The Chicago Sky has launched a new platform to honor inspiring women beginning in the 2016 WNBA Season. The #RedefinePossible Women’s Leadership Award was created to recognize women that serve as an inspiration to others by making a positive impact in the community and redefining possible for those around them.


Michele Howard

May 19th – Sky vs Dream

For the second straight season the Chicago Sky are proud to honor inspiring women in the community with the #RedefinePossible awards. Our first honoree for the 2017 season is Michele Howard.

Michele is the scholarship manager for Chicago Public Schools and has helped a countless number of students further their education. In her role she supports, manages and drives systematic change to better serve more than 400,000 students in Chicago, ensuring that they have better access to scholarship opportunities. Prior to this role, Michele supported 60 south side elementary and high schools within CPS as a Network College and Career Specialist.

Much of Howard’s passion for furthering students’ education comes from her time working for the MDRC, a nonprofit education and social policy research organization, on the “College Match” Chicago project. The college match initiative helped develop her understanding of the level of support students and families needed to reinforce their academic strength and social capital in order to be considered for selective and highly selective universities.

Everyday Howard is motivated to help better the community around her. Where does this motivation come from?

“Knowing that everybody needs help. No man is an island, and it is so important for us to reach back and help students find their way. It’s about building, and community development. Knowing that everybody has a calling in their life and something that they are created to do,” Howard said.

Howard grew up in a house with secular and Christian educators, so from an early age she was instilled with a good foundation of values. Both of her parents have been driving forces in her career as an educator. She also credits some of her success to Dr. Joyce Brown, who Howard sees as a mentor in her professional career. Dr. Brown took Howard under her wing and introduced her to an opportunity to serve in the third largest school district in the nation.

What does #RedefinePossible mean to Howard?

“Not taking No for an answer. When you know that God has given you the vision, you must believe that you have been equipped to get the victory. Being firm in the calling and passion that is on your life provides the motivation to walk through the valley to achieve what is meant to be yours. You have to be willing to push pass what you don’t know and your fears, because ultimately, the go getters become the heavy hitters.”


Rebecca Darr

May 28th – Sky vs Sun

Rebecca Darr, CEO of WINGS Program Inc, is the second recipient of the 2017 #RedefinePossible Women’s Leadership Award. The WINGS Program is an organization that helps put an end to domestic violence by providing housing, integrated services, advocacy and education to victims. The goal of WINGS programs is to stop the cycle of domestic violence in our communities.

Darr began her tenure with the WINGS Program in 1999 as the Executive Director. In November of 2014, she was promoted to CEO. Under Darr’s leadership, WINGS has become one of the premier agencies in the region by tripling in size and providing more services to victims of abuse and homelessness.

Among Darr’s many responsibilities as CEO is sharing her passion and commitment with the WINGS Board of Directors, to foster the development and implementation of fundraising plans, programs and services that will assist women and children in escaping domestic violence.

Fueled by her passion and commitment, Darr recognized that there was a need for a safe shelter in the Northwest Suburbs and opened the first WINGS shelter in that region for victims of domestic violence in 2005. This accomplishment has allowed thousands of women and children within the region to escape from abusive environments to a safe space via the shelter. In addition, Darr spearheaded the opening of a second shelter in Chicago just last year, making WINGS the largest domestic housing agency in the state of Illinois. Since the opening of the new Chicago shelter in 2016, beds for domestic violence victims have increased by 36%.

Darr is extremely passionate not only on creating successful action plans for the issues of domestic violence, but also serving as a strong voice in Chicagoland area communities to break the cycle of abuse in families.

“To me, redefining possible means allowing young girls to have more opportunities to achieve their dreams and goals. Professional Teams like the Chicago Sky have helped show young women that anything is possible.” – Rebecca Darr, CEO of WINGS Program


Rosemary Swierk

June 1st – Sky vs Mercury

Rosemary Swierk is the driving force behind the success of Direct Steel and Construction as Founder and President. Direct Steel and Construction is a general contractor, construction management and owner’s representative firm based in Crystal Lake, IL.

