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The What’s Your Forté Foundation Board of Directors is made of up seven powerful executives from diverse sectors whose primary mission is to govern the foundation and oversee its management.

Our Team

Founder

Matt Forte

Dubbed an “Uphill Runner” for his uncompromising drive, and Top 50 NFL player in 2015, Matt Forté exemplifies fortitude in every sense. His ability to overcome obstacles, including the impact Hurricane Katrina had on the area in which he was raised and went to college, down to his training, has proven that his fighting spirit prevails despite whatever the obstacle.

Matt was raised in Slidell, Louisiana and graduated from Tulane University with a degree in Finance. While attending Tulane, Matt rushed for more than 2,000 yards in his senior year and was on the Heisman Candidate Watch List. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2008 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears where he would play for 8 years. In 2016, as an unrestricted free agent, he was signed to the New York Jets. In 2018 Matt announced his retirement from football after 10 seasons, and a two-time ProBowler and was able to retire as a Chicago Bear. He went on to join NBC Sports Chicago Football Aftershow as an analyst.

Matt has been working with youth to instill values and principles he learned growing up and during his illustrious career. In 2013 Matt founded the What’s Your Forté Foundation with his co-Founder and wife Danielle Forté. On the South and West Sides of Chicago, his foundation is a catalyst for equitable economic advancement of youth and their families. He develops the next generation of leaders through strategic teaching which provides structure and stability utilizing a “top down” (physical needs) and “bottom up” (spiritual needs) approach. Matt not only engages but impacts and uplifts the family unit as a whole, understanding that strong families can transform culture in positive ways that last for generations to come.

As a philanthropist, he empowers youth and their families to take advantage of opportunities that harness their talents, and to lean into skills that can further equip them for success.

Co-Founder

Danielle Forté

Versatile, efficient and passionate, three words that describe Danielle Forté’s “get-the-job-done” mentality. Danielle, wife of Matt Forté and mother to their two children, is also the Creative Director and Founder of their family-focused fashion house geared towards women and kids, 828 Brands.

In addition to running 828 Brands and the Forté household, she also heads up initiatives for The What’s Your Forté Foundation as the Foundation’s co-founder. Danielle believes that lending the proverbial hand to someone in need is the first step of the journey ahead.

Danielle is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in PR and Marketing.

Romans 8:28

Executive Director

Jamia Jowers

As Executive Director of the What’s Your Forte Foundation, Jamia designs innovative programming for the next generation of leaders and their families that creates a path toward equitable solutions. Building on the communities’ expertise, Jamia works with the Forte’s to solve the most pressing challenges for Chicago’s South and West side neighborhoods. Her approach includes strategic partnerships, international advocacy, legislation, and sustainable development practices.

With over 15 years of experience in international affairs, Jamia Jowers has helped shape U.S. foreign policy and international security. As a practitioner, she focuses on humanitarian issues, corporate social responsibility partnerships, and international development policy in Africa. Through legislation, advocacy, bolstering economic growth through programming, and aiding peaceful democracies, Jamia utilizes both philanthropy and the government to deliver sustainable solutions in her neighborhood and across the globe.

She is President of the Board of Directors at the Chicago Refugee Coalition and previously served as the Director of International Policy and Development and the Director of the Obama Foundation Scholars program at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. As the Associate Director of Student Recruitment & Global Outreach Jamia contributed to engagement efforts, strategic development, and recruiting and outreach. Jamia also worked for the Office of Academic Leadership, Advancement, and Diversity under the Provost where she fostered a diverse and inclusive campus community through initiatives aimed at underrepresented minorities. She has served as a staffer with the National Security Council (N.S.C) -African Affairs Directorate where she collaborated on the U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit and while working in the National Security Council’s Multilateral Affairs & Human Rights Directorate, she spent two years advocating for human rights, U.N. reform, and contributing to the Atrocity Prevention Board.

Before joining the N.S.C., Jamia served in various leadership positions in the White House under President Barack Obama. She received her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana -Champaign and her M.A. in International Relations from Salve Regina University. Jamia is both a Boren Scholar, EL with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and a Truman National Security Fellow.

