NAIFA Talent Development Center's 8th Annual Diversity Symposium included four hours of programming that provided an update on how specific segments of the agent and advisor workforce are faring in a post-pandemic America. It presented sessions from the lens of how agents and advisors can better utilize political engagement to further advance their practice. Additionally, the sessions gauged the extent to which we are making progress in bringing more advisors into the industry.
The overall goal of NAIFA's Diversity initiative is to ensure that the agent and advisor workforce is reflective of a rapidly changing Main Street America and prepared to serve and protect the American population with risk protection and investment products.
Executive Director & COO
National African American Insurance Association
Omari Jahi Aarons is the Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of NAAIA. Aarons is responsible for the strategic development and execution of the association’s 25+ year mission to diversify the insurance industry. Over the last two years, Aarons has worked as an independent management consultant specializing in workplace equity and inclusion. Prior, Aarons served as Employee Enablement Strategy Leader for Liberty Mutual’s Global Retail Markets U.S. Division and spent 10 years at Macy’s after completing their executive development program in the credit and customer service division and progressing to senior manager and director roles in learning and development, leadership development and human resources.
A native of Washington, D.C., Aarons holds a Bachelor of Arts from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology where he is a Howard Thurman Fellow.
Co-Founder & CEO
Aurelius Consulting Group, Inc.
Mr. Ali is an entrepreneurially minded business development executive with 20 plus years of experience using result driven strategies to increase productivity and profitability. By mapping human capital resources with their core abilities, he helps to accelerate business growth. Mr. Ali has been recognized for his strategic planning and problem-solving abilities as well as partnering with C-Level executives, HR, and Finance departments. Noted for coaching and managing top performing teams, enhancing operations and sales productivity. During his career, he has work with national and international carriers in the insurance, IT, and telecommunication industries. In addition, he has provided business development consulting services to entrepreneurs, non-profits of varying sizes, small and medium business, insurance brokers and telecommunication wholesalers.
Mr. Ali has managed an insurance book of business with more than 200 individual organizations and premium in excess of $20 Million. Successfully negotiated and completed the migration of a multi-carrier non-profit association Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangement (MEWA) to a single carrier solution thereby decreasing medical insurance cost, increasing economies of scale, reducing administrative cost and easing benefit coordination and administration.
Mr. Ali has Opened and operated the first vendor own retail location for Frontier Communication Corporation. He developed door to door and retail telecommunication sales teams in Georgia, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington DC Metropolitan Area and Wisconsin. The strategies that I created resulted in subscription increases that exceeded the client’s plan projections and targets. The team I assembled aided in the launch of the “Internet of Things” for our carrier partners.
Mr. Ali serves as a subject matter expert (SME) for the District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking. In this capacity, he reviews and revamps their licensing exam. He also is a member of the Insurance Advisory Committee. Mr. Ali also serves as a national subject matter expert for Pearson Vue. Mr. Ali is the current president of the National African Insurance Association’s Washington Metro Chapter (NAAIA DC).
Mr. Ali is founder and Chairman of the Prometheus Foundation for Economic and Justice Equality, a Washington DC based non-profit organization, Mr. Ali has served as the Chairman of the Board for Boys 2 Bowties, Prince George’s County Maryland based non-profit organization that provides mentoring to youth in the county. Mr. Ali has volunteered his time with The Greater Washington Urban League, The Thursday Network, Northern Virginia Urban League, Mentors Inc., Metro Teen Aids, NOVAM, various churches and non-profit organizations in the Washington Metropolitan Area.
Chief Knowledge Officer
Society for Human Resource Management
Alexander Alonso, PhD, SHRM-SCP is the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) Chief Knowledge Officer leader of research, insights, and innovation functions, as well as the SHRM Foundation. His total portfolio includes a $30 million revenue stream based upon practical thought leadership designed to make better workplaces for a more inclusive world. In fact, Dr. Alonso was recognized as an inaugural member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Racial Equity in the Workplace, a coalition designed to foster equitable and inclusive cultures. His research has been featured in numerous outlets including USA Today, NBC News, BBC, CNN, and more. He has served as a member of several speakers bureaus with more than 400 speaking engagements over the last decade being called “one of the most effective communicators of data in recent memory by HR Magazine.
