Staff

Our leadership. Our commitment.

President and CEO

Senior Leadership Team

Dr. Alicia Renee Farris

Chief Operations Officer

Alicia has been with ROC since 2012 in various leadership capacities. She has worked in local and state government and in nonprofit administration for more than 25 years. She also has provided technical and operational assistance and executive coaching to more than 250 grassroots organizations throughout Michigan.

In her current position as the national Chief Operations Officer at ROC United and previously as State Director of ROC-MI (2013), Dr. Farris provides leadership to a movement for social and economic justice for restaurant workers.

For 12 years, she was an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, where she taught courses on ethics in human services, conflict management, school violence and social justice.
Alicia’s extensive community involvement includes current posts as board chair of Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan and Steering Committee Chair for the Michigan One Fair Wage Ballot Committee.
She has been honored to receive many local and national awards, including the 2020 Women’s Informal Network’s “Most Influential African American Women in Metropolitan Detroit “ Award”.; A. Phillip Randolph Institute’s Community Builders Award (2019), the Detroit City Council Distinguished Service Award (2013), a U.S. House of Representatives Proclamation (2010), the 100 Black Men of Greater Detroit “Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things” Award (2001), the National Congress of Black Political Women’s Shirley Chisholm Award (1997), numerous Spirit of Detroit Awards (1987-2010) and letters and commendations from the Points of Light Foundation, former Detroit Mayors Coleman A. Young and Dennis W. Archer, former Michigan Governor John Engler and the late Coretta Scott King.

Alicia holds a D.Min., an M.A. in education and a B.S. in human resource development. She completed the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business Program, Detroit Equity Action Lab Fellowship, Kingian Nonviolent Conflict Reconciliation certifications, The Midwest Academy Organizer’s Training Program, Ballot Initiatives Strategy Center’s Economy Cohort and the Midwest Labor Leadership Initiative, among other training.

Ami Awad

Development Director

Ami has worked in the nonprofit sector for nearly two decades, holding various program and administrative positions focused on workforce development, housing, advocacy, and community wellness. She is deeply passionate about building strategic relationships to address wealth disparities, social injustices, and meaningful systems change. Prior to assuming her role with ROC, Ami served as a development consultant for progressive organizations across the country. She earned her BA from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and currently works out of ROC’s NYC office.

Anthony Advincula

Director of Communications

Anthony joined ROC United in December 2018. The youngest son of a seamstress from the Philippines, he has focused on the dignity of work and the rights of workers to address economic reforms, job protections, and restructure national immigration policy.

Anthony attended Harvard University (Liberal Arts, advanced narrative nonfiction) in 2005, and Columbia University, where he was awarded a Charles H. Revson Fellowship, and received his master’s degree in public administration (MPA, social and urban policy) and journalism, in 2009.

Prior to ROC, Anthony was a journalist for 15 years, focusing on labor, government and politics, immigration, and race relations. He was a correspondent for The Associated Press, The Jersey Journal and New America Media, and a recipient of various journalism fellowships, including the New York Times Foreign Press Fellowship, American/German Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Fellowship and USC National Health Journalism Fellowship.

Dr. Teofilo Reyes

Chief Program Officer

Teófilo joined ROC United in September of 2011, while completing a doctorate in Comparative Human Development from the University of Chicago. Previously, Teófilo served as co-director at Labor Notes, director of Transnationals Information Exchange in North America, helped found the National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty, and was a community organizer with the United Farm Workers.

Most recently, he was appointed as a lecturer and visiting scholar at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley. At the University of Chicago, he was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and was appointed as a Fellow at the Institute for Mind and Biology.

He earned a dual undergraduate degree in Economics and Russian from the University of Michigan. Teófilo’s first job was at McDonald’s.

Organizing & Support Staff

Alba Escobar

Organizer – ROC Minnesota

Allen Lee

CHOW Lead Organizer/Case Manager – ROC Michigan

Allen came to ROC from Goodwill Industries, where he specialized in workforce development. In 2017 he joined ROC-MI to coordinate Restore Detroit, a skills training program for returning citizens and survivors of domestic violence. He managed the daily operations of the training classes and maintained compliance with major stakeholders. In 2019 Allen’s focus shifted to coordinating ROC-MI’s CHOW (Colors Hospitality Opportunity for Workers) Institute, which provides free 8-week industry specific classes, building the ladder of success for restaurant workers. Allen’s dedication to justice for restaurant workers comes from his lived experience of witnessing his mother’s struggle with wage and tip theft as a hospitality worker.