As our third 2017 #RedefinePossible Women’s Leadership Award recipient, Swierk credits her brothers with instilling the confidence and capabilities to overcome any potential gender biases. “Since my childhood, as they would captain the neighborhood games, they would always select me first or second to be on their team. I knew there was no pity party for me: they selected me because of my capabilities and for what I would be able to contribute to the team.

Swierk’s accomplishments can be found throughout the Chicagoland area with the design and construction of numerous industrial, government, and retail buildings. Outside of work, she is a State of Illinois appointee to the Small Business Development Center Advisory Board and has been honored by several notable organizations and publications including; Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Chicago Woman Magazine, Athena International, Small Business Administration and the Chicago Sun Times. In addition, Rosemary was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Women’s Business Development Center in 2014 and was the recipient of the 2016 EW Enterprising Women of the Year award.

Swierk’s time is devoted to not just work, but also to giving back to the community. Having developed a strong passion for helping other women-owned businesses succeed, Swierk connects with individuals from all walks of life daily. Whenever someone needs personal or professional assistance, she is there to provide support. Rosemary also spends countless hours as a mentor to the Boys Hope Girls Hope program, which is an organization that empowers children through education and holistic support.

So, what does #RedefinePossible mean to Rosemary Swierk?

“#RedefinePossible means that there are no barriers, borders or limits.”


Paige Polakow

June 18th – Sky vs Fever

The fourth recipient of the #RedefinePossible Women’s Leadership Award belongs to Paige Polakow. Polakow lives a busy life, as she is the Manager of Nursing Operations and also the Manager of the Staffing Office at Northwestern Medicine. Paige is responsible for a multi-million-dollar budget in collaboration with the CNO and CFO, and process improvement initiatives resulting in significant savings for the hospital.

Even with all her work at Northwestern Medicine, she still has time to run CryoPure Spa. Paige and her husband Tom founded CryoPure Spa in 2015. They specialize in localized and whole-body Cryotherapy, Full-spectrum Infrared Sauna Therapy and Celluma Light Therapy. These therapies, according to research and client experience, promote: recovery, inflammation and pain reduction, athletic performance, restful sleep, improved cognitive function, and have other benefits as well. In 2017, CryoPure Spa partnered with the Chicago Sky as the official cryotherapy provider for the team.

Where does Polakow get such a strong work ethic to live such a busy life? She gives all credit to her mother, and also names her mother her biggest role model.

“I grew up with a single mother, who worked a ton of jobs to keep our family together. I didn’t get to spend much time with her growing up, but she did a great job to maintain that motherhood and business acumen that was really outstanding to watch. She was the one who gave me my drive to do what I want to do, and be who I want to be,” Polakow said.

Outside of her work with Northwestern Medicine and CryoPure Spa, Polakow has volunteered with the Chicago Dance Marathon, Veterans, the WWO and the Red Cross. Though, she says her most rewarding work has come from starting CryoPure.

“The most rewarding thing to me is hearing the stories back from people that we impact. When we started CryoPure, we went into it wanting to impact the lives of those who had issues or athletes who wanted an additional form of recovery. What we found though is people would come in sobbing. For example, there was this woman, she was taking eight Advil a day. She was supposed to have a bunch of surgeries. She came in one day sobbing (after treatment) and told us it was the first time in her life she had felt good. Honestly, that gives me chills,” Polakow said.

So what does #RedefinePossible mean to Polakow?
“I think it means as we change through culture there are going to be different barriers that we need to break down. There are going to be different challenges. Right now I think the challenge is to really feel like equals. I hope it means that all of us are coming together to really redefine what is possible in our lives.”


Kaili Harding

June 25th – Sky vs Mystics

In the fifth edition of this season’s #RedefinePossible Women’s Leadership Award, we honor Kaili Harding. Harding is the President of the Schaumburg Business Association. A position she has held for more than 5 years. Her personal mission is to empower and pave the way for aspiring businesswomen. “I’ve been excited to help bring more leadership development opportunities to women in the Schaumburg area, we’ve developed Ladies Golf Outings, and Women in Business events” Harding says.

“Over the past 15 years of my time in business, I’m seeing more women leaders emerging. They are getting more opportunities for career advancement, strong leadership opportunities, and are really being listened to in the Board room. I’d say the Midwest is starting to lead the way for more women leaders, specifically in my industry. There is a growing number of women in not-for-profits, and to be quite honest men are probably the minority in our region,” Harding said.

Aside from being a leader in the business world, Harding also takes opportunities to contribute to her community. She works with various organizations and serves on a number of different not-for-profit boards. Harding volunteers time to the American Diabetes Association, serving on the National Advocacy team, and the Executive Committee of the Step Out Walk where she is the Chair of the Champions Committee, which raises nearly $1 million each year in the Chicagoland area.

What inspires Harding to be such a driving force in the community? Her answer is simply her family. “The biggest reason that I want to help other people in our community is to be a role model for my children. I have five kids, the two youngest girls (9 and 10) really look up to me, and I think I am probably their biggest role model right now. Because of that I want to lead by example. I want to show them how fulfilling it can be to give back to others and give selflessly,” Harding said.

Perhaps what makes Harding so deserving of the #RedefinePossible award is throughout all her accomplishments in the business world and in the community, nothing is more rewarding to her than seeing others achieve success.

“None of my personal awards are as rewarding as seeing other people achieve success. I get a lot of joy nominating members of my Association for industry or local awards, and mentoring young professionals. This year one of my daughters won an Outstanding Youth Award in Elmhurst. She was nominated for the work she did for Type-1 diabetics by collecting supplies for children living with diabetes in under-developed countries. Seeing that type of recognition happen for other people is really heart-warming” Harding said.

So what does #RedefinePossible mean to Harding? “To me it means being able to think outside the box because there is so much respect now for those that disrupt the norm. Women especially need to be confident to speak up and be the change for their community.”


Veronica Appleton

July 8th – Sky vs Lynx

Veronica Appleton has always been passionate about advertising. However, when she first entered the field and struggled to find employment, she realized that there were bigger things for her to conquer.

“There was a moment where I had an internship and it was great, but it was difficult looking for a full-time role,” Appleton said. “I wondered if it was the color of my skin, my skills, aiming too high; I’m not exactly for sure what it was.”

Her solution: Changing her focus to advocating for diversity & inclusion and finding ways that people can grow within the industry.

Appleton is currently the Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion at We Are Unlimited, an advertising agency with foundational client McDonald’s and works as an Adjunct Professor of Intercultural Communications at DePaul University. Appleton was previously the Project Manager and Co-Chair for Global Culture and Inclusion at FCB Chicago.

In addition to cultivating positive culture across brands and agencies, Appleton is also a multicultural children’s book author. Her first book, Journey to Appleville, highlights a life where kids can be inspired by the opportunities around them and where possibilities are endless.

Out of all her professional accomplishments, Appleton believes her most rewarding work is visiting local grade schools to conduct various activities with youth. She gives kids an opportunity to write out their life goals, where they can then take the written goals home to show their parents and/or guardians.

“I’m able to connect with students who are passionate and just need a little push or an example that they might not have at school or at home,” Appleton said. “If I did it, you can do it. There’s room for everyone to succeed.”

Appleton is most inspired by her mom, who sent her to private schools where she learned how to speak a second language at 8-years-old.

“My mom actually nominated me for this award,” she admitted. “My mom has been a single parent and provided me with a life she did not have. Outside of developing me, she’s someone that I can talk to and learn from. She inspires me everyday.”

Appleton also consistently resorts back to the bible. She believes anytime she is faced with a challenge or a situation, she thinks back to her faith and the fact that God will pull her back. An important phrase for her to live by is “God has a plan for you.”

“I don’t have all the answers, so I rely on Him a lot. I ask him to provide me with guidance and for directions,” Appleton said.

As a #RedefinePossible award winner and as a woman of color, Appleton believes it’s important to set examples and to make sure that “women who look like us are meeting and exceeding set expectations.”

“To me, #RedefinePossible means giving someone an opportunity to be what they’ve either dreamed about, thought about or acted on, and providing people with a strong opportunity to achieve those goals.”

Final advice that Appleton would give to people trying to break barriers in their perspective industries can be found via the link here.


Darvece Monson

July 28th – Sky vs Mercury
Award accepted by Lisa Jerkins

“De-stigmatizing the renal community is a full-time life assignment that I am fully committed to,” Darvece Monson.

Darvece Monson began her journey as a health care professional at a young age, having graduated high school as a licensed practical nurse and immediately thereafter continuing her education in furthering her nursing career in education, wellness, leadership, philanthropy, tech, and Entrepreneurship.

Monson’s background includes being a nurse for more than 20 years, in addition to, being a lifelong health nut, model, writer, personal trainer, and fitness instructor before she was thrust into a new life as a hemodialysis patient, health promoter, advocate, nutritional counselor and legislator.”

More Than Your Kidneys was founded in the spring of 2015 after Monson was unable to find an umbrella of support that identified, implemented, and welcomed the Renal Community optimally as individuals while simultaneously addressing their personal and diagnosis-related frailties. Life as a dialysis patient is comprehensively complex and requires knowledge, focused navigation, and case-specific solutions, and legislative combating.

Her journey through chronic kidney disease, renal failure, and 15 to 24 hours of hemodialysis treatments each week spanned across 21 months until through tragedy she received a new kidney from her 11-year-old niece, Takiya Holmes, who died a victim of gun violence in Chicago in February 2017.

Monson and More Than Your Kidneys compassionately focuses on inspiring and empowering patients and family members affected by CKD/ESRD/Dialysis/Kidney transplantation. Through health promotion, advocacy, and personal testimonies, they are focused on helping those affected by the severity of a chronic illness cope and live viable lives.

More Than Your Kidneys mission is to increase chronic disease awareness, education and prevention, health promotion, living organ donation, and improving the continuity of support systems associated with the renal community. It is unique in it strives to remove the stigma from the renal community by lifting the veil of shame via knowledge, personal testimonials, demographics, diagnoses, and transparency.

More Than Your Kidneys has received more than 35 awards to date and 50 honorable mentions across more than 15 states to date and has been featured and showcased in other countries as well from radio to print, television features to podcasts, online platforms and more. We constantly receive correspondence and support from all over the world, which directly correlates with the global reality that is Chronic Kidney Disease, Dialysis, Kidney Transplantation, and Kidney Survivorship.

To learn more about Monson, her mission, and More Than Your Kidneys please visit www.morethanyourkidneys.org.


Manika M. Turnbull, PhD

July 30th – Sky vs Liberty

Dr. Manika Turnbull, the Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), is our next #RedefinePossible Women’s Leadership Award winner.

HCSC is the parent company of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. As VP and Chief Diversity Officer, Turnbull is responsible for managing HCSC’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives, ensuring that diversity and inclusion remain cornerstones of HCSC’s culture and continue to be integrated into its business operations.

Turnbull joined HCSC 11 years ago after completing her graduate program at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, where she currently serves on the Board of Trustees. Although she wasn’t sure if she specifically wanted to work for an insurance company, one of her professors had worked at the company and felt that Turnbull could be an asset to the learning and development team at HCSC.

“ We are a very purpose driven organization with a purpose that really resonates with me. Not only do we say that we are committed to our members and our community, but we truly care and believe what we say,” Turnbull said. “We walk the walk, not just talk the talk. It’s not just that we have a purpose it’s how we live out that purpose.”

Turnbull is also an active member of the Chicago community. She is a member of several boards and councils, most notably United Way Women’s Leadership Council, Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that teaches children about racism and prejudice to prevent it from happening in the future, and Playworks Illinois, which aims to improve the health and well-being of children through physical activity. She is a 2015 Leadership Greater Chicago (LGC) fellow and serves on LGC’s Board of Directors.

Turnbull was named a 2013 Diversity MBA Top 100 Under 50 Emerging & Executive Leader. Additional recent accolades include being named a 2016 Chicago Defender Woman of Excellence; receiving 40 Under 40 Awards from both the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust and The Network Journal; being named one of 2016’s Most Powerful & Influential Women in Illinois by the Illinois Diversity Council; and being named a 2017 Chicago Business Journal Woman of Influence.

Despite all of her individual professional accomplishments, Turnbull says she is “truly the happiest at work when team members of mine succeed, when I can advocate for their advancement. I’m grateful for the blessings that I’ve had, but what gives me energy is being able to have a team that I can share my knowledge with.”

Turnbull attributes much of her success to her father, one of her biggest role models. Turnbull’s father was a single parent who raised Turnbull and her two siblings on his own.

“My father was someone who had all of the odds stacked against him and never complained or made excuses. The vision he had for us is something that inspires me and makes me want to be a better person because he’s always wanted us to have the opportunities he’s never had,” Turnbull said.

After many years of professional experience, she hopes to inspire other young women looking to break barriers in their field.

“Don’t let anyone let you doubt yourself. The sky is the limit. No pun intended. If it’s something you want, be bold, take risks,” Turnbull said. “It’s going to be scary and unfamiliar, or even counter to what people tell you, but what I’ve learned is that being bold and going after what you want and taking risks will always pay off one way or the other.”

So, what does #RedefinePossible mean to Manika Turnbull?

“It’s challenging the status quo and not settling for the way things have always been. It means innovation and looking at things in a different way. Redefine possible is inclusive, and as a chief diversity officer it’s to redefine what is possible with the inclusion of others.”


Kenya Mercer

August 5th – Sky vs Dream

Kenya Mercer, the Executive Director of Swish Dreams, is our latest recipient of the #RedefinePossible award. Mercer is making an impact in the community by helping and serving more than 300 kids in the Chicagoland area through Swish Dreams.

Swish Dreams is a non for profit organization that teaches the fundamentals of literacy, leadership and physical fitness with sports, most notably basketball and cheer, to under privileged youth. Their goal is to use basketball as medium to attract kids from all different communities to achieve academic success.

Mercer credits her parents, who she says are her role models, for instilling a strong work ethic in her.

“My parents inspire me because they have achieved a lot. They placed family oriented values on me and my siblings. They allowed me to do my own thing. They allowed me to make mistakes and learn from them,” Mercer said.

Interesting enough, Mercer also has another special role model in her life – her twin sister.

“My twin sister is the most inspirational to me because while we’re the same, we’re also very much different. The strengths she has, that I lack, I’m able to piggyback off her. It’s a give-and-take, and I’m inspired by her every day,” Mercer said.

Mercer says her work with Swish Dreams has been the most rewarding thing for her in her life. She started working there as just a volunteer, and organically grew in the role she currently is in today. Mercer also says she learned a lot on the fly, and has grown from her mistakes.

The biggest piece of advice Mercer has to offer to young women is that you are enough.

“The biggest thing my parents stressed to me was that you are enough. What you bring to the table is already good enough. Don’t try to be somebody you aren’t.”

What does #RedefinePossible mean to Mercer?

“Being out there and doing the unthinkable. It means being in the moment and being able to reinvent yourself all the time. It’s constantly reinventing who you are and who you want to be, and being okay with that.”


Jessica Freiburg

August 10th – Sky vs Stars

This weeks #RedefinePossible winner has been volunteering and fundraising with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Greater Illinois Chaptersince 2005. Jessica Freiburg, the now secretary and a member of the finance committee of the Chapter’s Board of Trustees, has taken on many roles within the organization: Leading fundraising events, serving as the treasurer and chair of the junior board, Multiple Solutions, and most recently chairing the audit committee for the Board of Trustees.

Through her involvement with The National MS Society, Freiburg has volunteered countless hours, participated in advocacy at the state and national level, assisted in raising over $1 million towards MS research, and has developed and nurtured future leaders for the MS movement. Because of the MS society’s efforts in research and advocacy there are now 15 different types of treatments for MS, including the first one that treats primary progressive MS, released just this year.

“I originally was motivated to get involved because my father has MS and was diagnosed with it when I was about 3 years old. I stay involved because I’ve met so many other people who are affected by MS and especially a lot of young men and women who have been diagnosed and seen the impact on their life, career and family ambitions , Freiburg said. “Through my involvement I’ve developed relationships that have made me want to continue working to find a cure. And I hope that my children will live in a world where MS isn’t a concern.”

In Freiburg’s professional career, she is instrumental in making a positive impact in the development of her employees and in giving back to her community. She is currently a partner at Sassetti LLC, a boutique public accounting firm where she works with numerous not-for-profit organizations. Some of which include social service, religious and spiritual organizations, and community foundations.

As one of the first female partners at her firm, Freiburg leads the employee development, recruiting, and women’s initiatives within the firm and through their alliances. She is a member of the Women’s Executive Committee of the IL CPA Society and was active in the creation of the Society’s Women’s Mentoring Circles.

“I think in the workforce it’s about making sure you’re not feeling intimidated. Especially since the field that I’m in tends to be male-dominated so it’s important to speak up and put your ideas out there,” Freiburg said. “My focus has been about taking the initiative to speak up and realizing that people will listen and accept your ideas.”

Freiburg said one of her biggest role models is her mom: “She was a working mom who did it all—took care of the family while she had a full time job, was in charge of an entire department at her high school and she showed me that I could do it all.”

Advice that Freiburg would give women trying to break barriers in the workforce is “to be confident in who you are, and to be willing to accept that you might not always succeed but never stop trying.”

To Freiburg, #RedefinePossible means: “Inspiring and empowering others so they know that they can accomplish their dreams no matter what obstacles stand in the way.”


Rona Fourte

August 18th – Sky vs Sparks

The Sky are proud to present Rona Fourte with the #RedefinePossible Women’s Leadership Award. Fourte is the Director of Supplier Diversity for Walgreens and is responsible for setting the strategy for including diverse suppliers into the procurement process and leading a team responsible for identifying, developing, and introducing diverse suppliers to different opportunities with the company.

Fourte is also a leader in the Office of Diversity & Inclusion, which is part of Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) Global Human Resources. In this role, Fourte has supported HR culture programs and launched multiple job-readiness programs through Walgreens and Duane Reade for youth who are aging out of foster care, allowing them access to entry-level store positions.

As a woman, Fourte openly admits that early in her career, making sure her voice was heard was one of the biggest obstacle’s she had to overcome professionally. Serving in accounting roles for half of her career, allowed her to be more introverted.
“I really had to accept the fact that my voice mattered just as much as everyone else’s and that I could indeed add tremendous value and bring a different perspective as a female leader.” Fourte said.

The DePaul alumnus graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration & Accounting and Masters of Arts degree in Divinity and has a plethora of experience outside of Walgreens, including becoming a Certified Fraud Examiner as well as being an ordained minister.
Fourte has also led supplier diversity initiatives in the public sector where she facilitated financial transactions for minority-owned businesses in excess of $105 million while directing the Chicago Minority Business Opportunity Center (a funded project of the US Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA).

“While I enjoy my professional achievements, the most rewarding for me personally is when I am able to serve as a mentor,” Fourte said. “I really enjoy working with youth, in particular young women, and having an opportunity to encourage and assure them that challenges they might be facing are not unique to them and that other women have successfully made it through similar challenges. That opportunity to be open and transparent and to provide guidance has been most rewarding in my life experiences.”

Fourte also has a hand in many organizations, such as the National Minority Supplier Development Council, Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, US Business Leaders Network, Multicultural Retail 360, and Holy Family Scholars as well as many others. She said leaving a legacy motivates her every day.

