African Refuge

Serving African Refugees, immigrants and low-income families since 2003.

Symposium Speakers' Biographies

Cllr. Jerome J. Verdier
Jerome J. Verdier Sr. is a leading human rights activist and environmental lawyer in Liberia. In 2006, Verdier was unanimously endorsed by all parties to the Liberian conflict to serve as chairperson of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Commission. Councilor Verdier is a multiple graduate of the University of Liberia. He received his Bachelor's of Business Administration in 1988 as well as a Bachelor's of Law degree in the same year from the school's Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law. Verdier is a practicing attorney in Liberia and has successfully filed suit against the government on multiple occasions.

Isaac Bantu
Mr. Isaac Bantu, a former BBC-Liberia correspondent, is the current head of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA). A 1992 Neiman Fellow at Harvard, Mr. Bantu also served on the TRC’s Media Panel.

Emmanuel Abalo
Mr. Emmanuel Abalo is an exiled Liberian journalist, media and human rights activist. He is the former Acting President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). Mr. Abalo now resides in Pennsylvania, USA, where he serves as News Director of WRAR-96 Internet Radio on

Jeffrey Harmon
Mr. Jeffrey Harmon is a political and human rights activist. He serves in the leadership of several student and national political organizations in Liberia. He was the Chairman of the True Whig Party of Liberia. He is the founder and current Executive Director of the Community Integration Project, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His educational background includes a M.A. Degree in Conflict Resolution from Arcadia University, a degree in International Relations from the IBB Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Liberia, and Bachelor of Arts (BA) Degree in Political Science, University of Liberia.

Jonny Steinberg
Dr. Jonny Steinberg is a prolific South African writer and scholar. “Midlands,”explores racial conflict in the post-apartheid countryside through an account of an unsolved murder. In addition, Dr. Steinberg has authored several other books about social issues.

Hederick Barlay
Dr. Barlay is the Founder/President of the Leadership Paradigm Powerhouse Institute, an organization an international development firm focusing on financial institution and organizational development consulting across multiple sectors of the economy. Dr. Barlay is the author of a UNDP-sponsored proposal for the Government of Liberia-Future Search Liberia Project. The aim is to right-size the bloated Civil Service workforce, correctly, and to retrain the displaced, to secure alternate careers in the private sector or self-employment. He is the author of Grant-Funded Programs, entitled “Liberian Women in Business and National Leadership” and the “Rising Stars Program of Liberia”–Developing young people for a future of success and excellence. He has Doctorate, MBA and Bachelor degrees from US/UK Universities with diplomas from Harvard University in Advanced Management and Public Sector Negotiation.

Ms. Sharon Abramowitz
Ms. Sharon Abramowitz received a Ph.D. in medical anthropology from Harvard University in 2009. She completed fieldwork in Liberia for her dissertation on collective trauma and post-conflict violence and reconstruction, titled Psycho-Social Liberia: Managing Suffering in Post-Conflict Liberia.” Prior to her studies in anthropology, Ms. Abramowitz earned an M.A. in medical sociology from Rutgers University, where she researched and wrote an M.A. thesis using anthropological and epidemiological methods on individual and collective trauma in war-affected areas of southern Guinea. Prior to her academic studies, Ms. Abramowitz worked for three years as a domestic violence and rape crisis counselor, and as a counselor for delinquent and troubled teenage girls in eastern Massachusetts. Abramowitz also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Côte d’Ivoire from 2000-2002, where she engaged in water and sanitation, small business development, education, and HIV/AIDS projects.

 Dr. Jeannie Annan  is the Director of Research and Evaluation at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and is a Visiting Scientist in the Department of Global Health and Population of the Harvard School of Public Health. She holds a PhD in Counseling Psychology from Indiana University at Bloomington. Dr. Annan's research examines the impacts of war and violence on mental health and well-being, with a particular focus on identifying the individual, social, and environmental factors that moderate and protect individuals from the worst effects of violence. She is also engaged in the assessment and evaluation of post-conflict youth programs, including the psychological effects of programs for economic recovery and reintegration and the development of programs that address both psychosocial and livelihood needs. Since 1999, Dr. Annan has worked in the conflict affected areas of northern Uganda, Southern Sudan, Kosovo and Liberia on psychosocial and education programs and research. As Director of Research and Evaluation at IRC, she oversees the research and evaluation in 24 conflict-affected countries. 

 Dr. David Backer is currently a Program Officer in the Grant Program at the United States Institute of Peace. Previously, he was an Assistant Professor of Government at the College of William & Mary and also taught at the University of Michigan.  His research includes multiple studies and information compilations with transitional justice themes, among them ongoing projects in West Africa (Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone), South Africa and Latin America.  He specializes in the assessment of the responses of victims of past human rights violations to post-conflict measures, using original quantitative and qualitative data. Other work focuses on topics like ethnic conflict, civil society, elections, refugees and closed political regimes.

 Tania Bernath has been working in the international human rights and humanitarian field for over fifteen years with a wide range of organizations including the UN, NGOs and donors in many countries including Liberia.  Tania's international career started in Liberia in 1994 when she worked with a local human rights organization investigating human rights abuses.  Since then she has stayed involved with Liberia and still today it remains a special place for her.  Most recently Tania was the Liberia researcher for Amnesty International and worked with Liberian human rights defenders on a wide array of human rights issues including international justice, female child soldiers, women's rights, and reparations.   

 Dr. Barlay is the Founder/President of the Leadership Paradig Powerhouse Institute, an organization an international development firm focusing on financial institution and organizational development consulting across multiple sectors of the economy. Dr. Barlay is the author of a UNDP-sponsored proposal for the Government of Liberia - Future Search Liberia Project. The aim is to right-size the bloated Civil Service workforce, correctly, and to retrain the displaced, to secure alternate careers in the private sector or self-employment. He is the author of Grant-Funded Programs, entitled “Liberian Women in Liberia”–Developing young people for a future of success and excellence. He has Doctorate, MBA and Bachelor degrees from US/UK Universities with diplomas from Harvard University in Advanced Management and Public Sector Negotiation.

 Louis Bickford, Visiting Faculty at the Graduate Program in International Affairs (GPIA) at the New School for Social Research, has been working in themes related to memory, memorialization, and transitional justice since before 1997, when he developed the Historical Memory Initiative for the Ford Foundation’s Santiago office, examining collective memories of authoritarianism in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. Since then, he has helped develop strategies for confronting the past through the construction of memory in contexts as diverse as Bosnia, Cambodia, Colombia, Kosovo, Liberia, Morocco, and Peru, among others, working with ministries of culture, non-governmental organizations, the United Nations, grassroots groups, and victims’ associations. From 1999-2001, he was Associate Director of the Global Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he managed the Legacies of Authoritarianism project. In 2001, he was a founding staff member of the International Center for Transitional Justice, where he developed the Memory, Museums, and Memorials program (later the Truth and Memory unit). He has taught seminars on memory and human rights at the University of Chile Law School, Columbia University, New York University (where he is an adjunct professor), and the University of Hiroshima. He has written and lectured extensively on these subjects, and is currently a consultant for UNDP on truth-telling in Bosnia, and for the Oak Foundation (Geneva), where he is undertaking strategic review of human rights programs.

 Mr. John N. Brownell  is the president of the European Federation of Liberian Associations. He holds an MSc in Condensed Matter Physics from the Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics / University of Trieste, Italy. He served as Instructor of Physics at the University of Liberia.

 Dr. Joe Gbaba is a world renowned Liberian artist/scholar with more than thirty-six years of experience in playwriting, directing, acting, and teaching. He is also an advocate of social justice and child welfare on the continent of Africa and here in the United States of America. He works as an investigative child protection worker with the Department of Human Services in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since 2003. His many accomplishments include representing the Government of Liberia at the Organization of African Unity Conference of Communication Experts in Abeokota, Nigeria in 1989. In 1992, he promoted peace education, conflict resolution, civic education and public health programs in collaboration with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Children’s Educational Fund (UNICEF). Since coming to the United States, Mr. Gbaba has received his Master of Science degree in Elementary and Special Education in 2002 and his Doctor of Education degree in Educational Leadership in 2009 from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has authored two books and is currently working on two more literary projects.

Mr. Michael Keating (Moderator) is a Lecturer   in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School and the Associate Director of the Center for Democracy and Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He has been working with the Liberian Media since 2006 and is currently a consultant to Dr. Emmet Dennis, the President of the University of Liberia. Michael will lead a New School International Field Program to Liberia in the Summer of 2011 and will also be involved with a multi-University support program for the independent media in Liberia during the 2011 election campaign. He can be reached at

 Mr. Anthony Kesselly is the President of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA). Mr. Kesselly is a veteran advocate for the peace and welfare of Liberia and Liberians living abroad. He holds a Master of Social Work (MSW) Degree from Temple University’s Graduate School of Social Administration in addition to having served as the Assistant Minster of State for Special Services from 1991 to 1994. As a Diaspora community activist for the past 15 years, Kesselly has participated in many local and national rallies, demonstrations, and assemblies to press for various Liberian causes. Kesselly was at the center of the various ULAA campaigns to get the U.S. Congress to grant reprieve to Liberians on Temporary Protected Status. He was on many ULAA delegations to the U.S.Congress, the State Department, and state and municipal offices in the Liberian immigration struggle.

 Dr. Judith Landau, child, family and community psychiatrist, formerly Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine, and Director of the Division of Family Programs at the University of Rochester Medical Center, is currently President of Linking Human Systems, LLC, and LINC Foundation, Inc., in Boulder, Colorado. She serves as Senior Advisor to the International Trauma Studies Program.  Over the past thirty years, she has developed and tested methods that identify the natural healing elements of families and communities. She has worked with refugees and trauma survivors in and from many countries, during and after natural and man-made disasters, consulting to governments on refugee resettlement, the development of services, and the integration of displaced/uprooted people within their new communities. Dr. Landau served on the Advisory Committee to the New York State Commissioner of Mental Health on the Mental Health of Refugees, consulted to the Commissioner of Health for New York City on building healthy communities in the wake of September 11th, 2001, and currently serves as a consultant to the Department of Health in Kosovo, and the Lieutenant Governor’s office in Hawaii. Dr. Landau was recently president of the International Family Therapy Association.

 Mr. Abraham Massaley is the former President of the National Association of Cape Mountanians in the Americas as well as the Former Chairman of the National Elections Commission of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas. He is also a former President of the Press Union of Liberia/

 Mr. Jacob Massaquoi (Conference Host) is the director of African Refuge, a community based project in Staten Island, NY with the mission to address the needs of African immigrants and refugees through health, social and legal services, and  family and youth support programs.  Before he was forced out of his native country Liberia, Mr. Massaquoi served as the Country Representative of the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE)-Liberia, and was responsible for the coordination of activities surrounding the United Nation’s International Year of Volunteers (IYV2001) and follow up activities in Liberia (08/00-03/02). Mr. Massaquoi co-founded Free Teens Liberia, Inc. a non-profit volunteer organization with the mission to promote human rights and alleviate the plight of disadvantaged children and orphans, combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy as well as the incident of drugs and substance abuse among teenagers, 03/1999-03/02. 

 Dr. Jack Saul (Moderator) is Assistant Professor of Clinical Population and Family Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and director of the International Trauma Studies Program. As a psychologist he has developed a number of psychosocial programs for populations that have endured war, torture and political violence including the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture in 1995 where he was  clinical director until 1998. Dr. Saul established Refuge in 1999, a resource center in New York for survivors of political violence and forced migration. Dr. Saul has worked for the past 10 years with the Liberian Diaspora community and is one of the founders of African Refuge, a community drop-in center for African refugees and immigrants in Staten Island. His research focuses on psychosocial recovery in the aftermath of conflict and political violence. Dr. Saul can be reached at .

 Dr. Patrick Seyon is the Former President of the University of Liberia. He is a life-long educator both in Liberia and the United States as well as being a leading civic figure in Liberia and the U.S. through his work with the National Elections Commission and the Constitution Commissions. He has been a consultant to the World Bank and the Ford Foundatin and has written extensively on African related issues with a special emphasis on Education. Dr. Seyon currently resides in the Boston area were he teaches at Roxbury Community College.

 Commissioner John Stewart, a Liberian journalist, author, human rights advocate, and activist, served on the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Prior to his tenure with the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he worked with the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Development Program, and the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Liberia. He was educated at the University of Liberia.

 Sam Slewion was Media point person of the TRC Diaspora-USA  Project. He also presented a paper on the Intervention of the Union of Liberian Associations in Americas (ULAA) in the  Liberian Refugee Crisis in Ghana in 2008 at the Thematic Hearing of the TRC held in Minnesota, USA, and organized by the Advocacy for Human Rights based in Minnesota. He was the former Secretary General of the Liberian Press Union and a former prominent journalist in Monrovia. He currently resides in Philadelphia where he is a human rights activist and civic leader.

 Joe The was a former news Editor/Program Producer for Star Radio in Monrovia and co-chairman of the Mano River Media forum.

 Professor Alaric Tokpa is a Liberian politician. In 2005, Tokpa ran for President as part of the ticket of the New Deal Movement. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Liberia.

 Mr. Mainlehwon Ebenezer Vonhm is a survivor and refugee of the Liberian Civil War; given his powerful experiences throughout the war, he has spent the past 10 years of his life in the United States studying the effects of peace education upon general peaceful civility and coexistence. Since concluding his studies, Mr. Vonhm has returned to Liberia to implement peace education in his home country by working with the Center for Peace Education, a Liberian non-governmental organization dedicated to building a comprehensive peace building program and teaching mediation.

 Commissioner Massa A. Washington, Liberian TRC commissioner, is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience. She holds a B.A. in Mass Communication with an emphasis in print journalism from the University of Liberia and is currently a second-year graduate student with high honors at the Temple University School of Social Administration and Management, Pennsylvania, USA. She also obtained training in 1984 in broadcast journalism from the Voice of America (VOA) and the Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS). Her past positions have included Public Relations Officer of the Liberian National Red Cross Society, Senior Reporter for the Ministry of Information New Liberian Newspaper and News Editor for the Independent Inquirer. Ms. Washington has covered the Liberian crises extensively, reporting often from occupied territories and creating a column in the Inquirer dedicated to Liberian women. She is women’s rights and civil society activist and a member of the Liberian Women Imitative (LWI), which has been at the vanguard of peace advocacy in Liberia. She has also represented the women of Liberia at peace conferences, such as both of the Accra Clarification Conferences and the Abuja Conference. Ms. Washington has also worked with Liberians in the Diaspora, having represented and given sworn testimonies for Liberians seeking legal status in the USA. She served as chairman of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA), Delaware Valley Chapter, representing the States of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, and co-owned and published the Iwina Heritage Newspaper, targeting the African immigrant community in the United States. Ms. Washington's honors include Press Union Reporter of the Year Award, Inquirer Reporter of the Year Award 1994, the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas Appreciation Award in 2003, Liberian Community Association of Pennsylvania Award in 2003. Ms. Washington is also one of 16 Liberian peace activists featured in a recent UN book on peace building entitled ”Liberian Women, the Right to be Seen, Heard and Counted”. In March 2009 she received from the American Ambassador to Liberia, Mrs. Linda Thomas-Greenfield the United States of America “Liberian Woman of Courage Award” and in June 2009 received the International Women Leadership Award from Women’s Campaign International (WCI) in Philadelphia.


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