His works have been recognized for their contribution to real-world human capital issues. They include being recognized with SIOP’s 2007 M. Scott Myers Award for Applied Research in the Workplace for developing the federal standard for learning and development of healthcare providers; a 2009 Presidential Citation for Innovative Practice by the American Psychological Association for designing performance management systems; and the 2013 SIOP Distinguished Early Career Contributions for Practice Award for extensive applied research on the link between human resource management and organizational sustainability.
Throughout his career, he has published works in peer-reviewed journals, authored several chapters on community-based change initiatives in workforce readiness, and authored books like The Price of Pettiness, Talking Taboo: Making the Most of Polarizing Topics (in press), and Defining HR Success: A Guide to the SHRM Competency Model in Practice. Alex also serves as a columnist analyzing major trends in the workforce for TIP and HR Magazine. He has served on several professional society boards including as president of the Personnel Testing Council of Metropolitan Washington Area. Alex currently serves on the North American HR Management Association (NAHRMA) board and the Zeal Capital Advisory board. He is a Fellow of SIOP, Division 14 of the American Psychological Association.
Vice President, Office of Governmental Affairs
New York Life Insurance Company
Whytne Brooks is a Vice President in New York Life’s Office of Governmental Affairs (OGA). As a member of the federal advocacy team, Whytne is responsible for advancing the financial, reputational, and operational interests of New York Life, its agents, and its policyowners before Congress and the Administration on legal, privacy, underwriting, diversity & inclusion, and other public policy issues. She collaborates with New York Life executives to determine the company’s policy position and priorities and establishes relationships with members of Congress and their staff across political parties in order to build our brand and establish New York Life as a thought leader.
Whytne joined New York Life in 2015 as Assistant General Counsel on the Litigation team in the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) and was promoted to Associate General Counsel in 2018. She took on her role in OGA in May 2019 and was promoted to Vice President in September 2020.
She previously served as a member of New York Life’s EMC-appointed Social Justice Working Group and Co-Chair of the Black Employee Resource Group.
Prior to joining New York Life, Whytne worked as a Litigation Associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, where she represented Fortune 100 companies in a variety of commercial litigation matters, including mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcy, securities, and False Claims Act litigation for U.S. and international clients. She is a recipient of the firm's Pro Bono Recognition Award, Legal Services NYC’s Pro Bono Recognition Award, and Her Justice’s Commitment to Justice Award.
Whytne is a member of the New York City Bar Association’s Board of Directors. She previously served as Chair of the NYC Bar Association’s Committee on Minorities in the Profession, and Co-Chair of Legal Services NYC’s Pro Bono Associate Advisory Board.
Whytne earned a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. She is an avid runner and Formula 1 racing fan.
First Executive Vice President
Gateway Insurance Group, Inc.
Aprilyn Chavez-Geissler, LACP, hails from New Mexico and graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s degree in finance. She currently serves as a NAIFA National Trustee and has worked in many aspects of the insurance and financial services industry including multiline, employee benefits, fixed insurance, and financial services. She is MDRT, Court of Table, and First Executive Vice President for Gateway Insurance and Financial Services along with running her own practice.
She is the recipient of the 2019 NAIFA National Diversity Champion Award. She was recognized by Investment News as 2020 Top Women to Watch in the country. Because of her story of overcoming adversity, Insurance News termed Aprilyn “the Phoenix of Albuquerque.”
She enjoys spending time giving back and helping others overcome their challenges and plan their financial future. As a result of following her passion, she was named the top three insurance agents in her community. She has an 11-year-old daughter Kambria that Aprilyn hopes to inspire to be her best self.
