Every Person Counts

Meet the Team

Research Associates & Partners

Founding Director and Principal Investigator


Professor Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo

is Associate Professor of English at Vanderbilt University, with secondary appointments and affiliations with the Department of Teaching and Learning, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the Program in African American and Diaspora Studies. She earned her Ph.D. from Duke University in 1999.

Professor Nwankwo’s research has focused on encounters among African-American, Latin American, and West Indian peoples in the areas of culture, identity, and ideology with the goal of understanding the persistent barriers to progressive cross-group engagements. Her book, Black Cosmopolitanism(2005), is a comparative study of people of African descent in Cuba, the U.S., and the British West Indies in the wake of the Haitian Revolution. In it, she reveals that fear fostered by the revolution determined and has continued to determine the ways African-descended peoples in this hemisphere relate to each other, as well as to other American populations. The implications of this analysis attempts to understand whether relations between U.S. African Americans and recent immigrants to the U.S. are significant.

Professor Nwankwo has also provided new insight into U.S. African American-Latino/Latin American-Caribbean relations through articles that have appeared in journals such as American Literary History, Radical History Review, and Cuban Studies/Estudios Cubanos. Her other publications include African Routes, Caribbean Roots, Latino Lives-a special issue of the Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, Rhythms of the Afro-Atlantic World (edited with Mamadou Diouf) focused on music and dance, and Critical Approaches to Louise Bennett-a special issue of the Journal of West Indian Literature.

Nyasha Warren

completed her bachelor’s degree in Biology at Oberlin College, her Masters in Environmental Health Sciences at New York University and her Masters in Education from the Arts in Education program at Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She is an educator and curriculum design consultant, with a special interest in informal education theory and practice as it applies to a variety of settings including, but not limited to, museums and online learning environments. She has taught middle school Science, English and Social Studies, and has also been an ESL instructor for adult learners at Florida State University. She currently works in the Resource Program at the International School of Panama. Her teaching philosophy is: We are all learners who deserve the opportunity to develop a heightened awareness and appreciation for the world through the well focused lens of lifelong learning.

Rebecca Bernard

is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where she received her B.F.A. in Film and Television Production. She is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in Creative Writing (Fiction) at Vanderbilt University. She works as both a fiction and music editor for the Nashville Review. Rebecca is particularly interested in crafting narratives which encompass the unique life experiences of individuals of different communities with an emphasis on memory and preservation.

Destiny Birdsong

is a graduate of Fisk University, where she received her B.A. in History and English. She is also a graduate of Vanderbilt University, where she received her MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry), and where she is currently working toward a PhD in Literature. She is a writer and scholar whose extensive research on slave narratives and knowledge about the collection and dissemination of primary sources are valuable assets to the VFOA project.

Lornies Bowen

After graduating from New York University with a Bachelor’s degree in Caribbean Studies, Lornies Bowen received a Fulbright-mtvU fellowship to conduct research in Panama. Her investigation on Afro-Panamanian identity as reflected in Spanish reggae music produced an audio-visual history of Panamanian reggae to be used for educational purposes in Panama, as well as the documentary Contra Corriente: The Spanish Reggae Movement.

Kari C. Brown

is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and an independent consultant in project management and philanthropy, as well as the creator and designer of Kindred Fashion for Social Change, founder of Tal Como Soy (As I Am) agency for Afro-Panamanian talents, and vice-president of the Arnold Walters Foundation for Cultural Diversity.

Veronica Forte

graduated from the University of Panama, where she is currently a professor in the English Department. She received her Master’s Degree in English at Universidad Autonoma de Chiriquí-Panamá, and her Postgraduate Program in Higher Studies at Universidad Latina de Panamá. At present, she is working on the final project for her Masters in Tourism with an emphasis on Asset Management (Gestion Patrimonial), while also completing a Master’s Program in Curriculum. She has also taught English at the preschool and elementary level.

Forte is president of the Williams-Sanchez-Schuler-Whitmore (WSSW) Leadership Group, a collective dedicated to providing opportunities for improving the quality of life for youth and increasing their personal knowledge, capabilities, and skills. She is also an active member of the Society of Friends of the West Indian Museum of Panama (SAMAAP). In all her work, she tries to promote the afroantillean culture among her students and the people whom she meets.

