Our Board

Board of Directors

June Watson Benjamin
June has spent close to thirty years as a labor organizer and activist making a profound difference in the lives of workers in higher education, advocacy organizations, publishing, cultural institutions, manufacturing, and the public sector in New York and Connecticut.  She has been a part of the team in many organizing campaigns throughout her career.

She began organizing with District 65 at Columbia University, where the clerical unit waged successful battles for unionization and fought against wage discrimination.  Out of District 65, an amalgamated union, UAW-TOP Local 2110 (the Local), was formed.  June was a founding member and, along with her colleagues, made the working lives significantly better for workers at Columbia University. Through collective bargaining, the union was at the forefront, advocating for employer- supported childcare for working parents. The union’s efforts won childcare subsidies for the members at Columbia. This was a first! As a result of this victory, they opened the doors for workers with other employers in higher education and beyond. Another major achievement pioneered by this union was the establishment of same-sex, domestic-partner coverage benefits at the Village Voice and then at Columbia University at the beginning of the 1990s.

June’s passion was fueled by this power and influence over working conditions.  She maintained an elected position as a board member of the local union and was a staff organizer throughout many years.  She was lead negotiator for the inion at the ACLU, NYCLU, Church World Service and Witnesses, Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, the Feminist Press, and Amsco School Publications. Appreciated for her skills in grievance handling, she was hired by Cornell University-ILR School- Labor Studies, to teach  “Effective Grievance Handling.”

Her job duties and role were expanded when she joined the staff of the International Union, UAW as international representative.  She became an advisor, representative, and negotiator to UAW local unions within the region.  Some highlights of that career, include her standing as lead negotiator for part-time faculty at the New School and for adjunct faculty at New York University. June also served as staff representative for manufacturing employees, auto technicians, airport cleaners, printers, bookstore workers at Strand Bookstore, legal-services workers, Legal Aid attorneys and Connecticut municipal workers.  

She has also engaged in a labor of love, as an organizer for many civil rights causes, and has been a champion for “Get Out the Vote” in practically every election, locally and/or nationally, for many years.

Yvonne Wakim Dennis
An award-winning author of nonfiction books for children and adults, Yvonne interweaves environmental  and social justice into all she writes and credits her diverse family for piquing her interest in an inclusive and multicultural world. Although most of her publications have been  about Indigenous peoples of the U.S., she has also penned books about Arab Americans and  the many different cultures of the country. She serves as the Education Director for the Children’s Cultural Center of Native America, an educational program that seeks to eradicate racism and stereotypes about First Peoples and is the founder/former director and current board  secretary of Nitchen, Inc. an advocacy organization for Indigenous families in the New York City metro area.  Yvonne is a board director and educational coordinator of Coopdanza, an interdisciplinary art, media and educational non-profit that supports the power of dance, with a focus on Indigenous styles. An active member of the Bank Street Writers Lab, she also belongs to the Wordcraft of Native Writers and the Radius of Arab-American Writers. A founder of her local block association, she is an opponent of gentrification, which she sees as contemporary colonialism. She is a lecturer, workshop facilitator, and consultant for many different organizations. In 2014, Yvonne received the National Arab American Museum’s Best Children’s Book of the Year Honor (A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History), a Sanaka Award and the David Chow National Humanitarian Award.

Marline Martin

Marline is the executive director of the LeRoy Neiman Arts Center in Harlem. She is a multi-genre artist, who is an actor and a writer. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from City College.

Stephanie Renee Payne 

Stephanie's relationship with Harlem began when she was part of the churchgoing community of the venerable St. James Presbyterian Church. Stephanie  is founder and CEO of One Woman One Voice Project, a certified life coach, and author of ESP: Extreme Self-Pampering for the Soul. She has written numerous essays and short fiction, which are featured in Hunger Mountain, Shadowbox, For Harriet, and others. Stephanie was invited to give a TEDx Talk, where she discussed limiting cultural constructs. Stephanie has taught creative writing at the New School University in New York City, and is currently completing a  memoir, Unbroken: One Daughter's Journey. She holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. 

