STAFF

Mimi Lok is Co-founder, Executive Director and Executive Editor of Voice of Witness. Her work builds on over fifteen years of experience in education and the literary arts in the U.K., China, and the U.S. She has consulted on arts and literary programs, worked as a freelance reporter for the Asia bureaus of The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times and USA Today, and taught Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and in schools throughout Hong Kong and China. Her passion for human rights storytelling led her to volunteer as an editor and interviewer at Voice of Witness, before joining as Executive Director/Editor in 2008. Mimi is an award-winning fiction writer, a student of Vipassana meditation, and a novice mushroom hunter.

Co-founder & Executive Director

Cliff Mayotte joined Voice of Witness in 2010 as Education Program Director. Cliff’s professional education career has included many years as a full time classroom teacher, curriculum designer, program director, and arts instructor. He also occasionally moonlights as a theatre director, having staged plays for many notable local companies. His belief in the power of storytelling feeds his daily practice. When not engaged with teaching and learning, Cliff likes riding his bike all over the East Bay, working in his garden, pretending that Major League Baseball could really use a guy like him, and spending time with his family.

Education Program Director

Dao X. Tran, born in Mỹ Tho, was a youth and community organizer in Philadelphia and has been politically active in Providence and New York City, most recently focused on equity in public education. Before joining Voice of Witness, Dao was senior editor at Haymarket Books and a freelance book editor. She co-edited 101 Changemakers: Rebels and Radicals Who Changed US History. She’s an old-school radical lefty, passionate about social justice and democratizing the kinds of stories being heard, and finds a curiosity about our world essential. When she’s not marking up manuscripts, she’s raising a spirited and sensitive child not to become a smart-alecky New Yorker. And though she lives in Brooklyn, she embraces the Bay Area vibes of the Voice of Witness team.

Managing Editor

Erin Vong is a Bay Area native who graduated from UC Davis with degrees in Art History and Communication. Before coming to Voice of Witness, she spent three years teaching curious children in Madrid and even curiouser teenagers in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and remains dedicated to her English Language Learner students. She returned home with a renewed interest in education, social justice, and fútbol, and hopes to finally finish recording her family’s stories as Vietnamese refugees. She can often be found practicing self-care by walking her dog, Yuki, and stopping to smell literal roses.

Education Associate

Alexa Gelbard moved to San Francisco in 2014 after four years of college in Philadelphia convinced her she needed to return to the California sun. Before joining the Voice of Witness team as Communications & Outreach Manager, Alexa spent three years in Public Relations representing a variety of clients addressing issues of public health, environmental justice, and human rights. Outside the office you can find her hiking trails in Marin or trying out (vegetarian) recipes from her collection of cookbooks.

Communications & Outreach Manager

Elisa Perez-Selsky grew up in a small town in the Inland Empire of Southern California and went on to receive her bachelor’s degrees in History and Music at Chapman University. After graduating, Elisa moved to the Bay Area to pursue her passion of advancing social justice. Prior to joining Voice of Witness, Elisa worked in individual donor fundraising at Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco, the ACLU of Northern California, and NARAL Pro-Choice California. Elisa is a strong believer in mobilizing funding for the communities most affected by injustice and feels incredibly privileged to continue that work at Voice of Witness. In her spare time, Elisa enjoys strumming her guitar, singing in the shower (sorry neighbors), and going for a run around Oakland’s beautiful Lake Merritt.

Donor Relationship Manager

Ela Banerjee split her childhood between the very different worlds of urban Kentucky and suburban Sacramento. Ela holds a BA from UC Berkeley, where she studied Cognitive Science, Education, and Creative Writing. She previously worked for the national oral history project, StoryCorps, where she facilitated audio recordings of diverse personal and community stories from across the Bay Area to be archived at the Library of Congress. The over 120 StoryCorps interviews Ela recorded helped shape her love of both storytelling and community engagement. As part of the Voice of Witness team, she is excited to continue discovering how stories can be used as tools for empowerment, advocacy, and change. Outside of work, Ela enjoys writing, filmmaking, and finding the best breakfast foods in the East Bay.

Community Partnership Coordinator

Marie Espinoza was born and raised in the East Bay and received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Holy Names University. She has many years of experience working with non-profit organizations, including three years as Special Education Associate with KIPP Bay Area Schools, and two years with WorkLink as an Employment Specialist. Her past volunteer work in Peru and Costa Rica helped shape her passion to give a voice to individuals who have been impacted by injustice. When not working, Marie loves to take her dog to Fort Funston, try new plant-based recipes, play her guitar, and spend time with friends and family. She also loves seeing movies and going to concerts.

Education Program Assistant

Meera Swanson is a lifelong Bay Area native. She received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from UC Santa Cruz and Master’s of Nonprofit Administration from University of San Francisco. She has worked for several education and youth development focused nonprofits, plus one large technology company which confirmed her commitment for the nonprofit sector. She has a passion for working with organizations that empower people affected by injustice, and is thrilled to be able to support Voice of Witness in that mission. In free time she enjoys yoga, watching sci-fi and horror movies, and spending time with her family.

Development Assistant

Catherine Gonzalez grew up in Miami, Florida, and earned her bachelor degrees in International Affairs and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Florida State University, and master’s in journalism at Columbia University. She has worked in retail, food, education, advocacy and public relations. Prior to joining Voice of Witness, Catherine was an editorial assistant at Colorlines, where she covered a wide range of racial justice issues. She lives in Queens, New York, and enjoys eating good food and riding her bike.

Editorial Assistant

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Ipek S. Burnett is a Turkish author and depth psychologist living in San Francisco. In addition to serving as the Chair of the Voice of Witness Board, she is on the committee of advisors for The Journal of Archetypal Studies and a member of the Human Rights Watch California Committee North. She holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Modern Culture & Media from Brown University, master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies, and doctorate degree in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute.

Co-Chair

Kristine Leja is the Executive Director of Summer Search Bay Area. Previously, she served as chief development officer for Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco, and the development and communications director at Edgewood Center for Children and Families in San Francisco. Kris is a published poet and serves as an editor at Sidebrow Books, a San Francisco-based independent press. She has served on the Voice of Witness board of directors since 2012.

Co-Chair & Treasurer

Nicole is an international human rights advisor and rule of law consultant based in Indonesia. Previously, she served as a staff attorney for the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and a prosecuting attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. She is a graduate of Stanford Law School and Brown University and a member of the State Bar of California. Nicole hails from upstate New York and has served on the Voice of Witness board of directors since 2015.

Secretary

Mimi Lok is Co-founder, Executive Director and Executive Editor of Voice of Witness. Her work builds on over fifteen years of experience in education and the literary arts in the U.K., China, and the U.S. She has consulted on arts and literary programs, worked as a freelance reporter for the Asia bureaus of The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times and USA Today, and taught Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and in schools throughout Hong Kong and China. Her passion for human rights storytelling led her to volunteer as an editor and interviewer at Voice of Witness, before joining as Executive Director/Editor in 2008. mimi is an award-winning fiction writer, a student of Vipassana meditation, and a novice mushroom hunter.

Co-founder & Executive Director

Jill Stauffer is an associate professor of philosophy and the director of the Peace, Justice and Human Rights concentration at Haverford College. Jill has published widely on the international reach of rights, personal and political responsibility, political reconciliation, and the rule of law. She recently published a book The Ethics of Loneliness on political subjectivity as it relates to the promise and limits of reconciliation after violence. She has served on the Voice of Witness board of directors since its inception in 2009. She also serves on its editorial committee.

Director

Lupe is Co-Director at CompassPoint, where he develops content, trains, and consults in the areas of individual and organizational leadership through the lens of a structural analysis of race, gender, power, privilege. He also leads a program that creates a space for leaders to develop their thinking and practice and to explore and experiment together on ways to advance the movement to end relationship-based violence. Before CompassPoint, Lupe served as the director of evaluation, learning, and strategy at Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco. The proud son of Mexican immigrants, Lupe was born and raised in the Bay Area and currently lives in Berkeley.

Director

EDUCATION ADVISORY BOARD

Rick Ayers is a Professor of Education at the University of San Francisco in the Urban Education and Social Justice cohort. He taught in the Communication Arts and Sciences small school at Berkeley High School, where he pioneered innovative and effective strategies for academic and social success for a diverse range of students. Rick has won the Berkeley Community Award (2004), Distinguished Educator of the Year Award, Occidental College (2004), and the Distinguished Adviser Award by Dow Jones Newspaper Fund (2000). He has his PhD from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education in the Language, Literacy, and Culture division. He is the co-author, with his brother William Ayers, of Teaching the Taboo: Courage and Imagination in the Classroom (2010) from Teachers College Press. He is also author of Great Books for High School Kids and A Teacher’s Guide to Studs Terkel’s Working.
William Ayers is a former Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the founder of both the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society, and he has written extensively about social justice, democracy and education, the cultural contexts of schooling, and teaching as an essentially intellectual, ethical, and political enterprise.

William’s articles have appeared in numerous scholarly and popular journals, and his books include Teaching Toward Freedom; A Kind and Just Parent; Fugitive Days; On the Side of the Child; Teaching the Personal and the Political; (with Ryan Alexander-Tanner) To Teach: The Journey, in Comics; (with Kevin Kumashiro, Erica Meiners, Therese Quinn, and David Stovall) Teaching Toward Democracy; (with Bernardine Dohrn) Race Course.

Diana Cohn has worked for over two decades on environmental, economic, and global justice issues as a teacher, media activist, and as a senior program officer and executive director for philanthropic grantmaking foundations. Her current work as Executive Director of the Panta Rhea Foundation has included oversight for the foundation’s Water Governance, Environmental Justice, and Corporate Accountability programs. Her expertise as an educator led to the creation of the foundation’s Social Imagination, Arts and Education program that provides grants for professional development support for teachers and deeper learning opportunities for students. She is a member of the Bay Area Arts Education Funders Group, Grantmakers for Education, and Grantmakers in the Arts.

Diana holds a BA in Human Ecology from the College of the Atlantic and a MA in Educational Policy from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is also an award-winning children’s book author. Her books include, Dream Carver, Si Se Puede! Yes We Can! Janitor Strike in LA, Mr. Goethe’s Garden, The Bee Tree,  Namaste!, Roses for Isabella, and her most recent book, Crane Boy. She currently serves on the boards of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and the Food Craft Institute in Oakland.

Praveena bnw
Praveena Fernes is an emerging public health professional with broad storytelling experiences ranging from studying environmental justice in rural Northeast Thailand to working in community health action and policy in a New York kidney care center. She has experience working in chronic disease prevention, gender-based violence prevention, and environmental health and human rights.

Currently, Praveena is conducting community-based participatory research using the Stanford Our Voice Model and a digital citizen science tool to examine assets and barriers to healthy living in Orleans Parish, LA while completing her degree at Tulane University. She has developed health promotion outreach and training materials, served as a photojournalist focused on rural health disparities in the developing world, and written promotional materials and updates for print and online sources.

Praveena spearheaded several successful social ventures, securing funding for The Stronger Than You Think Campaign, Save The Missing Girls Benefit Concert, and Radical Grandma Collective. Ms. Fernes has received several organizational and academic awards recognizing her leadership, community engagement, and political action.

Gerald Richards is the CEO of the Super Power Agency, a new nonprofit focused on youth writing and creative expression based in Edinburgh, UK. He is also the founder and principal consultant at Black Unicorn Consultants, a new firm specialising in coaching and consulting for nonprofit organisations and leaders, especially nonprofit leaders of colour.

