BACKBONES Leaders Program equips individuals with SCI/D with a skill set that will position them to contribute in building a strong SCI/D community by becoming self-aware, advocates, civically engaged, and role models for others. Participants with SCI/D who are driven to be leaders in the community and demonstrate commitment were selected from all over the country for a year-long development program. The cohort meets monthly via video conferencing to check-in, learn from guest speakers, and participate in educational in-services on topics such as Public Speaking, Advocacy, Event Planning, Social Media, Cross-Disability, Self-Care and more.
Leaders Program 2020
Jenn Wolff | Leaders Program Coordinator
Jenn Wolff became a wheelchair user due to 2 surgeries (2003 and 2006) and radiation to remove a tumor inside her spinal cord (T7-L2). In 2005, she graduated with a masters in occupational therapy from St. Catherine’s in 2005. She practiced in an outpatient clinic for 12 years and helped develop support groups for post stroke survivors, individuals with Parkinson’s and their caregivers. A passion for advocacy began in 2010 when she realized that Medicare would not pay for the wheelchair/accessories that the health care team recommended, which led to her work first with UsersFirst and then United Spinal Association, which included all disability related policies. She is looking forward to being part of the Backbones team and continuing to empower individuals with SCI/D!
Diana Ashworth| Program Participant (Georgia)
Hello! My name is Diana Ashworth. I am from Atlanta, Georgia. I have been married for 18 years and have two boys. I am a writer, editor, and author. I had a massive spinal stroke, and I became a paraplegic in May, 2016. I am paralyzed from the chest down. I had to redefine life when I was getting used to my new normal. It was not an easy feat. There are so many health issues that go along with a SCI. I have had to add several other chronic conditions to my resume. I have found that life is what you make it. I am not going to let this chronic condition define me. I am going to do my best with what I have and use that to help and motivate people. I want people to know you can make it with this condition. This is not a death sentence, but a different type of life, where you can grow and prosper from.
Jesse Bracisco | Program Participant (California)
Hello, my name is Jesse Bracisco and I am 33 years old C 3,4,5 quadriplegic. I broke my neck when I was 10 years old riding an ATV and continue to seek thrills whenever I can find them. I have skydived, water/snow skied, traveled, and played disabled sports to continue my pursuit of life’s rush. I also have a never ending sense of humor that seems to make people around me smile as I love to have fun with a pun. Other than my love of sports and laughing, I consider politics to be important in my life. My progressive viewpoint drives me to know what’s going on and being engaged as I love helping others and discussing current events with people. I’m hoping my personality and actions leave a lasting impact on this world that is felt in a positive way.
Butch Brosman | Program Participant (Georgia)
Rev. Butch Brosman is a disability rights activist and a professional balloon artist/entertainer. He is the co-leader and co-chairperson for the state chapter of ADAPT in Georgia. During that time, not only participating and leading in National scale disability rights protests all over the country, he has gone throughout Georgia teaching community organizing that specializes in nonviolent civil disobedience demonstrations. Rev. Brosman was diagnosed with transverse myelitis at 6 months of age and has lived his entire life with a spinal cord disability. Before becoming an activist, Brosman spent many years as a working musician and entertainer. For the better part of ten years, he was the frontman and played electric ukulele in a ska/punk band called The Hermits of Suburbia.During his time as a musician; he toured all over the Southeast, shared the stage with many of his idols, and was one of Atlanta’s most frequently in-demand live acts. When he is not working on behalf of ADAPT, he works as a professional clown and balloon artist with his father. Brosman is an ordained Dudeist priest of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude; a religion based in Taoism and the Cohen Brothers’ film The Big Lebowski. -“The Dude Abides”
Maritza Gonzalez | Program Participant (Illinois)
Hi my name is Maritza Gonzalez. I became injured at 25 years of age on October 2014. I was diagnosed with having a cavernoma, a malformation of blood vessels in my spine. My injury is at the T7-T9 level. After becoming a paraplegic a whole new world opened up to me. I made it a point to live the best life I could without limiting myself and traveling is one of my top priorities. It was than that I learned how inaccessible the world can be from a wheelchair and as a parapalegic. I became passionate about places not being accessible and or there set up being wrong and speaking up to educate others. I am a firm believer there is always a way of getting things done, but you can’t give up. I look forward in getting to know, learn, and contribute with the rest of the BACKBONES team for the good causes to come.
Kenneth Jennings | Program Participant (Illinois)
My name is Kenneth Jennings, I grew up in the projects of Chicago on 37th and Wells two blocks from Comiskey Park. I would pray daily and ask God to let football be the source for a better life for my family. 31 years ago, God gave me what I ask for but not quite the way I thought! In my mind, I would finish college, then to the pros I would go! God had other plans for me that I would have never imagined. I was paralyzed while playing high school football for Simeon. From that happening, God removed us from the projects and into a much better situation. Since then, I’ve enjoyed life’s journey…I’m a semi retired high school football coach, CEO of Gridiron Alliance, a peer mentor at SR AbilityLab, motivational speaker, sports talk show hosts, soon to be author of my life story titled “Kenneth Jennings How 8 Seconds Changed My Life” and I’m currently working on the second addition of a book for the foundation titled “Great Moments In Football Halftime”. I was also very pivotal in helping pass a law in the state of Illinois to get catastrophic injury insurance for high school student athletes and I’m presently work on my next steps of that law! I’m doing a petition drive to get 1 million signatures to push congress to pass a law to get catastrophic injury insurance across the country for high school student athletes. People say that if you enjoy what you doing in life you’ll never work a day in your life so this is me not working..lol
Andrew Lewis | Program Participant (Colorado)
Andy Lewis is a 38 year old native Coloradan, born and raised amongst the plains and mountains in the northern part of the state. On August 18, 2018, Andy was in a motorcycle accident that fractured his skull, neck, left shoulder, collarbone, T4 & T5 vertebrae and severed his spinal cord. This accident and his injuries left Andy completely paralyzed. Prior to his injury, Andy served 4 years in the US Navy as an FA-18 fighter aircraft mechanic during the Desert Storm campaign and the Iraq & Afghanistan war against terrorism. After his military service, Andy received his Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Administration from Middle Tennessee State University. Andy enjoys hiking, biking, swimming, skiing and hopes to someday again pilot single engine aircraft and gliders. Andy also partners as a leader in his local community food cooperative to provide healthy fruits and vegetables to the participating families. Additionally, Andy is an active member in the Paralyzed Veterans Association, and an available Peer Mentor to Craig Hospital patients living in the Colorado Springs area. Andy’s 2nd lease on life has driven him to a new service, helping his fellow SCI brothers and sisters grow with life after injury.
