leGrace benson portrait image

LeGrace Benson, President
LeGrace Benson currently directs the Arts of Haiti Research Project and is Associate Editor of the Journal of Haitian Studies. Professor emerita from the State University of New York, she holds a PhD from Cornell University and an MFA from the University of Georgia; she also studied at Long Island University (film production) and at the Episcopal Divinity School of Philadelphia. She has held faculty positions at Cornell, Wells College, SUNY-Empire State College, SUNY-Cortland, and Ithaca College. For the Faculté d’Education Regina Assumpta (FERA) in Cap-Haïtien, she taught Art History and English as a Second Language. In 2003–2004 she was a Cornell Civic Fellow, and in 2005–2006 a Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for Black Studies Research, University of California, Santa Barbara. Her work includes documentary films and numerous publications for scholarly journals, chapters in edited books, and art exhibition texts. She recently published Arts and Religions of Haiti: How the Sun Illuminates under Cover of Darkness (2014).

 Yanique Hume

Yanique Hume, Vice President
Dr. Yanique Hume received a PhD from Emory University in anthropology, with an emphasis on Caribbean cultural politics, African diasporic religions and spiritualities, and cultural performance. She co-edited the important volume Caribbean Cultural Thought: From Plantation to Diaspora (2013), and is presently working on a book for Duke University Press about the Caribbean mortuary complex, based on findings that emerged from a workshop funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. She is also developing a monograph from long-standing research on the Haitian presence in Cuba and Haiti’s place in Cuban cultural politics and the Cuban imaginary. Dr. Hume is a professional dancer and choreographer; she has toured with several companies and continues to teach Afro-Caribbean dance across the world. She is a lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, in Barbados.

photo of Lois Wilcken

Lois Wilcken, Secretary
Lois Wilcken (PhD, Columbia University), a native New Yorker, has had the pleasure of researching Afro-Haitian music in Port-au-Prince and New York City's Haitian neighborhoods. As Executive Director of La Troupe Makandal, she has developed and produced such public programs as The Drum and the Seed, A Haitian Odyssey. Her publications include The Drums of Vodou (1992), Island Sounds in the Global City (co-edited with Dr. Ray Allen, 1998), and an online version of her Vodou Music in Haiti exhibit in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe. She is currently annotating a collection from her field recordings for publication on the web-based Ethnographic Video for Instruction and Analysis Digital Archive (EVIADA) at Indiana University, and with Makandal, she is building an online archive centered on the life and legacy of the company’s late Artistic Director, Master Drummer Frisner Augustin. She has recently embarked on an exploration of the musical links between Vodou music and jazz.

Claudine Michel, Executive Director
Claudine Michel served for many years as Director of the Center for Black Studies Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as Professor of Black Studies and Assistant Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs. She received a BA in Education from the École Normale Supérieure; studied at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, Université d’État d’Haïti; and earned a PhD in International Education from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research has appeared in many scholarly venues and she is the author and co-editor of a number of volumes on education, Black studies, and Haitian Vodou. Her current work re-conceptualizes alternative modes of knowledge production and models of pedagogical interventions grounded in both education and religion. She is a former President of the Haitian Studies Association and the long-time editor of the only peer-reviewed journal on Haiti, the Journal of Haitian Studies, published by the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research for the Haitian Studies Association. Dr. Michel is founding member of KOSANBA, A Scholarly Association for the Studies of Haitian Vodou and Culture and a founding editor of Kalfou, A Journal of Comparative Ethnic and Relational Studies, both housed at the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research. After the 2010 earthquake, she served as consultant for Direct Relief International on its Haiti community projects and is a member of the Haiti Soleil Board of Directors. Recent awards include an excellence and service award from the Haitian Studies Association and the prestigious Jean-Price Mars Medal from the Faculté d’Ethnologie, Université d’État d’Haïti.

Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, Immediate Past President
Professor emeritus Patrick Bellegarde-Smith received his doctorate in international politics and Latin American history, from The American University in 1977. He taught in the field of international development, political economy, and culture, then later, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in the field of African-American studies with a focus on Caribbean cultures and politics, Afro-Caribbean religions, and Black feminisms.  He is a oungan asogwe, a priest in Haitian Vodou—his proudest achievement. He is the author of several books, including In the Shadow of Powers (Humanities Press International, 1985; 2nd ed. Vanderbilt University Press, 2019), The Breached Citadel (Westview Press, 1990; 2nd ed. Canadian Scholars Press, 2004), and Fragments of Bone, ed. (Illinois University Press, 2005). For his books and articles on issues of national and personal identities, he received the Jean Price-Mars Medal from the State University of Haiti in 2013, and the Lifetime Achievement Award for Scholarship from the Haitian Studies Association in 2010. Some of his works have been translated into French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Some of his writings have been anthologized. Bellegarde-Smith served as the President of the Congress of Santa Barbara (KOSANBA), a scholarly association for the study of Haitian Vodou, and is a former president of the Haitian Studies Association, (HSA). He helped create BRASA, the Brazilian academic association in the United Stares. He is an associate editor for the Journal of Haitian Studies and served on the editorial boards of Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies and the Journal of Africana Religions.

