In 2018, YWCA Minneapolis established the Woman of Power Award to honor women from the private and public sectors across the Twin Cities who have demonstrated commitment, enthusiasm and support for our mission. Award recipients are recognized leaders and inspiring role models who have championed racial justice and gender equity throughout their careers and community work.
In 2022, we established the Kate Berman Leadership Award to honor our former board chair who passed away unexpectedly in April 2020. During her board service, Kate was a passionate advocate for the mission of YWCA Minneapolis and led multiple initiatives. She was a tireless advocate of those who have no voice, a fierce defender of civil rights, a proud feminist and a loving and caring mother, wife, friend and mentor.
This year, we are excited to award a Youth of Power, Early Childhood Education Teacher of the Year and more! We will present all awards at our signature fundraising event, Empower Possible. Continue below to read about these incredible women.
Atum Azzahir is executive director and founder of the Cultural Wellness Center, a founder and co-owner of the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis and a recognized authority on cultural approaches to health and well-being. The Cultural Wellness Center is an African American nonprofit centered on the idea that when culture and community knowledge are studied and valued, they are powerful tools for health, healing, community building and economic development.
Elder Atum has developed and managed organizations, written and produced materials on African intellectual heritage and designed rites of passage programs, initiations and ceremonies for healing. The institutions she has founded have created community models for workforce redevelopment, entrepreneurship and meditation practices for the African in America to interface in mainstream communities. People who have studied with Elder Atum are in key leadership positions across the country in various institutions and many have consistently returned for coaching and mentoring for over 26 years.
After successfully convening and leading a movement on Return to Culture and Heritage for Africans in America (1987-1994), Elder Atum was awarded titles of Elder, Shemsu and Mother of Communities of African People living in the United States, the Caribbean and the African continent. Elder Atum completed and received her Cultural Doctor of Literature (D-Litt Kemii) from the International Khepran Institute in 2007, where she examined Black life internationally and explored building sustainable cultural institutions in African communities throughout the African Diaspora.
Elder Atum is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Salzburg Fellowship, 1993; Community Health Leadership Award, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 1995; Race Unity Award of the BaHai Faith, 2000; recognition as one of the 100 most influential health leaders in the Minnesota Physician August 2000 edition; Women in Business Award, Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, 2021; and 50 Over 50 Culture Connector, 2022.
Elder Atum has also served on several key boards and committees, including the Minnesota Women’s Fund, Chair, 1990–1992; National Network of Women’s Fund, Chair, 1990–1993; The Sister Fund of New York, 1992; Medica Health Plans: Quality Committee, Community Affairs Committee, Executive Committee, 1997–2000; HOPE Community Inc. Board of Directors, 1999–2001; Allina Health 2001-2006; and Hennepin Health Systems Board, chair of the Governance and Mission Effectiveness Committee, 2007–2014. She currently serves on the NorthPoint Health and Wellness Board and was recently appointed to the State of Minnesota’s African American Child Well-Being Council.
Watch Elder Atum’s video:
Pam Stegora Axberg serves as chief executive officer of Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities. Prior to joining the Mission, she held multiple executive leadership roles during her 14-year tenure at UnitedHealthcare, most recently as senior vice president of Network Operations, a role in which she led the transformation of healthcare system with service providers.
Pam’s lifelong commitment to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion have been demonstrated throughout her professional career as well as in her volunteer work. Pam was recently elected as a council member of the New Brighton City Council, previously served as board chair of YWCA Minneapolis, and is currently the treasurer of the YWCA USA Board of Directors. For more than a decade, she has been a Girl Scouts troop leader and serves as an officer and board member for the Girl Scouts River Valley. She also serves as a board member for Topline Credit Union.
Pam earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics at St. Catherine University, her Master of Business Administration from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, and is a Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs Policy Fellow. She and her husband make their home in New Brighton, Minnesota, and enjoy spending time at the cabin with their four grown children, training for YWCA Women’s Triathlon and experimenting with new recipes (her family’s pierogi recipe won a blue ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair).
Watch Pam’s video:
Since the inception of YWCA Women’s Triathlon in 2008, Nicole has been involved every year but one. She took part in the planning meetings with race creator and original race director, Paul Johnson, volunteered the first year, moved into the assistant race director position for 2009-2010 and was “handed the baton (and hammer)” from Johnson in 2011.