Intern - Operations Coordinator

Katia Shek

Katia Shek is a second-year student at Northwestern University studying Political Science with minors in Data Science & Business Institutions. After a summer internship at a volunteerism non-profit, she became increasingly interested in non-profit management and engaged in a wide range of Hong Kong-based advocacy work, tackling issues like environmental injustice and migrant worker rights. While her interests range from entrepreneurship to social policy, she is beyond excited to unite her interests to contribute to the What’s Your Forte Foundation team.

Board of Directors

Board of Directors members serve as a source of advice and counsel, offer discipline value, and act in crisis situations. The board determines policy, measures results, and asks discerning questions so that the foundation can fulfill its mission of investing in the equitable economic advancement of youth and families to facilitate transformational development on the South and West sides of Chicago.

Regina Cross

Dr. Omar B. Lateef

Dr. Lateef became president and CEO of Rush University Medical Center in May 2019. Prior to becoming president and CEO, Lateef was the chief medical officer. As of July 1, 2022, he has been serving in the system-wide role of president and CEO of RUSH, while continuing as president and CEO of Rush University Medical Center.
Under his leadership, the Medical Center has received national attention for its ongoing, effective management of the COVID-19 pandemic, which included building a forward triage, deploying early testing, acceptance of critically ill patient transfers especially from communities hit hardest by the pandemic, and being one of the first health systems to offer antibody testing. In recognition of Lateef’s role in Rush’s response to the crisis, Modern Healthcare named him to their 2021 list of the 100 most influential people in health care in the US.
A nationally recognized leader in the measurement of health care quality, Lateef has worked with physicians and analysts at Rush and from academic medical centers across the nation to evaluate the driving factors and methodology of quality rankings by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), U.S. News and World Report and others.
In January 2020, Lateef was invited by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to serve on the National Advisory Council for Healthcare Research and Quality of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Lateef and his colleagues evaluated and recommended changes to the rating systems for accuracy and the best reflection of quality. His work to ensure that key national measures are transparent and measure the right, meaningful data points greatly affected how health care quality is reported across the country. Rush University Medical Center was among the first recipients of the Mayor’s Medal of Honor in April 2021. The Medical Center was the only hospital in Chicago to receive the award, established by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to recognize individuals and organizations who made extraordinary contributions to Chicago’s residents throughout 2020 and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under Lateef’s leadership, Rush performed exceptionally well in rankings from government organizations and from private rankings companies. Rush University Medical Center has a five-star rating, the highest possible, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Medical Center has twice earned a spot on the U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals Honor Roll and in 2022, Newsweek ranked Rush University Medical Center No. 16 in the U.S. and No. 56 in the world. Other accolades include receiving A grades in 18 of the 19 rounds of grades issued since the Leapfrog Group began rating hospitals in 2012, including the most recent ratings. In 2021, Vizient, Inc., ranked Rush University Medical Center No. 2 in the nation in quality and accountability. In 1995, Lateef earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from the University of Florida-Gainesville. He received his medical degree from Des Moines University and completed his internship and residency at New York University Downtown Hospital. He completed a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Rush University Medical Center in 2005.

Pastor Charlie Dates

Dr. Charlie Dates is the Senior Pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication and Rhetoric at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a Master of Divinity Degree and a PhD in Historical Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. In 2011, at age 30, he became the youngest Senior Pastor in Progressive’s 99-year history.

In 2006, he began serving as the primary preaching assistant to the Rev. James Meeks, Director of Church Operations and as Pastor of Adult Ministries at the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago and in in 2002, Rev. Charlie served as an apprentice to Pastor K. Edward Copeland and started his formal, practical training at the New Zion Baptist Church of Rockford, Illinois. He successfully defended his dissertation for the PhD in Historical Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His original research focuses on the health of proclamation in late 20th Century Black Church Chicago.

For reasons that please Him, God has blessed the Progressive Church to grow deep and wide. In addition to his pastoral duties, Pastor Charlie has served as an Adjunct Professor at the Moody Bible Institute, is a Contributing Editor for Preaching Magazine, and currently serves on the Community Advisory Board for the Chicago Fire Department. He is a contributor to the 2014 book Letters To A Birmingham Jail.

Pastor Charlie is married to Kirstie Dates and is the proud father of their children Charlie Edward Dates II and Claire Elisabeth Dates.

Timothy Abrahams

Tim is a Partner in PwC’s Advisory Cyber, Privacy & Forensic Services practice. He has more than 25 years of experience in information risk management and governance, intellectual property and contract disputes, complex data analysis, eDiscovery readiness, digital forensics preservation and analysis, forensic accounting and high-stakes investigations. He has directed and managed numerous large-scale digital forensics /eDiscovery, information risk management, and complex data analysis projects in matters involving government investigations, litigation matters, data breach, intellectual property theft, money laundering, Anti-Bribery and Corruption, disputes, and various corporate investigations.

Tim’s expertise include providing consultation to government and major public and private corporations across various industries both domestic and international in both preparing for and responding to unplanned events with a legal, regulatory or compliance element. Tim has extensive international client and case experiences within the following geographies: Africa, Asia, Australia, Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, Middle East and North America.

Founder

Matt Forte

Dubbed an “Uphill Runner” for his uncompromising drive, and Top 50 NFL player in 2015, Matt Forté exemplifies fortitude in every sense. His ability to overcome obstacles, including the impact Hurricane Katrina had on the area in which he was raised and went to college, down to his training, has proven that his fighting spirit prevails despite whatever the obstacle.

Matt was raised in Slidell, Louisiana and graduated from Tulane University with a degree in Finance. While attending Tulane, Matt rushed for more than 2,000 yards in his senior year and was on the Heisman Candidate Watch List. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2008 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears where he would play for 8 years. In 2016, as an unrestricted free agent, he was signed to the New York Jets. In 2018 Matt announced his retirement from football after 10 seasons, and a two-time ProBowler and was able to retire as a Chicago Bear. He went on to join NBC Sports Chicago Football Aftershow as an analyst.

Matt has been working with youth to instill values and principles he learned growing up and during his illustrious career. In 2013 Matt founded the What’s Your Forté Foundation with his co-Founder and wife Danielle Forté. On the South and West Sides of Chicago, his foundation is a catalyst for equitable economic advancement of youth and their families. He develops the next generation of leaders through strategic teaching which provides structure and stability utilizing a “top down” (physical needs) and “bottom up” (spiritual needs) approach. Matt not only engages but impacts and uplifts the family unit as a whole, understanding that strong families can transform culture in positive ways that last for generations to come.

As a philanthropist, he empowers youth and their families to take advantage of opportunities that harness their talents, and to lean into skills that can further equip them for success.

Co-Founder

Danielle Forté

Versatile, efficient and passionate, three words that describe Danielle Forté’s “get-the-job-done” mentality. Danielle, wife of Matt Forté and mother to their two children, is also the Creative Director and Founder of their family-focused fashion house geared towards women and kids, 828 Brands.

In addition to running 828 Brands and the Forté household, she also heads up initiatives for The What’s Your Forté Foundation as the Foundation’s co-founder. Danielle believes that lending the proverbial hand to someone in need is the first step of the journey ahead.

Danielle is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in PR and Marketing.

Romans 8:28

La-Donia Alford-Jefferies

La-Donia Alford-Jefferies is a politico with diverse political organizing and operations experience.  La-Donia has demonstrated the ability to handle complexity and ambiguity, integrity, collaboration, and financial competence for over 10 years.

Mrs. Alford-Jefferies currently works as the Director of Operations for Community Justice, a Black, gun survivor led gun violence prevention National organization. Mrs. Alford-Jefferies secured the 501c3 non-profit status for the organization within 5 months of joining the team to help ensure compliance while managing day-to-day and organizational wide operations and logistics. 

In 2008, Mrs. Alford-Jefferies began her advocacy career by volunteering as a grassroots canvasser for President Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. As a Field Organizer in 2012 for President Barack Obama’s second presidential campaign La-Donia increased voter turnout by 105% in four precincts while additionally managing voter turnout on two college campuses in Washington DC and Greensboro, NC. Mrs. Alford-Jefferies has worked across the country as a Political Director, Campaign Development Coordinator, Digital Strategist, Event’s Director, and Chief of Staff.

