For SEEN’s Women’s Issue, empowering women in Metro Detroit shared their success, obstacles and advice for other women.
By Stephanie Steinberg
Photography by Boswell Hardwick
Over the past two years, women across the country have made their voices heard. From the Women’s March held in Washington, D.C., and cities nationwide, to the Women’s Convention here in Detroit last fall, we’ve decided that time’s up. It’s time to be SEEN and heard when it comes to government decisions that affect our health, equal opportunities in the workforce and the respect we deserve. Not one more woman should say #MeToo.
For our inaugural Women SEEN issue, we’ve highlighted eight women in Metro Detroit who are uplifting other women and making an impact every day. Read more about their career journeys and advice below.
Tonya Allen, a serial “idea-preneur,” serves as the Skillman Foundation’s president and CEO. Her two decade-long career has centered on pursuing, executing and investing in ideas that improve her hometown of Detroit and reducing the plight of people, especially children, who live in under-resourced communities.
Allen has been instrumental in many initiatives, including: the 10-year Good Neighborhoods Initiative, which increased high school graduation rates by 25 percent and youth programming by 40 percent, and the creation and expansion of Grow Detroit’s Young Talent, which connects over 8,000 Detroit youth with paid summer jobs each year. She also co-chairs the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren.
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina was elected to the 30th Circuit Court for Ingham County in November 2008. She received national recognition during the Larry Nassar trial when she allowed 150-plus sexual assault survivors to speak. Previously, she served as a 55th District Court Judge as Chief Judge as well as the Sobriety Court Judge. During this time, Aquilina founded the Ingham County Sobriety Court Foundation to assist those in recovery.
Aquilina retired from the Michigan Army National Guard after 20 years of service. She became part of Michigan’s history by becoming the first female JAG Officer in the Michigan Army National Guard when she enlisted. Prior to her election, Aquilina founded Aquilina Law Firm, PLC. Her fictional novel, “Triple Cross Killer,” was published in December 2017. She is the mother of five children and grandmother of two.
Nia Batts is the co-founder and CEO of Detroit Blows, a nontoxic blow-dry salon in Detroit. She also chairs its affiliated philanthropic arm, Detroit Grows, which makes microgrants to Detroit-based female entrepreneurs and programs helping women enter or re-enter the workforce. Previously she was the senior director of social innovation and strategic partnerships at Viacom Inc. In her position, she worked on marketing and pro-social campaigns for partners, including: General Motors, AT&T, The White House, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Way, Lady Gaga, Big Sean and Sophia Bush. Batts earned a bachelor’s degree in film studies from Columbia University and an executive education certificate in corporate social responsibility from Harvard Business School.
Carolyn Cassin accepted in 2009 the leadership of the Michigan Women’s Foundation, Michigan’s only public statewide foundation dedicated to helping women and girls realize economic self-sufficiency and social equality. At MWF, she developed a microloan fund for women-owned and managed businesses and a venture capital fund for women, Belle Michigan.
Cassin is a national expert in end-of-life care. She started and held leadership positions with the National Hospice Work Group, a professional coalition of CEOs from the nation’s largest and most innovative hospices. She spent 10 years as CEO of Hospice of Michigan and the COO of VistaCare, the first venture capital-backed national hospice. She also oversaw the development of Michigan’s $1.5 billion Medicaid Managed Care Program. In 2016, Cassin was selected to the Detroit Economic Club Board of Directors and named one of The 100 Most Influential Women by Crain’s Detroit Business.
Katy Cockrel serves as a co-founder of Detroit Blows. Along with partner and co-founder Nia Batts, Cockrel developed the concept for the city’s first single service, dual process, socially conscious blow-dry salon. She also serves as vice president of public relations at StockX, the world’s first online stock market for in-demand consumer products, including sneakers, watches and handbags. She holds dual bachelor’s degrees in political science and public relations from Wayne State University.
Alyonka Larionov spent 10 years in the media industry as a host, broadcaster and producer, working for companies such as HBO, TSN, CBC, the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center, MSG Networks, the NHL Network and most recently as a producer for VICELAND’s show “VICE World of Sports.” She now finds herself sourcing from her conversations with athletes, celebrities and people, in her work with Wo/Men Workshops — a guided group conversation where Women | Circle and Men | Gather to discuss what it means to be a modern human in today’s society. She’s also the host and producer of the “Tell Your Story” podcast and is launching her own YouTube channel called A.
Melissa Rose Price
Melissa Rose Price is the CEO of dPOP, which is a women-owned and led commercial interior design firm based in Detroit. Recognizing what she has to offer and leveraging her unique strengths have helped her stand out as a leader in the male-dominated IT, construction and architecture industries. Her experience as head of the dPOP studio and 16 years of working in tech and facilities have distinctively shaped her entrepreneurial approach to design. Price and her team develop purposeful, data-centric workspaces that serve each client’s specific needs. Since 2013, dPOP’s portfolio of custom designs has grown to include an array of projects for major companies such as Quicken Loans, General Motors Co., Oath, Boston Consulting Group and Delta.
Anqunette Jamison Sarfoh
Anqunette Jamison Sarfoh spent 20 years as a TV journalist and anchor in Indiana, Las Vegas, Boston and Detroit. After eight years as the morning anchor for Fox 2 Detroit, she retired due to the effects of multiple sclerosis. Through changes in diet and using cannabis, Sarfoh went from taking nine medications a day to taking none and is an advocate for teaching others how to lessen their dependence on pharmaceuticals. Working with a Colorado-based edibles company, Sarfoh is developing a line of cannabis-infused food products to address the needs of nonsmokers.