Meet the South Side LGBTQ+ Community Assessment Steering Committee 

Alonzo Brown 

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Arick Buckles 

Arick Buckles is an outreach coordinator at Chicago House and Social (Scattered Site Department). For the past 10 years, Arick has brought passion and expertise to the field of housing for people living with HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and poverty, many whom experience substance use. With his dedication, Arick helps this target population navigate the process of gaining access to stable housing. In addition, Arick is a volunteer member of the HIV Housing Task Force of Chicago, and the Illinois Alliance for Sound AIDS Policy. In each of these roles, Arick advocates with vigor with hopes of creating change within communities experiencing HIV/AIDS poverty and homelessness.

Caprice Caruthers 

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Will O. Cobbs, Jr., PHD., MPH

Will O. Cobbs, Jr., PhD, MPH is a nationally recognized evaluation specialist and clinical researcher. He has served as manager, lead evaluator and principal investigator on studies and programs throughout the nation in clinical and community settings. His program evaluation expertise is in public health, health disparities, program expenditures, and socio-cultural and psychosocial issues within minority and LGBTQ populations. He is the Principal at AC Research, Inc. based in Illinois. He has over thirty years of experience in HIV/AIDS research, program evaluation, policy development and statistical methods (qualitative and quantitative). He has served as the Quality Assurance/Quality Improvement (QA/QI) Lead Executive Board Member at the Christian Community Health Center for the past 7 years. Dr. Cobbs was the lead evaluation and statistical consultant to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH); Center for Minority Health Services from 2001-2012. He taught introductory and medical sociology courses at the University of Miami (FL), and the Chicago State University. He has worked with over seventy-five community-based, faith-based organizations, clinics and corporations in Illinois, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Maryland, West Virginia, Indiana, the US Virgin Islands Florida, South Africa and Armenia addressing health disparities, substance use and HIV/AIDS. Over the past eighteen years, he has served as lead evaluator and/or principal investigator on over twenty federally funded projects addressing substance use disorders, substance use prevention and education, homelessness, HIV/AIDS, and viral hepatitis.  

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Ka’Riel Gaiter

Ka’Riel Gaiter 28, He’s native to Chicago and Has been an activist, Artist,educator, and advocate for the LGBTGNCQ and POC community since 2011 on issues around resource deprivation, trauma informed care, mental health advocacy, andthe arts as liberation. In collaboration with Organizations like The Youth Empowerment Performance Project, The Broadway youth Center, Chicago Youth Storage Initiative and a plethora of additional social service agencies, hehas advocated for and implemented inclusive resources for unstably housed marginalized youth,Traumatized street based youth,and lack of adequate resources in POC communities on national platforms over the past 7 years.Ka`Riel`s has received awards like Chicago’s “ women and femme” award, windy city times “30 under 30” to celebrate the radical advocacy work they have done as a pioneer of social change in the Chicagoland.

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Keith R. Green, PhD, MSW 

Dr. Green is a native Chicagoan with strong community roots and an extensive history as an organizer, educator, researcher, and advocate. Dr. Green is currently an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Loyola University Chicago. His current research agenda is focused on understanding the role of community-based organizations (CBOs) in the antiretroviral-based HIV prevention era, as well as the rise in methamphetamine use among Black gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.  

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Roderick K. Hawkins 

Roderick K. Hawkins is the Director of Communications at Advance Illinois, a nationally recognized public education policy and advocacy organization. Before joining Advance Illinois, Hawkins was Deputy Chief of Staff for Public Engagement in the office of former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In this role he led the Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement and connected Chicago residents to the Mayor’s Office through direct outreach, cultural events, and community forums on issues that impact the city.


Prior to the Emanuel administration, Hawkins was Vice President of External Affairs at the Chicago Urban League, one of the region’s largest civil rights and economic development organizations. While at the Urban League, he represented the organization in the Illinois Unites for Marriage campaign, the statewide effort that secured marriage equality in Illinois prior to the historic 2015 Supreme Court ruling. 


From 2004 to 2006, he was the Deputy Press Secretary to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, where he played a major role in the communications response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Hawkins was the Communications Associate at The Chicago Community Trust from 2001 to 2004. While there, he led the launch the Trust’s philanthropic initiatives in the African American and Latino communities. 


Roderick Hawkins’ civic engagement includes serving on the board of directors of Lambda Legal, the Auditorium Theatre, and the advisory boards of OUT at Chicago History Museum and iHEART Media Chicago. In 2018 he was recognized as one of Chicago’s notable LGBTQ executives in Crain’s Chicago Business. 

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Phoenix Matthews

Phoenix is a Professor and clinical psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago with more than 25 years of experience in examining determinants of cancer-related health inequalities among racial/ethnic minorities and other under-served populations. Their recent research focuses on the use of community-based health promotion interventions to reduce cancer risk factors including smoking cessation. Phoenix has served as the PI of five NIH grants and co-investigator for several others. Currently, Phoenix is the co-director of the Center for Translational Science’s Recruitment and Retention Program and the co-investigator for three NIH funded pipeline development grants aimed at reducing health inequalities..    

