Executive Board

Walla Elsheikh is the Co-Founder and CEO of Birthright AFRICA which is committed to providing a free educational trip to Africa for all youth and young adults of African descent in the US. She has over 16 years of management and leadership experience in both the private and public sectors and has spent the last 10 years supporting various college and career readiness initiatives in both the K-12 and Postsecondary education spaces that prepare students with skills required in the 21st century global economy. Walla is the former Interim Executive Director of Schools That Can, NYC and has served as a program director, internship coordinator, and strategic consultant to small and large educational non-profits in NYC and Washington, D.C. She received her MBA in strategic management and social entrepreneurship from Indiana University after working as a Financial Associate at Goldman Sachs & Co. Walla participated in both the Education Pioneers and Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) Fellowships and was selected as one of the Most Influential People of African descent (MIPAD) in 2018. She was born in Sudan and raised there as well as Sweden and Uganda before immigrating to New York City.

Diallo Shabazz is the Co-Founder Birthright AFRICA leveraging his background as a global education advisor and sustainability expert who has worked with government agencies and NGOs in North America, Asia, and Africa. He is Chief Administrator of the Education Fund which manages workforce strategy for District Council 37, one of the nation’s largest municipal labor unions with 125,000 members working across 1,000 different job titles. He is a board member of the NYC Employment Training Coalition, a delegate of the NYC Mayor’s Workforce Development Board, and serves on the board’s subcommittee exploring labor regulations for the gig economy. From 2011 – 2013, Diallo was appointed as a North American Civil Society Representative for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which he represented at ministerial-level meetings on the Post-2015 Agenda and creation of the sustainable development goals in Europe and Africa.

Jay Kao is a derivatives lawyer at the D. E. Shaw group.  As Vice President and Counsel, she advises on the hedge fund’s investment strategies and securities transactions. She’s also founder of the firm’s Black affinity group, Black @ DESCO, and works on diversity and inclusion at the firm.  Before her tenure at D. E. Shaw, she was an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP after completing her JD at Harvard Law School. Outside of the office, Jay is a board member for a few non-profit boards and an angel investor and advisor for start-ups with a social impact that are led by members of historically marginalized groups including Black women, non-binary femme, and LGBTQ+. Jay was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria prior to immigrating to the US.

Darren Harris is a Vice President at Goldman Sachs, where he has spent 13 successful years in the Investment Banking and Sales & Trading Divisions specializing in corporate credit and interest rates.A serial entrepreneur, Darren Harris is the Co-Founder and CEO of PANN, an emerging digital video network made for crowdsourcing, sharing, and spotlighting news and events that take place within the global Black community.  Prior to his entrepreneurial ventures, Darren graduated from Howard University with a BBA in International Business and a minor in Finance. Passionate about fostering diversity in Corporate America, at Goldman Sachs he has served as the Co-Head and Co-founder of the Black Hispanic/Latino Council, Captain of the Goldman Sachs HBCU recruiting initiative, Junior Diversity Council board member, and Firmwide Black Network board member. Darren was born in Teaneck, NJ and raised in Teaneck and Harlem, NY. His parents settled in the Northeast after being raised in Florida and are descendants of enslaved Africans brought to Georgia and the Carolinas. 

Mercedes Bent is an investor and operator who specializes in identifying and scaling mission-driven startups into global institutions. She currently works in venture capital and previously served as an executive at a VR startup and a General Manager at General Assembly where she oversaw a multi-million dollar business lines during periods of explosive growth. She has a MBA and Masters in Education from Stanford University and an AB from Harvard University. In her free time she enjoys writing up new business ideas, walks longer than 20 NYC blocks, chocolate soufflés, hiking, camping, off-roading in her Jeep, and dealing playing cards very fast. She was born in Durham, North Carolina and raised in California. She is a descendant of enslaved Africans in America with Bermudian/Grenadian ancestry, and Benin/Togo/Ghanaian ancestry.

Kevin Bedeau is a product leader and change agent with extensive experience delivering digital solutions and optimizing product operations on behalf of fortune 500 companies, non-profits and startups in the education sector.  He is passionate about educational equity and youth development and is currently serving as product consultant to Classroom Inc., a national non-profit offering games and curricula designed to build literacy and P21 skills among middle-school aged youth.  Recently, as Product Director for Zinc Learning Labs, an Edtech startup, Kevin led efforts to scale the company’s MVP offering and presided over a seventy percent increase in active usage over two years. Kevin holds a BA in Sociology from Cornell University and is a proud Brooklyn native and resident. He was born and raised in Brooklyn to parents from Trinidad and Barbados and is a proud child of the Caribbean.

Kalam Dennis graduated from Clark Atlanta University where he received a degree in Business Administration – Marketing. Post college Kalam he was recruited L’Oreal USA for their management training program. He spent a total of 13 years at L’Oreal – working in analytics, Account management, Brand marketing and ultimately departing as a vice president in Business Development. After L’Oreal Kalam started AptDeco in 2014 with Co-founder Reham Fagiri. AptDeco makes it easy for you to buy and sell your furniture in NY, NJ and CT with plans to expand to California, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston in the near future. Kalam was born in Oakland, California and raised in Los Angeles.

Derrick H. Lewis is an energetic and passionate advisor and entrepreneur. He is a Senior Manager at Ernst & Young and brings over 13 years of experience in entrepreneurial, c-level, operational, human capital, technology, management consulting roles working with diverse organizations in the Public and Private sector. Having grown up in the South Bronx and experiencing firsthand the lack of resources being provided to the poorest part of the United States, Derrick created The Bronx Community Foundation, the first and only public foundation solely dedicated to The Bronx, New York. Continuing his passion for philanthropy, Derrick also sits on the Boards of multiple non-profit organizations, including a school he co-founded. He was born and raised in The Bronx, NY to parents from Trinidad and South United States.

Azza Elsheikh is currently leading product development at Splice, a rapidly growing music technology start-up after leaving her role as VP of Product and Design at NBC Universal in 2018. Prior to NBC, Azza was at American Express leading a team of 30 business and technology professionals to deliver software product across 21 international markets driving over a $1 Billion dollars annually. In her spare time, Azza also consults with various artists, entertainers, and media companies mostly in the African Diaspora community helping them shape their brand and strategic goals with a focus on business planning, branding, financial analysis & digital strategy. Azza has worked with Wondaland Records (Janelle Monae’s oint Venture Record Label), Sokoni Agency (Parkwood Entertainment, Everyday People NYC, The L’OREAL Group, etc.), and Well-Read Black Girl. Azza was born to Sudanese parents in Sweden growing up there, Sudan and Uganda before her family immigrated to New York City.