Founder & CEO
Midwest Legacy Group, LLC
Christopher L. Gandy, LACP, is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Midwest Legacy Group (OneAmerica) in Lisle, IL. He has served as President of NAIFA’s Chicagoland chapter and has been a NAIFA member since 2003. He entered the insurance and financial services industry in 1999 after playing professional basketball for the Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs as well as in L’Hermaine, France.
Gandy serves on NAIFA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force and is a member of the NAIFA 2025 Strategic Planning Committee. He is a highly sought-after speaker for industry events and has been a speaker at NAIFA’s Performance+Purpose annual conference and published in Advisors Magazine, GQ, Advisor Today, and InsuranceNewsNet among other publications.
Gandy is also an active volunteer in the community. He serves on the Board of the Chicago Concussion Coalition, which strives to make amateur sports safer for children, and on the Board of Directors of the Urban League. He is part of the United Way’s Young Community Leaders and volunteers for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization.
Forest Hills Financial Group
Evelyn Gellar is a Managing Director with Forest Hills Financial Group (FHFG) who has flourished in many professional roles throughout her many years in financial services. A forward-thinking business development leader, Evelyn takes pride in her ability to build and nurture relationships as she helps associates be the best they can be through coaching and training. Throughout her career, Evelyn has been devoted to advocating for diversity and inclusion and to giving a voice to the needs of women, thus advancing a more equitable future for all.
An experienced agent in the financial services industry served as an early mentor for Evelyn, and when he introduced her to the career, she was off and running. Evelyn began her professional journey with MetLife, determined to gain industry knowledge and education to best serve her clients and confidently lead a team of advisors. During her eleven-year tenure with MetLife as a Sales Manager and Agency Sales Director, followed by seven years with Penn Mutual as a Sr. Vice President of Market Development, and AVP of Strategic Partnerships, Evelyn consistently translated the vision of her role into results.
She has qualified for the Leaders Conference both as an agent and Manager and as a top 10 office was a Chairman’s Qualifier. Continued Development is at the core of her success through the industry designations. She currently holds the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP), Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow (LUTCF), Financial Services Certified Professional (FSCP), and Certification in Long Term Care (CLTC). Her FINRA registrations include Series 6, 63, 7, 24, and 53. Evelyn graduated from Fordham University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. Now with FHFG, Evelyn is committed to cultivating the talents and skills of the firm’s newest associates while motivating more experienced associates to reach and exceed their professional goals.
Evelyn’s strong sense of professionalism and community keep her actively involved. Evelyn currently serves as National Board Trustee of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Services (NAIFA) and served as the first Latina President of the National Association of Women in Insurance & Financial Services (WIFS).
In her spare time, Evelyn enjoys playing golf, cruising, and working on her personal development. Evelyn currently resides in West Islip, NY with her husband Steven. They have two adult children, Lindsey and Mark currently studying Law and Engineering.
Assistant Vice President
Pierre is a native of Chicago, IL. He is a graduate of Old Dominion University and currently resides in Richmond, VA, with his wife and three sons. Pierre holds a Bachelors of Science in Communications and Masters of Divinity from Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University as well as an MBA from the University of Phoenix. With more than 15 years of financial experience, Pierre and his wife are also “homeschool parents,” supporting their children independently with their academic careers. He and his wife also founded Greener Pastures, a nonprofit organization that empowers families to understand and advocate on behalf of their rights for exceptional education 504 and IEP plans. He is the current chair of the Henrico County Justice Board, an adjunct professor at Virginia Union University, and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He is also on the Board of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis and serves as its treasurer. He holds a board position on the Commonwealth Community Trust and serves as the Secretary and VP for NAAIA, the National African-American Insurance Agents.
Founder & CEO
The Haney Company
Brian J. Haney, CLTC, CFS, CIS, CFBS, LACP, CAE, Founder and CEO of the Haney Company in Silver Spring, MD, has been a loyal NAIFA member since 2013.
