Board of Directors

Art Toth, Chair

Owner, La Grande Dame

Local businessman, Art Toth, was looking for ways to give back to the community when he researched the Gay Community Center of Richmond. His extensive career in retail was a perfect match with some of the needs of the GCCR board. “We were elated to learn that Art was interested in being on board. We’ve only had one meeting, but it’s already clear what an asset he will be,” said board chair, Beth Marshak.

After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in Mathematics and Science, Art was associated with J.L. Hudson Department Store. He then moved to Richmond, becoming a Miller and Rhoads associate, with his final position there being a Vice President. He later joined Thalhimers as a Vice President. When May Company bought Thalhimers, he was offered positions, but would have to leave Richmond which he did not want to do.

After considerable thought he took a leap of faith and opened la Grand Dame. That was 21 years ago with his long list of clientele reaching miles outside of the Capital City. “I wanted to give back in some way and my experience in retail, finance, marketing….it’s what I do every day,” he shared. “There are energetic, talented people on the board and I look forward to working with all of them. The Center has a bright future and we will work together so it can achieve its fullest potential.”

Art serves on the Richmond Business Alliance Leadership Committee.

Robyn Bentley, Vice Chair

Robyn

Robyn is the Program Director and afternoon radio personality at WBTL in Richmond and the owner of Feng Shui Diva, LLC.

Robyn was a teenage DJ and one of the first females on the air in Virginia. In 1979, during her senior year of high school, she put the needle on the record and began her radio career. Robyn graduated from VCU with a BS in Mass Communications / Advertising and worked as an announcer and promotions director, creating contests for you to “listen and win!” You may remember hearing her locally in Richmond on Q94, Power93, 93Lazer, or EZ104. Robyn also worked on air in Greensboro where she volunteered with the Triad Health Project on the AIDS Memorial Quilt display at the Greensboro Coliseum in ‘94. In Philadelphia she served on the board of directors for PrideFest America and volunteered for the Philadelphia AIDS Fund as the “Ball Girl” at its GayBingo! monthly fundraiser.

In 1999 Robyn hung up her headphones, got certified in feng shui, and launched a new career as Feng Shui Diva®. In 2004 she published her first book Creating A Haven: Simple Steps For A Healthy and Nurturing Home. In 2018, at age 57, Robyn was invited to return to the airwaves on a radio station programmed for baby boomers, WBTL (named after The Beatles). She said yes! Robyn spends her weekdays in headphones rockin' the airwaves and weekends helping folks get the feng shui balance right in their homes.

Robyn is the past chair of Central Virginia SAGE and the Diversity Richmond Special Events Committee. She is an AARP Diversity Team Advisor representing Diversity Richmond and publishes the Diversity Richmond newsletter.

Keri Abrams, Program Committee

KeriOriginally from Akron Ohio, Keri’s family moved to Richmond when she was very young. Life in her early days seemed fairly normal except with constant feelings of confusion on her gender. Keri graduated from Hermitage High School and attended Virginia Tech where she majored in architecture.

After leaving college, amongst a major economic downturn, she decided to forgo her career in architecture and instead pursued a career as a motorcycle mechanic. Motorcycles had been a passion for a very long time.

In the spring of 2010, she came out to herself and the world as a transgender female and started her transition to the woman she is today. Keri quickly became involved in the transgender community and has had the opportunity to run  transgender specific programing at a local non-profit. She has been a youth facilitator at ROSMY and a lead facilitator in James River Transgender Society, a local support group.

She has also participated on many LGBT discussion panels, college classes, and has given educational presentations to area businesses. In 2015 Keri was named one of Equality Virginia's OutStanding Virginians.  She has continued working with EV where she is currently a member of the Equality Virginia Transgender Speakers Bureau.

Keri is very honored to be named to the Board of Diversity Richmond, where she hopes to continue, and further the work that has already been started to be more inclusive to hers and many other minority communities.

Kevin W. Allison, Ph.D.

Kevin AllisonKevin W. Allison serves as Associate Vice President for Strategy and Development with the Office of the President at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. He previously held positions as Senior Executive Director for Strategy and Administration in the Office of the President, interim vice president for Inclusive Excellence, associate dean for community activities in the College of Humanities and Sciences and as Director of Applied and Outreach Scholarship in VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU. Dr. Allison served on senior leadership teams for the VCU Center for Cultural Experiences in Prevention, and the Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development, one of the CDC’s National Academic Centers for Excellence on Youth Violence Prevention. Dr. Allison received his Ph.D. in clinical-community psychology from DePaul University, his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame, and completed his clinical internship at Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC. Dr. Allison joined VCU in 1996 and is professor of psychology, with a joint appointment in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. His research, scholarship and teaching focus on the role of culture and context in adolescent development, and the design and evaluation of school and community-based interventions to support healthy developmental trajectories for urban youth. Dr. Allison is recipient of VCU’s 2005 Reese-Melton Presidential Award for Multicultural Enrichment and was a 2016-17 American Council of Education Fellow. He is co-author with Dr. Faye Belgrave of African American Psychology: From Africa to America, now in its fourth edition. Prior to joining VCU, Dr. Allison was a faculty member in the department of psychology at Penn State University. Earlier in his career, Dr. Allison served as the Clinical Director of City Lights, a school for troubled and troubling youth in Washington, D.C.

