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The Maryland Equity and Inclusion Leadership Program | 2019 Program Affiliates

The program is supported by an integral network of affiliates, who have expert knowledge and deep experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion issues across public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Our program affiliates work closely with the program directorate and participants by advising, developing, and facilitating program activities and events throughout the year. Brief biographies of our program affiliates can be found below.


Lisa Bleich
Managing Partner, Signal Fire

Lisa Bleich believes deeply in every human’s capacity to grow, change and connect. Lisa’s commitment to social change has fueled her work as an Executive Leader at some of Baltimore’s most impactful nonprofits including Community Mediation, The Alliance for Community Teachers and Schools, Creative City Public Charter School and Fusion Partnerships. Currently, Lisa serves as the Managing Partner of Signal Fire, LLC which works to transform the way that organizations make decisions and engage the community using the power of truth and authenticity.


Tricia Homer

Tricia Homer
Director of Business Communication, Lecturer
Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland

Tricia is Director of Business Communication, Master’s Programs and full-time Lecturer at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland where she teaches Business Communication.

At HGVenture, a leadership and management consulting firm she co-founded, Tricia draws from a multifaceted background in marketing, the performing arts, and community engagement to enhance the skills of individuals and teams. She designs and facilitates workshops and dialogues on gender, race, immigration, and LGBT inclusion for corporate and nonprofit audiences and provides targeted communication and leadership coaching for women and minorities.

She earned her undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University and holds an M.A. in Education from University of Maryland Baltimore County. She was recently recognized by the Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund as at top 40 under 40 change-maker in the county, and was named Miss Congeniality at the 2005 Miss Universe Pageant where she represented the US Virgin Islands.


cleveland_hortonCleveland Horton
Deputy Director, Maryland Commission on Civil Rights

Cleveland L. Horton II is currently serving as Deputy Director of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. He is serving the citizens of the State of Maryland as one of the leaders for the State’s leading Civil Rights Agency. In this capacity, Mr. Horton is responsible for establishing and maintaining strategic partnerships throughout the state. Cleveland has assisted in establishing an aggressive Education and Outreach program that has exponentially increased the awareness and visibility of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights during his tenure. Mr. Horton is also the owner of the Homes by Horton Group, a licensed Real Estate Co. helping individuals throughout Maryland exercise their right to home ownership.

Cleveland Horton is a graduate of The Community College of Baltimore County with an Associates of Arts Degree in Business Administration Specializing in Human Resources Management. Mr. Horton went on to continue his education at The University of Baltimore obtaining both a Bachelors of Science Degree in Business Administration and a Masters Degree focusing on Human Resources Management.   He is currently working in partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to bring Fair Housing initiatives to the citizens of the State.

A strong connection to his community is extremely important to Cleveland and he participates in various civic and community groups. Mr. Horton is currently working on establishing a non-profit that will help transition homeless families out of homelessness and into hopefulness.  Cleveland currently serves on the Board of Directors for Maryland New Directions. Cleveland is also a loving and devoted husband and father of four.


helen_kassHeléne Kass
Principal Leadership Consultant and Coach
Corporate Enrichment Options

Heléne Kass is a seasoned mentor helping new and experienced leaders take charge in moving beyond history to healing.

She uses her organizational development, Co-Active Coaching and Re-evaluation Counseling expertise to guide people in building their own capacities in working together so they can choose how to live better — for themselves and with their teams, organizations and neighborhoods.

As a National Coalition Building Institute senior and local leader, Heléne coaches community members to listen to each other, tell their stories, and act to strengthen inclusive and cohesive communities.

She impacts internationally as an active participant in Wide World Change Leaders conference calls and in ongoing workshops on Healing from War.

Heléne’s passion is to eliminate racism, reduce prejudice, end systemic oppression, resolve conflicts, and to recognize and build on common opportunities. Her skill is in helping individuals, teams and communities move ahead.

