Meet the Local Leaders that Help Our Future West Virginia Evolve
Gail Michelson is the Board President of Our Future West Virginia. Originally from New York state, Ms. Michelson graduated from Columbia University in 1984 with a B.S. in Literature and Writing and received her J.D. from West Virginia University in 1993. Ms. Michelson has worked as a public defender for most of her career.
Big Ugly Creek, WV
Michael Tierney has created community based programs for nearly 40 years. He founded Step by Step, an organization that builds the capacity of families in WV to support their children’s dreams; creates advocacy initiatives focused on vulnerable communities; and builds spaces like the Big Ugly Community Center. He also founded MOSAIC, a program that enabled students and families to tell their stories in the midst of the violence of desegregation in 1980s Boston. He is cofounder of the Lighthouse Project which supports survivors of trauma (personal, historic and community-generated) in shaping their stories for their own healing. He is a songwriter, photographer, reviewer of children’s literature, and teacher of Non Profit Management, Appalachian Studies, and courses involved with the WV Community Activist Archive. Mr. Tierney graduated from Harvard College in 1981 and has a Masters in History of American Civilization from Brandeis University.
Ibtesam Barazi has worked as a humanitarian civil rights activist since her retirement from the U.S. Dept. of Labor – OSHA as Assistant Area Director. She currently serves as President of West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry and Vice President of the Islamic Association of WV. Ms. Barazi dedicates her time to spreading peace and understanding in greater Charleston to break down walls of fear and misconceptions about immigrants, specifically Muslim Americans. She has conducted many faith-based outreach activities such as rallies and conferences to achieve this goal and promote cross cultural understanding. Ms. Barazi currently serves on the boards of ACLU-WV and Manna Meal. She was awarded the WV Governor’ 14th Annual Civil Right Award for Humanitarian work 2017, the ACLU-WV Champion for Justice Award in 2018 and the Episcopal Church Diocese’s Bishop Shel’s Award in 2019.
Board Vice President
Karen P. Williams is a retired school administrator, serving as a Head Start Director and Coordinator of Human Resources upon retirement from Kanawha County Schools. A graduate from Marshall University and the West Virginia Graduate College, Mrs. Williams provided over thirty-seven years of service in the field of education and was recognized by Governor Gaston Caperton as the Outstanding Developmental Educator for the State of West Virginia. She has served on the boards of the Charleston Light Opera Guild, Rise Up WV, and Alliance for Sustainable Families. Currently, Mrs. Williams volunteers her time with her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. as Connection Chair, the Charleston – Institute (WV) Chapter of Links Incorporated as Parliamentarian and National Trends Chair, NAACP Charleston Branch as Membership Chair, and more. She is the wife of 44 years to her college sweetheart and travel partner John Williams, mother of three adult children.
Traci Phillips is the CEO of Fun Fitness Kids Club LLC., a soft play party rental company in Charleston, WV. She is also the executive director of the Fun Fitness Foundation Inc, a 501(c)3 organization that aims to help curb the obesity rate in West Virginia by providing fun fitness activities. Phillips holds a B.A. in Communications from Bowie State University and has worked for companies such as C-SPAN, CBS Newspath, BET Nightly News, Radio-One Inc., XM Satellite Radio and WCHS-TV. She is an on-air personality for WSVQ 92.1’s Charleston’s Voice for Equity and Empowerment, an initiative of the Partnership of African American Churches. Traci is married to Justin Phillips, they have 3 children and live in Charleston, WV.
Anna Williams is the Student Body President at Marshall University, where she studies Public Communication and English. During her time at Marshall, Williams has worked to address food insecurity and resource access for students. She has helped develop an on-campus food pantry, scholarship database, and device sharing program. Her passion for public service was recognized this year when she was awarded a 2020 Truman Scholarship. Upon graduating in May 2021, Williams plans to pursue a degree in public law and community development.
Tiffany Ellis-Williams is the Director of the West Virginia State University Economic Development Center, providing entrepreneurs, start-ups, small businesses and local organizations access to a low-cost co-working and multimedia production facility as well as community development workshops. Mrs. Ellis-Williams holds a B.A. in Political Science from West Virginia State University and a Master of Arts degree in International Affairs from Marshall University. Mrs. Ellis-Williams currently lives in Charleston, West Virginia with her husband and three kids.