Stacia Thompson named first executive director of Sherman Phoenix Foundation
Sherman Phoenix opened in late 2018 and quickly became a model for a community space generating positive economic and social returns in communities of color. The concept came together after the police shooting of an unarmed Black man in the Sherman Park neighborhood in 2016. A fire-damaged bank building was transformed into a space for everything from art exhibits and cultural events to wellness programming and serves as a hub for over 25 Black-owned businesses.
The Sherman Phoenix Foundation is a nonprofit focused on leadership, training, and action by leaders of color on economic equity and empowerment. In January, Stacia Thompson, who has a doctorate in education, was named its first executive director. The role will go far beyond managing daily operations — she’ll also build community relationships that support economic equity and empowerment and foster entrepreneurial success and emotional wellness for leaders of color.
As an entrepreneur herself, Thompson was immediately drawn to Sherman Phoenix and its mission.
"I love it because it goes beyond being a marketplace."Stacia Thompson
"I love it because it goes beyond being a marketplace," she says. "You can go there and get financial services, personal services, [and] there's amazing food and art and vendors. The people who stand behind those businesses are amazing as well, and they all have amazing stories and journeys of how they got there."
Thompson brings her experience in economics, workforce, community and program development in both community-based organizations and educational institutes in the Milwaukee and Chicago area. She says her leadership style is based on relationship building and making connections. "Every success that I've had over the last 20 years has been through collaborations and working together — I didn't get here on my own," notes Thompson.
A key part of her role as executive director is to build community relationships that will support economic equity and empowerment. She plans to use her connections and resources in the Milwaukee area and connections within the Sherman Phoenix Foundation's board of directors to start this work.
One goal Thompson will incorporate is fostering emotional wellness for leaders of color in Milwaukee.
"It's no secret that sometimes in underrepresented communities, mental health and mental wellness is not something that's been put on the forefront or taken seriously," she says. "In the Black community, we haven't always seen mental health. There's been a stigma surrounding it. So what we want to do is get rid of that stigma [and] put resources in place that are accessible."
Another priority is making sure the work that Sherman Phoenix fosters can carry on for years to come, says Thompson. "We know the work that the Sherman Phoenix is doing is very important and integral to the community ... So one of the first items on my priority list is I have a goal of reaching a $10 million endowment so that this work can continue."
To start, Thompson says she's excited to meet with people living in the community and connect with other local organizations to learn about how the foundation can best address the needs the community is looking for — both internally with programming for businesses owners in Sherman Phoenix and the wider public.