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Member Spotlights

Ricky Rodgers

Ricky Rodgers is the founder and Executive Director of the 501(c)(3), African American Men of Unity (AAMOU), founded in Aurora in 1999. Plainly stated, the driving and sole aim and commitment of AAMOU is to give power to individuals, families, and economically challenged communities through education, training, and various methods, helping them reach their fullest potential.

Having degrees in elementary and special education, the native of Wilson City, Missouri, Rodgers’ skillset is well-suited for the AAMOU mission. They connect at-risk youth to positive role models who provide guidance, leadership, character development, academic, and public life skills. In addition, through sheer determination and diligence, celebrations such as Kwanzaa, Juneteenth, and Rodgers’ signature program, ‘Rites of Passage,’ help introduce youth to their African culture and their abundantly rich ancestral history.

Aurora is fortunate to have a spirit-filled man like Rodgers and organizations like the AAMOU that improve the prospect for at-risk youth by transforming behaviors and attitudes and preparing them for opportunities, jobs, and careers. It is befitting that their motto is, "Providing youth with all the tools that are essential to help them reach their full potential." AAMOU's concepts are proven models for the “Game Changer”. For more information or to donate, visit their website at

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Crystal House

Crystal House is a shop for those searching for high-quality crystal merchandise and is a leader in the precision necessary to produce quality engravings from stemless wine glasses and crystal bowls to paperweights.

Elias Akwo and co-owner Chaz Nieponski, a Chicago Art Institute trained artist, joins the fast-growing assembly of Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs, making a distinctive mark in the City of Lights.

A native of Cameroon, Akwo creates the one-of-a-kind gifts and etched crystal engraved pieces accentuated by exquisite oil on canvas paintings created by Nieponski on display throughout the gallery.

When innovation, master craftsmanship, and dedication to excellence come
together, it’s the rarest of merging. Located at 59 S. LaSalle in Aurora, Illinois, Crystal House joins these elements to produce sheer magnificence.

Data Defenders

Cyrus Walker is the Founder and Managing Principal of Data Defenders, LLC. He leads the mission that places Data Defenders at the forefront of defending against the growing assault on information systems and privacy.


During a time of great concern over incidents that can cripple operations and devastate organizations that many depend on, the pioneering know-how of Data Defenders provides around the clock cybersecurity coverage to protect an array of industries, and individuals, dramatically reducing the threat to critical system elements.

More than ever before, protecting Data is necessary to businesses, governments, and individuals to defend against the onslaught of cyber threats that place data and operations at risk.

A growing number of entities and individuals are making the wise choice to, instead of going it alone, scrambling to marshal resources against extortion, ransomware attacks, and other intrusions, utilizing the expertise of companies like Data Defenders, LLC.

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Matthew J. Simpson

When there's a conversation about movers, shakers, and those making a difference, invariably, the name of Matthew J. Simpson is likely to come up.

Simpson has a decade of experience working in economic development, neighborhood level, and public administration. From the start, this development professional demonstrated dedication and passion for entrepreneurship and business development. Simpson notes that these are the driving forces leading him to his current role as African American Business Development Manager with the IL Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Working with the agencies that anchor communities Simpson spent two years at the Rockford Area Economic Development Council and later serving as Community development Manager for the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, the Rockford Housing Authority, and Diversity Procurement Coordinator for the City of Rockford, Illinois.

According to Simpson, it has been his experience that business leaders do not lack talent and energy but sometimes require information. As he sees it, his responsibility is to serve as a connector, ensuring that people receive accurate and
timely information.

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