Adam Grant, Executive Director
Adam's (he/him) path to ABW has a history 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 Public Relations 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 given 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 homeless and formerly incarcerated people to work in the food industry. Upon her return to Michigan, Jeanne joined ABW as a board member and has been employed as Deputy Director since 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 (he/him) grew up in an unstable home, shuttling between Lansing and Southwest Detroit. He started getting into trouble at an early age and committed his first felony at the age of 14. With no guidance, he headed 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 the Chance for Life program. It was a pivotal program; Rick learned he wanted to help other people in similar situations. Upon release, Rick put this desire into action as a recovery coach at Home of New Vision and mentor in Jackson County (MI)’s Success to Every Parolee (S.T.E.P.) program. In his role at A Brighter Way he continues to be motivated to assist people - specifically the formerly incarcerated - by helping them navigate the pitfalls of supervision and a felony record. Rick enjoys building strong relationships with the ABW community and acting as the beacon of light for a successful reentry, leading to A Brighter Way.
Johnny Walker, Community Engagement Specialist
John (he/him) was raised on the Northwest side of Detroit. A combination of traumatic life circumstances, including the death of his 17 year old sister when he was 10 years old, led to alcohol and drug misuse. By middle school, John had several serious contacts with the juvenile and criminal justice systems. At age 21 following sporadic employment and a short period of military service, self-defeating choices led to armed robbery and imprisonment. Less than 15 months later, he was convicted for a crime while incarcerated, receiving a second-degree life sentence. In total, John spent 46 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections.
His life-changing turning point followed the death of his mother during his 10th year inside. John made a commitment to transformative programs like AA, NA and Challenge to Change. Self-help ignited his interest to share his lived experience for the benefit of others on a similar journey. For example, John facilitated various programs including a substance abuse program with ABW Executive Director Adam Grant at the Kinross Correctional Facility. He was released from prison in August 2022, with 26 years of sobriety. John’s desire to participate in meaningful community service--especially with returning citizens has never waned. As the Community Engagement Specialist with ABW, John is energized and fulfilled by helping other returning citizens build and sustain their lives and make positive contributions to the community.
Nikki Andrews, Mentor, Administrative Support
Nikki (she/her) is a singer, songwriter, vocal arranger, and community builder — and a survivor of sexual abuse from the ages of five to twelve. After hitting a rock bottom period in her life, Nikki decided to act on her life calling by helping others begin the healing process, letting them know that they were not alone. The result was Nikki’s creation of 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 and provide administrative support. She believes that everyone deserves a second chance and everyone has a story; there should never be anyone left behind or thrown away. Nikki’s advice is, “You are responsible for the energy that you bring into the room, so adjust accordingly.”
Jennifer Avery, Trauma Informed Peer Lead Reentry Navigator
Jennifer (she/her) is a lifelong resident of Michigan who grew up in the Oakland County area. She and her family struggled; at age five her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. At a very young age Jennifer became the caretaker for two younger siblings and looked out for others while neglecting herself. At age 20 she was incarcerated and spent the next 20 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). In prison Jennifer was frequently depressed and suicidal, but made a concerated effort to build a life and earned two college degrees. Upon release from MDOC over two years ago, she decided to pursue the Trauma Informed Peer Led Reentry training program to assist others traveling a similar path to her own. As a Trauma Informed Peer Led Navigator with ABW, Jennifer continues to be passionate about helping others, while learning and growing herself.
Eric Anderson, Trauma Informed Peer Lead Reentry Navigator
Eric (he/him) grew up in a poor neighborhood on Detroit’s west side, considered the worst zipcode of the city. Despite experiencing economic hardship, violence, and police harassment, Eric finished high school and enrolled at Wayne County Community College. His plan was to transfer to Michigan State University and earn a bachelor’s degree. However, two weeks away from completing his second semester in 2010, Eric met tragedy in the form of a wrongful conviction. He was sentenced to 15-22 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections for an armed robbery he did NOT commit. While incarcerated Eric remained focused on his freedom by reading hundreds of books, mentoring others, and maintaining good physical health. After 9 years of being wrongfully convicted, Eric was exonerated in 2019. Since being freed, Eric has had his record expunged, has become a strong advocate of wrongful convictions, and is a co-founder of The Organization of Exonerees, a light in the criminal justice reform world. Trained as a Trauma Informed Peer Re-entry Navigator, Eric joined ABW in late 2023. He is passionate about motivating ABW mentees to become a better version of themselves, helping navigate their path to A Brighter Way.
Joseph Meyer, Mentor, Administrative Support
Joseph (he/him) grew up in Ypsilanti and at a young age fell into the wrong crowd and started selling drugs. This led to his arrest at the age of 25 and a two and a half year stint in the Michigan Department of Corrections.
After his release Joseph decided this wasn’t the life for him. He embarked on an education journey that started at Washtenaw County Community College with the intention of transferring to EMU to earn his bachelor's degree. In 2021, he fulfilled that goal and was accepted into the Returning Citizens Fellowship (RCF) scholarship program, a program designed for formerly incarcerated people who reside in Washtenaw County and are dedicated to pursuing their degree. During his two years at EMU he completed an internship with ABW, obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Social Work, and began working towards his MSW. Based on his work ethic and valuable contributions, Joseph recently joined the ABW family as a mentor and administrative support person, learning the administrative skills necessary to lead a nonprofit organization.
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.
Mary King, Board Member
Mary King began working with inmates as an intern at the Huron Valley Women’s Correctional Facility in the early 1980’s. Over her career, she created a reentry program for women, coordinated a Children’s Visitation Program at the Huron Valley Women’s Facility, developed the Washtenaw County site for the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative (MPRI) and served as the Executive Director for the Michigan Center for Youth Justice (MCYJ), from which she “retired” in 2021. Mary still provides support for MCYJ and the Michigan Collaborative to End Mass Incarceration (MI-CEMI) as a contractual consultant, and is a principal partner of We Can Work it Out, LLC, a small business providing facilitation training and conflict-resolution, and has over 30 years’ experience directing collaborative efforts while managing a diversity of perspectives, cultural backgrounds and experiences.
Her personal interests include traveling, playing cards, hanging out on Beaver Island, and, especially spending time with her grandchildren.
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.
Arthur Thomas, Board Member
Arthur Thomas(he/him) joined the ABW Board in January 2024 and serves as a general member .He was incarcerated for 44 years before returning home in early 2022 and began receiving services from ABW. He is actively involved in the community as a committed volunteer. Arthur was appointed a member of the Ann Arbor Renters Commission, offering the valuable perspective of a justice-impacted individual and the hurdles of securing housing. He also volunteers at House by the Side of the Road in Ann Arbor, which provides clothing and small household items at no charge to children and adults in Washtenaw County. Arthur has demonstrated initiative and “chutzpah” in securing employment with the City of Ann Arbor, and several other opportunities that educate the community about justice impacted individuals. Arthur is undaunted in his desire to engage with and help HIS community.