About the Fellows
Springfield is one of the poorest communities in the Commonwealth and the place that Elizabeth Cardona calls home. Cardona is a passionate Puerto Rican woman building grassroots power in her community while raising two sons and fulfilling career and community engagement goals.
Cardona has more than ten years of professional experience working in government and community outreach. Since 2010 she has served as the director of the Office of the Governor Western Massachusetts Region, a position she also held in 2008-2009. Her educational and professional experience and growth have been shaped by her vision for renewed access to healthcare, housing, education, and economic opportunity. Elizabeth previously served as the regional coordinator for Democrat Suzanne Bump’s campaign for state auditor and she has also held several positions in the Springfield public school system.
As a woman of color building grassroots power in her community, Cardona recognizes the barriers and impacts that women and people of color experience throughout the political process. Through her service as a board member for ¿Oiste?, The Latino Civic Education Initiative, as well as an advisory board member for the Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact (LIPPI), and as a mentor and Western Massachusetts chair for the CHICA Program, Cardona has been a champion of equality and social justice. Cardona holds an MPA and a certficate in conflict resolution from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. Cardona's research focuses on Latinas' pathways to leadership.
Martina Cruz grew up in the Dominican Republic where she began volunteering for social and economic justice efforts as a teen. Her work in the community as a Girl Scouts troop leader and a church youth leader revealed to her the change that can happen when people are empowered. Since she moved to the United States at the age of twenty-two, she has been a trusted community organizer and leader who supports labor struggles, progressive candidates, and women, Latino and immigrant empowerment issues across the Commonwealth. A mother of three children with learning disabilities, she is especially committed to helping families become self-sufficient and advocate for their own needs with schools and agencies. In the U.S., she began her community service and activism as a religious education teacher, family support leader, and advisory board member for the St. Mary’s Assumption Parish in Lawrence, MA. At this parish she also engaged community members to organize around issues affecting workers and working families through the Merrimack Valley Project.
Cruz’s dedication to quality public education is reflected through her service as an elected member of the Lawrence School Committee from 2005 to 2011. She shines as a female leader of color because of her passion for helping women become leaders for their families and communities. True to her platform of accountability and transparency, she has been known as the “independent parent’s voice” standing up against inadequate policies and dishonest leaders and advocating for issues that affect the quality of school education in Lawrence. She has kept military recruiters out of school districts, advocated for bilingual education, and boldly criticized high-stakes testing. As an elected member of the Lawrence School Committee, Cruz promoted better communication and trust between parents and teachers, empowering both parties to be involved in the students’ education. Cruz also shines as a female leader of color because of her passion for helping women become leaders for their families and communities. She has been a board member of Women’s Institute for Leadership and Development for many years.
She holds a BA in human services from Springfield College and holds child development associate certification from Revere College. With the very same focus on empowerment and understanding the need for more women’s voices in higher office, Martina’s research sought to understand the barriers that hinder women of color leaders from entering politics.
Councilwoman Gladys Lebrón-Martínez is a respected woman of color leader recognized for fostering the civic engagement and responsibility needed to expand opportunities for her community. She provided exemplary service to her community of Holyoke as an elected School Committee member from 2003-2011. In 2011, she ran a successful campaign moving up the political pipeline to represent Ward 1 on the Holyoke City Council. An MCAS career counselor/youth coordinator for CareerPoint, she started her community organizing and advocacy work at “Nueva Esperanza," a community service agency focused on low income and underserved communities in Holyoke. Councilwoman Lebrón-Martínez has also been an active leader on many community boards and organizations such as the Holyoke Community Land Trust, the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority, and the Baypath College Advisory Board
Gladys Lebrón-Martínez is a role model not only to her children and grandchildren, but also to the Latino community of Holyoke. Her impact in Holyoke has been driven by her commitment to youth employment, education, parent engagement, anti-racism, and LGBT rights. She recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of the City of Holyoke and has been a fierce advocate and representative of transforming dreams into reality for over thirty years. She is respected for her dedication to bringing the voice of the community to the decision-making table.
Sheneal Parker is a teacher, business owner, community organizer, and certified youth instructor. She has more than 10 years of experience in the Boston Public School system. Her business, a management consulting firm, mainly assists nonprofit groups in event planning, fundraising, and overall business strategy. Her passion is to inspire young people to find a pathway to leadership and entrepreneurship. A 2011 Boston City Council (District 7) candidate, Sheneal has also organized her community around many issues, from affordable housing to health and obesity. A teacher by heart, she has shared her entrepreneurial know-how and skills at Dorchester’s Bird Street Community Center’s youth entrepreneurship program and at the South End Neighborhood Action Program. Her deep commitment to her community led her to serve as a former board member and chair of the Fenway Community Development Corporation. She also stands as a Community Advisory Board member at Children’s Hospital, and a Community Task Force member at the Wentworth Institute of Technology. Her leadership and skills also has her standing as a member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee and of Boston’s Ward 4 Democratic Committee. She holds a BS in criminal justice from Northeastern University, and an MS in criminal justice and MPA from Suffolk University. Currently, Parker is an EdD candidate in the Leadership in Urban Schools Program at UMass Boston.
Among all of Parker’s undertakings, being a single-mother to her son is one of her most important roles. This has certainly influenced her general approach to life and her research. Recognizing that mothers of color have a unique insight and voice to impart in policymaking, she is interested in understanding the barriers that inhibit civically engaged mothers of color from entering politics. Mothers of color are greatly underrepresented in positions of public office and other political leadership positions. Parker's research was focused on identifying specific factors that discourage mothers of color from running for office while rallying other mothers of color to be more civically engaged.
Lisa Wong is currently serving her third term as Mayor of the City of Fitchburg. First elected to office in 2007 at the age of 28, she is the second female mayor in Fitchburg and first Asian American female mayor in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The youngest child of Chinese immigrant parents, she grew up with a cultural awareness that shaped her appreciation for community development, civic engagement, and advocacy. Working in the family restaurant during her childhood, Mayor Wong understands the role of small businesses in shaping communities and the hard work it takes to support families. She carries those values with her to this day as Mayor of Fitchburg. With a vision for a thriving community, she stands up to the challenges of improving the economic and political position in Gateway Cities.
Throughout her time in office, Mayor Wong has made fiscal stability one of her top priorities by balancing budgets, making significant capital improvements, and attracting private investments. She has led the city from bankruptcy to long-term economic recovery whose rainy-day fund was a mere $10,000 before she took office. Now, the city boasts $4.5 million in reserves. As a result, the city’s bond rating improved, many new small businesses developed, the schools restored programming for arts and athletics, and created a “street mayor” program to increase civic engagement. Prior to being elected mayor, Wong served as the director of Fitchburg’s Redevelopment Authority.
Mayor Wong is especially motivated by the opportunity to inspire and encourage women of color to serve as leaders in their communities. Seeing very few Asian American women colleagues in the field of politics and policymaking, she became interested in identifying strategies to introduce and engage more women of color, especially Asian American women, in the political process. Focused on encouraging more Asian American women to get more involved in politics, Mayor Wong believes training while providing social and financial support to young Asian American women will pave the way for increased political participation and leadership. Mayor Wong has since been actively involved in the Asian American Women’s Political Initiative—the leading and only political leadership organization empowering Asian American women in the United States. She is also an advisory board member of Emerge Massachusetts and previously served as the executive director of the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development.