Community Engagement Conversations:                                    Finding Joy in the Struggle

Tuesday, November 16, 2021 - 9-10:30am

9-9:30am - Opening Remarks and Awards

9:30-10:25am - Featured Storytellers

10:25-10:30am - Closing Remarks

Register online today

Featured Storytellers


Shar-Ron Buie, Community Liaison, Educational Preparedness Program, Marquette University

Facilitator - Dr. Robert Smith, Harry G. John Professor, History Department; Director, Center for Urban Research, Teaching & Outreach

Shar-Ron was born in Madison in 1967. He graduated from East High School and went on to serve with honor and distinction in the Marine Corps. He holds a paralegal degree, associates degree in Electronics, a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration with Honors from UW Platteville. In 1992, he had a conflict with a former friend that resulted in his death. In 1994, after pleading no contest to his death, he was given a life sentence in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. While in prison he founded the first American Legion Post in prison and served as its first elected Commander. He served as a Veterans Service Representative at four institutions, and founded a Veterans Outreach Program that provides representative service to incarcerated veterans. He wrote two educational programs for the DOC that has assisted almost 300 men in obtaining their HSED’s since 2000. He received several Letters of Appreciation from corrections officials including former and he earned 63 certifications and diplomas. On June 30, 2020, he was paroled from prison after serving 25 years.

Since my release from prison, he achieved his Certification as a Peer Support Specialist. He also began completion of his Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice from UW Platteville. He will graduate in 2022 with that degree. He currently works for Porchlight Inc. as a Peer Support Specialist working with and for Veterans. He also works for JustDane as the Health Navigator who specializes in promoting the Covid Vaccines. Finally, he is the Community Liaison for the Education Preparedness Program at Marquette University. In this capacity he hopes to effectuate a systemic change in the criminal justice system.


 Ron Smith

Mr. Ron Smith, Instructor of Practice, Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Diedrich College of Communication; and Editor/Program Director, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

Facilitator - Dr. Sarah Feldner, Dean, Diedrich College of Communication

Ron Smith is an instructor of practice in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication and the editor/program director for the award-winning Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.  The nonprofit service provides evidenced-based journalism coverage of Milwaukee’s communities of color and is staffed by professionals, student-journalists and community residents. Before his current role, Ron served as the managing editor for news at USA TODAY.  In addition, he was the deputy managing editor for daily news and production at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where he oversaw the breaking news hub, production desks and was the key point person for print story selections and workflow. 

Ron has been blessed to work in newsrooms across the country, including The Oregonian, the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his professional career as a reporter and editor for two weekly newspapers in the Los Angeles area before becoming a political reporter for a daily legal publication in downtown Los Angeles.  He’s also worked as an advertising sales director and as the interim student adviser for New Expression, a citywide teen publication written by and for Chicago youths that had a monthly circulation of 70,000.  He has edited several Pulitzer Prize-winning reports and is known for championing great journalism and the great journalists who produce great works. 

In addition, Ron has been active in the National Association of Black Journalists, the American Copy Editors Society and the Online News Association. A sought-after speaker, Ron has led sessions for Poynter, American Society of News Editors, National Association of Black Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association. He served as the co-leadership chairman for the American Society of News Editors and worked as an instructor for the organization’s Emerging Leaders Institute, which trains diverse mid-career professionals to be newsroom leaders. Ron serves on the board of directors of the Institute for Nonprofit News and sits on the mentorship and networking committee for the News Leaders Association.

He holds a master's degree in Leadership Studies, with a specialization in Public Service from Marquette University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies. He "proceeds until apprehended” and is not afraid to roll up his sleeves to help others -- all while having fun and bringing a little “Ronshine” along the way.

