A note from Founder Vicki Veenker
I grew up in Indiana, spent childhood holidays in Iowa, went to law school in Washington, DC, and practiced law in New York City before settling in Palo Alto, California in 1992. This gave me a deep appreciation and respect for the differing assets of these regions and the good, decent, and talented Americans who live in each place. I am passionate about helping others see their fellow Americans as I do and have carefully crafted the Sibling Cities USA program to do just that. I am eager for Sibling Cities USA to grow by introducing and supporting increasing numbers of Sibling Cities USA pairs, working with national partner organizations, and liaising with cities and other governmental entities. Americans are yearning to get along better and to realize the tremendous potential and strengths of the UNITED States of America. This is how we can start.
Vicki Veenker is an expert convenor whose unique experience with Sibling Cities USA's Three Pillars of Connection led her to construct and champion this national Sibling Cities USA program. Both the International Trade Commission and the federal courts have appointed Vicki to their mediation panels. She served as the Managing Director, West Coast for Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, a national non-partisan non-profit that convenes policy leaders to find solutions to intractable issues. Her career as an accomplished Silicon Valley intellectual property attorney gives her unique insight into the innovation economy and economic development. As a founder and former General Counsel to Women’s Professional Soccer, Vicki has managed multiple entities working in cities across the country for a common purpose. In her first job with the Kettering Foundation, Vicki worked to increase the national network of grassroots convenors participating in its National Issues Forums. Vicki earned her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.S. in Biochemistry and a B.A. in Political Science, both from Indiana University.
Sibling Cities is advised by highly accomplished national leaders and bridge builders.
Joan Blades is a co-founder of LivingRoomConversations.org an open-source effort to build respectful caring connections across ideological, cultural and party lines while embracing our shared values. When we care about each other we work to find ways to meet each other’s core needs. She is also a co-founder of MomsRising.org and MoveOn.org. She is a co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace, winner of a Nautilus book award in 2011 and The Motherhood Manifesto, which won the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize in 2007.
A mediator (attorney) by training and inclination, she is a nature lover, artist and true believer in the power of citizens. We can honor the dignity of all individuals and seek understanding even as we hold differing beliefs.
Cornell Williams Brooks
Cornell William Brooks is Hauser Professor of the Practice of Nonprofit Organizations and Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership and Social Justice at Harvard Kennedy School. Brooks leads as Director of The William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice at the School’s Center for Public Leadership and serves as Visiting Professor of the Practice of Prophetic Religion and Public Leadership at Harvard Divinity School.
Brooks is the former president and CEO of the NAACP, a civil rights attorney, fourth-generation ordained minister, writer, orator, and the executive producer of two films. Under his leadership, the NAACP secured 12 significant legal victories. He also reinvigorated the activist social justice heritage of the NAACP, dramatically increasing membership. He conceived and led “America’s Journey for Justice” march from Selma, Alabama to Washington, D.C., over 40 days and 1000 miles, among many other demonstrations.
Brooks holds a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was a senior editor of the Yale Law Journal and member of the Yale Law & Policy Review, and a Master of Divinity from Boston University’s School of Theology, where he was a Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar. He also holds a B.A. from Jackson State University.
Rob Fersh is the founder of Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, where he served as CEO 2009-2020 and remains as Senior Advisor and member of the board of directors. Convergence is a leading national bridge building organization that employs collaborative dialogue among divergent stakeholders to build consensus solutions to major issues confronting the U.S. Prior to Convergence, Rob held leadership positions at Search for Common Ground (an international conflict transformation organization) and the Food Research and Action Center, a leading domestic anti-hunger organization where he served as CEO 1986-1998. Earlier, Rob served on the staffs of three Congressional Committees where his policy work focused on poverty and hunger in the United States. He also held a political position in the Carter Administration helping to run the federal agency that oversees all of the public domestic feeding programs.
Rob holds an undergraduate degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University and a law degree from Boston University. He resides in Bethesda, MD, is married, and has four children and two (and counting) grandchildren.
David Mathews is president and CEO of the Kettering Foundation and directs the studies of the foundation’s Cousins Research.
Prior to his work with the foundation, he served as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Ford administration. From 1965 to 1980, he taught history at the University of Alabama, where he also served as president from 1969 to 1980.
He has served on the boards of a variety of organizations, including the Gerald R. Ford Foundation; National Issues Forums Institute; Center for Citizenship, Community, and Democracy; Southern Institute on Children and Families; PACERS; and Public Agenda. In 2007, the Alabama Center for Civic Life was renamed in his honor. He is also the recipient of 17 honorary degrees. Mathews earned an AB degree in history and classical Greek. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Alabama, he received his PhD in history from Columbia University.
Described as having “something approaching rock star status” in her field by The New York Times Magazine, Joan C. Williams has played a central role in reshaping the conversation about work, gender, and class over the past quarter century. Williams is a Distinguished Professor of Law, Hastings Foundation Chair, and Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Her new book, Bias Interrupted: Creating Inclusion for Real and for Good (Harvard Business Review Press) will be published in November 2022. Her best known prior books are White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America (Harvard Business Review Press, 2016) and What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know (New York University Press, 2014), co-authored with her daughter Rachel Dempsey and now in its 10th edition. She is widely known for “bias interrupters” – an evidence-based metrics driven approach to eradicating implicit bias introduced in the Harvard Business Review in 2014.
Williams’ work on social class has influenced scholars, policymakers, and the press. It includes her 2016 election-night essay “What So Many People Don’t Get about the US Working Class,” which has been read over 3.7 million times and is now one of the most read article in HBR’s 90-plus year history and two TedX talks. Her 2016 book White Working Class was widely influential, and was publicly praised by President Joe Biden, who has jokingly referred to himself as her publicist.
Bloomington - Palo Alto Leadership
Bloomington Program Director
Alain Barker is director of music entrepreneurship and senior lecturer at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He is a faculty affiliate of the IU Center for Rural Engagement, serves on the IU Career Services Council and Arts & Humanities Council, and is a member of local not-for-profit boards and advisory committees, sometimes as a lead consultant. Deeply committed to community service, Alain was president of the Bloomington Rotary Club for the 2022-23 year. Professionally, his career includes arts organization development, arts policy research, communications and marketing, teaching, and performance. From 2004 to 2014, he directed Jacobs School of Music marketing and publicity operations. Prior to his work at IU, Alain was executive director of the Bloomington Early Music Festival. As a performing artist, Alain was co-principal flute in the Orchestra of the Asturian Principality, in Oviedo, Spain, and principal flute in the Marion, Ind. Philharmonic. Receiving an M.M. with honors in performance from the Jacobs School of Music in 1989, Alain Barker completed a D.M. with a minor in ethnomusicology at Indiana University in 2001.
Palo Alto Program Director
Jyotika RoyC is an Executive Coach and HR Advisor with over 25 years’ experience throughout the USA and Asia in Human Resource functions across diverse industries. She is an active member of Rotary Club of Palo Alto/University and co-chairs their Youth Services and Public Image committees. In her spare time, Jyotika can be seen volunteering at Rotary service events for literacy, youth, and community. In the business sector, Jyotika has worked in leadership roles at GE Capital International Services, APC / Schneider Electric, and Tata Motors. As an Executive Coach, she enables CXOs and senior-management professionals to identify/recalibrate and achieve their career goals. In her Advisory role, she has facilitated HR strategy planning at small/medium enterprises and continues to advise their HR/CEO on matters related to organization structure, employee relations and outsourcing. Jyotika has an MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur in India and a Master’s in Finance from Walsh College, Michigan.