ROI Influencers: People of Color 2020 (Top 25, A to Z)

John Harmon
African American Chamber of Commerce of N.J.

The founder and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce is our No. 1 selection this year. Read his full profile here.

Ras Baraka
City of Newark

As long as we’re doing lists of influential people in the state, Baraka will be on them. His impact in all things Newark cannot be overstated. And, while he was long credited for helping the city take the next step during the good times, his guidance during these tough times has been an example of true leadership. He was No. 1 in the initial ROI Influencers: People of Color list in 2018.

Cory Booker
U.S. senator
D-New Jersey

A year ago, we were talking about him as a potential presidential candidate. This year, some have thrown his name out as potential Supreme Court nominee, should the decision go to Democratic candidate Joe Biden. What’s this mean? That Booker, the former mayor of Newark, continues to have a major impact and is viewed in the highest regard. The state benefits greatly from his strong voice in Congress.

Mo Butler

Consider the resume: He’s a partner at one of the most influential public affairs firms in the state, represents and advises some of the state’s biggest politicians (Booker and Baraka), biggest companies (AECOM, Panasonic, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey) and biggest developers (Boraie Development, Joe Taylor of Matrix Development, Edison Properties) while serving on two top boards (Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and New Jersey Performing Arts Center). His stature — and his board appointments — should continue to rise.

Michellene Davis
Executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer
RWJBarnabas Health

A well-known and highly sought thought leader on all issues of social/racial justice and health equity, Davis is on national and global boards dedicated to achieving societal equity. At RWJBarnabas Health, she heads the system’s mission of Social Impact and Community Investment, a policy-led racial-equity approach to addressing the social determinants of health. She co-authored the book “Changing Missions, Changing Lives: How a Change Agent Can Turn the Ship and Create Impact” with RWJBH CEO Barry Ostrowsky.

Ken Frazier

There’s the fact that he’s the head of one of the most important pharma companies in the world — one playing a key role in the fight against COVID-19. There’s the fact that he was the co-leader of Gov. Phil Murphy’s Restart and Recovery Commission. Then there’s this: Insiders say Murphy seeks and covets his input on all issues and views him with the utmost respect.

Alberto Garofolo
New Jersey market president
Bank of America

He has been the head of the state’s largest bank for nearly a year — but brings years of experience in all areas of multicultural call center management, banking center operations and leading large teams. While BofA is a giant, handling some of the state’s biggest companies and institutions, Garofalo has insisted from Day One that he is committed to ensuring it has strong connections to small businesses — and business leaders from underserved communities.

Don Ghermezian
Triple Five

It’s hard to imagine any business or project more impacted by COVID-19 than the American Dream retail and entertainment megamall in the Meadowlands. Just as it was beginning to really open up, it had to shut down. Triple Five, however, is still pushing forward. And American Dream still remains the biggest project in the state, one that holds great impact in North Jersey — especially if/when it can help bring about a new Meadowlands convention center center.

Aisha Glover
Vice president of urban innovation
Global Center for Urban Development

Glover, one of the most respected economic impact executives and urban development leaders in the country, will help lead a program designed to bring together all equitable community aspirations at Audible — creating a single organization whose goal is to launch new and measurable models focused on advancing equality, racial justice and economic empowerment.

David Gould
Chief diversity and impact officer
Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment

The leaders of HBSE, owners of the New Jersey Devils, Prudential Center and Philadelphia 76ers, among others, committed $20 million to the fight against systemic racism. Gould will oversee much of that, leading internal and external diversity and inclusion programs and initiatives across the organization. Among them, he will be charged with ensuring HBSE is providing more opportunities for minority-owned businesses and offering more career opportunities for members of underserved communities.

Gurbir Grewal
Attorney general
State of New Jersey

The state’s attorney general was No. 1 on last year’s ROI Influencers: People of Color list — and it’s easy to say his stature hasn’t fallen much since. There are a lot of reasons why New Jersey has had almost entirely peaceful protests throughout the uprising over systemic racism, social inequities and treatment of people of color by law enforcement. Grewal has fought racism and bigotry at every turn since taking office, earning the respect of all sides.

Ryan Haygood
N.J. Institute for Social Justice

A regular on this list, Haygood’s jump to the front group is a sign of the times. The leadership policy wins of the NJISJ in pursuing racial justice in the state have been stellar. This is serious work — that comes from a national voting rights and civil rights attorney who has been featured in several documentaries. Yes, his profile stretches over the border, which makes many realize how fortunate New Jersey is to have him here.