Keith Stanley

Mr. Keith Stanley, Executive Director, Near West Side Partners

Faciltiator - Ms. Rana Altenburg, Office of Public Affairs

Keith Stanley is the Executive Director of Near West Side Partners, Inc., where he’s charged with spearheading revitalization, community cohesion, and neighborhood sustainability efforts to strengthen Milwaukee’s Near West Side. Since the organization’s launch in 2015, Stanley has played a critical role in the success of numerous achievements for the Near West Side, including:

  • Launching PARC, a 3-year, $5+ million, anchor-funded initiative designed to support the NWSP mission by promoting assets to transform the perception of the neighborhood and address neighborhood crime-related challenges.
  • Expanding BID #10, which included the entire Near West Side neighborhood and allowed for a 300% increase in funds and resources to the community.
  • Securing $800,000 in matching funds from Milwaukee County, bringing $1.6 million in new investment as part of the NWS Economic Development Fund.
  • Assisting in securing the 2018 HUD Award, a $1.3 million Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant.
  • Securing a $350,000 grant from the City of Milwaukee for branding and streetscaping of the Near West Side.

Stanley is also the Executive Director of the Avenues West Association and the newly expanded New West Side BID #10. Previously, Stanley served as the Program Manager of the SOHI Main Street Program, and he was Chief of Staff to then Common Council President Willie Hines, Jr.

Stanley was named as Milwaukee Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 winner in 2016. He was awarded BizTimes Nonprofit Executive of the Year in 2017. He received the Young Alumni Award from the Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation in 2017. In 2018, he was selected for the 2018 Class of the Young American Leaders program of Harvard University. He received the 2018 Diversity in Business Award from the Milwaukee Business Journal. Most recently, he was selected for the United Way’s Philanthropic 5 in 2019.

Stanley serves on the boards for City on the Hill Milwaukee, Wisconsin Humane Society, Messmer Catholic Schools, and Wisconsin Community Services. In addition, he serves on the Aurora Sinai Community Steering Council and Marquette University Police Department Advisory Board.

Stanley is an alumnus of Alabama State University.


Francesca Mayca Wegner, Executive Director, Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee

Facilitator - Ms. Jacki Black, Director for Hispanic Initiatives and Diversity & Inclusion Educational Programming, Marquette University

Francesca Mayca Wegner (she/her/ella) is HPGM’s newest Executive Director. She joined HPGM in April 2021 after serving as Senior Director of Development and Communications for Sojourner Family Peace Center. Prior to Sojourner, Francesca served in various roles in Marquette University’s advancement department after starting her career in sales with the Milwaukee Bucks.

She brings extensive experience building and sustaining strategic relationships with various stakeholders on behalf of nonprofit, higher education, and corporate organizations. Throughout her career, she has championed the intentional creation of spaces where others can bring their whole selves to their work and feel valued.

As an extension of her work at HPGM as an advocate and connector, Francesca serves on the MATC President's Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as well as the Marquette University Hispanic-Serving Institution Advisory Committee.

Francesca is passionate about investing in the Greater Milwaukee community with organizations focused on mentoring, equitable access to education, and animal welfare. She serves on the Board of Directors for both the Washington County Humane Society and the Hispanic Collaborative, the HERA (Higher Education Regional Alliance) Steering Committee, and as a mentor in the Nativity Jesuit Academy mentoring program.

A proud two-time Golden Eagle, Francesca earned both her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Master of Business Administration degrees from Marquette University.
In her free time, you can find Francesca cozied up with a good book and a local cup of coffee or spending time with her husband, Ted, and two dogs, Michael Jordan and Scottie.


Dr. O'Rell Williams, Regional Medical Director, Ascension Wisconsin

Facilitator - Dr. Dan Bergen, Executive Director of Community Engagement, Marquette University

Dr. O’Rell Williams, is the Regional Medical Director for Ascension Wisconsin. He received his undergraduate training at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus with a bachelor’s degree in biology and completed medical school training at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Dr. Williams completed his residency in internal medicine at Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee. He is an Associate Clinical Professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and previously served as a hospitalist and the Chief of Staff at Ascension St. Joseph.

He is an experienced and dedicated healthcare leader who has a clear and strategic vision for compassionate, personalized clinical care. Dr. Williams has been involved in education and research activities and is a committed and active community member serving on many community coalitions in the Ascension St. Joseph neighborhood. He’s also a Vincent High School graduate and a former Milwaukee firefighter.