committee (WMPCC) . Sandra received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, a master’s degree from Western Michigan University and her doctorate from Regent University’s School of Global Leadership and Entrepreneurship.

Special thanks and recognition to past Board Members:
Jamon Alexander, Janean Couch, Janae Currington, Anissa Eddie, Jermale Eddie, Ronnie Frelix, Jr., Erayna Gamble, Marnique Harris, Sara Hill, Jamie Martinez, Marquisa Nash, Cynthia Offutt, LaToya Pearson, Celeste Sánchez, Angela Thompson, Charise Tucker, Danielle Williams, Maria Zavala, Larissa VanWyk, Laketa Alexander, and Gregory Peacock.

Special thanks and recognition to past Advisory Council members:
Tanja Oquendo, Susan Morales-Barias, and David Luna.


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