Mayor-Elect Malik Announces Three Strategists Joining the Administration

Akron, Ohio, Dec. 26, 2023 — Akron Mayor-Elect Shammas Malik is announcing three strategists who will join the incoming administration to work on key priorities and initiatives based on the Together for Akron plan. Denico Buckley-Knight will remain with the city in the role of Youth Opportunity Strategist. Richelle Wardell is joining as the Education and Health Strategist and Emma Lieberth Osborn will fill the role of Policy and Grants Strategist. 
Each strategist role was created in order to more closely focus on areas of key need in the community. These sub-cabinet level positions will report directly to the Chief of Strategy, Nanette Pitt, and will work closely with one another as they develop strategy to implement the administration’s initiatives. The Youth Opportunity Strategist will focus on creating more options for Akron’s youth in an effort to focus on positive and healthy engagement opportunities. The Education and Health Strategist will serve as the primary liaison between city government and education and health partners across the community, including Akron Public Schools. The Policy and Grants Strategist will align major strategic initiatives of the administration with grant funding through state, federal, and philanthropic sources.

“These new strategy roles are crucial to creating a more open, responsive, and collaborative city government,” said Mayor-Elect Malik.  “These three strategists: Richelle Wardell, Emma Lieberth Osborn, and Denico Buckley-Knight all bring a unique perspective and passion to their roles and to the Akron community. I’m energized by what’s ahead for this team and what they will bring to the administration.” 

“I’m incredibly energized by the strategy team we are bringing together for the Malik administration,” said Chief of Strategy Nanette Pitt. “Our strategists will add significant value to our city. Denico, Emma, and Richelle each have the experience and expertise to bring our Mayor-Elect’s bold vision to life and they are eager for the opportunity a new administration presents. Our work will extend well beyond the walls of city hall, creating and building on relationships with our residents, stakeholders, and community partners.” 

Denico Buckley-Knight – Youth Opportunity Strategist

Denico Buckley-Knight attended North High School and was an accomplished student-athlete, receiving an athletic scholarship to attend and play football at Malone University. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sports Management and a minor in Coaching and Business from Malone. Buckley-Knight served as a YMCA Sports & Program Director for over 12 years. He is a Certified Community Health Worker who has served as a Site Manager for AxessPointe Community Health Center and is also a Qualified Mental Health Specialist and has served as a Case Manager at Buchtel High School with Minority Behavioral Health Group. Prior to joining the city, Buckley-Knight served as a Family Resource Coordinator with the United Way of Summit/Medina County. 

In April 2022 Buckley-Knight joined the City of Akron as the Youth and Community Opportunity Director. In this role, he has worked with organizations within the nonprofit sector to identify and coordinate violence reduction programs using evidence-based research, best practices and new innovations with an intentional focus on reduction, prevention and intervention services to impacted populations. His priorities have included implementing the City’s Youth Violence Prevention Strategic Plan, facilitating the city’s spending of American Rescue Plan Act dollars on Violence Intervention and Prevention grants, and coordinating both internally and externally to execute the strategic framework for violence reduction.

Buckley-Knight has been employed with Akron Public Schools since 2009 as a Varsity Football coach and has been co-offensive coordinator for Akron East High School since 2017. He is engaged to Adenike Gbadebo. They are the proud parents of three sons and one daughter.

Richelle Wardell - Education and Health Strategist

Richelle Wardell makes a return to the Akron community in her new role as Education and Health Strategist. With a track record of innovative problem-solving, strategic thinking, and systems management, Wardell has been committed to driving positive change for youth and families throughout her career. 

In her prior role as Program Officer at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton, Wardell led early childhood, education, and nonprofit capacity-building strategies while fostering strong relationships with community leaders and organizations. Prior to this position, Wardell served as the Director of Education at United Way of Summit County, where she was pivotal in pioneering the agency's "Bold Goals" and guiding their initial strategies for education-related initiatives, including the early design of Family Resource Centers and I Promise School's wraparound services. Wardell also played a pivotal role at Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, where she served as the Early Childhood Initiative Manager, earning the agency national awards and recognition during her tenure.  

Recognized for her distinctive leadership, Wardell is a Summit County Child & Family Leadership Exchange graduate and recipient of the Greater Akron Chamber's 30 for the Future award and Women in Higher Education's Outstanding Woman Student award.  She has also been active on various Akron area boards and involved with several community initiatives. 

Wardell holds a Master of Applied Politics from The University of Akron and a Bachelor of Science from Tennessee Technological University, providing a solid foundation for her strategic and data-informed approach.

Emma Lieberth Osborn - Policy and Grants Strategist

Emma Lieberth Osborn has a 15-year career in government relations working for issue-oriented nonprofits and representing local government. Lieberth Osborn started her career in Washington, DC spending seven years in government relations working for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the National League of Cities. At the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, she was responsible for tracking state and federal legislation and advocating for sensible gun laws on Capitol Hill. At the National League of Cities, Lieberth Osborn worked with local city officials from across the country and the 49 state municipal leagues to advocate on Capitol Hill on important city issues.

After moving back to Akron in 2018, Lieberth Osborn served as the Director of Policy and Advocacy and Associate Vice President of Policy, Health and Financial Empowerment for United Way of Summit and Medina. During her time at UWSM, she built the organization's public policy agenda, working with community leaders to advocate in Columbus on issues important to residents of the Akron community. 

For the last year and a half, Lieberth Osborn has served as a Senior Policy Manager for Unite Us, a national social care technology company educating state governments in eight states and representing the company with state legislatures and executive administrations.

Lieberth Osborn is a graduate of the University of Akron with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science. In 2011, Emma earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration with a concentration in state and local government from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. Lieberth Osborn has worked on four Presidential campaigns in the states of Iowa, Nevada, Indiana, Ohio and Florida and has taught Campaign Management at the University of Akron Bliss Institute. She is completing her term as President of the Akron Roundtable Board of Directors and is a current board member for
Stewart’s Caring Place and the Summit County Historical Society. Emma is a recipient of Greater Akron Chamber’s 30 for the Future and Leadership Akron’s Signature Class 36.

Lieberth Osborn and her husband live in West Akron with their daughter.