George Helmy
Chief of staff
Office of Gov. Phil Murphy

It’s hard to overstate Helmy’s influence on all policy and social issues in the state. He has the ear of the governor. More so, the governor’s staff knows the road to Murphy is through Helmy. It’s a role that will only grow in stature when another key member of this inner circle, chief counsel Matt Platkin, moves on to the private sector.

Jonathan Holloway
Rutgers University

Being president of the state university comes with an expected amount of power and influence, but it’s safe to say few presidents have started their tenure amid such turmoil — and shown such leadership in the face of it. Holloway has aptly led the school in issues involving COVID-19 and social justice — all while earning the governor’s respect on the Restart and Recovery Commission. It’s incredible to think, but he’s only been president since July 1.

Jeh Johnson
Special adviser
Gov. Phil Murphy

Johnson is usually introduced as the former head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and general counsel of the Department of Defense under President Barack Obama. He ranks highly on this list for being a confidant of Murphy’s, serving both on his Restart
and Recovery Commission, but also as one of three leaders from New Jersey during meetings with six other Northeast states. 

Jose Lozano
Choose New Jersey

COVID-19 obviously shut down much of the world’s travel the past six months — but it hasn’t slowed the efforts of Choose New Jersey. The organization, which laid the groundwork for its efforts in the first two years of the Murphy administration, should soon see its work pay off, as the pandemic has taught numerous companies the need to have a U.S. location. 

Luis De La Hoz/Carlos Medina
Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of N.J.

Their efforts to help the Hispanic business community in the state are well known and frequently lauded. And for good reason. This dynamic duo has contacts with the top elected officials and leading CEOs — but they have made it their mission to serve and assist Hispanic businesses of all shapes and sizes, particularly the mom-and-pop entrepreneurs.

Bob Menendez
U.S. senator
D-New Jersey

The state’s senior U.S. senator has never been shy about his desire to fight for all New Jerseyans, with a special emphasis on the underserved communities — and, certainly, those filled with Hispanics. Perhaps inspired by a supposedly close reelection that became a rout in 2018, Menendez has done some of his finest work — and strongest advocacy — since. 

Sheila Oliver
Lieutenant governor
State of New Jersey

Her biggest fan and supporter is her boss, Murphy. Oliver, however, is proving what those served by her during her years in the Legislature and elsewhere have known for decades: She’s a strong and effective leader on her own. Oliver leads the state’s efforts at the Department of Community Affairs as well as in Atlantic City, but her stellar career in public service means she can — and does — have impact everywhere.

Fabiana Pierre-Louis
Associate justice
New Jersey Supreme Court

Her story was well told — and deservedly so, as she quickly became a role model and inspiration to so many. The daughter of immigrants and a full-fledged Jerseyan — from Union Catholic to Rutgers University undergrad, then Rutgers Law School, then tours with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey — Pierre-Louis has a resume worthy of being named an associate justice on the state Supreme Court at age 39, the first Black woman to ever serve on the court.

Suuchi Ramesh
Suuchi Inc.

Ramesh could make the list for being an inspiration to all women — especially minorities — for the way she has grown her manufacturing and tech company into one of the state’s most important. She joins the top group because of her eagerness and willingness to adapt
her manufacturing to produce whatever was needed to help the state in its fight against COVID-19.

Carlos Rodriguez

CEOs and elected officials across the state scurried to come up with plans to address social inequities in their ranks and workforce this spring when the issue exploded onto the national scene. They should have just looked at how ADP operates. The company has long set the standard for racial and gender equity and opportunities — something Rodriguez pushes as well as any leader in the state.

Zakiya Smith Ellis
Chief policy adviser
Office of Gov. Phil Murphy

When she moved into her new role June 1, some said the only difference was giving her the title. Smith Ellis came over from her post as secretary of higher education — where she earned the No. 1 spot on the ROI Influencers: Higher Education list. Murphy trusts
her judgment on all matters. Her influence will only grow in the new role. 

Bob Unanue
Goya Foods

As the head of the largest minority-owned food company in the country, Unanue long has had influence in the state with the company’s employee head count and his efforts to aid and assist companies of all sizes. The impact was never as clear as earlier this summer,
when his support of President Donald Trump at a White House event received praise from the president and his family, but drew condemnation from some in his community.

Tahesha Way
Secretary of state
State of New Jersey

It’s fair — and easy — to speculate that Way can only hope that no one knows her name on Nov. 3 or the days that follow. The Division of Elections falls under the duties of the secretary of state, meaning she has the unenviable task of overseeing what promises to be a largely mail-in ballot election — one that both sides seemingly will protest no matter the outcome or the facts that surround the actual voting.

To view the entire list, click here.