Mrs. Alford-Jefferies has always been an advocate for education and children. She currently serves on a School Leadership Team for Sternberger Elementary School and works with a team of teachers and administrators to establish budgets, school logistics and programming. Mrs. Alford-Jefferies serves as a leader in Jack and Jill of America Inc. Greensboro, Chapter and continues to work to build stronger communities.

Mrs. Alford-Jefferies loves attending book readings to read her two self-published children’s books, Homecoming and The HBCU ABCs. Mrs. Alford-Jefferies loves spending time with her family and competing in CrossFit competitions.

Mrs. Alford-Jefferies holds a Master Degree from Fort Valley State University and a Bachelor’s of Science from North Carolina A&T State University. 

Janice Giddens

Janice Giddens is the Vice President of Sustainable Nutrition at the U.S. Dairy Export Council. In this role, she manages engagement efforts with multilateral institutions to increase awareness of the contributions U.S. dairy makes to global sustainable food systems that support healthy diets, food and nutrition security, and environmental sustainability.

Janice intimately understands the important role of agriculture in nourishing people, the planet, and communities from her work on farms and with farmers in the U.S., Ecuador, Mozambique, and Rwanda. Janice was awarded an international nutrition research fellowship to develop nutrition-focused agricultural programming targeting female farmers, and children within the critical first 1,000 days of life in Rwanda. Domestically, she has worked with refugee farmers to secure land and resources to produce culturally relevant foods and developed market access opportunities that bolstered producer livelihoods and access to healthy foods within communities. During her tenure with the Atlanta Food Bank, she designed its inaugural nutrition programming portfolio, including a nutrient profiling system to assess 70 million pounds of food annually, and led the construction a learning kitchen for culinary nutrition classes that was realized through public-private partnerships.

Janice’s leadership in sustainable food systems, food security and nutrition earned her a global affairs fellowship at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She also received the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Leadership Award and a Distinguished Service Award for Grassroots Efforts to build healthier communities and advocate for public policy. Most recently, Giddens completed a global executive women’s fellowship program at the Centers for Strategic and International Studies.

Janice received a dual B.S. in Dietetics and Consumer Foods, and a Certificate in International Agriculture from University of Georgia. She obtained a M.S. in Human Nutrition and completed a dietetic internship at Mississippi State University, where her research focused on the relationship between food insecurity and women’s health.

Shonta Connolly

Shonta Connolly is an industry luminary with a distinguished career spanning over a decade, marked by her groundbreaking founding of Agency Brand U. Her prowess lies in orchestrating unparalleled large-scale event experiences cutting across diverse industries. Renowned for her finesse in crafting immersive consumer-facing events, Shonta’s expertise extends seamlessly from music to beauty industries and beyond.

Under her visionary leadership, Agency Brand U has carved a trail of impactful collaborations with esteemed brands and luminaries like The O’Jays, The Whispers, The Shaquille O’Neal All Star Comedy Tour, Mielle Organics, Sally Beauty, L’Oreal, and Essence Magazine, solidifying her status as a trailblazer in the field.

Stepping into the role of Executive Director at Mielle Cares in 2023, Shonta took charge of a significant endowment exceeding 2 million dollars. Tasked with steering this generous fund, her strategic acumen and innovative approaches aim at fostering teen mental health and their holistic well-being. Her unwavering commitment to collaboration and advocacy drives her tireless efforts to expand the foundation’s impact, elevate her team, and bring profound change to the lives of those they serve.

Beyond her executive roles, Shonta has served as a Board Member for House of PrimaDonnas and Margaret Ford Manor, injecting invaluable insights and unyielding dedication toward advancing their missions. Her tenure as Chief of Staff and Programming at Progressive Baptist Church showcased her devotion to nurturing spiritual growth and utilizing her talents for meaningful community contributions. For Shonta, service is not just a duty; it’s a profound calling that hones her leadership skills while fulfilling a deep sense of purpose. Her dedication extends to joyfully contributing to outreach programs and various initiatives aligned with the core values and principles of her faith.

Mrs. Connolly earned her BS in Consumer and Textile Marketing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her commitment to both professional excellence and family life radiates through her residency in Chicago, where she resides with her husband and two children, embodying the balance between her extraordinary career and personal fulfillment.