Adam Grant, Executive Director
Adam's (he/him) path to ABW has of over three decades of incarceration, including 27 straight years for a bank robbery he committed at the age of 22. He began his path of service serving as P.R. Director for N.A.A.C.P. at Saginaw Correctional Facility. He has worked within other organizations in a variety of capacities: expanding educational programming; training group facilitators; providing mentoring and training; developing curriculum and constructing the framework for a Peer Recovery Coaching program. Adam knows personally that current recidivism rates do not have to be a foregone conclusion with support, guidance and empathy for returned citizens. He believes that good reentry makes for better public safety, and that if we invest in our returned citizens, there will be A Brighter Way ahead for all of us.
Jeanne Ross, Deputy Director
Jeanne (she/her) received her Masters of Psychology degree from Eastern Michigan University and worked in mental health for nearly 30 years, including at Washtenaw Community Mental Health and Ypsilanti Regional Psychiatric Hospital. For twelve years Jeanne worked in the Corrections Mental Health Program as an administrator developing programs for mentally ill offenders. Jeanne made a bold career move to the culinary arts as a professional chef working at a number of resorts in Palm Beach, Fl. She combined her passion for working with people and food as a culinary instructor at The Lord's Place, a Florida nonprofit training the homeless and formerly incarcerated people to work in the food industry. Upon her return to Michigan, She eventually went back to her roots of working with people and became the Culinary Instructor at The Lord's Place, a local non-profit training the homeless and formerly incarcerated people to work in the food industry. Upon her return to Michigan, Jeanne joined ABW as a board member and was employed as Deputy Director in 2021.
Laquan Hill, Programs Director
Laquan (Q) grew up in the Detroit area. As a youth he moved around a lot and struggled as family dynamics changed. He fought a lot, but playing high school football provided discipline. After H.S. Q joined the Marines. His anger issues resurfaced resulting in a fight, his first incarceration and discharge. After the Marines Q worked several jobs but lacked purpose. On impulse he participated in an armed robbery in which someone was shot and seriously injured. At age 25 he was sentenced to the Michigan Department of Corrections and served 16 years. In prison Q became involved with Houses of Healing and honestly dealt with past trauma- a life changing experience. This is where he met Adam Grant. Adam wouldn't give up on him and wouldn’t let Q give up on himself either. By facilitating groups and classes Q learned who he was all he had to offer. Adam and Q continued to plan for the future, and ABW was Q's first stop upon release earlier this year. Much like Houses of Healing reveal Q's purpose, ABW has inspired him to be the best version of himself-and that's being a mentor to others.
Rick Ward, Elder Program Coordinator
Rick grew up in an unstable home, shuttling between Lansing and S.W. Detroit. He started getting into trouble at an early age and committed his 1st felony at the age of 14. With no guidance, he barreled down the wrong path and ended up serving a total of 21 years in prison and jail. At the age of 39, while incarcerated, his path began to turn when he was given the opportunity to participate in a program called “Chance for Life ''. From the humble beginnings of this program, Rick learned he actually wanted to help other people similarly situated. He found his way to his current calling through being a recovery coach at Home of New Vision and a mentor in Jackson County's S.T.E.P. program. He is motivated to assist people who have been formerly incarcerated to navigate the pitfalls of supervision and a felony record. He understands that service is reciprocal and he gains as much as he gives in service. He looks forward to building strong relationships with the ABW community. He is eager to be the light he needed when he began his path to growth and is excited to lend that light to A Brighter Way.
Deshawn Leeth, Community Engagement Specialist
Deshawn Leeth was born the youngest of five children in Detroit. Deshawn grew up in a difficult home and by the time he was 18 years old, he had been sentenced to 9 years in prison. While incarcerated, Deshawn made a decision to change how he was living his life and became committed to not returning to his previous lifestyle. Following his release from MDOC in January, 2021 at the age of 27, Deshawn became involved with A Brighter Way. While following his passion to become a positive role model to his peers in the community, he created (UDN) Under Dawg Nation to help at-risk youth to avoid the criminal system by hosting a series of events for kids in the Ypsilanti Community. Deshawn has been an active mentee at A Brighter Way and joined the staff in December of 2022 as the first ever Community Engagement Specialist. He has successfully completed his parole.
Nikki Andrews, Mentor
Nikki Andrews is a singer, songwriter, vocal arranger, and community builder. Nikki is a survivor of sexual abuse from the age of 5-12. After hitting a rock bottom period in her life, Nikki decided to do the work needed to help the healing process. She knew the calling on her life was to help others begin the healing process, and to let them know that they are not alone.
She founded The Worthy Brown Girl Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering survivors of childhood trauma, by supporting them with resources, mentors, and programs that advance healing through connection and community.
Nikki is proud to serve as a Mentor for A Brighter Way, as well as HR Administrative duties. She believes that everyone deserves a second chance and everyone has a story. There should never be anyone left behind or thrown away. Her personal quote is, “You are responsible for the energy that you bring into the room, so adjust accordingly.”
