Inaugural class of Sojourn Leadership & Justice Academy graduates

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Inaugural class of Sojourn Leadership & Justice Academy graduates

Categories: Advocacy, Blog, News, Women & Girls Leadership, Women of Influence

Not pictured: Gisselle Pereira & Parash Rajbhansi

YWCA Dayton is celebrating 11 women as graduates of its new Sojourn Leadership and Justice Academy, which completed its inaugural year this month. First introduced in late 2019 and paused for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first class of Sojourners began in April 2021.

Sojourn is a professional development cohort for women, ages 25 to 40, that convenes and cultivates young women leaders as community change agents for racial justice, gender justice, and economic empowerment. The Academy curriculum is rooted in three core pillars: board/philanthropic leadership; generational leadership; and equity/social justice leadership.

2021 graduates include:
• Jill Bucaro
• Deena John
• Maleka James
• Regina Miolan
• Margaret Murray-Davis
• Gisselle Pereira
• Parash Rajbhansi
• Jamie Rippey
• Barbara Ward
• Madeline Weiler
• Andrea Wilkes

At its core, YWCA – the world’s oldest and largest multicultural organization for women – advocates for an end to discrimination against women in every sphere. YW believes that change happens at the local level, so YWCA Dayton is committed to equipping our region’s leaders with the information and experiences they need to recognize when marginalized voices are absent — and then serve as leaders who use their privilege to ensure marginalized voices get heard.

Says Shannon Isom, president and CEO of YWCA Dayton: “Our girls can’t be what they can’t see; when they look at our board rooms and corner offices, are they met with a mirror or a closed door? Following an intensive, mission-driven nine-month program, our Sojourners graduate uniquely prepared to give voice on nonprofit boards, be educated advocates for social justice, and act as equity leaders in the Miami Valley.”

What makes Sojourn different? Sojourners:
• Are nominated by members of the YWCA Dayton Circle of Influence (past Women of Influence honorees) or current members of the YWCA Dayton Board of Directors;
• Experience a leadership curriculum that strengthens their social consciousness and centers racial justice, gender justice, and economic empowerment;
• Have exclusive access to invitation-only Women of Influence events and are paired with an Honoree mentor;
• Receive an expertly-curated leadership library and participate in a cohort journaling exercise that builds an intentional three-year community and career plan;
• Prepare for future leadership roles through practical, real-world demonstrations (i.e., a mock board meeting);
• Earn a Board and Equity Leader Certificate and are added to the YWCA Dayton Board Registry.

Donna Long, director of advocacy and outreach, notes: “YWCA Dayton has been a convener of women’s voices since 1870 — lifting up their needs, triumphs, and challenges so that together, we all rise. This legacy of leadership and commitment to intersectionality are core tenets of our Sojourn Leadership Academy. It has been two years in the making, and then another year in the waiting due to the pandemic, to see this first class come to fruition. We are incredibly proud of these young women and their commitment to building a community that demands peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.”

Graduate Madeline Weiler had this to say: “Each month, we’ve learned about critical topics like financial acumen, board leadership, intersectionality, and more. I am leaving this experience more strategic, clear on who I am and what it looks like when I’m showing up as my most authentic self. Through this program, and the opportunity it’s given me to be poured into by all of these incredible women, I can say confidently that I do belong in important spaces, and more than that, these spaces are better when I’m there and using my voice. Being present does not equate to presence, so I’m committed to doing more than just showing up.”

Nominations for the 2022 cohort are being accepted now through Jan. 3, 2022; nominees will then be asked to submit an application, with a final class selected by YWCA Dayton’s volunteer Advocacy Committee in February 2022. Each year’s Sojourn class is announced at YWCA Dayton’s Women of Influence awards luncheon, with the next one to be held March 10, 2022.

Full Academy details and nomination information is available at To make a donation and sponsor a 2022 participant, visit