Champions of Diversity 2019 headshots

It’s one thing to say you care about diversity. It’s another thing altogether to take meaningful action to make diversity happen daily.

The 15th annual Champions of Diversity Awards Dinner will celebrate the 16 individuals and organizations that exemplify diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in Indiana on Jan. 17. From hiring practices to community outreach, the award recipients continue to push for a better Indiana by ensuring more people aren’t just tokens of diversity but have meaningful roles.

2020 Champions of Diversity Awards recipients

Winnie Bulaya, Martin Luther King Jr. Award

After living in Nairobi, Kenya, for 12 years as a refugee from the Congo, Winnie Bulaya and her three children, Gloria, Gracia and Shammy, arrived in Indianapolis in 2010. Bulaya’s charity work began almost as soon as she arrived. After starting an English as a Second Language (ESL) class, Bulaya started helping her fellow classmates. Eventually, her charity work grew to include providing donated items to refugees. After noticing newly arrived refugees were a little taken aback by strangers at their door, Bulaya came up with the welcome basket as a way to introduce herself as friendly without saying a word. 

Bulaya has worked nights as a custodian at IUPUI for six years, and she delivers donations during the day through her ministry, “Welcome Basket Inc.”  

Elizabeth J. Henry, William G. Mays Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award

Elizabeth J. Henry owns and operates three McDonald’s restaurants — the Indianapolis International Airport, Washington Street and Lynhurst Drive, and West 38th Street in the Eagle Plaza.

Elizabeth received the Golden Arch Award, one of the highest honors given to a McDonald’s owner/operator. Elizabeth is a member of Eastern Star Church, Indianapolis International Airport Chaplaincy Board, The National Black McDonald’s Operator’s Association and The National McDonald’s Women Operator Network and is a former member of the Fund Development Committee of Ronald McDonald House of Indiana. 

Laurie Ann Henry, William G. Mays Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award

Laurie began working as a crew member at her family’s McDonald’s restaurants and is currently director of operations and a shareholder in the family business, Huston-Lynn Enterprises Inc. Laurie has received six Outstanding GM awards, Black History Makers of Today and Tomorrow award, and the Ray Kroc Award, given only to the top 1% performing managers in the country. She served as the chairperson of Supervisor Executive Leadership Council and served on the planning committee for the annual Ronald McDonald House “The Taste” fundraiser. She also is an executive board member of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Indiana. She is an active member of Eastern Star Church.

Rupal Thanawala, Rosa Parks Trailblazer Award

As managing director of Trident Systems, Rupal Thanawala has been a leader in emerging technologies, life sciences and corporate responsibility for years. Thanawala’s previous positions include Indiana market director for Accenture, client director for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a former partner at Tenthpin Management Consultants.

She was a Mitch Daniels Foundation Fellow, serves on the TechPoint board of directors, the Lung Association of Indiana Chapter and vice president of Strategic Partnership for Black Data Professional Association Indiana.

Eugene White, Lifetime Education Advocate Award

Eugene White retired from Martin University in March 2019, concluding a 47-year career in education in Indiana. White began his career as a teacher, coach and administrator at Fort Wayne Community Schools. He was the district’s first African American high school principal. White was also the first African American principal at North Central High School in the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township in Indianapolis. White was deputy superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools and also served as superintendent of Metropolitan School District of Washington Township and Indianapolis Public Schools. After a short retirement, White became the fourth president of Martin University in 2013. He was named president emeritus in May 2019.

Individual honorees

Tavonna Harris Askew

As chief of staff and general counsel for The Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, Tavonna Harris Askew plans and directs administrative and organizational duties of the president and CEO and board of directors, and acts as a point of contact between senior management, employees and other stakeholders. Askew also manages a team of attorneys and is responsible for protecting The Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County’s legal interests, maintaining regulatory compliance and providing risk management services. Askew serves as an adjunct faculty member at Indiana Wesleyan University and routinely speaks at workshops and conferences.  

Jeffrey A. Harrison

Jeffrey A. Harrison, president and CEO of Citizens Energy Group, has worked in the utility industry for 30 years. Harrison is responsible for establishing and maintaining the company’s vision and strategic direction, and prioritizing the customers’ needs while creating an employee-friendly environment. Previous positions Harrison has held include executive vice president and chief operating officer, senior vice president of engineering and sustainability, vice president of capital programs and engineering, vice president of engineering and facilities management, vice president manufacturing and corporate strategist. 

Candy King

Candy King is the strategic projects director at Roche Diagnostics in Indianapolis, focusing on diversity and inclusion. King began at Roche in 2002 and has held several roles in commercial operations, business support, IT, site services and human resources. For three years, King worked in Rotkreuz, Switzerland, where she led a team to implement a global system for call centers and field service support. Since 2016, King has been responsible for building external partnerships, developing diversity and inclusion processes and progressing the company’s seven Business Resource Groups (BRG), and serves as the leader of the African American BRG. Through BRG, King uses her 25 years of experience in business and project management to focus on diverse talent acquisition and development and employee education.