Haney is a member of NAIFA-Greater Washington, D.C., and has served on the chapter’s Board for more than seven years. He has been the NAIFA-GWDC Young Advisor Team (YAT) Chair and a Past President of the chapter. He has chaired several other NAIFA-GWDC committees and served on the Board of NAIFA-MD. He is a 2015 graduate of NAIFA’s Leadership in Life Institute (LILI) and has served as a LILI Moderator.
Haney served on the national YAT Committee and is a member of NAIFA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council. He was NAIFA’s first Life and Annuity Certified Professional (LACP) Chair and served as a subject-matter expert, developing exam questions and criteria for the certification. He is a highly regarded speaker and has presented at NAIFA’s annual conference, has been a featured guest on NAIFA Live, and participates as a presenter in NAIFA’s Advisor Ambassador program.
Haney’s many awards and acknowledgments include: West Financial Group New Agent of the Year, MassMutual Life Insurance Company Rising Leader, MassMutual Life Insurance Company Leaders Qualifier, 2017 NAIFA’s Advisor Today Four Under 40 recipient, 2018 NAIFA National Diversity Champion, NAIFA Quality Award recipient each year since 2013, MDRT Qualifier since 2009, MDRT Court of the Table Qualifier since 2014, MDRT Top of the Table Qualifier since 2015, 2019 Washington Business Journal 40 Under 40 winner, and 2021 YAT Leader of the Year.
Founder & CEO
The Pacific Bridge Companies
Keynote Speaker, Executive Coach, Corporate Trainer
A little background about Marques, in 2003, he was drafted into the NFL as an offensive lineman, after 5 years of playing in the league, he decided to retire and pursue a career in construction and contracting. At the age of 27, Marques founded a construction company called Kayden Premier Enterprises. The company had fast growth in 2010, but eventually, his business went bankrupt, losing almost 2 million dollars on one project in a matter of 90 days.
During his darkest hours, he pulled himself together, got a part-time job as a custodian, and with hard work and determination became an inspirational keynote speaker, executive coach, best-selling author, and marketing leader, helping to build the success of others.
Rachel Pearson draws on her extensive experience of elective politics to provide corporations, associations, and non-profit organizations with strategic planning and counsel. She founded Pearson & Associates, now The Complete Agency, over 20 years ago, and its consulting work for several Fortune 500 companies and leading associations continues to this day.
In 2013, she co-founded Principal to Principal with Kristi Rogers. They launched the Global Forum to bring Members of Congress, the administration, the diplomatic community, and business leaders together around one table to tackle the challenges of today. Among Principal to Principal’s other projects is the completion of Phase One of a Global Supply Chain Task Force on PPE, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices.
Through these decades of work in both policy and politics, Rachel has developed deep and extensive relationships with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers. Her multifaceted work is informed by a deep understanding of how Washington works. This depth of understanding, gained through personal relationships with Democrats and Republicans alike, makes her singularly positioned to lend insight into the inner workings of Congress.
Pearson’s dedication to bringing together Members of Congress, senior staff, and corporate leaders is widely recognized as unique and constructive by both sides of the aisle. This drive for coming together to find commonsense solutions was inspired by her mentor, the late Ohio Governor George Voinovich. Rachel experienced firsthand the Governor working with Democrats to achieve meaningful results for the people in her home state of Ohio. Since then, she’s maintained a passion for bipartisanship and problem-solving – a passion that has most recently culminated in her founding Engage in November of 2018. Engage is an organization dedicated to promoting women’s economic security and amplifying bipartisan, commonsense legislative solutions at all levels of government.
Rooted in the truth that women outnumber, outvote, and outlive men, Rachel – and Engage – challenges women to think about their political engagement and realize that in coming together, they wield a power large enough to effect significant change.