Paulette J. Tabb

Paulette is a native of Brooklyn, New York, and has a passion for the arts and literature. She earned a BA in speech and theater from Brooklyn College and an MA in education from City College. After a career in the theater, Paulette became an educator in the New York City Department of Education for more than three decades. Upon her retirement she continues to serve in numerous capacities, supporting cultural and educational organizations within her community.

Steering Committee Members

Monica L. Gray
Monica lives her life with Purpose and Passion, and is a bridge between the powerful African American consumer demographic and corporate America. For more than three decades, her vigorous outreach to Fortune 500 companies and others seeking sponsorship/branding opportunities to leverage Black buying power, has resulted in many millions of dollars. Monica is a veteran funding professional, and, because of her winning personality, she has established numerous one-on-one relationships with key decision makers in major multinationals. 

Her outstanding talent is evidenced by the individuals and organizations that have benefitted from the fact that her professional raison d’etre is to alter the landscape to ensure that the buying power of African Americans is fully acknowledged by all members of the corporate community. These members include media outlets, marketers, and major companies across the nation that benefit from the African American consumer base. Her life’s work as a fund-raiser for various African American companies and initiatives is central to who she is. 

Currently, her focus is on continuing to strengthen the sponsorship-attaining capacity of organizations in African American communities. Monica’s past and current successes to fortify the bonds between high-profile organizations of color and their partners in the top echelons of American business, include:

  • National Urban League (Marc Morial);
  • Rainbow PUSH (Jesse Jackson);
  • National Action Network (Reverend Al Sharpton); and
  • National Minority Supplier Development Council (Dr. Harriet Michel).

At present, she oversees prospecting and growing new partnerships for the National Urban League’s large annual conference.

Additionally, Monica has established herself as a Special Event Planner, par excellence, and is an indispensable resource for conceptualizing and managing all logistical aspects of conferences, award dinners, concerts, golf outings, and art auctions. She has an exemplary history of attaining high-level national speakers and entertainers that include Presidents Bush and Clinton, Senator Barack Obama, Gladys Knight, and Brian McKnight.

She has consulted with the Police Athletic League, the New York/New Jersey Minority Purchasing Council (NYNJMPC), and the Tribal Arts Gallery. Monica served as a member of the Board of Directors for the Police Athletic League (PAL), and as secretary for the NYNJMPC. She has also volunteered as an English/Writing tutor for New York City public school’s after-school programs.

She attended Brooklyn College as a dual major in Creative Writing for Television/ Radio, and English.

Joseph Harris, MD
Joseph is a board-certified internist, has devoted his medical career to caring for patients in the underserved communities of New York City and in other regions across the world. He was inspired to go into medicine through the example of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, MD. As a member of Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), he, along with the other members of this esteemed organization, won the Nobel Peace Prize. His work with MSF took him to the Pacific Coast of Colombia, South America, where he oversaw epidemiological studies and vaccination campaigns within the Afro-Colombian mountain communities. Additionally, on another humanitarian mission, after the genocide in Rwanda, Dr. Harris served as Attending Physician/Clinical AIDS Advisor for Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health’s Multicountry Columbia AIDS Program (MCAP). As an HIV/AIDS Specialist, Dr. Harris has focused his attentions on the treatment of HIV/AIDS patients within New York City’s Harlem and South Bronx communities.  

Joseph is a diplomate, American Board of Internal Medicine, and an American Academy of HIV Medicine (AAHIVM) HIV Specialist. He received his medical education at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, and completed his residency in Social Internal Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center. Additionally, he completed one year in General Surgery at Harlem Hospital. Joseph also received training in Tropical Disease at Fon Hospital in Dakar, Senegal, and Cochin in Paris, France. He is currently at work on a book entitled, Smoke: A Memoir.

