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Who we are

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Jessica Watkins

Policy & Advocacy Strategist

Jessica Watkins was born, raised, and lives in Illinois. After law school, Jessica practiced civil litigation defense at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Chicago and later served as an assistant attorney general in the administrative review and civil prosecutions unit of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. 

Jessica enjoys all things law, public policy, and community engagement. Jessica is a former board member of the South Side YMCA in Chicago, Illinois, and grants manager and general counsel at Young Chicago Authors.

Patrice James

Founding Director

Patrice James has spent her career in service of and with a deep love and respect for Black people and its communities. After a nationwide search, she was selected as the Founding Director of the Illinois Black Advocacy Initiative where she will build the IBAI from the ground-up, organizing and gaining buy-in and engagement, building its management and financial capacity, driving change, and ultimately establishing a plan of collective advocacy and policy solutions for the needs of Black communities throughout Illinois.
Prior to joining IBAI, she was Director of Community Justice at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, a founding attorney of Still She Rises, Tulsa, where she provided holistic legal representation primarily to low-income women of color, engaged in community building, and advocated for shifting the narrative of women involved in the criminal justice system “from broken women to broken systems”, and a public defender at the Bronx Defenders Office. Patrice is also the co-founder and board member of the Black Public Defender Association.

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Nicholas Richard-Thompson

Director of Communications

Nicholas Richard-Thompson is a passionate advocate dedicated to building unified, self-determined, engaged communities and the global liberation of Black people. With extensive experience in municipal government and a decade devoted to various human rights causes, he champions positive change at both grassroots and systemic levels. Nicholas has successfully led public policy initiatives, organizational development projects, and communication strategies for numerous organizations, serving on executive boards including the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley, Aurora Mutual Aid, the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry, the Community Leadership Team for the Kane County State's Attorney's Diversion Program, and as the Social Justice Chair for Illinois State Representative Barbara Hernandez.

Currently, he serves as the interim president at the Simply Destinee Youth Center and as the Midwest organizer for the Black Alliance for Peace, a people-centered human rights organization, where he contributes to the communications team, leadership development, and as a spokesperson. Prior to joining IBAI, Nicholas was the community engagement manager for the City of Aurora in the Mayor's Office of Community Affairs.


Board Members

Sharon Bush

Deborah Harrington

Jawanza Malone

Yolanda Knight

Angela Rudolph

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