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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


UW alumni shine on 2023 Most Influential Black Leaders list

Fifteen Badgers, including current middle school principal, Upper House hospitality manager honored on Madison365 list
Soren Goldsmith

Madison365’s 2023 list of the 51 Most influential Black Leaders in the state of Wisconsin for 2023 includes 15 University of Wisconsin Badgers, according to UW’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department.

The 2023 version is the ninth annual Most Influential Black Leaders list and had over 200 nominations, according to Madison365. Madison365 CEO Henry Sanders said the goal of the list is to highlight Black role models in Wisconsin to inspire the future generation.

“… that’s what this list is all about, introducing you to those people you may not know,” Sanders said on Madison365. “Every year, I’ve intended these lists to highlight the beauty of the diversity across our state. I want kids here in Wisconsin to see role models of people who are succeeding, to know that it’s possible for people of color to achieve great things here.”


One of the honorees was Kromrey Middle School Principal Dominique Ricks, the youngest and first Black principal in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area District. Ricks completed a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s in educational leadership and policy analysis at UW. Ricks credits his academic experience as a Black student as one of the ways he is able to connect with students who come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

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“My race and my age impact a lot about how I approach my role as a principal,” Ricks said. “One thing that I really value is the way I’m able to connect with kids is huge for me.”

Ricks’ personal experiences with homelessness while growing up inspired a passion for connecting people and students to resources. As a result, he became part of the board of the WayForward food pantry, which works to combat food insecurity and housing instability in Dane County.

“Being homeless was something that I lived with the entire time I was in high school, and I know the impact that that can have on students’ outcomes, and their parents’ ability to invest in their future,” Ricks said. “So for me, my leadership really does come down to resources and how we can connect people with resources.”

In the future, Ricks plans to pursue a superintendent role as well as greater political aspirations. Ricks credited his experience as a principal in education as a way for him to better prepare himself to serve the people when pursuing political leadership.

“I wholeheartedly believe that education is one of the most important and critical roles that somebody can play in society because of having so much influence and impact on the next generation,” Ricks said.

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Another Badger on the list is Upper House Hospitality and Student Enrichment Manager Rebecca Cooks.

Cooks graduated from UW in 2016 and was awarded the chancellor’s scholarship, now known as the Mercille J. Lee Scholars Program. The scholarship offers full tuition for undergraduate recipients from underrepresented groups. Cooks said the scholarship instilled core leadership values, such as resilience, that she continues to incorporate into her leadership today.

Cooks also participated in the marching band while attending UW, which she credited with shaping her leadership development. Cooks said the opportunity to lead sections helped her build initiative and work on her resilience.

“There’s a common phrase in the band,” Cooks said. “It’s ‘eat a rock’ … the idea that you need to do something hard and work through it. [Former UW marching band director] Michael Leckrone would frequently have this phrase, ‘If it wasn’t hard, everybody would do it.’”

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At Upper House, Cooks leads discussions on “living the good life” in which students and participants dissect elements of the good life to construct what the idea means to them. Previously, Cooks also led a cohort on African American history which studied prominent African American voices speaking on topics such as hope, resilience and perseverance.

Cooks said the Wisconsin Idea was a core value that continues to drive her work. The idea suggests education should extend beyond the classroom to serve the community. For Cooks, this means taking a proactive role in carving out opportunities for the next wave of community leaders and investing in the development of students.

“No good leader is formed in a vacuum,” Cooks said. “Calling up potential requires community and also requires someone who is looking outside of themselves to see someone else, and to acknowledge the goodness in someone else and say, ‘You have something in you that can be fostered.’”

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