Stephen S. Robinson, MD, MPH

Stephen is a physician and community advocate, with extensive experience in academic medicine and public health. His clinical career has spanned nearly four decades. It includes positions in the City University of New York (CUNY) Medical School as executive assistant to the dean, Dr. George I. Lythcott, and interim director of the CUNY Physician Assistant Program at Harlem Hospital Center. He has served as resident advisor, HIV/AIDS, in the United Republic of Tanzania with the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University, where he supported Columbia's President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative to support the development of Tanzania’s national HIV/AIDS infrastructure. He has led a number of health projects in West Africa and served on the medical advisory committee for the group, Operation CrossRoads Africa, founded by the late Reverend James H. Robinson, pastor of the Church of the Master, and a former resident of 409 Edgecombe Ave.

Stephen received his medical degree from the School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle,Washington and an MPH with a concentration in international health from the School of Hygiene and Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland. He completed his internship and residency at Columbia University-Harlem Hospital Center in the Department of Medicine, under the direction of Dr. Gerald E. Thomson.

His long-standing commitment to the Harlem community’s development has been demonstrated by his membership in the Health Action Resource Center (HARC), his service on the board of directors of the Religious Committee on the New York City Health Crisis, as vice-chair of the Health Committee of Manhattan, Community Board Nine, and as chair of the Community Advisory Board of the Columbia/Harlem Hospital Prevention Research Center.

As a resident of 409 Edgecombe Avenue since 1980, he worked with the Tenants' Association to organize and prevent the building, then in New York City's Tenant-Interim-Lease (TIL) Program, from being sold to real estate developers. Stephen was president of the 409 Tenants’ Association when it purchased this landmark building from the city in 1995 to become a tenant-owned Housing-Development Fund Companies (HDFC) Cooperative.

Cheryl Scott, MD, MPH
Cheryl is a veteran, international health practitioner, who began practicing medicine in1983, just two years after the first cases of HIV/AIDS defined a pandemic whose impact is greater than smallpox. Her varied interests led her to work in clinical-HIV trials in Roosevelt Island, New York; practice with homeless, shelter residents in Harlem; examine post-disaster, reproductive impacts on women residing near Three Mile Island; and help residents post-disaster recovery in St. Croix. She recognized early on the critical role of integrated systems of health, education, labor, and security in determining health futures. These experiences fueled her passion for public service.  In 1993 Dr. Scott joined the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and was assigned to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

While at CDC, she continued an international career that led her to work in Cote d’Ivoire, India, Kenya, Jamaica, Tanzania, Lesotho, Ecuador, and Haiti. While in Tanzania, she established and led a $34 million CDC HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment program that laid a cornerstone for Tanzania’s rapid scale-up of national services. Under her leadership, Tanzania initiated the first-ever, no-cost, national, antiretroviral treatment program, and provided antiretroviral therapy and monitoring to more than 10,000 Tanzanians by 2005. Cheryl has received numerous awards including international recognition for her work in Tanzania.

Since retiring from the U.S. Public Health Service in 2010, Cheryl has worked with low-income communities in South-Central Los Angeles and California’s Central Valley to increase access to the unprecedented opportunity of the Affordable Healthcare Act. She has also provided primary-care services to veterans at several Veterans Administration community-based outpatient clinics.  

She received her bachelor of arts degree in biology from the University of California at Santa Cruz, her medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine, and her masters in public health from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health. 

Board of Advisors

Alexa Birdsong
Alexa is a co-founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center and served as the director of programming for My Image Studios (MIST). Alexa was also director of arts and cultural programing for the City Parks Foundation, and was Central Park’s Summer Stage’s executive producer. She is a Harlem resident. 

Marie Dutton Brown
Marie is president of Marie Brown Associates, a literary services agency. She is one of a small group of African American literary agents and publishing consultants. A veteran of the book business for more than four decades, Marie has worked as an editorial assistant and book editor, bookseller and bookstore manager, editor-in-chief of a magazine, book-marketing strategist, and literary agent. She has worked with clients like Susan Taylor, Faith Ringgold, Tom Feelings, and Carl Weber.