M. Jean Harris

is a retired anthropology professor with abiding interests in the cultures of African peoples in diaspora and the construction of race, gender, and social class. Having grown up in Seattle’s Yesler Terrace, the first racially integrated public housing project in the U.S., Dr. Harris is currently collecting oral histories to publish in a book that will be entitled From the Terrace.

Verónica Hidalgo

completed her bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science at Panama National University. She has completed graduate studies in Project Design and, has a Master’s in Manager of Projects from Panama’s Inter-American University. She worked as a consultant for the U.N. in the area of nutrition, in a project titled, “Project for the Elimination of Hunger and Malnutrition.” She also participated in the food industry of organic products as well as in health campaigns, visiting poor indigenous populations to provide them with health and information. Veronica also participates in social and cultural activities such as those organized by the Christian Medical Social Panama, Kindred, and Voices from Our America. For Veronica participating in Voices has given her the opportunity to meet wonderful people, and learn about not only the Afro-Caribbean culture but also understand, preserve and pass along to other people everything that involves hearing and respecting the Voices of Our America.

Melva Lowe de Goodin

is an English professor and retired director of the English department at the University of Panama. She is also a former president of SAMAAP (Society of Friends of the West Indian Museum of Panama) and has addressed the issues faced by Panamanians of West Indian descent through her bilingual play, De Barbados a Panamá/From Barbados to Panama.

Karin Whitehouse

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Karin Whitehouse moved to the U.S. to pursue a graduate education. After earning an M.A. in Spanish from the University of Minnesota, Karin joined the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Vanderbilt University as a Ph.D. student and instructor of Spanish. Her main interests are Subaltern Studies and Southern Cone’s post-dictatorial literature. She is particularly interested in testimonial literature and production, and the way these genre unveil hegemonic discourses. Karin joined VFOA in March 2010 and has contributed to the processing of Spanish language interviews.


Katherine Zien

is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at McGill University. She received her Ph.D. from Northwestern University’s Interdisciplinary Program in Theatre and Drama (IPTD) in August 2012. Zien’s pedagogy and research focus on theatre and performance in the Americas; specifically, her research addresses the inter-American travels of performing artists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the ways in which performance practices have contributed to the construction of ideologies, identities, and bodies of memory in North and Latin America. Her scholarship has been published in Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, The Journal of Popular Music Studies, E-misférica, Contemporary Theatre Review, and  Global South.


Stakeholders Council

Catalina Garrido

In addition to teaching preschool, Catalina Garrido is the Secretary of Development & Social Welfare and the Assistant Recording Secretary of the Society of Friends of the West Indian Museum of Panama (SAMAAP).

Melinda W. Green

Before retiring, Melinda W. Green served as the Vice President of Children’s Futures, a nonprofit organization focused on improving health and development outcomes for children and their families. She holds a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology and Early Childhood Education from the University of Michigan.

Patricia Lewis

is principal of the Instituto Episcopal San Cristóbal, a primary and secondary school in Panama City.

Felicia Morgan

is a Professor of English with 15 years’ teaching experience at the Universidad del Istmo and over 35 years at the Instituto Episcopal San Cristóbal.

Ethel Record

After earning a degree in Primary Education at the University of Panama, Ethel Record has held teaching and administrative positions at the elementary, middle school, and university levels for over thirty years.

Enrique Sánchez

is the Manager of the Purchasing, Warehousing and Inventory Division of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) and has worked at the canal for thirty-one years. During the last two decades, he has managed several branches and divisions related to construction, supplies and service contracting, in addition to maintenance and improvement of canal infrastructure. He is a civil engineer with a Master of Science degree from Columbia University in the city of New York. He was one of nine citizens designated to the National Electoral Scrutiny Board for the 2004 presidential election. In May of 2007, the President of Panama designated him to be a member of the National Black Council, tasked with designing and implementing a plan for the elimination of racial exclusion affecting Black Panamanians.

Trevor Sewell

is Professor Emeritus of Temple University’s School Psychology and Psychological Studies in Education. During his tenure at Temple, he also served as Dean of the College of Education He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Faculty Advisory Board Members

Jerome Branche

holds a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico and is currently an Associate Professor of Latin American and Cultural Studies in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh. His work deals principally with the Black Atlantic, critical race theory, pedagogy, and issues of culture and coloniality in Latin America and the Caribbean. His most recent work centers on the philosophy and poetics of diaspora.

