Meet Our Team

Our Officers

Brenda Thomson, President

Brenda Thomson, J.D., has served as the Board President for the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center since 2020. Thomson brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to Carver, specializing in executive management, fundraising, human resources, public speaking, community relations, and strategic planning. She is currently the Executive Director of Arizona Humanities and has served for over 13 years. Prior to joining Arizona Humanities, Thomson directed The Center for Law Leadership and Management at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU, and was also the Executive Director of the Maricopa County Bar Association. In addition to Carver, Brenda serves on the national board of the Federation of State Humanities Councils, Phoenix Burton Barr Library Advisory Board, and Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Yale University and her J.D. from Yale Law School.

Joseph Benesh, Treasurer

Joseph Benesh is currently an Adjunct Professor at Phoenix College. He also served as the Executive Director of Arizona Citizens for the Arts for two years. In his community work, Mr. Benesh currently sits on the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture Commission, and boards of the Greater Phoenix Chamber, and George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. He worked for eight years as the Director of Phoenix Center for the Arts and for ten years in arts management at Phoenix Theatre, Theater Works, and Stagebrush Theater. In 2011 he managed the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center In New York City, where he obtained his M.A. for Community Education and Advocacy from New York State University.  As a professional artist, he directed for the stage at Phoenix Theatre, Space 55, Black Theatre Troupe, the Okoboji Summer Theater, and many more.

Our Members

Chad Gestson, Board

Dr. Chad E. Gestson is currently the founding executive director of the Arizona Institute for Education and the Economy (AIEE), a partnership formed by Northern Arizona University and a consortium of Arizona’s leading philanthropic organizations. He served as superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District for over eight years. Under his leadership, Phoenix Union has launched five new schools and the district saw tremendous increases in graduation rates, scholarship totals, and college matriculation rates. Prior to his work in education, Gestson was a commercial construction superintendent in Seattle, Washington. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Washington, an M.Ed. for Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University, and an M.Ed. and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Administration from Northern Arizona University.

Eric Kemp, Board

Eric Kemp has 27 years of experience in public education. He has been a high school principal in Phoenix, Arizona since 2007. Mr. Kemp is the current President-Elect of the Phoenix Alliance of Black School Educators. He serves on Arizona Department of Education Professional Practice Advisory Committee and Arizona African American Legislative Leadership Committee’s Education Pillar. He attended Towson State University and earned his certification to teach secondary education and a bachelor’s degrees in Social Sciences and History. He would later earn master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Leadership at Arizona State University. Mr. Kemp is currently working on a doctoral degree in educational leadership. 

Michael Neal, Board

Full Biography Coming Soon!

Anthony Pratcher II, Board

Dr. Anthony Pratcher II is an Assistant Professor at Northern State University, where he teaches African American Studies in the Ethnic Studies Program. He was awarded a B.A. in History from Howard University and a Ph. D. in American History from the University of Pennsylvania. His scholarship uses oral interviews, census data, and archival collections to explore how urban policies influence community formation in the metropolitan Southwest. He serves as Secretary for the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center.

Oye Waddell, Board

Oye Waddell is the Founder and CEO of Hustle Phoenix, a non-profit organization that exists to equip and catalyze under-served entrepreneurs annually with the intellectual, social and financial capital they need to create sustainable business ventures for the common good. Fueled by his visionary style of leadership and the belief that all people have dignity, Oye knows that some of the most innovative entrepreneurs in the United States are in underserved, urban communities. He earned a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California and a Master of Education from Arizona State University. 

Our Team

Matthew Whitaker, Executive Director

Matthew C. Whitaker, Ph.D., is an award-winning educator, author, historian, community engagement specialist, motivational speaker, and founder of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Arizona State University, where he was a professor of history for 15 years. He is also the Founder and CEO of Diamond Strategies, LLC., and was awarded the Arizona Collectors 2020 Frederick Douglass Social Justice Award for his work. Dr. Whitaker earned a B.A. in Sociology, B.A. in History, and an M.A. in History at Arizona State University. He earned a Ph.D. in History, with honors, at Michigan State University, and completed an Executive Certification Program in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Cornell University. He has edited three books, including Hurricane Katrina: America’s Unnatural Disaster, and he is the author of Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West

MaryHope Lee, Administrative Assistant

MaryHope Lee currently serves as the Administrative Assistant the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. She is a collagist, poet, zinester, bookmaker, apprentice literary translator, and an active member of the Cardboard House Press Cartonera Collective. She served as a Lecturer of Linguistics and African American studies at Yale, as well a writer and editor for KQED, PBS station, and online magazines.

Dyadira Fajardo, Programs & Marketing Coordinator

Dyadira “Yadi” Fajardo currently serves as a Marketing and Programs Consultant at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. She has worked in nonprofits and museum institutions across Arizona for more than seven years, such as Arizona Humanities, Pueblo Grande Museum, Musical Instrument Museum, and the Desert Botanical Garden. From managing adult learning classes to coordinating cultural events, her goal is to highlight the rich histories present in Arizona communities to inspire meaningful educational experiences and cultural awareness. She received a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Arizona State University. 

Paul Alan Taliercio, Volunteer Curator

Paul Alan Taliercio currently serves as the Resident Curator at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, where he dedicates himself to the restoration, modernization, and documentation of exhibits that showcase the history of Arizona. He also plays a vital role as a founding board member of the Compass CBS Foundation, contributing to economic empowerment initiatives in Arizona.

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