Michael Birch-Pierce, Iridian Gallery Vice-chair

Michael-BirchOur newest board member is Michael Birch-Pierce. Michael is a fiber artist and assistant professor of Fashion Design at Virginia Commonwealth University. He received a BFA in Fashion Design from VCU and studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design for an MFA in Fibers. He has designed embellishment for Diane von Furstenburg and was lead stylist on André Leon Talley's Little Black Dress costume exhibition in Savannah and Paris. Michael has completed artist residencies in Hong Kong and Lacoste, France and his work has been exhibited in numerous galleries and museums, including the White House, Design/Miami, and Quirk Gallery.

He is the recipient of the 2016 Pollak Prize in Applied Arts. The newly elected Vice Chair of the Iridian Gallery at Diversity Richmond steering Committee, Michael has been an active member since its inception. He curated the exhibition, "Manufactured Faces, Performative Spaces" in 2015 and emceed the successful 2016 Bling it Out silent auction.

Kirk Blandford, CPA

Kirk currently serves as the Chief Financial Officer of the American Civil War Museum, where he has successfully improved the financial operating performance of the museum and coordinated a $10.5 million financing to support the building of the new American Civil War Museum which opened to the public on May 4th of 2019. When Kirk arrived at the museum in September 2016 the financial reporting systems were poorly designed and executed. Kirk focused on improving financial reporting and improving financial performance. Prior to joining the museum, Kirk worked as the Senior Vice President of Finance and Human Resources at Healthy Companies International, a consulting firm based in Arlington, VA from 2009 to 2016. Prior to joining Healthy Companies International, Kirk served as the Vice President of Finance at Calvert Memorial Hospital in Maryland from 2001 to 2009. Kirk has more than 32 years of financial management experience in a variety of leadership roles, primarily working for not-for-profit organizations.

Kirk holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from The College of William and Mary and a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in healthcare administration. Kirk is also a certified public accountant and is a long time member of the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants.

Raul Cantu

Raul Cantu

President of RC Public Relations, LLC and Sales Representative for Vikor Scientific, Raul Cantu, a native Texan moved to Richmond in 1991. He founded Nacho Mama’s Inc., an award-winning and popular restaurant in Carytown that became a Richmond staple for 22 years. Raul has been a serial entrepreneur for many years in opening multiple successful businesses, including Nacho Mama’s Bar & Grill, Adonis Clothing for Men, Aphrodite Clothing for Women, Capital City Market/Nacho Mama’s Express, Swanlake Investments, Galaxy Diner, Eventfully Yours Catering and Special Events, and Now RC Public Relations, while being successful in the Microbiology PCR Industry with Vikor Scientific, and investing in real estate in our community.

Raul has always been a giver, he enjoys giving back to the Richmond community and has supported the LGBTQ community, and many other nonprofits for over 23 years. He served as President for the Carytown Merchants Association for over 7 years and helped bring a great deal of awareness and traffic during his tenure as president utilizing his public relations and marketing skills. Raul co-created the Carytown Restaurant Week, benefiting Richmond Public Schools, raising several thousand of dollars for their project needs. He has been selected as 40 over 40 by Style Magazine and has been featured in The Richmond Times Dispatch-Metro Business Section many times, one story being Journey to Success. Raul was appointed to the Small Business Advisory Board by Governor Gilmore in 1998 and in 2017 was honored by receiving a Humanitarian Award.

Lee Dyer

Lee Dyer

E. Lee Dyer IV works as the Associate Director of LGBTQ Campus Life at the University of Richmond’s office of Common Ground, centering social justice, equity, and LGBTQIA inclusion. He holds Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Dillard University and Master’s in Public Administration from North Carolina Central University. Lee is responsible for LGBTQ program and policy creation and implementation at U of R, as well as creating safe spaces of community for the university’s LGBTQIA community. Outside of U of R, Lee serves as an Executive Board Member for Side by Side, a non-profit dedicated to providing safe spaces and services to LGBTQ youth of Richmond. He is a proud member of Alpha Omega Kappa Fraternity Incorporated, a fraternal organization for men of trans experience. Prior to Richmond, Mr. Dyer was is the Program Coordinator for the University of Cincinnati’s LGBTQ Center. He also served as the Vice President of Community Accountability for the Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity (MSGD). As a native of New Orleans and son of an incarcerated parent, he works with non-profits in New Orleans in an effort to reduce the recidivism rate of Black men in Louisiana. Mr. Dyer strives to create opportunities to enrich the lives marginalized identities.

Luise Farmer, Secretary

LuiseLuise Farmer joined our board in 2016. Better known as “Cheezi,” she has been an active member of the Richmond LGBT community for years. Cheezi is very active with Metropolitan Community Church Richmond and serves as the congregation’s vice moderator. She is also a leader in “Women of Essence,” an organization dedicated to bringing attention to the impact that breast cancer has on the African American community.