Myriam Chancy

is a Haitian-Canadian writer of both novels and literary criticism and is Professor of English at the University of Cincinnati where she teaches courses in African diaspora studies, Caribbean literature, literary theory, and creative writing. Dr. Chancy holds a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Her research interests include Caribbean women’s literature, fiction and memoir, feminist theory, and postcolonial theory.

Lesley Feracho

earned her Ph.D. from Duke University and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and the Institute of African-American Studies at the University of Georgia. She specializes in contemporary Latin American narrative, in general, and the narrative and poetry of Caribbean women and Afro-Latin Americans, in particular. Dr. Feracho’s recent work has dealt with cross-cultural literary texts of women writers of African descent in the Americas.

Lucius Outlaw, Jr.

is a Professor of Philosophy and the Associate Provost of Undergraduate Education at Vanderbilt University. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College. His teaching and research interests involve social, political, Africana, and American philosophies, including racial matters in socio-political life in the U.S. and in the practices of European and Euro-American philosophy. Professor Outlaw’s publications include Race and Philosophy (1996) and Critical Social Theory in the Interests of Black Folks (2005).

Hortense Spillers

A scholar well known for her work in Black feminist theory, Hortense is a Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor in Vanderbilt University’s English Department. Among her most notable publications are Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture and Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text. Dr. Spillers holds a Ph.D. from Brandeis University.

Sonja Stephenson Watson

is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of Texas at Arlington. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and her areas of interest include contemporary Latin American literature, Hispanic Caribbean literature, the Afro-Hispanic historical novel, and Afro-Hispanic narrative in general. Dr. Watson has published articles in the College Language Association Journal, the Afro-Hispanic Review and the Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies Journal.



Yolanda Anderson

is a teacher and Director of the Colegio Internacional del Caribe in Colón, Panama.

Agnes Bryan

is an English teacher at the Instituto Episcopal San Cristóbal in Panama City, Panama.

Patricia Lewis

is Director of Instituto Episcopal San Cristobal.

Felicia Morgan

is an English teacher at the Instituto Episcopal San Cristóbal in Panama City, Panama.

Mayra Rios

is a teacher and Coordinator of the English program at the Instituto Episcopal San Cristobal in Panama City, Panama.

Lupita Salmon

is a teacher and General Principal of the Instituto Panamericano in Panama City, Panama.



  • Violeta A. Donawa, Michigan State University
  • Sam Gannon, Vanderbilt University
  • TaCara Harris, Vanderbilt University
  • Amber M. Henry, Rutgers University
  • Jennifer A. Krause, Vanderbilt University
  • Brianna Merrill, Vanderbilt University
  • Elise Michael, Vanderbilt University
  • Katie M. Willison, Vanderbilt University
  • Katie Zien, Northwestern University
  • Aiesha Beech, University of Panama
  • Haleigh Sherbak, Vanderbilt University
  • Maely Urena
  • Irlanda Yanguez
  • Lizyenhy Linales
  • Yaromar Hernandez
  • Yizeika Charris and Jose Vergara
  • Sonia Yau Zhang and Deryn Smith
  • Alexandra Payares, Veronica Rodriguez and Ana Isabel Saavedra
  • Franky Tsang
  • Nilka Arrosemena, Efrain Cheung, Philippe Hines
  • Betzaida Montero, Daphne Macias, Ana Gabriela Chavez
  • David Gomez, Stefanie Arosemena, Delia Zuniga
  • Diana Espinosa, Carolina Guilbauth, David Joseph
  • Jorge Alexander, Andres Culiolis, Jorge Gutierrez
  • Sonia Velasquez and Aileen Alegria
  • Sary Osorio and Karen Waldemen
  • Dora Ferrabone
  • Stephan Fernandez
From May 26-29, 2008 VFOA joined forces with the University of Panama’s English department on three initiatives, all linked to the celebration of Black History Month. On May 26th, a group of students and teachers were welcomed by Director Ifeoma Nwankwo and the VFOA team, including U.S. team members Tracy Childress and Destiny Birdsong, for an Oral History Workshop geared toward demonstrating the importance of West Indian oral history in university classrooms. Participants were presented with informative handouts about the effective integration of oral history in the classroom and creative activities focused on Black history worldwide. With these materials at hand, they were prompted to paraphrase a VFOA interview and subsequently give a group presentation on an activity using the interview information. On May 28th, an essay contest was carried out in the same department, with the participation of students, professors, and judges. Participants were asked to write an essay about “Someone who has influenced them positively in their English learning process.” The top three essays from each class were recognized, and information was collected about the West Indian “someones” referenced in the essays. Further VFOA-U of Panama collaboration occurred in the form of a curriculum development workshop. Held on May 29th, this workshop welcomed over 50 teachers and students and yielded sample lesson plans focused on the integration of VFOA interview materials into the English curriculum.


