The Commissioners

North Carolina Commissioners

Community & Rural Development (CRD) Agent for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Edgecombe County, Jamilla Hawkins was reared in Riegelwood, North Carolina and at an early age, the concept of “leading by serving” was etched into her heart. As the CRD Agent, Hawkins enjoys working with citizens and staff to promote tourism, small business development, community unity, and leadership development in Edgecombe County by providing workshops and facilitating group meetings. She has a passion for serving others and uses the tools of listening, healing, and commitment, to support growth and equity for all people. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a B.A. in Political Science and a graduate of North Carolina Central University with a Masters’ in Public Administration. Her greatest joy comes from reading, writing, enjoying nature and spending time with her family, godchildren and close friends.

Michelle Lanier is an AfroCarolina folklorist, oral historian, museum professional, filmmaker, author, and educator with over two decades of commitment to her callings. Raised in both Columbia and Hilton Head, South Carolina, and having roots in the sandhills, coastal plain, and upper piedmont of North Carolina, Michelle’s ancestral geography guides much of her interdisciplinary work. 
Michelle is a graduate of Spelman College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in Geography, also at UNC-Chapel Hill.
As a seasoned public humanities professional, and former, inaugural director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission, in 2018, Michelle was named as the first African American director of all of North Carolina’s 25 state-owned historic sites. She has also served on the faculty of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University since 2000. This work has led to Michelle’s role as Documentary Doula (aiding the birth of films) most notably the award-winning Mossville: When Great Trees Fall, which reveals a global south story of resistance to environmental racism. Mossville has been translated into five languages, screened on six continents, and chosen by the United Nations in an effort to raise awareness about the climate crisis and it’s impact on the lives of people of African descent. 
Michelle has studied in Ghana, West Africa, Scotland, and Panama, and has lectured  for initiatives at Harvard, Yale, Spelman, and in Beijing, South Africa, and Italy. She is proudest of the opportunity to lecture virtually, during the COVID-19 Pandemic, to the incarcerated inmates of the Raleigh Women’s Prison.

With more than 18 years of experience in Higher Education, Rev. Sean Hasker Palmer, has worked both in historically Black and elite collegiate environments as an expert in cultural centers. He is an alumnus of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia and Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Before serving UNCW as the Director of the Upperman African-American Cultural Center, he was the assistant director of the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture at Duke University. Sean has been given several awards for his outstanding mentorship of students and student groups, as he is known for his creativity, strategy, and ability to counsel students in crisis.

He currently teaches classes in African American Studies, directs a cultural center that plans over 40+ programs a semester, and occasionally does student leadership development around the country. Sean is engaged in a number of community pursuits that include working in Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., participating as a commissioner on the National Park Services Gullah-Geechee Corridor Commission, and serving both as the North Carolina State Director of the Association of Black Cultural Centers (ABCC) and on its National Board as Vice President. His academic interests include, Gullah Geechee People and Culture, Hip Hop, Black Religious Traditions, Africana Literature, and Political Science. Sean is an avid reader, singer, and event planner. Sean also serves as the stated-supply pastor of the oldest Black Presbyterian church in North Carolina, Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church located in Wilmington. Sean is currently working on a book project, Black and Therefore Beautiful: Meditations for My People.

South Carolina Commissioners

Dr. Jessica Berry is an accomplished and highly respected speech-language pathologist, researcher, and educator who possesses extensive knowledge and expertise in the Gullah Geechee language, culture, and history. Her impressive credentials include a B.A., M.A., and doctoral studies in communication disorders with a minor in linguistics.

As a Senior Academic Program Manager with the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education and the owner of Garden City Gymnastics, LLC in Orangeburg, she is a driven and successful entrepreneur who is passionate about creating equitable spaces for children who speak non-mainstream varieties of English to succeed. Dr. Berry is also the founder of The O.K.R.A. Soup Foundation, a 501c3 organization that empowers Gullah Geechee youth through the We Been Ya: Geechee Girls Rock Program. With her impressive accomplishments and unwavering determination to continue her work as an educator and researcher, Dr. Berry is an inspiration to all who know her.

Dr. Tamara T. Butler is a lover of vintage clothing, cultivator of house plants, and collector of books. As a teacher educator, she draws upon lessons learned growing up on Johns Island, South Carolina. Currently, she serves as the Executive Director of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and Associate Dean of Strategic Planning & Community Engagement for the College of Charleston Libraries. She is the author of publications that center liberatory literacies and creative civic engagement, including the co-authored book Where is the Justice? Engaged Pedagogies in Schools and Communities (Teachers College Press, 2021). Dr. Butler serves as board member for the Coastal Conservation League and International African American Museum, and on several advisory committees connected to the arts and historical preservation. She holds a Ph.D. in Multicultural & Equity Studies in Education and a M.A. in African American Studies from The Ohio State University. Before becoming a Buckeye, Dr. Butler earned a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from Xavier University of Louisiana. 

Thad Daise is a native of the Lowcountry of South Carolina.  He resides on Edisto Beach only a few miles away from his childhood home on Edisto Island.  The property where he was reared has been in his family since 1904.  Both his paternal and maternal families go back to over 5 generations living and working within the Gullah Geechee region of South Carolina, from Georgetown to Beaufort Counties.  

Thad retired from the National Education Association (NEA) after spending over 28 years as an education organizer and legislative and political specialist. During his career, he organized, led and managed organizing campaigns in over 20 states across the country and Puerto Rico. Since retiring, he has devoted the majority of his time volunteering in his community with the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission, the Edisto Island Open Land Trust, St. Francis Episcopal Church Edisto Island, Edisto Island Home Mission Team, and Edisto Beach Volunteer Fire Department.