Diversity in Government Relations Coalition
Cicely is currently DEI Director within the Social Impact Division at Mutual of Omaha - she joined this team in August of 2020. In her role, her responsibilities generally include directing enterprise projects and initiatives that align with the company’s Social Impact strategy. As part of this work, she analyzes qualitative and quantitative data, leads cross-functional teams in development of DEI action plans, partners in development of talent strategy - including development programming, and consults with senior leadership on overall strategic DEI objectives.
Cicely has been with Mutual of Omaha since 2006. Prior to her DEI role, Cicely held several positions within the Government Affairs Division with her first role being a part-time Administrative Assistant and her final duties falling under the title of Government Affairs Manager. As the sole company representative in Washington, DC, Cicely forged relationships on and off Capitol Hill as she managed an extensive policy portfolio - ranging from retirement to privacy-related issues. Cicely also actively supported Women in Government Relations (WGR), spending roughly five years serving as a member of the personal and professional development committee, a member of the DEI committee, co-leader of the Congressional Outreach committee, and eventually a member of the board of directors.
Merging her two worlds, Cicely co-launched the Diversity in Government Relations (DGR) Coalition in March of 2021 with the goal of being a resource for the government relations field as it works to increase representation more accurately mirroring the American population. As co-founder of a non-profit in its early years Cicely wears many hats with building relationships and operations management being the most prominent.
Though often exhausted, Cicely enjoys the work that she does. She has a passion for creating a positive impact and achieving favorable outcomes for others. It is important that she believes in the work she does - living her values and doing good work. She also has a strong appreciation for, and dedication to, continuous learning, introspection, and leading with human decency.Based in DC, she is a married parent of three young adults - aged 24, 21, and 19 - who enjoys helping others grow. And in her rare free time, she can be found mentoring, laughing with the family, taking long walks, listening to podcasts, or catching up on good TV!
National Disability, DEI & ABLE Expert
Sara Hart Weir is a national ABLE expert, nonprofit executive and disability activist. Weir is the Executive Director of the Kansas Developmental Disabilities Council and serves as a Senior Advisor of the National Association of State Treasurer’s (NAST) ABLE today initiative. ABLE today is a collaborative outreach and awareness effort that highlights the impactful benefits of ABLE accounts for all ABLE Programs, fosters the opportunity for people with disabilities to save and invest in their future. This includes providing ABLE education directly to the disability community, establishing partnerships with stakeholders, and engaging employers on the benefits ABLE provides as a tool toward Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility (DEIA).
Weir is the former President & C.E.O. of the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), where during her tenure at NDSS, she led the passage of the landmark, bipartisan Stephen Beck Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in 2014 (P.L.113-295). The legislation garnered the support of 85% of the entire US Congress. Weir also supported a majority of the enactment of ABLE state laws, assisted with over 40 state ABLE plan launches as well as led advocacy campaigns on two important provisions in the 2017 Tax Reform Package including the ABLE to Work Act and the ABLE Financial Planning Act.
Weir's life has been about leading differently, serving others and delivering results with the leadership philosophy of "if you're not at the table, you are on the menu". Sara deploys an “in the trenches” leadership style by engaging directly with constituents - in local communities, in the classroom, on the job site or around kitchen tables. Weir’s passion for “giving a voice to the voiceless” was inspired by Kasey, her late best friend of twenty years who had Down syndrome.
Weir was also the primary runner-up in for U.S. Congress in Kansas' Third Congressional district in 2020. Weir has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Political Leadership from Westminster College and a Master of Science in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.
NAIFA's first DEI Symposium was held in May 2017. Since that time, NAIFA has hosted at least one symposium each year.
During the pandemic, the DEI Symposium took on a virtual format. The initial purpose of the symposium was to provide participants with a forum to discuss strategies for creating and promoting diversity in the insurance and financial services industry. The program also serves as a resource for insurance and financial professionals as part of NAIFA's mission to provide financial security for all Americans.
The symposia have featured notable keynotes from industry professionals and DEI experts, and panel discussions featuring our members and advocacy partners. Commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is part of NAIFA's 2025 Strategic Plan.