First Year Students:

  • Patsy Espinoza
  • Dona White
  • Suhairah Sadiq

Second Year Students:

  • José A. Rodríguez
  • Kevin Fragueiro
  • José López

Third Year Students:

  • Mitzy Gómez
  • Maricarmen Lanuza
  • Shiara Ocaña
Oral History and Student Competition at Instituton Episcopal San Cristóbal

Following a VFOA Oral History Workshop in February, teachers from the Instituton Episcopal San Cristobal’s English Department collaborated with VFOA in the creation of a student competition for Black History Month, where students interviewed members of the West Indian-Panamanian community and prepared group presentations on their interpretations of the interviews. After the April 9-18 interview sessions, twenty-nine 12th grade students submitted their presentations to a panel of judges, who determined the contest winners. VFOA awarded special prizes to the top three winning teams, and formally acknowledged all of the student participants and teachers, as well as the director and sub-director, at the school’s annual Black History Month celebration on May 30th. Participating students said the competition gave them an opportunity to learn about West Indian history through real people instead of books, and that the VFOA project inspired them to want to learn more and they hope to one day be interviewed themselves about how life was when they were younger.


First Place (tie):

  • Yizeika Charris
  • Ana Gabriela Chavez
  • Betzaida Montero
  • Daphne Macias
  • Jose Vergara

Third Place (tie):

  • Efrain Cheung
  • Nilka Arrosemena
  • Philippe Hines

Organizations & Schools

Asociación de Amigos del Muso Etnocaribeo de Bocas del Toro (AAMECAB) [Association of Friends of the Ethno-Caribbean Museum of Bocas del Toro]

is a non-profit association founded on August 21, 1995 by Bocatorenians concerned about the preservation of their cultural heritage and the demystification of prejudices and stereotypes directed against their ethnicity’s color, race, origin, creed, and idiosyncrasies. At present, they consist of four chapters functioning in Changuinola, Almirante, Bocas Island, and Bastimentos.

The Bradley Academy Historical Association, consisting of the Bradley Academy and the Bradley Academy Museum & Cultural Center, was the first educational institution in the County of Rutherford and the City of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The museum, a diverse multi-cultural center, houses artifacts from the first African American school, a heritage classroom, Civil War exhibits, the Bradley/Holloway room, an exhibit on Murfreesboro and Rutherford County in the 1800s and 1900s, an underground railroad exhibit, and an auditorium for special events.
Patterson Park Community Center is a member of the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department offering a variety of aquatic, fitness/wellness, athletic, cultural arts, and general programming for all ages. The center also offers areas within their facility for rent for various occasions such as conferences, meetings, banquets, and parties. Their mission is to plan, organize, implement, and promote a comprehensive system of programs, facilities, and areas in order to enhance the community’s quality of life.
Sociedad de Amigos del Museo Afroantillano de Panama (SAMAA) [Society of Friends of the West Indian Museum of Panama]


SAMAAP is a civic non-profit organization, which has as its objectives the support and raising of funds for the maintenance and extension of the work of the West Indian Museum of Panama. In addition, the organization is dedicated to supporting and sponsoring activities that contribute to the social and cultural development of the community and feature the best aspects of Afro-Caribbean culture.

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL Panama)


Panama TESOL is the Panama chapter of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc., which was founded on September 20, 1986. They form a very dynamic group whose mission is to strengthen the effective teaching and learning of English throughout the Republic of Panama while respecting individuals’ language rights. Panama TESOL promotes academic achievement, disseminates information, and encourages instruction and research.

Established in 1965, the Instituto Episcopal San Cristóbal is a primary and secondary school in Panama City, Panama, which offers its students a comprehensive Christian and scientific education. Discipline, morality, and study are the pillars upon which education is based at IESC.
The Instituto Panamericano opened in 1906 as Panama College, a bilingual educational institution. Now under the direction of the Evangelist Methodist Church of Panama, the primary and secondary school encourages students to creatively build knowledge, seek solutions, and develop a love for national and universal culture.