Board of Directors
Introducing our Board of Directors
Project Optimism, Inc. is guided by a board of 13 Directors that resides throughout California and the United States. Occupationally, the board is made up of College Professors, K-12 Education, Social Workers, Medical and Finance Professionals, and School District Personnel. Each director brings a unique skill set to the organization, all are committed to bettering historically underserved communities.
Sarah Toutant Ph.D
Sarah Toutant is a Ph.D. Candidate in Urban Education Policy at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education and Researcher at the USC Race and Equity Center. She also holds a B.A. in Sociology and Critical Diversity Studies from the University of San Francisco and an M.Ed. from USC Rossier. Her research critically examines the intersections of gender, race, and racism in higher education. Sarah is also a public speaker and equity consultant. As a trained researcher and pr
Josef Gray is the Director of Sacramento for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) and a Sacramento native. He became involved with the juvenile justice system as a teenager, and these experiences stemmed his dedication to helping others coming from similar backgrounds and circumstances. He has been a dedicated volunteer with Project Optimism since its inception.
Tanisha Patton is a Cali girl. She was born in Livermore, raised in Stockton, and thriving in Sacramento. She earned a B.S. in Business Administration with a Finance concentration from Sacramento State University. After graduation, she worked for a financial services company in the retirement industry for nine years. During that time, she developed and grew within the company accepting several promotional opportunities as the organization expanded.
Jade Rodgers, originally from Sacramento, CA, serves as CEO for Jadesirëe Consulting LLC and AmeriCorps Manager with 916 Ink. In 2008, she received a double Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Reconciliation Studies from Bethel University in St. Paul, MN. Rodgers' philosophy is deeply tied to Ubuntu “my humanity is tied to your humanity.” Professionally, Rodgers has over 20 years of experience working in schools and youth development non-profit organizations.
Keshia Peterson was born and raised in Sacramento, Ca, and presently works as a Workforce Development Specialist at the Foundation for California Community Colleges. In her work, she supports community colleges, community-based organizations, and various educational stakeholders to improve the landscape of workforce systems throughout California. In her previous role, Keshia was a teacher in the Twin Rivers Unified School District.
Dawaun Lucas is the Sr. Digital Marketing Manager Universal Pictures, working on some of the biggest movies hitting the big screen. He grew up in Compton, CA, where he fell in love with sports and family. He did his undergraduate work at CSU Northridge, receiving his B.S. in Marketing with a minor in Finance. There he ran track and was a viable AMA and BSU club member. At CSUN, he developed his love for digital marketing after taking several internet marketing courses.
Matthew, a self-described “Jack of All Trades'' prefers the whole motto “Jack of all trades, master of none but oftentimes better than master of one.” Matt is a So Cal native who grew up in Carson, CA has received his Bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California in Communications in 2012 and a Master of Science in Management and Leadership in 2021 from Pepperdine Graziadio Business School.
Shakira Gagnier joined LightBay Capital as an Operating Partner of Human Capital & DEI. She advises portfolio companies on talent strategy and DEI, beginning with pre-investment diligence to identify risks, gaps and value creation opportunities and continues with post-investment solutions spanning employee engagement, inclusion initiatives and talent performance to enable operational success. She also heads LightBay’s social impact foundation.
Charles is a visionary leader who is passionate about driving positive change. As Chief Talent Officer at the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF), he provides strategic leadership and elevates the human resources and talent management functions, with a focus on promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through his work, Charles is dedicated to making a meaningful difference in California by ensuring that CHCF's internal operations align with its values of equity and inclusion.
Siah W. Gaye, MBA is the owner of The UPS Store 4507 in Elk Grove, CA, and he's also a Regional Manager for Tesla Energy in Southern California. Siah travels very often between Southern and Northern California to effectively manage having a career and a business. He is a husband and father of two girls and one boy, so he also prioritizes time for his family. Siah received a bachelor’s in business from CSUS and an MBA from UC Davis.
Justin Blakely is the Public Policy Associate for Crystal Stairs, Inc. which is one of the largest nonprofit child development agencies in California. His role is to advocate, shape and influence early child care and educational policy that will have a direct impact on over 50,000 children and families in Los Angeles County, who are predominately Black and Brown.
Ishmael Pruitt - CoFounder/CEO
Ishmael Pruitt is a California native that has years of experience serving as a Student Affairs professional, working in both university and community college settings. Ishmael earned his Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice from California State University, Sacramento and Master’s degree in Counseling at California State University, Long Beach. These disciplines have given him the lens to understand social structures and the community members within. All of which guide Project Optimism.
Armoni Easley Co-Founder & CEO
Armoni Easley is a social entrepreneur who is dedicated to empowering community members with an optimistic mindset and properly equipping them with resources to become productive contributors to society. A vibrant, passionate and recognized community leader, Armoni has deep-rooted influence throughout Northern California, where he has developed over a decade of work serving as a counselor, community outreach worker,....
Words From the Community
WORDS FROM OUR STUDENTS
"I valued the support and resources that Project Optimism always had available for me. As a student and aspiring entrepreneur, this program showed me the value of making real connections and having mentors with the same goals and passions as you do."
Ukamaka Ezimora, Student