Meet our Leadership Team

Our Board of Directors are young professionals who are passionate about making Grand Rapids a diverse and inclusive community to live, work and play. With the support of our amazing Advisory Council of seasoned professionals, we are able to help advance and retain young professionals of color in our community.

Board of Directors

Kaitlyn Califf

Digital Marketing Chair

Kaitlyn Califf was raised in Muskegon, Michigan. She is a proud alumna of Grand Valley State University where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and marketing. After college, her involvement in the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce helped her discover her passion for business development and leadership. She obtained her Real Estate License in 2015 and is a graduate of the ASP.Net C# Coding Bootcamp through Grand Circus. She currently works as a Project Coordinator for Vías Latino Market Consultants. Kaitlyn is passionate about being actively involved in the Grand Rapids community through volunteering, networking and supporting local events and businesses.

Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.

George Bernard Shaw

Jeffrie L. Chappell

Executive Board, Treasurer

Jeffrie L. Chappell was raised in Detroit, Michigan. and has lived in Grand Rapids for three years. As a graduate of Western Michigan University, he obtained a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance and has been honored with the 2016 Career Life Success Award along with achieving Executive Council in 2017. He holds a license in Life & Health Insurance through the State of Michigan and a Series 6 & 63 License through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Jeffrie has been in financial services since 2009 and is currently building a Financial Services Practice with New York Life. He is passionate about working with people from diverse backgrounds to accomplish a goal that benefits the greater good of society.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gilbert Conley

Community Outreach Chair

Gilbert Conley was raised in Lansing, Illinois. He is a recent graduate of Calvin College with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics. Gilbert is currently working for Priority Health and joined the BL²END Board of Directors in 2017. Gilbert is passionate about helping people understanding their human capital and the importance of a village regarding economic prosperity. Through his Community Outreach position Gilbert hopes to continue and expand on the camaraderie that BL2END has built.

Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.

Dr. Mae Jemison, first African-American female astronaut

Tiffany DeMyers

Executive Board,  President

Tiffany DeMyers, was raised in Lansing, Michigan. She is a passionate leader and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Sales and Business Marketing from Western Michigan University and a Master’s degree in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University. Here in the Grand Rapids community, she is using her passions, education and strategic perspective to alleviate disparities, create connections and foster growth in professional communities of color. Her appreciation and commitment to community development has been a key component to both her upbringing and professional work. She joined the BL²END Board of Directors in 2015 where she has served as the Marketing Communications Chair, Vice President, and now the active President of BL²END. Tiffany is also a dedicated member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and Alpha Kappa Psi, Professional Business Fraternity, Incorporated.

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

Chardonnay Henderson

Participant Engagement Chair

Chardonnay Henderson was raised in Detroit, Michigan and has lived in Grand Rapids for nine years. As a graduate of Grand Valley University, she obtained a Bachelor of Science in Public Relations. Here in the Grand Rapids community, she spends her time serving non-profit organizations where she gets to exercise her passion for the community as well as relationship building. She is passionate about empowering young professionals, providing administrative excellence and mobilizing community-driven solutions.

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.

C.S. Lewis

Ebony Holt

Executive Board, Vice President

Ebony Holt was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She studied Business Administration at Ferris State University. She is passionate about serving and giving back to the community. She believes position means nothing if you don’t understand your mission. She is currently working at MedData as a PSR. She joined the BL²END Board of Directors in 2014 and has served as the Secretary, Community Outreach Chair, and now the Vice President of BL²END. Ebony wants the community to benefit from our contributions and philanthropy 50 years from now.

You face your greatest oppositions when you’re closest to your biggest miracle.

Bishop T. D. Jakes

Josilynn Burrel

Project Coordinator 

Josilynn was raised in Muskegon, MI. She is currently in her last semester of college at GVSU and will obtain her bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management December of this year.

Josilynn is very passionate about increasing awareness about racial discrimination and supporting diversity and inclusion. She loves children and simply being support for others. Josilynn is currently working as a Human Resource Generalist at Spectrum Human Services which is a non profit organization.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress

Frederick Douglass

Briana Johnson

Executive Board, Secretary

Briana Johnson was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she obtained a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with an emphasis on ERP systems and Management Information Systems. Briana is also the recipient of the SAP Student Recognition Award from Grand Valley. She joined the BL²END Board of Directors in 2016. She is passionate about growth, diversity, relationship building, youth, and academic success.

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.

Malcolm X

Erica Soto

Marketing Communications Chair

Erica Soto was raised in Puerto Rico and has lived in Grand Rapids for thirteen years. As a graduate of University of Phoenix, she obtained a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. She is currently working at the Grand Rapids Public Library. Erica is passionate about helping underserved communities by helping them acquire the knowledge and resources, including teaching bilingual early literacy classes. She is a graduate of the 3rd cohort of the Latino Talent Initiative through Ferris State University and currently serves as a committee member for the Latino Talent Speakers Series. She also serves as the Kids Summit Coordinator on the leadership team for the Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit and is a proud member of the Latina Network of West Michigan. She believes that every young professional of color deserves to thrive, love what they do, and live their greatest potential.

We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.

Maya Angelou

Craig C. Thompson

Project Coordinator 

Craig C. Thompson was raised in Chicago, Illinois. He is a recent graduate of Grand Valley State University with a Bachelor’s degree is Hospitality & Tourism Management. Currently Craig is working at Wheelhouse: Kitchen & Cocktails. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Human Resource Management. He joined BL²END Board of Directors in 2017 as the Project Coordinator. Craig is passionate about serving others and helping support minority businesses.

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

President Barack Obama

Aleka C. Thrash

Facebook and Grand Circus Committee

Aleka C. Thrash was raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. She is currently attending Cornerstone University where she plans to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Journalism. Aleka is the co-founder of Kinky Hair Connection, an annual event created to connect, support and encourage naturals as well as those considering and transitioning to a natural lifestyle. She has been a professional lifestyle portrait photographer for over 10 years and is known for her lifestyle blog NaturallyACT. She is a LocalMotion award recipient for her commitment to social, environmental, and economic responsibility. She has been featured on Hair Street Style: Curly Hair Straight From The Windy City. Her mission is to use her talent for seeing the inner beauty in others and reflecting that beauty through photos and to help her followers embrace who they were born to be.

The value of life is not in its duration, but in its donation. You are not important because of how long you live, you are important because of how effective you live.

Dr. Myles Munroe

Brittney Williams

Social Networking Chair

Brittney Williams was raised in Grand Rapids Michigan. She has obtained her Bachelor’s in Health Administration from Davenport University and is currently obtaining a degree in Health Administration and Business Management. Brittney is very passionate about helping those in need to overcome life’s obstacles. She mentors and volunteers at Dégagé, Wedgwood Christian Services, Vista Charter Academy, Revolution Culture Movement and WMCAT. Brittney is currently creating a startup business ‘Equipped Her Agency’ that provides career and business coaches to young professional millennial women within the greater Grand Rapids area.

Yes, we can!

Barack Obama

Cordell Zachary

Professional Development Chair

Cordell Allen Zachery was raised in the Metro Detroit Area. He is a recent Grand Valley State University graduate with a degree in Advertising and PR. He hopes to pursue a career in Marketing or Public Relations. He is currently working as a Project Coordinator at Steelcase Inc. He joined the BL²END Board of Directors in 2016 where he has served as the Project Coordinator and now the Professional Development Chair. He is passionate about community engagement and hopes to create more pathways for black males transitioning from college to the professional world. Cordell is also an active member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 NKJV

A Letter From our Founder and Visionary

A letter from our visionary


BL²END was created out of a desire for belonging. During my college years and at the start of my career, I would be in many situations where I was the only person of color. On an everyday basis, I went to work in an office of over 500 people and somehow, I was one of only 5 people of color – and the only one under the age of 30. As a recent graduate of GVSU, I knew that there were other driven young professionals in the area eager to develop professionally and grow their social network of other like-minded individuals. While I will always appreciate the Grand Rapids community for allowing me to start my professional career, I often felt alone and that the face of “success” rarely looked like mine. I gathered a group of some of the smartest, strongest young professionals in the city and developed a plan to test this theory.

What we quickly recognized was that creating a sense of belonging for one community does not mean that there should be a sense of exclusion for another. We named the organization BL²END to be an invitation to all that want to help others while helping themselves. This is a major reason why years later, it is still making a positive impact on the Grand Rapids community. So, to all that have joined and to future participants, I hope that this organization does for you as it has for me. I hope it helps you better understand the perspective of others and the power inside of you.


Erayna Gamble Sargent | Founder

Advisory Council

Jamon Alexander

Board of Directors and Founding Member 2006-2010
Advisory Council Member since 2012

Mercedes Barragan

Board of Directors 2011-2017
Advisory Council Member since 2017

Janean Couch

Board of Directors and Founding Member 2006-2010
Advisory Council Member since 2012

Joy Fossel

Advisory Council Member since 2015

Floriza Genautis

Advisory Council Member since 2008

Maxine Gray

Board of Directors
2006 – 2012
Advisory Council Member since 2013

Marlene Kowalski-Braun

Advisory Council Member since 2011

Rodney Martin

Advisory Council Member since 2011

Brian Parks

Board of Directors
2009 – 2014
Advisory Council Member since 2015

Eddie Tadlock

Advisory Council Member since 2011

Special thanks and recognition to past Board Members:
Janae Currington | Anissa Eddie | Jermale Eddie | Ronnie Frelix, Jr. | Marnique Harris | Sara Hill | Jamie Martinez | Marquisa Nash | Cynthia Offutt | LaToya Pearson | Jenine Prus | Celeste Sánchez Lloyd | Alicia Adell Lloyd | Angela Wills | Charise Tucker | Danielle Williams | Maria Zavala | Larissa VanWyk | Laketa Alexander | Gregory Peacock | Graci Harkema | Aquoinette Blair | Christopher Sanders | William Jackson

Special thanks and recognition to past Advisory Council Members:
Tanja Oquendo | Susan Morales-Barias | David Luna | Dr. Sandra Upton | Mindy Ysasi Castañon | Joseph D. Jones

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