Nicole was then the longest-standing race director from 2011-2018, overseeing its immense growth into the nation’s largest women’s triathlon and expansions in marketing, including specific focus on racial, body type and gender identity inclusion. The 2022 Women’s Triathlon was the first time that Nicole participated in her favorite triathlon. While she is proud of her second-place finish, she was even more honored to take part in the Women’s Triathlon Fundraising Team, helping raise over $3,780 to support YWCA programming.
Nicole held a variety of other positions with YWCA Minneapolis for a total of twelve years before taking the position of chief operating officer at the Loppet Foundation as the new Trailhead building in Wirth Park was opening. She has continued to pursue her career in non-profit, mission-driven organizations through her present position as the senior director of operations and administration at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis.
Nicole’s athletic accolades include: NCAA 1500m National Champion, NCAA 5k & 10k National Runner-Up, 2-time Olympic Qualifier in the Marathon, 2015 MN Runner of the Year and second place in the 2022 YWCA Women’s Triathlon. In recent years, her athletic passions have expanded to cross country skiing, mountain biking and anything outdoors with her family: spouse, Jamie, and children, Ellie, Ed and Emma.
Watch Nicole’s video:
Luna started working at YWCA Minneapolis Children’s Center at Midtown in August 2021 as a teacher’s aide. In April 2022 she transferred to the Downtown location, and shortly after enrolled in YWCA’s Workforce Development Program. Upon completing the program Luna was promoted to teacher in August 2022. She is now a full-time infant teacher at YWCA Minneapolis Children’s Center at Downtown.
Since Luna started her role with YWCA, she has absorbed as much knowledge as she can to make herself an informed employee who understands YWCA Minneapolis and the children and families served.
Before becoming a teacher, Luna served two years with AmeriCorps NCCC. Working with nonprofits in seven locations around the country was a heart-opening adventure. In 2020, Luna’s AmeriCorps team built tiny homes and distributed supplies to wildfire survivors in California. Later on, they traveled to Alaska to assist school-aged children in after-school programs and summer camps.
In her spare time, Luna loves to travel solo and do work exchanges on organic farms. “Planting fruit trees in rainy Hawaii, taking the train to NYC for New Year’s Eve, spending Christmas in Mexico – all that jazz. Adventure is the spice of life!” she says.
Watch Luna’s video:
Melissa Ratliff has been supportive of the work of YWCA Minneapolis for years as a racial justice facilitator. She has volunteered for every single one of our events from It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race™ to It’s Time to Act!™ to facilitating dialogues in the community. Her years of volunteering with YWCA have prepared her to tackle difficult and uncomfortable conversations. She continues to expand her knowledge of racial justice and bring people along with her to learn more — helping to support others’ critical thinking and openness to continued growth. Through these experiences she has not only learned the power of her presence, but when to speak and how to speak.
Over the past few years, Melissa has worked in affordable housing. She has also served as an election judge for the City of Minneapolis for several years. In her current role, she has had the privilege of traveling all over the state of Minnesota. As part of her travels, she is exposed to others with differing worldviews.
Melissa has begun to explore other volunteer opportunities with YWCA Minneapolis, including volunteer recruitment at colleges/universities, partnering with the Diaper Bank of Minnesota, Indoor Triathlons, Women’s Triathlon and the Race Against Racism.
Melissa says, “YWCA Minneapolis’ mission in action can be seen through the smiles on triathlon participants’ faces, passion of the members, commitment of volunteers and strong leadership of the staff.”
Watch Melissa’s video:
Shivani leads with a quiet confidence. She is never the loudest in the group, but always speaks with self-assurance and kindness. She leads with a grace and drive that encourages other to share in her passions.
Shivani has been practicing taekwondo for about seven years and last year earned her first-degree black belt. She was selected by her teacher to be a junior leader and assists in classes for younger students, helping them with forms and movements. She has shown a lot of dedication in her work and enjoys helping out new students. Shivani loves crafts like crocheting, and joined the Knitting for Humanity club at her high school this year. She has been teaching fellow club members to crochet, and they are now crocheting and knitting woolen items (hats, scarves, mitts) to be donated to those in need.
Shivani is a serious and motivated student and has always been an A grader. She likes to challenge herself and has been taking higher level courses when there’s an opportunity including honors level and AP. She is very interested in science-based careers, is taking AP Biology this year and wants to do AP Psychology next year. Her interest in science also led her to select the University of Minnesota internship last summer as part of the Girls Inc. Eureka! internship program, and she really enjoyed learning more about research work and scientific method. Moreover she seems to have appreciated the working relationship of the team.
Shivani is also interested in doing volunteer work in the community, such as soup kitchens, or healthcare systems now that restrictions from COVID-19 are lifting.
Watch Shivani’s video: