Our Board and Staff
President, Executive Director
About 8 years ago, after a 20-year career in Marketing and Editorial, I pivoted toward dedicating all of my time to my true passion: Empowering people through non-violent communications, self-defense practice, empathy, and community.
Today, I head the nonprofit I founded with my partner, ASSERT Empowerment Self Defense, which focuses on providing Empowerment Self Defense education to communities across the country. We certify Empowerment Self Defense (ESD) Instructors by providing the financial and business support necessary to gain ESD and ancillary training that sets them on the path to changing perceptions, establishing themselves as experts, and working to become leaders in their communities. Those CAIs (Certified ASSERT Instructors) are hired, funded, and supported, returning to their communities and establishing regular ESD education programs.
I also head ASSERT Professionals, an Empowerment Self Defense service provider for civilians, NGOs and nonprofits looking to create safer protest and civil disobedience spaces and training for their activists, corporate clients looking for team building and safety training and protocols, law enforcement and security companies and institutions – private and public, looking to reform and provide socially conscious, culturally relevant training to their officers with a focus on equity and human dignity, and special operations teams in need of supplementary close quarters combat training.
Offerings range from trauma-informed and child-friendly ESD classes, non-violent de-escalation, and home defense to edged weapons defense, firearms safety training, and firearms and weapon defensive tactics, based on the organization requesting our services. the goal of ASSERT Professionals is to change the preponderance of Predator Culture in these spaces and engender safe, inclusive organizational structures that are collaborative and productive.
My goals, through both organizations, are to bring more women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, Im/Migrant, and underserved communities to a shared, gender inclusive table where they are welcomed as experts in safety and security — areas traditional held as exclusively male industries, and to improve our communal quality of living through Gender parity, Empathy, Empowerment, Integrity, Support, Communication, and the understanding that we can all be Safe to Succeed.
My amazing spouse is my partner in both life and business. We live in Nashville with our two cats, where we run KSA Martial Academy, an Empowerment-based martial arts dojo. We are proud of our two grown children, one of which is training to become a chef and one who serves in the US Navy.
We are all born with a dictionary which we fill with our experiences. We must all remember to carry 7 and a half billion thesauri and one very open mind if we are to every communicate effectively and grow.
If we don’t address the needs of each community in culturally-informed ways, we will not be able to produce replicable, sustainable, successful results.
Beth A. Fitzgerald
Chief Impact Officer
James "Cat" Fitzgerald
Chief Training Officer
Alexis Hughes-Williams is originally from Milwaukee, WI. She has always been involved in helping others, especially women. She started her first ‘organization’ at the age of 10, the 40th Street Boys & Girls Club and that graduated into who she is today. Alexis has served in many organizations such as Black Achievers of Milwaukee, Urban Underground, African American Children’s Theatre and Families United to Prevent Teen Pregnancy to name a few in leadership and mentoring capacities. Earning her degree from Tennessee State University in Marketing, Alexis has used her many talents and skills to start Something Sweet, LLC a virtual and pop up bakery, and program, Girl, unKnown.
Girl, unKnown began with Alexis volunteering her time at Job Corps of Wisconsin to empower, uplift and motivate young girls to adult women to be the best versions of themselves by introducing new books, resources, social and educational workshops and engagements. Now Girl, unKnown has blossomed into Girl, unKnown Inc. and has a created a community of women that connect and engage with each other to educate, inspire growth and learn to be tolerant of others across all socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, creeds and orientations. Alexis is a visionary and a forerunner for change in her community, as she continues to be an advocate for women and peace.
Dr. Candace Warner, PH.D.
CANDACE WARNER, PH.D. is a sociologist who is passionate about culture, diversity, demographic data, and inclusion strategies. Candace has served as an educator on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, immigration, economic policy, culture, crime and criminal justice, and health care for 20 years. She has worked in the DEI space for 10 years as a trainer, facilitator, organizational consultant, and curriculum developer for public and private organizations seeking diversity and inclusion solutions.
Dr. Candace Warner is the founder and CEO of people3, Inc. The mission of people3 is to provide organizations with diversity and inclusion-centered training, consulting, and research solutions for individuals and organizations. Some of people3’s current/past clients include the American Dental Association, PathGroup, Ingram Industries, Sony Music Nashville, TechnologyAdvice, Pillsbury Law Firm, TPAC, Asurion, Showpad, Sony Provident Label Group, Center for Nonprofit Management, Nashville Public Television, myNEXUS, NContracts, Built Technologies, as well as other health care, non-profit, and technology organizations.
Candace has been honored multiple times for her instructional skills and contributions to sociology, including the Distinguished Faculty Award at Columbia State Community College, the Faculty Excellence Award through the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) organization, and Outstanding Alumni for the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice through the College of Arts and Sciences at Valdosta State University.
Candace has been selected as one of Nashville Business Journal’s Women of Influence for 2021 and is a member of the Nashville Emerging Leaders cohort for 2021.
Dr. Candace Warner has traveled and worked in over 12 countries and is a certified as a Cultural Intelligence trainer and assessment specialist through the Cultural Intelligence Center.
Candace completed her master’s degree in Sociology and Ph.D. in Public Policy. Dr. Warner’s dissertation research centered on understanding diversity and inclusive-centered services and initiatives throughout Tennessee communities and municipalities.
Candace is currently involved with multiple professional groups in the United States and Tennessee, including the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), Pathway Women’s Business Center, Women in Technology in Tennessee (WiTT), Middle Tennessee Society for Human Resource Management (MTSHRM), and the Nashville Technology Council’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee.
Cara Tuttle Bell has served as Director of the Vanderbilt University Project Safe Center for Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response since its founding in 2014. Cara previously served as the Associate Director for Student Accountability, Community Standards, and Academic Integrity at Vanderbilt University and as Director of Programs for the Women’s Center at Northwestern University. Cara holds a JD from Vanderbilt University Law School, Master of Arts in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of Louisville, and her Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Ball State University, where she graduated summa cum laude.
Cara is an influential leader in addressing sexual harassment and assault in higher education, and has been recognized for contributing to the advancement of women on Vanderbilt’s campus and for outstanding service to students through the leadership and institutional advocacy demonstrated since joining the University. In 2016, Cara received the K.C. Potter Outstanding Service to Students Award from the Vanderbilt University Office of the Dean of Students, and she was selected as the 2015 recipient of the Mary Jane Werthan Award, which is presented to a member of the Vanderbilt community who has contributed to the advancement of women at Vanderbilt on a systemic level. The award is named in honor of Mary Jane Werthan, the first woman member of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust.
Cara previously served as a Writer in Residence for Ms. JD, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the success of aspiring and early career women lawyer and home to the National Women’s Law Students’ Association, and was recognized by Ms. JD during their Ms. JD Honors in March 2015 as the recipient of the Road Less Traveled Award, given to those who attain prominence and make a contribution to their community by utilizing their law degree in a nontraditional legal career. In 2010, she was recognized as a Graduate of the Last Decade by Ball State University.
Cara serves as a Senior Lecturer in the College of Arts and Science within the Gender and Sexuality Studies department, for which she teaches the Seminar on Gender and Violence. She also serves as the co-chair of Vanderbilt’s Women’s Advancement and Equity Council and currently serves on the boards of Stop Sexual Assault in Schools and the Swan Center for Advocacy. She is a frequent speaker and facilitator on gender equity and women’s empowerment. She is the author of Drowning in Timidity: Women, Politeness, and the Power of Assertive Living and has contributed chapters to various books and publications, including The Future Female Leader: Preparing Girls and Women to Leader the World, The Female Code: A Woman’s Book for Empowerment and Confidence, and the forthcoming anthology The Professional Woman: Pivoting to the New Normal.
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