Heléne is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Corporate Enrichment Options and a Founding Member of the Maryland International Coaching Federation.


keith_merkeyKeith Merkey, M.Div./CE
Educational and Outreach Associate
Maryland Commission on Civil Rights

Keith A. Merkey is an Education and Outreach Associate for the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights where he provides educational workshops and conducts trainings on a variety of topics such as diversity, discrimination prevention, sexual harassment, conflict resolution, sexual orientation/gender identity, and other issues for Maryland’s agencies, universities, businesses and organizations. Before moving to Baltimore, Mr. Merkey worked with youth as a Minister of Education and Youth as well as a High School teacher. The majority of his work since that time has been in the area of adult training and education. Mr. Merkey has worked for the past 30 years in the area of training, service, and education for both MCCR as well as non-profits such as Stop AIDS Campaign, Planned Parenthood of Maryland and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Maryland.

Mr. Merkey received his Bachelors of Art in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University in North Carolina and his Masters of Divinity and Education from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has received post-graduate training in prejudice–reduction, conflict resolution, and diversity as well as EEO, Fair Housing Issues and Safe Spaces Training. He presently serves as the Secretary on the Greater Baltimore Community Housing Resource Board, volunteers at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and is the past Board President of The Book Thing, Inc. of Baltimore.


changa_onyangoAko Changa Onyango
Lead Facilitator, Signal Fire, LLC
Senior Facilitator, AO Services, LLC

Ako Changa Onyango is a professional facilitator and state trained Mediator. His work covers a variety of subjects including diversity, equity and inclusion in the context of organizational change, historic context of inequity, and the business case for change. Changa is also an advocate for cultural preservation and produces Music & Arts content and events that uplift the ideals of Identity and Generational Justice.

He is Owner of AO services LLC, an organizational development consultancy and a Lead Facilitator for Signal Fire, LLC, which focuses on DEI in business environments. He also serves as a coach with the University of Maryland’s Positive Schools Center where his specialty is DEI training/implementation in school communities. He is a contributing columnist on culture and community, a Baltimore City grassroots organizer and a father of 6 with his wife of 21 years, Maya.


shawna_payneDr. Shaunna Payne Gold
Assistant Provost for Diversity and Inclusion
Towson University

Dr. Shaunna Payne Gold is the Assistant Provost for Diversity and Inclusion at Towson University in Maryland. Her primary goal is to support the Division of Academic Affairs by attracting, advancing, and retaining diverse staff, faculty, and librarians. Working in tandem with the Office of Inclusion and Institutional Equity and the Office of Human Resources, Dr. Gold is responsible for compliance and analytics, faculty/librarian hiring, onboarding, funds development, faculty retention, and cultural competency programming for faculty and librarians. She assumed this post in January 2019.

Prior to her most recent post, Dr. Gold served for almost 10 years as the Associate Director for Assessment and Student Development in the Office Multi-ethnic Student Education at the state flagship, University of Maryland, College Park. Responsibilities included supervision, grantsmanship, and assessment. While at the University of Maryland, Dr. Gold served as affiliate staff with the Office of LGBT Equity. In 2016, she was inducted into the Lavender Leadership Honor Society as one of four staff members alongside student leaders.

In addition to her full-time post at Towson University, she has taught at The George Washington University as a professorial lecturer since 2010. Dr. Gold’s most popular courses in the Educational Leadership Masters program include Intercultural Campus Leadership, Helping Skills in Student Affairs, and Student Development Theory.

Some of Dr. Gold’s most recent clients include the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy, The American Red Cross, The College of William & Mary’s Washington Center, the New York State Financial Aid Administrators Association, Howard University School of Business, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Dr. Gold has a Doctor of Education degree from The George Washington University in Higher Education Administration; her dissertation focused on spiritual development of non-heterosexual undergraduate students. Additionally, she completed her Project Management Master Certification at Harvard University. Dr. Gold has a Masters of Divinity from Eastern Mennonite University with a focus on Campus Ministry and a Bachelors of Business Administration from James Madison University in Marketing and Computer Information Systems.

Additionally, Dr. Gold is a committed mom to two boys — Charles Gold III (7) and Kendrick Edward Gold (4) — as well as an Ironman 70.3 triathlete, marathon runner, and Masters’ Swim Coach for adult learners.