Andrea Kszystyniak

Development Associate

Andrea Kszystyniak (they / them) has been an organizer in one capacity or another for most of their life, primarily working at the intersections of prison abolition, labor and queer / trans movements. They approach their role in development and fundraising as a political tool to redistribute resources in hope of building a world where everyone has what they need. They bring their experience as a newspaper reporter, restaurant worker, community organizer, artist and non-profit employee to their work at ROC. In their spare time, they watch horror / action movies, drink iced lattes, ride bikes and read too many books. They live in Chicago with their cat, Scout.

Brandon Arnold

Organizer – ROC New Orleans

Brandon Arnold began his community organizing career with Chicago Area Project. His professional career has taken a full circle. However, now he can add the experience of teacher, counselor and police officer. Brandon is also delighted to bring that experience to NOLA, a city he has always loved. With ROC United, he has pledged to give total devotion and hard work to the local community of restaurant workers (the backbone Of NOLA). He is proud to serve New Orleans.

Calvin Okunoye

Organizer – ROC Philadelphia

Calvin Okunoye is the High Road Coordinator of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Philadelphia. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu North America where he studied French cuisine and gained an AS in the Culinary Arts. Calvin worked as a professional chef and musician 10+ years, working with many established chefs across French and northern Italian cuisines. In early 2012, he joined ROC United. Calvin was a part of the coalition passing an earned sick leave bill for more than 120k hospitality workers and creating stronger wage theft protections for all of Philadelphia’s workforce. In 2013, through a collaboration of restaurant owners, workers, government agencies, city officials, Calvin and ROC’s High Road staff launched R.A.I.S.E. (Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment), an alternative restaurant association whose mission is to support small and medium-size businesses to succeed on the High Road towards profitability. Calvin also serves as Co-Chair of Philadelphia Food Advisory Policy Council and Local Officer for The News Guild of Greater Philadelphia.

Carlos Ramos

Organizer – ROC Minnesota

Chris White

National RAISE Director / ROC Michigan Director

Colleen Koperek

National Digital Organizer

A former pastry chef, line cook and culinary educator, Colleen started at ROC in 2023. She enjoys that her life experience as a cook, writer and organizer comes together to help workers realize their collective power. She believes that access to information is paramount to building worker power, and uses her skills as a digital organizer to reach restaurant workers nationwide. Outside of work she likes riding bikes, listening to music and trying new foods

Cynthia Gomez

National Membership Engagement Director

Cynthia worked as a waitress in the restaurant industry until 2011 when she went from a rank-and-file janitor, a steward, and an Executive Board Member before finally coming on staff as an Organizer. She led the janitorial division and became an Organizer Director for Janitorial, Security Officers, Window Cleaners, Block by Block, Retail Janitors, Minnetonka Moccasins divisions of SEIU Local 26 Including a one day of strike for janitors. 

In April 2015, she received training in Brazil with MST (Landless workers movement) at the Florestan Fernandez National School in which she obtained the knowledge of organizing and trained through popular education and learned their style of organization from the base. Having 9 years of professional experience, she has organized workers and developed successful leaders. She is here to fight for economic, racial, and gender equality and eliminating workplace harassment. She is bringing her experience and knowledge to serve the working- class families.

DjeRae Lucas

Lead Organizer – ROC The Bay

Helen Abraha

Organizer – ROC DC

Geeta Tadeo

Deputy Director of Finance

Jen Johnson

Director of Institutional Giving

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jen Johnson began her career in philanthropy in 2015 with an entry-level fundraising position at Goodwill Southern California. Within 3 years, she was the assistant director of Development, charged with spearheading Goodwill SoCal’s corporate philanthropy program. Jen joined ROC United in 2020 as the director of Institutional Giving where she leads fundraising efforts for the 6 of its 9 local chapters. A former server with 11 years of restaurant experience, Jen is passionate about eliminating racism and sexism within the restaurant industry. She lives in Los Angeles and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies from Cal State Northridge.

Jessie Harmon

National Digital Organizer

For twelve years Jessie worked in the service industry between their native Atlanta and Los Angeles as a professional bartender who after enduring the dichotomy between the good and unfortunate sides of restaurant culture, they became a worker about actions and solutions in order to build a new, constructive way forward for service industry professionals. Jessie has a strong passion for teaching and working with people after years behind the bar and began teaching at the CHOW Bar Academy as well as political coffee breaks and leadership development to bring workers together through positive, forward thinking. Their experience within the industry pushed anger into action to fight for better working wages, dignity, education and quality of life for all working class people.

Outside of organizing work, Jessie positively enjoys live music, tacos, Parks & Rec, shaken daiquiris, Joshua Tree, meeting new people, traveling, social justice, comedy shows and spending time with their dog Kevin.

Jordan Romanus

Digital Organizing Director

Jordan has been with ROC United since July 2013. He has been grateful for the privilege of managing a great team of digital organizers at ROC. Together, he and his team members have created and utilized organizing tech tools to build worker power.

