Dionne Grayson – 35th Annual Black Excellence Awards Honoree

Social Services

Dionne Grayson
Lead2Change, Inc.

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Dionne Grayson comes from a family whose foundation is deeply rooted in faith and service. Her father was employed full-time by Discipleship Unlimited and traveled across the country ministering to people on death row. Growing up, the family lived in a duplex; the upstairs served as their living quarters and the downstairs housed a food and clothing pantry, and regular Bible studies were held there. Now the President and CEO of Lead2Change, Inc., Dionne continues that legacy of service to the community.

“Faith was a large part of my upbringing. I have fond memories of my parents’ involvement with ministry and service throughout the community. Much of my training for work is also the result of the leadership training I received at Parklawn Assembly of God, under the leadership of Bishop Walter Harvey, when he was the church’s youth pastor,” she said.

A graduate of Milwaukee Trade and Technical High School, Dionne earned a degree in clinical psychology from Alverno College and a master’s degree in social work administration, with a focus on children and families, from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Dionne has served youth for nearly 30 years and has consulted with several organizations, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, Marquette University, and 88Nine Radio Milwaukee. Lead2Change was born from her career at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. She began there as a volunteer and her supervisor became a strong supporter. Under his leadership, she was employed by the Foundation as senior program officer before founding Lead2Change in 2011.

“I absolutely love working with young people. After immense growth of the Youth In Service Fund, the Foundation asked me to spin it off to become its own organization and that’s how Lead2Change was started. Twenty-two youth and I worked together to co-found the organization.

“Homestead High School helped write mission and vision statements, and the youth designed the website. The youth and I met with attorneys to draw up the necessary paperwork. Our youth were true partners in helping to establish this organization,” she said.

Through Lead2Change and her patented program, Dream.Explore.Build., Dionne empowers youth to live their life by design and not by default. The program involves youth taking a deep dive into looking at themselves.

“I developed the program model while at UW-Milwaukee and I taught the curriculum at Marquette University for nine years. With a grant from the Mayor’s office, I was also able to take the program city-wide. Hundreds of young people have graduated from the program. It helps them figure out who they are and gets them onto a path of what they were designed to do,” she said.

Dionne credits several individuals for encouraging and inspiring her, including her mother who passed in 2010; Pastor Melva Henderson (World Outreach Church); Danae Davis (Milwaukee Succeeds); and Dr. Yolanda Wilson.

“My mother is the reason why I push to do things. She always said that if you can see it, you can do it. She was my absolute biggest cheerleader. And, while my mother didn’t get a chance to meet him, I absolutely have to give credit to my husband; he’s such an awesome supporter. I’m grateful to have that man in my life,” she said.

As a smaller nonprofit organization, Dionne acknowledges that there are challenges, but rather than focus on them, she looks for opportunities.

“The work we do is so great, but it’s important for all organizations serving youth to work together so that we can take a holistic approach to serving them. We can’t do everything but together we can pool our resources.

“When people engage with me or if they are benefactors of the programs we offer, I want them to be able to feel empowered to do what they know they were designed to do. I’m a firm believer in God. I want our youth to look at themselves, know what God designed them to do and then be brave enough to walk in what God has designed them to do.

“When I look back over the years, I feel blessed to be able to work with so many young people. Many of them are adults now and have their own children. Lead- 2Change is about creating opportunities. We help to open doors that youth may not be able to open on their own,” she said.