Kyrah Malika Daniels
Kyrah Malika Daniels is Assistant Professor of Art History and African & African Diaspora Studies with a courtesy appointment in Theology at Boston College. She received her PhD in Africana Studies (2017) and her MA in Religion (2013) from Harvard University. Her research interests and course topics include Africana religions, sacred arts and material culture, race, religion and visual culture, and ritual healing traditions in the Black Atlantic. In 2009–2010, Dr. Daniels served as Junior Curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Following the earthquake of 2010, she worked in Haiti with Lakou Solèy Academic and Cultural Arts Center, a grassroots organization that develops arts-based pedagogy. Her work has been published in the Journal of Africana Religions, the Journal of Haitian Studies, and the Journal for the American Academy of Religion. Her first book manuscript (The Arts that Heal, in progress) examines ritual art objects used in healing ceremonies to treat spiritual illnesses and mental health conditions in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo. page here.

Bamidele Agbasegbe Demerson

Bamidele Agbasegbe Demerson
Bamidele Agbasegbe Demerson is the Culture and Arts Manager for the City of Austin, serving as administrator for the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. He previously held administrative, curatorial, and education posts at the Harrison Museum of African American Culture (Roanoke, Virginia) and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (Detroit, Michigan). An alumnus of the University of Michigan, Demerson received undergraduate and graduate training in cultural anthropology with a focus on Africa and the African diaspora. He has conducted fieldwork in Nigeria, Brazil, United States, and Canada. Reports of his research on spiritual beliefs and practices, visual arts, and family life have been presented at national and international conferences, as well as published in anthologies, exhibition catalogues, and journals. Demerson curated New Eyes for Ancient Gods: Yoruba Orisa in Contemporary Art and is conducting research for a forthcoming exhibition, Bags, Brooms, Bottles, and Bedcovers: Hoodoo Folk Beliefs in African American Fine Art.

Photo of Charlene Désir

Charlene Désir
Dr. Charlene Désir is an associate professor at the Abraham S. Fischler College of Education at Nova Southeastern University. She received her doctorate from Harvard University. Dr. Désir's academic interest is in the social, psychological, and spiritual adjustment of immigrant students in public schools. Dr. Désir has published and presented various papers on the topic of immigrant students' adjustment to the United States. In addition, she co-founded TEN Global, an empowerment network for Haitian women and children, and was the 2012 president of the Haitian Studies Association. Dr. Désir has worked as a school psychologist, K–12 school counselor, school administrator, academic advisor, and professor.

Kate Ramsey

Kate Ramsey
Dr. Kate Ramsey has a PhD in anthropology from Columbia University and teaches in the history department at the University of Miami. Her first book, The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti (Chicago, 2011), examines the history and legacies of penal and ecclesiastical laws against Vodou in Haiti. Ramsey is co-editor with Louis Herns Marcelin of Transformative Visions: Works by Haitian Artists from the Permanent Collection (Lowe Art Museum, 2015). Her next single-authored book project studies how Afro-Caribbean religions became a touchstone in the fields of mind-body medicine and psychology in the late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Atlantic world. Ramsey’s current research centers, as well, on the history of Vodou objects confiscated by U.S. marines during the 1915–1934 occupation of Haiti, and thereafter donated or sold to museums in the United States and beyond.
University webpage here.

richard brent turner

Richard Turner
Richard Brent Turner is a professor of Religious Studies and African American Studies at the University of Iowa. He received his PhD in religion from Princeton University. His scholarship is in the areas of African American religious history, African American Islam, and African diasporic religious and musical traditions in New Orleans. He is the author of Jazz Religion, the Second Line, and Black New Orleans (Indiana University Press, 2009), Islam in the African-American Experience, Second Edition (Indiana University Press, 2003), and a wide variety of articles. Turner is also on the editorial board of the Journal of Africana Religions.

photo of Funlayo E. Wood Menzies

Funlayo E. Wood Menzies
Funlayo E. Wood Menzies is a scholar-practitioner of African and Diasporic Religions, and an initiate of Obatala and Iyanifa in the Ifá-Òrìsà tradition. She earned a PhD in African and African American Studies and Religion from Harvard University, and she is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Black Studies Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her work has been published in the Journal of Africana Religions, the Journal of Interreligious Studies, and other venues. Her book in progress, Obi: Death, Divination, and the Divine Feminine, will produce the first scholarly manuscript dedicated entirely to the kola nut and its conceptions and uses among Ifá-Òrìsà practitioners. Dr. Funlayo, as she’s affectionately known, is the founding director of the African and Diasporic Religious Studies Association (ADRSA), the managing editor of the Africana Studies Review, and founder of Ase Ire, an online spiritual education center. A dedicated public scholar, she is a featured contributor on Medium, has served as a contributing scholar at State of Formation, and been featured in documentaries for National Geographic and PBS.