Jordan finds his work at ROC vital; he wants to make sure restaurant workers are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

Prior to ROC, he worked at many different organizing initiatives and random jobs, primarily in the Appalachian region.

Larry Swetman

Digital Platforms and Content Manager

Larry Swetman is an artist, poet, and philosopher. He got his start in the movement with Occupy Wall Street where he led and/or co-founded several successful projects including InterOccupy, the Occupy National Gathering, and the Occupy Sandy New Jersey. Professionally, Larry specializes in strategic planning, digital infrastructure, and creative content development. In his spare time, he likes to hike, write, read, and play music. He currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley with his dog Lemon.

Laura MacIntyre

Organizer – ROC Michigan

Leslie Escobosa

Human Resources Deputy Director and Assistant to the President  & CEO

Leslie started working as a part-time office manager in November 2008, where she had the opportunity to meet many restaurant workers facing injustice in the restaurant industry. That experience inspired her to help workers improve their skills, including résumé building, in order to find the right employment and be successful in their chosen career.

Leslie was promoted to Career Coach, leading ROC United’s CHOW Institute’s training program. Presently, she is the Human Resources Deputy Director and Assistant to the President and CEO at ROC United.

In the spring of 2020, Leslie received an Associate of Arts in Human Services from Bronx Community College. She is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in business administration at Baruch College in New York City.

Luis Cortes

Organizer – ROC New York

Luis Cortes is a bilingual organizer for ROC NY. He is working on organizing restaurant workers’ voices for the Empire State Child Care Campaign. Prior to ROC-NY, he worked organizing day laborers in NYC and fast food workers in the Fight for 15 campaign in Albany, NY. His first job in NYC ten years ago was in the restaurant industry. Luis holds a BA in Public Administration from the Universidad de Chile.

Luisa Armendariz

Organizer – ROC Minnesota

Luisa Armendariz (They/She) Bilingual Organizer for ROC-MN. Luisa is a proud queer, immigrant, midwest chicana, born in Mexico, and raised in Minnesota. Luisa has worked in the restaurant industry for most of their young adult life.  Luisa had done organizing work with CTUL in the Fight for 15 campaign, during the 2020 elections with Women for Political Change, and within the restaurants they have worked in. Luisa enjoys photography, film making, screen printing and dreaming with local BIPOC artists about collective liberation. Luisa believes that art and creation go hand in hand with the social movements we are building, organizing, and fighting for. 

Manuel Villanueva

Regional Director — ROC Los Angeles, The Bay, Chicago and Minneapolis

Manuel is the Regional Director of ROC’s chapters on the western half of the country. He leads comprehensive organizing campaigns to help workers win respect and dignity at their restaurants, including training and education for worker leaders, media work in English and Spanish, direct actions, and legal strategy. He has community organizing experience as a peer educator for LGBTQ Organizations, developing leaders in the Latino LGBTQ community in Long Beach, Palm Springs, and Los Angeles, and as a member organizer for ROC-LA prior to joining the staff team. He also has over 10 years of experience in the restaurant industry. 

Maria Vasquez

Organizer – ROC Los Angeles

Marie L. Wiggins

National Director of Workforce Development and Special Projects

Marie is the creator of COLORS Hospitality Opportunities for Workers, known as the CHOW Institute, a ROC United program that provides advanced professional training in both front- and back-of-the-house restaurant skills at no cost to either employers or employees. Marie has held multiple roles in the organization over the past 15 years — from being a member, a worker owner at original COLORS Restaurant, training coordinator, serving as ROC-NY Director, National Member Benefits and Resource Coordinator, Deputy of HR, Finance and Operations.

In her previous professional career that she had for 12 years with the New York City Board of Education, Marie was active in three unions: Communication Workers Association, International Brotherhood of Teamsters – Local 237, and District Council 37. She also spent 10 years with Corporate America as a cash manager.

Mei Chen

Development Associate

Born in Chinatown, New York, Mei was raised in the food service industry by immigrant parents who owned and operated a Chinese restaurant in South Jersey for over 15 years. Mei attended Yale University, where she took on a number of leadership roles in research and volunteer organizations and received a Bachelor of Science in psychology. A member of the ROC development team since 2023, Mei is incredibly passionate about racial justice, immigrant rights, and labor rights.

Megatron Caswell

Organizer – ROC Minnesota

Nohemi Woods

Organizer – ROC Los Angeles

Nohemi is our chow coordinator for ROC LA. She books the instructor, venue, brands and students for each class. She started out as a volunteer with ROC and is now coordinating the program herself. Nohemi has worked back of the house and front of the house for the past decade, from prepping, bar backing, serving, bartending to management, allowing her to understand each role to full depth. She also has a background in community organizing with a focus on migrants rights, which goes hand in hand with labor rights in hospitality. 

