Henry Watkins, President
Judge Watkins was born, raised and educated in Phoenix, Arizona. He attended law school at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, earning a Juris Doctorate degree from the latter institution. Admission to the Arizona and California State Bars followed. Between earning his B.A. degree and his law degree, Judge Watkins served as a U.S. Marine Corps officer with primary service in Vietnam. He later served as a Marine Corps recruiting officer in Phoenix, Arizona. After law school Judge Watkins clerked in the federal courts before opening his law office and working as a private practitioner. In private practice he focused his trial practice in the federal court system. Frequently called upon to handle many pro bono cases for the African-American community he did so without fail.
Under the Administration of President Carter, Judge Watkins worked in the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C. as special assistant to the Attorney General. From there he went to serve as Associate General Counsel at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and other high ranking positions in the Federal Government. Subsequently, he was appointed an Immigration Judge in San Diego. He wrote many distinguished immigration law review articles in Journals in California, Washington D.C., and others. While in San Diego he was recruited to be a judge for the Social Security Administration. He worked in this position until he was appointed as Regional Chief Judge in Atlanta, Georgia. In this position he was responsible for the personnel in the eight Southeastern states and 31 cities. Such personnel included over 250 judges, 1200 attorneys, and numerous support and clerical staff.
After leaving the Federal Government Judge Watkins retired to Arizona where he later accepted the position of Executive Director of the Arizona Center for Disability Law. After leaving this position Judge Watkins dedicated himself to improving his golf game and volunteering with the Carver Museum and Cultural Center. He currently serves as Vice-President of the Board at the Carver Museum.
Brenda Thomson, Vice President
Brenda Thomson has served as the Executive Director of Arizona Humanities since March 2010. Thomson brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to Arizona Humanities, specializing in executive management, fundraising, human resources, public speaking, community relations, and strategic planning. She is committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion through the humanities, and is inspired by the rich history of the people and places of Arizona. 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. B.A. English, Yale University, J.D. Yale Law School.
Joseph Benesh, Treasurer
Since July 2019, Joseph Benesh has worked as the Executive Director of Arizona Citizens for the Arts – the only statewide arts advocacy nonprofit organization. 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. Prior to joining Citizens, he worked for eight years as the Director of Phoenix Center for the Arts. Previously Benesh worked 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. from NYU. Prior to this Benesh developed and lead community outreach programs in group homes, shelters, and other community centers that serve inner city children. He wrote and directed Night of the High School Dance, the Musical for One Step Beyond – an organization that serves developmentally disabled young adults. As a professional artist, he directed for the stage at Phoenix Theatre, Space 55, Black Theatre Troupe, the Okoboji Summer Theater, and many more. He is committed to advocating for arts & culture and their deep impact on individual lives, local culture, and the greater economy. M.A. New York University.
Anthony Pratcher II, Secretary
Roberto Frietz, Board
Roberto Frietz is employed as a Neighborhood Specialist for the City of Phoenix Neighborhood Services Department since 1995. Mr. Frietz has extensive experience in implementing and coordinating comprehensive community engagement initiatives such as Weed and Seed, Neighborhood Initiative Areas and Neighborhood Fight Back Programs. He also has previous experience working in homeless services and youth programs. Mr. Frietz has previously served as a board member for New Pathways for Youth a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring opportunities to Phoenix area youth and was a volunteer coach for the Phoenix Suns Nite-Hoops basketball prevention program serving young men ages 18-25. He currently sits as a board member for the Creighton Community Foundation and the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center.
Chad Gestson, Board
Dr. Chad E. Gestson has served as superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District since the fall of 2015. Under his leadership, Phoenix Union has launched five new schools, from a Gifted and Talented academy, to a college preparatory academy in one of the city’s most underserved communities, to the Phoenix Coding Academy. The district has seen tremendous increases in graduation rates, scholarship totals, and college matriculation rates. Prior to being named superintendent, Gestson was the district’s director of school leadership. In that role, he supervised principals and developed future principals and assistant principals through an Aspiring Leaders program that he created. Before joining Phoenix Union, Gestson was a middle school principal and elementary school assistant principal in the Isaac School District. Prior to his work in education, Gestson was a commercial construction superintendent in Seattle, Wash. B.A. English, University of Washington, an M.Ed. curriculum and instruction from Arizona State University, and an M.Ed. in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University (NAU). Ph.D educational leadership, NAU. Broad Academy Fellow.
Sonji Muhammad, Board
Michael Neal, Board
Oye Waddell, Board
Paul Alan Taliercio, Resident Curator
Paul Alan Taliecrio is director and Chief Curator of The Sapien Musuem of Anthropology & Natural History, a new virtual exhibition project he founded in 2018 to collect, research, preserve, and plan exhibitions that tell the stories of our human evolution through time, geopolitical changes, and environmental adaptations. His current projects include the George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center, where he is restoring and modernizing exhibits that tell the stories of the first segregated school in Arizona. His executive background includes being a founding board member Compass CBS Foundation, a private family foundation that supports economic empowerment initiatives by creating educational programs for multicultural, entrepreneurial communities and by sponsoring innovative groups who make a difference in Arizona. His work helps provide the right tools, expertise and strategies for multicultural professionals and small businesses to thrive, and in turn, contribute to Arizona’s economic and social growth. When he is not working on the museum or community work, he is exploring Northern Arizona where he spends time with his loving husband and two dogs, Zsa Zsa and Evita.