Robin Leach, Volunteer Coordinator, Admin & Mentor
Robin (she/her) received her Marketing degree from Cleary University and her esthetician’s certificate from Cinta Aveda. She has a lot of different expertise over the course of her life. She has 20-plus years in the meeting planning field. She took care of her grandmother for a few years. After getting involved with us after her work highlighted ABW, she wanted to volunteer. She became the volunteer coordinator. She wasn’t finished. She worked with Adam Grant to create A Brighter Way’s podcast and became the committee lead for the fundraising committee. Now you can see her in the office working on administrative jobs and helping to make the world a brighter place.
Al Newman, Board President
Al comes from a career in the for-profit business world and is now highly involved in the non-profit community of Washtenaw County. Al was a serial entrepreneur, his assistance was enlisted when the agency was founded to help grow the organization. Al works tirelessly for many non-profits in the Washtenaw County arena. He is an avid biker who has biked on every continent and is devoted to his family spending time daily with his grandchildren.
Laurence O'Connell, Treasurer
Laurence O’Connell has been on the board at ABW since shortly after the agency was established and has been our board treasurer since that time. Professionally, Larry is the Director of Operations at Mathematical Reviews in Ann Arbor. He has previously been a Volunteer Coordinator for Food Gatherers and served on the board at Peace Neighborhood Center. Larry has an M.B.A. from Duke University, Fuqua School of Business and a Bachelor's Degree from Kenyon College.
Kat Layton, Board Member
Kat Layton (she/her) is a Service Coordinator for the Jail Diversion program at Washtenaw County Community Mental Health. Kat earned her B.S. from the University of Texas in Austin and her M.S.W. from the University of Michigan. Kat has spent her professional experience and engagement focusing on decarcerating the jails, while dismantling the unjust criminal legal system. Prior to her work at CMH, Kat worked for Ingham County Public Defender's office and the Neighborhood Defender Service of Detroit. Kat and her wife and two rescue pups, live in Ypsilanti where they enjoy long walks in different parks in their neighborhood.
Bonnie Billups, Jr., Board Member
Bonnie Billups, Jr. began his career in supportive services for families and youth at a young age. He first became involved with Ann Arbor’s own Peace Neighborhood Center as a child enrolled in the agency’s Youth Programs back in the early 1970s. Proving himself to be a reliable and mature young man, Bonnie was hired on as a Program Assistant at Peace in 1976. He continued in that capacity through 1985, helping the agency expand and establish many long-standing services such as Peace’s Summer Day Camp program in 1982. Bonnie left the agency in 1985 to travel to California and pursue a career in music. While in the Los Angeles area, he continued to work in the youth development field as a Youth Lead Specialist at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services.
In 1991, he returned to Ann Arbor and Peace Neighborhood Center as the agency’s Program Director, a role he took on to great success for over 15 years. In 2006, he took over for the retiring Rose Martin as Peace Neighborhood Center’s Executive Director and continues to lead Peace in its role as a pillar of the youth and family service nonprofit community in Washtenaw County. Bonnie also has continued in his musical career as an instructor at Washtenaw Community College in the School of Music and Performing Arts. Bonnie is a member of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Blue Ribbon Committee where he advises the school district on decisions and strategies to provide effective service to at-risk youth. He is also a founding member of the Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth, serving on its Steering Committee and helping to define that collaborative’s role in establishing the best possible safety net for young people in Washtenaw County along with the other member youth development agencies.
Bonnie is proud to have served the youth and families of Washtenaw County for almost 40 years and to lead Peace Neighborhood Center into its fifth decade of its longstanding mission to break the cycle of poverty in our community.
Cynthia Harrison, Board Member
Cynthia is a life-long member of the Ann Arbor Community and has a BS from EMU. Cynthia is currently a Program Manager at The Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living and is also on the Ann Arbor City Council in Ward One. Cynthia is a long standing mental health advocate and passionate about social justice issues. She believes in creating a flourishing healthy community where everyone feels safe and included and is a progressive advocate for accessible, affordable housing.
Cynthia raised her family in Ann Arbor where she grew up, it is there that she enjoys taking nature walks with her son. In her spare time Cynthia spends time with her family, and her grandpuppy, a sweet pitbull boxer mix. She loves to travel, is active outdoors at local parks, and enjoys kayaking and biking and attending U of M football games in the fall with her spouse..
Kimberly A. Thomas, Board Member
Professor Kimberly Thomas's research, teaching, and practice concentrate on criminal law and procedure, especially on sentencing law and practice, juvenile justice, parole and post-conviction, and indigent persons accused of crimes. Professor Thomas is the cofounder (with Professor Frank Vandervort) of the Juvenile Justice Clinic.
In 2017, Professor Thomas received a Fulbright Scholar award to teach and research juvenile justice at the School of Law at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland. In 2013, Professor Thomas was among several attorneys honored with the Justice For All Award from the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan for their training and pro bono support following the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court Miller v. Alabama decision holding that mandatory juvenile life-without-parole sentences were unconstitutional. Professor Thomas also has been engaged as a legal education expert for the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative in Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey, including in 2011, when Professor Thomas spent three months in Amman, Jordan, working on law school curriculum development, especially in criminal law, as well as the creation and support of experiential education and the first clinics in the country.
Prior to joining the Law School faculty in 2003, Professor Thomas served as a major trials attorney with Defender Association of Philadelphia.