Norma Chavez

Organizer – ROC DC

Olivia Urbina Tobar

Organizer – ROC Los Angeles

Rev. Prabhu Sigamani

Director – ROC New York

Prabhu joined ROC-NY in Jan 2010 as a case manager and, in 2014, transitioned to do policy work. In 2020 he became the director of the chapter; he comes with ten years of experience. Prabhu graduated BA Cum Laude from NYACK College, majoring in Theology. He continued his education at New York Theological Seminary and earned his Masters in Divinity. Prabhu received a certificate in Project Management from Cornell University.  And visions to make service and knowledge accessible to restaurant workers will lead to industry transformation by the members impacted by systemic greed and designed suppression. 

As an immigrant who worked his way up, he understands the struggles of people. Prabhu enjoys working with members and colleagues to help them identify their potential to outrival. Social change is a collaborative work that can be done only by mutual support and encouragement.

Prabhu is also an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. Serves on  committee member on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations New York Conference of UCC. He serves on the Board of Directors for Worker Justice Project, a non-profit that works to improve day labors’ lives from various racial backgrounds.

He enjoys woodcarving during his free time and is excited to take a new hobby in clay sculpting. 

Sadia Nowshin

Senior Accountant

Sadia joined ROC United in January 2023. She came to USA as an immigrant in 2004 and she’s been living in New York since 2004. Sadia attended Hunter College for her Bachelor degree in Accounting and earned Master’s in Business Management from Saint Francis College.

Prior to ROC Sadia was working for another Non-Profit Organization called The Brotherhood & Sister Sol. Sadia have experience in several different aspects of accounting such as Auditing, General Accounting and Budget Analyzing. Sadia also have experience working at some of the big companies like PWC and Young & Rubicam.

Samuel Jones

Regional Director — ROC DC, New Orleans, & Philadelphia

I have been part of the ROC staff for almost 8 years and I am the Director of ROC Pennsylvania. During my time at ROC we have been able to spearhead efforts to pass Paid Sick Days legislation in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Additionally, we have passed Wage Theft legislation and Fair Work Week legislation in Philadelphia and through a ballot initiative we established a permanent Office of Labor Law Enforcement to protect Philadelphia workers. Our members have participated in panels at the Netroots Convention in Philadelphia and we were invited to a Farm Aid concert outside of Pittsburgh where members established an informational booth to share news of ROC. I am probably most excited about our effort to connect reporters with a restaurant worker in Philadelphia who was featured in lengthy Time Magazine article highlighting the need for One Fair Wage and exposing sexual harassment and other deplorable conditions in the restaurant industry.

Sheli E. Stein

Lead Organizer – ROC Minnesota

Sheli E. Stein is the Lead Organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of MN (ROC-MN). They have spent 15 years as a worker in the food-service industry in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Born and raised in Minneapolis, they have been organizing with youth and food-service workers for the past 6 years. They are a white, jewish, queer person who enjoys amateur car mechanics, cooking, building power and powerfully fighting for the future that we deserve.

Sophie Miyoshi

Lead Organizer – ROC DC

With my father being a chef at a small Japanese restaurant my entire life, I was pretty much born into the restaurant industry. I started working at his restaurant when I was 15 and have continued to work at various restaurant establishments since then. The restaurant industry is my home and restaurant workers are my family. Despite the horrible treatment and low wages so many of us experience, I have always been in awe at the amount of care, love and innate sense of solidarity restaurant workers have for each other. I am so grateful to be building power with workers every day so that we can reshape the industry for the better. I originally came to ROC DC as a member and had the privilege to join the organizing team in 2016. I am currently the Lead Organizer at ROC-DC.

Tareq Saghie

 Organizer – ROC New York

Tareq Saghie is an organizer and case manager who comes to ROC with several years of experience as a server, runner, bar back, and busser at various restaurants. He transitioned to working for ROC after witnessing the widespread exploitation of labor at New York City restaurants, a reality he wants to change both to provide the workers with a more dignified life and to maintain an industry that brings so many people joy.

 

In addition to his experience in restaurants, Tareq worked as a case manager and program coordinator at shelters opened inside of hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic, starting at shelters for people with COVID-19 and moving to a program for people released early from incarceration. In the former role, Tareq organized a team of nurses to do vaccine outreach, bringing education and the vaccines themselves to people across the city at a time when accessibility was low. Tareq is excited to engage members across the 5 boroughs and help get pro-worker legislation passed, a task he will do while completing an MA at CUNY Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.

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