“Leaving a legacy and making sure the time that I’m spending – especially as a woman of color – on this earth is something that my family can be proud of and that leaves a legacy and a model for those to come,” Fourte said. “Mentoring, being genuine and authentic, and working in the community, are very important to me because I want to know that I left the world a better place because of my contributions.”

To Fourte, #RedefinePossible means lots of things, but mostly resilience and innovation.

“Being resilient, especially in the face of adversity and challenge, and keeping in mind that friction breeds innovation and creativity is how I redefine possible every day. ,” Fourte said. “Just stay the course and finish the race is my motto.”


Felicia Shakespeare

August 20th – Sky vs Storm

The 12th winner of the #RedefinePossible award for 2017 is Felicia Shakespeare, an educator, author, and speaker who just successfully completed her first year as a Ph.D. student in the School of Information Studies at Dominican University in River Forest, IL.

Shakespeare also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business from Elmhurst College, a Master’s degree in Teaching and a Master’s in degree in Educational Leadership from Aurora University and the American College of Education, respectively.

Because of her many life experiences, her greatest inspiration comes from empowering others to live a life of faith and purpose. Shakespeare is also an accomplished speaker and writer. She is the author of the book “You Are Your Brand, Building from the Inside Out.” She became a 2017 Author of the Year finalist for the Indie Author Legacy Awards, Baltimore, Maryland. And is a nominee for the 2017 Aspiring Entrepreneur Award for the Dream Conference. She has spoken for organizations such as Dress for Success, the American Library Association, and the Black Women’s Expo.

A native Chicagoan, as a woman of color she has faced both obstacles as well as victories on her career path. Having a clear perspective of what she wants combined with a go-getter mentality and strong work ethic, has allowed her to achieve many of her goals. Shakespeare’s advice for young women aiming to break barriers is to focus on being the best version of themselves by striving for excellence and remaining knowledgeable in their areas of expertise.

She also says, “Always stay true to your beliefs and don’t get stuck when others don’t believe in you. You should never stop reaching to achieve the dreams that are in your heart as the path to success can sometimes be unorthodox. Always remain resilient!”

Shakespeare credits much of her success to her parents’ impact on her life. She said they taught her to be a, “… better person by striving to live honestly, remain accountable, and maintain my integrity. They showed me that an honorable existence is the truest wealth.”

What does Redefine Possible mean to Shakespeare?

“Redefine Possible to me means to always believe in the impossible. What sometimes may seem impossible in my eyes can be made possible with a new perspective and a new chartered path. Always believe!”


Andrea Knepper

September 3rd – Sky vs Storm

Our final #RedefinePossible winner for the season has made her mark in the Social Work field around Chicago. Andrea Knepper founded Chicago Adventure Therapy in 2006 and has been the Director since then.

Knepper earned her BA from Oberlin College, in 1995 and has been in social services since then. During her career, she has worked closely with teens and their families in a variety of clinical settings and has done her best to bring the best out of people.

“I am certainly, when I’m supervising staff, pretty good at finding their strengths and helping them see their strengths and really building on that and encouraging them and letting them know exactly where they’re doing a good job,” said Knepper.

Along with her work at Adventure Therapy, Knepper has also found success in kayaking. In October of 2015, she earned her 5 Star Sea Leader Award (now the Advanced Sea Kayak Leader Award), becoming the 7th woman in the United States to do so. In August of 2016, she became the second American to earn the UKCC Level 3 Coach Award.

As someone who has done her best to help the community, she gets a lot of her motivation from someone who also went out of her way to aid people who needed it.

“From an early age, my hero was Harriett Tubman. I had poster of her on my wall from when I was a little girl all the way until I went off to college. Her courage, her leadership, and the fact that she was taking slaves to freedom at huge risks to herself … I wanted to be like her.”

When asked about what redefine possible means to Knepper, she looked at it from a different perspective.

“If people don’t know something is impossible, they do it anyway. So for the young people we work with, I like to think that we help make the impossible possible.”