Professor Damon Fordham serves as an adjunct professor of history, public speaking and critical thinking at The Citadel in Charleston SC, and is the author of three books, “True Stories of Black South Carolina,” “Voices of Black South Carolina,” and the novel “Mr. Potts and Me.”


Marilyn Hemingway is the CEO/President and Founder of the Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce. Hemingway is passionate about Social Entrepreneurship, business development and economic vibrancy in her beloved community.

Veronica Hemmingway is the Southern Lowcountry Director for Grantmaking & Community Leadership for Coastal Community Foundation. She has more than twenty years’ experience in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector and is a senior-level strategic thinker. In her work as a practitioner, she embraces people-centered and communitydriven engagement, and asset-based community development principles with an equity lens. Veronica is skilled in strengthening the community and the nonprofits that serve it through program development, capacity building, and strategic organizational planning. She is also a national presenter and thought leader on philanthropy and philanthropy in communities of color. Veronica holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Clemson University and a Master of Arts degree in Public Administration from North Carolina Central University.

Georgia Commissioners

Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown is a fishery biologist with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and serves as the Director of NOAA Programs at Savannah State University, where she also earned her B.S. degree in Marine Biology. She holds a doctorate in Marine Sciences from the University of South Carolina.

Since 1999, she has administered NOAA-funded student research training programs while researching essential fisheries habitat, African-American participation in Georgia fisheries, and approaches to increasing minority representation in marine fields. In 2009, she established the African American Fishermen Oral History Project to capture the experiences of Gullah-Geechee families on the Georgia coast through the Voices from the Fisheries database.  Dr. Hoskins merges her interests in marine research and education by focusing on assessment, equity, and transparency in governance by serving as a member of the Savannah Chatham County School Board. She and her husband Akino live quietly in Savannah with their two dogs.

Griffin Lotson, Vice-Chair, of the National Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Commission also serves as Mayor Pro Tem and City Councilman of Darien, Georgia, Manager of the international acclaimed Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters. and expert Cultural Art performer, storyteller and consultant.

Lotson has raised over $12 million dollars with grants and other funding for communities in the area of cultural arts, economic development, housing and educational programs. 

Lotson is considered one of the worlds foremost expert on the Gullah Geechee Ring Shout and the history of Kumbaya, which has landed him with opportunities to work as a expert consultant and lecturer, working for and with many Local, National and International organizations, film productions, including Hollywood. And have had the opportunity to work with popular television shows such as Queen Sugar, as a songwriter, performed with and work with known actress, Phylicia Rashad, and the one and only Oprah Winfrey in the new upcoming movie production ”The Color Purple”, Lotson was selected to be a choreographer in the new Roots Movie 2016,  as well as several other productions, as far away is London, England.

The author of several books, including “Success the Hard Way”, Weeping time by a Georgia Geechee, Kumbaya, Co-Author with Dr. Roger Lotson, the “Pentecostal Deacon Book”, and others.


J.L. Josiah “Jazz” Watts, M.A. is a Sapelo Island and St Simons Island Descendant and the playwright of The Sapelo Project. The Sapelo Project integrates music, movement, spoken word, visual imagery, and cinema to capture the incredibly unique culture and stories of Sapelo Island and the Saltwater Geechee people. Watts is a playwright, author, and justice advocate. He currently serves as an environmental justice strategist with the coastal nonprofit One Hundred Miles. OHM works to preserve and protect Georgia’s coast through advocacy, education, and citizen engagement. He also serves as Director of Engagement for nonprofit Vulnerable Communities Initiative, Inc. The work of VCI is drawn from decades of experience in serving vulnerable communities across the United States addressing the challenges of vacant and abandoned properties. He serves on the boards of SICARS, Sapelo Island Cultural & Revitalization Society, Inc, Butler Island Coalition, and Coastal Health Community Services. Watts is a former Equal Justice Works Housing Corps Advocate for the Georgia Heirs Property Law Center; a not-for-profit law firm that helps heirs property owners transfer their wealth to the next generation.

Florida Commissioners

Meredith Hardy is an archeologist and Coordinator for Interpretation, Education, and Outreach for the Southeast Archeological Center in Tallahassee, FL, and the Cultural Resources Program Manager for Christiansted National Historic Site on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Her research encompasses island and coastal communities, foodways, enslavement, and the emergence of creole societies. Since 1999 she has worked with Cumberland Island National Seashore to discover, interpret, and protect the African American archeological heritage within the park boundaries for the American public. Dr. Hardy makes archeological research accessible and relevant to global audiences by connecting events of the past with modern social issues. She works with NPS partners, the Smithsonian Museum of African American Heritage and Culture, and George Washington University on the Slave Wrecks Project, which combines maritime and terrestrial investigations with training, heritage protection, exhibits, and education. She has a Ph.D. from Florida State University, an MS from the University of New Orleans, and a B.A. from Indiana University.

Floyd Phillips was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1942, growing up during the height of segregation. Today, as President of the Friends of Lincolnville, and co-director of the Lincolnville Museum, along with his wife, Gayle. There, he teaches throngs of individuals from all over the world about African American history in St. Johns County, where Floyd has lived since 1998.


Eugene Emory, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta Georgia. Dr. Emory’s clinical and research interests are in developmental psychophysiology and neuropsychology. Dr. Emory was a recipient of the Research Scientist Development Award from the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Emory’s Gullah Geechee Corridor research interest has focused upon an area near the southern tip of Amelia Island Florida, formerly known as Franklintown, the ancestral community of American Beach. His passion for preservation of the Gullah Geechee community began in the mid 1970’s when his fiancé and Beaufort native invited him to explore the wonders of Gullah Geechee Culture!

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