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Reyna Ortiz 

Reyna is proud Indigenous, Two Spirited-Trans woman who was born and raised in Chicago. Her experiences navigating through this society openly as a Trans woman for over twenty five years has given her a great understanding of the needs in her community. Reyna works hands on with her community, providing vital resources and has dedicated herself to building and working with her Trans community. Reyna is passionate about educating and enlightening society on the realities of this beautiful and resourceful community. She is an Advocate, Activist and Author fighting for the rights of the LGBT community.

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Mario Pierce, EdD.

Dr. Mario Pierce is a native of Chicago and has worked with youth and young adults since 2003. As an educator, community mobilizer, and liaison he tackles disparities in underrepresented communities. His hope is to help reduce stigma as it pertains to eliminating HIV transmission in the city and surrounding areas through advocacy, mentoring, and community level interventions. Mario held an integral role as Young Adult Engagement Coordinator at University of Chicago Medicine and taught at the middle and high school levels. He has been an esteemed member of the House of Balenciaga for almost two decades and a “Father” for over 12 years. Additionally, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Master of Arts in Interpersonal & Speech Communication, and a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership. Mario currently serves as Instructional Manager and teaches at a private two-year college.   

Ann Rowell

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Kelly Suzanne Saulsberry 

Kelly Suzanne Saulsberry is a proud native of Chicago’s South Side. She is the Director of Policy and Outreach at the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, the City’s civil rights department. In her role, she works on policy and public engagement initiatives. Previously, she served as a Deputy Policy Director in the Office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and worked in the non-profit sector on civil engagement and social justice initiatives. Kelly is also a volunteer with the Pride Action Tank at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and Affinity Community Services, a social justice organization that advocates with and on behalf of Black LGBTQ communities in Chicago, and she hosts a monthly podcast called Living Room Chats at Affinity: A Podcast for Brave Conversations & Bold Voices. She earned a BA from Wellesley College and a Master of Public Policy (MPP) from the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy

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Rev. Charles M. Straight

Rev. Straight is currently Pastor of the Faith United Methodist Church in Dolton Illinois. He served in the position of Assistant Pastor at the Wesley United Methodist Church for seven years prior to his current appointment. Pastor Straight is also a Board Member and President, of The People’s Lobby Education Institute, a movement of clergy and people of faith who work together to transform our economy and society so that justice might reign, and not the dominant values of greed and individualism.  

Rev. Straight is a member of Pastor’s United for Change, a community action group made up of ministers involved in the issues of crime, health, education, social justice and economic empowerment of local community members where he serves as Chairman of the Health Committee. He is a member of the HIV Prevention Taskforce for the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church.   


Rev. Straight is a former Board Member at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the Black Church & HIV Advisory Committee for the NAACP, and the Spiritual Care Committee for the Alexian Brother’s Bonaventure House transitional living facility for person with HIV. Since 1987 Rev. Straight has been a person living with HIV.  


Rev. Straight organized and chaired the city’s first African-American church-based AIDS ministries, serving over 20 HIV-impacted persons at the Fellowship M. B. Church and other churches. Now an empty nester, he was a licensed foster parent or adoptive parent for Krystal, Kenneth, Ruth, Jeremiah, and Jasmine, whom he raised to adulthood.


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LaSaia Wade

LaSaia Wade is an open indigenous Trans Woman, founder of TNTJ Tennessee Trans Journey Project, and member of Chicago Trans Gender Nonconforming Collective and the Trans Liberation Collective, and Director of Brave Space Alliance. Recently, she was honored at the Chicago LGBTQA Black History Recognitions ceremony and is the first Trans woman in Illinois History to be honored in Women’s History month for the work she’s doing not limited to community organizing. Her role in organizing ranges between and beyond as a central organizer for the Trans Liberation Protest Chicago, the largest march for trans rights in Midwestern history and being the Chicago chapter Mother for the House of Lauren. LaSaia graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Business Management from Murfreesboro Tennessee State University, has 10+ years of experience in organizing and advocacy work with black, indigenous, trans and gender nonconforming people around the world. She is the business owner of Mystical Bee Hive, and facilitates trainings across the U.S .

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Megan Wickman

Megan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has spent over 13 years working with young adults in settings including schools, the foster care system, street and health outreach and housing programs. Megan served as director of the first drop-in and resource center for youth experiencing homelessness on Chicago’s south side and the Project Coordinator for the Chicago Youth Storage Initiative, a youth-driven action that brought over 700 units of secure storage to schools and program spaces across the city. Megan is a founding member and the Chief Program Officer of The LYTE Collective, an organization committed to addressing the systemic injustices that impact young people in high-risk situations such as poverty and homelessness. She provides consultation and clinical supervision to organizations and individuals engaged in trauma work and supports organizations to develop programs that center the relational treatment of trauma. Megan is currently a Postgraduate Fellow at Womencare Counseling and Training Center and holds a Master of Social Work from Loyola University and a Master of Science in Child Development from Erikson Institute.