From 2010 – 2017, Gerald was the CEO of 826 National, where he led the strategic direction, administration and building of resources for the network of affiliate organisations located in eight US cities, as well the establishment of affiliates in additional US and international cities. With more than twenty years of management and development experience at local and national nonprofit organisations, Gerald is a respected trainer and sought after speaker on topics of youth development, writing, creativity, and education access. He has been interviewed regularly on these topics and appeared on CBS The Morning, NBC Nightly News, CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s 360, and The Michael Eric Dyson Show, and has had articles published in the Huffington Post and GOOD Online. Gerald was awarded the 2016 News Corp Community Hero Award and is a current fellow in the Pahara-Aspen Institute Education Fellowship. Originally from Harlem, NYC, Gerald has a BA in Film Studies from Wesleyan University and an MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Anne Germanacos’s collection of short stories, In the Time of the Girls, was published by BOA Editions in 2010. Her novel, Tribute, was published by Rescue Press in 2014. For thirty years, together with her husband, she ran the Ithaka Cultural Study Program, an immersive academic semester for high school and college students on the islands of Kalymnos and Crete in Greece. Through the Germanacos Foundation, she supports the work of dozens of individuals and organizations in the U.S. and abroad. Her time as an Artist-in- Residence at the Marin Headlands Center for the Arts in the fall of 2015 resulted in a collaborative work, Not Upon You. She serves on the boards of the Los Angeles Review of Books and T’ruah: a Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
Barbara H. Yasue is currently the department chair and tenured instructor in the ESOL (English for Students of Other Languages) department at Laney College in Oakland, California. She has worked with refugee, immigrant and international students for more than 30 years in the United States and abroad, including a stint in the Peace Corps, and was awarded a Fulbright grant to train teachers in Portugal. She is the author of Transitions: Stories of Immigrant Students, a three-year study of eight immigrant students in an urban college, which brings to light intimate stories of war, poverty, discrimination, workplace challenges, street violence and the struggle for democracy.
Soledad Castillo is a narrator in our book Solito, Solita: Crossing Borders with Youth Refugees from Central America. When Soledad’s stepfather abused her, she left her hometown in Honduras to work in the city at twelve. At fourteen, Soledad walked through the desert to cross into the U.S. She entered to foster care, where she was mistreated before finding a caring family. Since graduating from San Francisco State University with honors, she strives for career advocating for disadvantaged young people.
Gabriel Mendez is a narrator in our book Solito, Solita: Crossing Borders with Youth Refugees from Central America. Gabriel is a UC Berkeley student from Honduras hoping to empower youth who have survived violence and discrimination. He wants to tell all youth that there is space for them in society. Raped as a child, he never thought he was worthy. He is a member of the LGBTQ community and feels it is it is his duty to advocate for the persecuted and humiliated.

EMERITUS BOARD MEMBERS

Dave Eggers
Co-founder, Voice of Witness
Co-founder of 826 National, Founder of McSweeney’s Publishing LLC, and author

Lola Vollen M.D., M.P.H
Co-founder, Voice of Witness
Founder & Executive Director, The Life After Exoneration Program

FOUNDING BOARD OF ADVISORS

Roger Cohn
Former Editor-in-Chief
Mother Jones

Mark Danner
Author, Professor
UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

Harry Kreisler
Executive Director
Institute of International Studies
UC Berkeley

Martha Minow
Dean
Harvard Law School

Samantha Power
Author; Professor, Founding Executive Director
The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy

John Prendergast
Co-chair, The ENOUGH Project
Strategic advisor, Not On Our Watch

Orville Schell
Arthur Ross Director
Asia Society

William T. Vollmann
Author

FOUNDING ADVISOR

Studs Terkel (Deceased)
Author, Oral Historian