Comcast has been a proud partner of the Black Joy Parade since its establishment in 2018. But after the social uprisings in 2020, Comcast knew the partnership with the Black Joy Parade needed to look different. There was a keen desire to commemorate those who have been investing in Black lives well before the more recent movements. As the Black Joy Parade organizers state, “The movement for racial equality is not new. While many are just now waking up and becoming motivated to join the movement, there are Black people alive today who have dedicated much of their lives to this cause. These are the ‘Icons Among Us.’ ”
The “Icons Among Us” awards initiative encourages the community to nominate those selfless individuals who are working day in and day out for the greater good of the community. The three selected icons receive a $5,000 contribution from Comcast that is donated to the charity of their choice.
The Icons Among Us initiative was launched in 2021 and culminated with a virtual celebration of the honorees: activist Ben McBride; business leader Cathy Adams, and STEAM leader, Maurice Woods.
In its second year, Comcast recognized the 2022 honorees at the Black Joy Parade as it came back for an in-person celebration for the first time since 2020, with everyone making up for lost time. The parade marched on with floats, cars and even horses. Comcast employees and members of the Black Employee Network Employee Resource Group joined in on the fun, walking next to Comcast’s custom-designed float.
The float was designed to highlight this year’s Icons: STEM advocate and angel investor, Adamaka Ajaelo; social entrepreneur, LaNiece Jones; and advocate and creator of possibilities, Milan Balinton. Each of them is a community leader in their own unique way and each was there to be celebrated for their longstanding commitments to their communities.
Balinton, Jones and Ajaelo were selected from over 100 nominations and nine finalists. In addition to the $5,000 contribution to a nonprofit of their choice, the honorees also received a surprise personal gift designed specifically for them, to honor the important work they do.
Adamaka Ajaelo is an Oakland native, leader, innovator, and problem solver. She is the founding executive director of Self eSTEM, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a sustainable supply of underrepresented minority women leaders who are recognized as top talent and innovators in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Adamaka’s motivation to start her own nonprofit was driven by firsthand experiences of resistance from others and adversity as she moved through the STEM pipeline from high school to college, and later into her career. She was tired of being the only one that looked like her in the classrooms and the meeting rooms. She believes fighting racial and gender injustices needs a multifaceted approach, and her fight is within the STEM industry.
As a director of workforce planning & analytics at Visa, she provides data and insights to influence global workforce plans and talent development strategies. Adamaka received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Occidental College in Los Angeles and an MBA in Finance and Leadership Management from Holy Names University in Oakland.
LaNiece Jones spent over 15 years working in corporate sales and marketing and in 1991, she founded LA Jones & Associates, a marketing, public relations and events firm, which specializes in organizational strategy, electoral campaigns and community organizing. The Oakland native attended Oakland public schools and earned a bachelor’s degree from CSU Hayward and a master’s degree in Social Entrepreneurship & Change from Pepperdine University in Los Angeles.
LaNiece is passionate about designing programs, events and initiatives to increase the efficiency and productivity for social business, social enterprises and community organizations. Her particular interest is supporting Black women to be authentic leaders and building coalitions to empower the community at large for economic success.
LaNiece serves as the executive director of Peralta Colleges Foundation where she is charged with raising student scholarship funds for deserving students at Laney College, Merritt College, College of Alameda and Berkeley City College. She is an appointed member of the KQED Community Advisory Panel and a proud member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Xi Gamma Omega Chapter (Oakland).
Milan R. Balinton
Milan R. Balinton is the executive director of the African American Community Service Agency (AACSA), a San Jose organization dedicated to providing high-quality educational, cultural, social and recreational programs, services and activities to perpetuate and strengthen African American identity, culture, values, traditions, knowledge and family life.
When Milan became the executive director of AACSA in 2011, the agency had two employees and barely a budget. Since then, the agency has grown to a 23-person operation with a projected budget of $2.5 million, adding new staff members during the pandemic when other agencies were shutting down.
Today, Milan is broadening his leadership role through participation in several regional committees and task forces, including the Health and Racial Equity Task Force with the City of San Jose; the Faith Based and Community Spaces Task Force representing San Jose District 3 and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation Community Advisory Council. Milan is also part of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s Covid-19 Community Stakeholders Working Group.
Under his leadership, the AACSA has received multiple certificates of recognition by California State Assemblymember Ash Kalra along with certificates of Congressional recognition by Congressman Ro Khanna. In 2021, Milan was instrumental in making Juneteenth a Santa Clara County-wide paid holiday, a first in the state of California.