Kebra Moore | Program Participant
Kebra Moore, is a resident of Granbury, Texas. She substained a T-12 spinal cord injury. Kebra’s accident (or blessing as she now refers to it) instilled in her an even greater resolve and determination. Failing was clearly not an option. As a matter of fact, her accident accelerated her determined mindset to beat the odds. As a songstress, writer, and musician today you can find Kebra traveling throughout the US on various motivational speaking campaigns and singing engagements. Her slogan, Ability Not Disability, speaks to her life of not making excuses but seizing opportunities. As Miss Wheelchair Mississippi 2013, Kebra has made it her mission to raise awareness not only for service members or people with physical or mental disabilities, but also for addressing the youth and young women throughout America on living a God first life. She even gained national acclaim as being the cover girl of triumph and success. Her debut single “Beautiful”, which appeared on BET, Impact TV, TCT Network, Atlanta Live, Babbie’s House and TBN captures the beauty in all humanity. For Kebra, beauty is not conformative to what the world mandates.
James Murtha | Program Participant (Michigan)
James Murtha is a 30-year-old Michigan native, born in Saginaw. He is a mental health therapist, an adaptive fashion entrepreneur and a political advocate. James injured his spinal cord from falling headfirst off a mountain bike on October 5, 2014 in Snowmass Village, Colorado. He is a C4 incomplete tetraplegic. He uses the power chair to get around and has set high expectations since getting injured. He works for Wareologie, a company that makes an adaptive clothing product, Buttons 2 Button Magnetic Button Adapters; the only three-part component that turns any dress shirt into an easy-to-use adaptive product. James serves on the RAISE Act advisory Council, a federal government council formed to make suggestions for improving caregiving services to benefit family caregivers. He is a board member to Thriving After SCI; a nonprofit that funds therapy services for newly injured people. James regularly meets with state and local senators and representatives to fight for fair housing and better homecare services and other issues concerning paralyzed wheelchair users, collaborating with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. He also partners with Feonix – Mobility Rising, a nonprofit dedicated to creating mobility solutions, technology, and education programs to enable better access to transportation for people with disabilities. James has a service dog named Phoenix, loves music, and enjoys American football.
Shante Nelson | Program Participant (Illinois)
Shante Nelson from Chicago, IL became paralyzed in 2016. My Level of injury is a T1complete . Individuals could have the same level of injury, but have different experiences. Individuals with SCI will always learn something new from advancing technology, to attending support groups or being involved with their peers. I have been a Certified Medical Assistant since 2009, received my bachelor’s degree in Health care administration in 2012 from Westwood College. Healthcare is my passion, having 24 years of working experience in different positions from patient care to office work. While employed as a Medical Assistant at Loyola Hospital I was also an instructor at Westwood College. Becoming a paraplegic has given me experience that I will never forget. Take for example The saying of Be careful how you treat people, because one day it could be you. I thought It was dream waking up in the same facility on the same floor where I was previously employed providing care for Sci patients. Now you have your ex coworkers taking care of you. It was not a dream, it was my new reality. I look forward to accepting my new reality while helping and Learning from others.
Victor Pirsoul | Program Participant (Missouri)
My name is Victor Pirsoul and I have been living with Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, which is a neurological disorder that can affect people in many different ways, since my diagnosis in 1986; I was 11 years old at the time and that’s pretty unusual. I’ve been using a manual wheelchair to get around since January of 2000 and most health professionals tell me that I present as someone with a spinal cord injury; that makes sense as most of my lesions are on my spine. I take a powerful medicine through an IV once per month to try and stabilize my condition. I try to exercise and eat well to give my body the best chance to keep it as healthy as possible. I’ve been an advocate, a support group leader, and a peer mentor for people with disabilities with the National MS Society and with the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab. I’m looking forward to working with everyone at Backbones in the SCI Leadership program and to make myself a formidable ally for the disabled community.
Peter Yi | Program Participant (Illinois)
Peter Yi is director of short duration fixed income and head of taxable credit research for Northern Trust Asset Management. In this capacity, Peter manages the team responsible for registered money market mutual funds, offshore global cash funds, short-term investment funds, separately managed institutional client mandates and securities lending cash reinvestment. His daily responsibilities are to develop and oversee strategies for the cash management business. Peter also manages the taxable credit research teams within fixed income. Peter is a member of the Northern Trust Investment Policy Committee, Northern Trust Interest Rate Strategy Committee, Northern Trust Credit Approval Committee, Credit Risk Management and Liquidity Committee, Northern Trust OTC Counterparty and Collateral Risk Committee and the Securities Lending Governance Committee. He also serves as the chairman of the Money Market Advisory Committee for the Investment Company Institute and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences. Peter received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the University of Chicago. He is a CFA® charterholder and a member of the CFA Institute and Investment Analysts Society of Chicago.