Mariama Shaheed

Mariama Shaheed is the founder and CEO of Global Preparatory Academy in Indianapolis. Opening in 2016, Global Preparatory Academy is the first dual-language charter school in Indiana, offering a bilingual education to 650 students. Shaheed studied at the Chac-Mool Institute in Cuervnavaca, Mexico, and is fluent in Spanish. Since opening, the school has consistently received an “A” rating from the Indiana Department of Education. Before opening Global Preparatory Academy, Shaheed was a teacher and a principal in the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township. As principal of Snacks Crossing Elementary School, Shaheed led theEmotional Disabilities program-site for the district and increased student success in both reading and mathematics. 

Mario Rodriguez

Mario Rodriguez is executive director of Indianapolis Airport Authority and was appointed by Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump to the National Department of Transportation Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection. Rodriguez leads Indianapolis Airport Authority’s strategic direction and operations. The authority was named the best airport in the country by J.D. Powers and Associates, Airport Council International and Condé Nast under his leadership. Rodriguez previously was president of the California Airports Council and was awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash, Indiana’s highest honor, in 2018. 

Vernon A. Williams

Vernon A. Williams currently serves as the IUPUI communications and community engagement strategist, a role in which he has been honored with several awards, including the 2019 IUPUI Multicultural Impact Award. Williams began in journalism while a student at Gary’s Theodore Roosevelt High School. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Indiana University, Williams became the first news reporter at The Gary-Post Tribune in 1974. After a decade at the Tribune, Williams founded Paragon Advertising, where he represented clients such as the City of Gary, the 10th Pan American Games in Indianapolis and the Gary Chamber of Commerce. 

Organization honorees

Bloom Project, Arnetta Scruggs

Located in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, the Bloom Project Inc., a nonprofit organization founded by Arnetta Scruggs and named after her grandfather, Ezell “Bloom” Stephens, develops leadership skills in males ages 12-18 through mentoring, community service projects and character building. The Bloom Project also offers college preparation and career exploration opportunities. In 2011, Scruggs began Kings Feast Symposium, a program that connects young men to professional males in various careers to develop networking opportunities. The Bloom Project also offers a monthly mentoring workshop, Project King. 

Evansville African American Museum, Ashley Jordan

The Evansville African American Museum collects and preserves the history and traditions of African American families, organizations and communities. The museum is also an educational resource for the public to learn about those histories and traditions. The building is an artifact in itself, as the museum is housed in the last remaining building of Lincoln Gardens, which was the second federal housing project created under the New Deal in 1938.

The museum is led by Executive Director Ashley Jordan.

Indiana Donor Network, Kellie Hanner

Indiana Donor Network’s mission is “saving and enhancing the quality of life through organ, tissue and cornea donation and transplantation.” Indiana Donor Network serves as a link between donors and patients who are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants, healing tissue and corneas. Indiana Donor Network is Indiana’s federally designated organ recovery organization and an accredited tissue bank.

Indiana Donor Network was established in 1987 after Indiana University Medical Center and Methodist Hospital organ recovery programs merged.

Kellie Hanner is the president and CEO of Indiana Donor Network and works to ensure the organization’s mission is met. 

Indianapolis Urban League, Tony Mason

The Indianapolis Urban League was founded in 1965 by Thomas W. Binford and Henry J. Richardson Jr. and is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, interracial community-based social service and civil rights organization. The organization’s mission is to help African Americans and other minorities and those who are otherwise disadvantaged achieve social and economic equality. Indianapolis Urban League employs a five-point strategy: Education and youth empowerment, economic empowerment, health and quality of life empowerment, civic engagement and leadership empowerment, and civil rights and racial justice empowerment. Sam Jones was the first president and CEO, serving from 1966 to 2002.  

Tony Mason is the third and current president and CEO of Indianapolis Urban League, succeeding Joseph Slash, who served from 2003 to 2014. Mason was previously relationship development director for Companies with a Mission, currently known as TrueU. 

Special Olympics Indiana, Jeff Mohler

Special Olympics Indiana is a nonprofit that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in more than 20 Olympic-type sports for children and adults with disabilities. The organization, which is part of the global Special Olympics movement, reaches more than 17,000 athletes across the state with the goal of using sports to create inclusive communities by using sports as a catalyst for social change. Special Olympics Indiana was founded in 1969 and relies on donations from corporations, and civic and individual donations.

Jeff Mohler has served as Special Olympics Indiana’s president and CEO since 2018.

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