Carmen Cruz
Carmen is a curator and interior designer, who was born in Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx from the age of five. Art and anything that entailed creativity was evident at an early age. From the moment she held a pencil, she was always drawing. However, coming from a very political family (her father was mayor of Juana Diaz) Carmen decided to focus less on art and more on political activism by joining Mayor John Lindsay’s campaign. That led to her involvement in the war against poverty and community involvement throughout New York City, always with the intention of ensuring that Puerto Ricans receive all rights as US citizens, as well as the right to preserve their culture and heritage.

Carmen majored in social services at the Columbia School of Social Work, but realized that her heart was in the creative field. After earning a BFA degree, she curated numerous Latin artists’ exhibits in colleges, alternative spaces, and created exhibit spaces, e.g., the School of Labor Relations at Cornell University in New York City, Sawdon and Bess Advertising Agency, Wendy’s, and the Museum of Caribbean and Hispanic Art (MOCHA) in SoHo. Carmen made history by curating the first exhibit of Latin artists in the show, “Affinity: Seven Latin Artists at the Wooster Gallery, a commercial SoHo gallery. She earned as MFA from the School of Visual Arts. 

For many years Carmen worked in advertising as an art buyer and senior account executive. She later opened her own business, On The Money Interior Design, which included general contracting and residential/commercial design. Today the company operates on a consultant basis.

Despite all of the twists and turns of her journey through life, one thing has remained the same, and that is preserving the Puerto Rican culture and heritage, and offering her support for other communities to do the same for their culture and heritage.

Jamal Joseph

Jamal has written and directed for Black Starz, HBO, Fox TV, New Line Cinema, Warner Bros., and A&E. His produced screenplays include Ali: An American Hero (Fox), New York Undercover (Fox), Knights of the South Bronx (A&E), and The Many Trials of Tammy B. (Nickelodeon). He wrote and directed Drive By: A Love Story, Da Zone, and the docudrama Hughes Dreams Harlem for  Starz. He produced the film Chapter & Verse starring New Heritage Theatre Group’s Artist-in-Residence Daniel Beaty. Jamal is currently co-executive producing and writing a dramatic musical for BET; and adapting his memoir, Panther Baby (Algonquin Books), into a feature screenplay, which he will direct.

He is Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia University School of the Arts in the Film Department; and former chair of Columbia University’s Graduate Film Division. He serves as the artistic director of the New Heritage Theatre Group in Harlem and executive director of New Heritage Films, a not-for-profit organization that provides training and opportunities for minority filmmakers. Joseph is a three-time winner of the National Black Programming Consortium’s Prize Pieces Award, a two-time winner of the Black Filmmaker Hall of Fame Award, a winner of the International Film and Video Association Award, and a recipient of the New York Fine Arts Fellowship.

Mark Naison

Mark  is a professor of history at Fordham University in New York. He was a former political activist who was a member of CORE and SDS in the 1960s. He is a graduate of Columbia University and holds a Ph. D. in American History. His publications include White Boy: A Memoir and Communists in Harlem During the Depression.

Vera E. Sims
Vera is a retired educator, who was employed by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) for twenty-eight years as a curriculum writer, professional developer, teacher trainer, and middle-school instructional specialist. She is also a poet and visual artist, who studied at the School of Visual Arts. Vera also worked with the LeAp Public Arts Program, which provides students  from targeted,  public,  middle schools a platform to showcase their artistic talents and generate awareness of important issues facing their communities.

Vera is also a co-founder of Sister/Sister—an organization that provides artists the opportunity to showcase their talents for the “soul support” of bringing to the forefront issues that effect the African-American community. She has also been a panelist for the New York State Council of the Arts. 

Vera received a B.A. in education from Hampton Institute, an M.A. from City College in education, and earned  credits toward a second M.A. in museum education, through Bank Street College.