Margaret Hill

Margaret HillMargaret Hill has been the Executive Director of the Hanover Education Foundation and the Business Partnerships Specialist for Hanover County Public Schools for the last 16 years. As the Business Partnerships Specialist, she oversees the 250+ businesses that partner with Hanover’s 25 schools. Margaret raises funds for the Hanover school division through the assistance of the Hanover community, alumni and local businesses. She was responsible for securing endowments in the amount of 3.4 million.

She graduated from Longwood College with a Degree in Psychology and Virginia Commonwealth University with a Masters in Rehabilitative Counseling with an emphasis on drug and alcohol.

She is a 2006 graduate from Leadership Metro Richmond.

She has served on many different boards in Richmond and the surrounding areas.

“I am so excited to have the opportunity to serve on the Diversity Richmond Board of Directors. Diversity Richmond does so much for our community and I am so thrilled to be a part of it.”

Odetta Johnson

OdettaFormer Chief of Police for North Carolina Central University (NCCU) where she was in charge of campus safety and emergency management for a student population of over 8,500 and a Campus Police Staff of 54 employees. Prior to her appointment at NCCU, Johnson served on administrative leave from Richmond Police at Virginia Union University, as the Interim Chief of Police in charge of campus police for the private, historically black university with a student population of about 1,900 students and directed a Campus Police staff of 16 sworn and civilian employees.

In her Richmond Police capacity, Chief Johnson held the rank of Police Major where she served the department as the Chief of Staff and LGBTQ Liaison. She retired from the Richmond (VA) Police Department on December 1, 2015. Johnson also held the rank of captain and was the commander of the Department’s First Police Precinct. She led a staff of more than 120 employees while serving the public safety concerns for approximately 30,000 citizens. She served 25 years with the Richmond Police Department prior to her retirement.

As a retired United States Army Reservist, Chief Johnson served our country for more than 24 years. She was assigned as a non-commissioned officer to the 80th Training Command (TASS) as the Equal Opportunity Advisor. She served with the 80th Division in support of the Operation Iraqi Freedom Mission and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for completion of an exceptional meritorious tour in a combat zone in Iraq.

Chief Johnson is a proven leader with a demonstrated ability to excel in diverse environments through partnership building, extensive experience and quality communication skills. She has attended and graduated from numerous police academies, including the Virginia Forensic Science Academy. She has served as an assessment panelist in addition to serving on numerous committees and boards. Johnson has taught and evaluated several Police Science disciplines at several academies including, but not limited to, the Virginia Forensic Science Academy, the Richmond Police Training Academy, the Richmond Police Youth and Senior Academy and a host of other outside law enforcement agencies. She has graduated from several leadership trainings to include the Senior Management Institute for Police.

Johnson attends Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Petersburg, Virginia; under the spiritual direction of Dr. Reverend Wesley McLaughlin. She has been a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. for over two decades. She is the proud mother of two college students.

Rebecca Keel

Rebecca Keel MSW, joined our board in June 2019. Rebecca is a community organizer and social worker. Their work focuses on intersectional strategies to un-do harmful policies that impact the lives of the poor-working class, the LGBTQIA+ community, youth and communities of color. Rebecca is a graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Social Work, Psychology and Gender Sexuality and Women’s Studies programs. Wrapping up their academic career in 2016, Rebecca then ran for office for Richmond City Council, making them the first openly queer person in the city’s history to seek this office. They have a number of affiliations with local and national movement organizations including Southerners on New Ground (SONG) and Working Families Party and also facilitates a variety of workshops on movement building and community organizing here in Richmond.

Beth Marschak, Program Committee Co-chair

Virginia Department of Health

Beth Marschak grew up in Richmond and was actively engaged in the social change movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s- Civil Rights, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Ecology Movement, the Peace Movement, and Lesbian and Gay Liberation. She came out as a lesbian in the early 1970’s, and openly identified as a lesbian in her civil rights and human rights activism.

By the time she graduated from Westhampton College, University of Richmond, with a BA in political science in 1972, Beth had already helped to start a women’s group on campus, and a local chapter of the National Women’s Political Caucus. She was actively engaged with SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) for many marches and other actions and was an active member of the Woody Guthrie Community Center. She participated in Gay Awareness in Perspective and helped to start Richmond-Lesbian Feminists in 1975. Beth was instrumental in starting a number of coalition efforts including the Virginia Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights (VCLGR) and the Richmond Lesbian and Gay Pride Coalition.

Starting as a representative of the Lesbian Caucus, Beth served on the National Steering Committee of the National Women’s Political Caucus for 16 years. Here in Richmond, she served on the Board of the Richmond YWCA for 8 years. In 1978, she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the International Women’s Year Continuing Committee. And, in 1988, as a Jesse Jackson Delegate, she served as the first “out” Virginia delegate to a national presidential convention.

Beth Marschak’s work and advocacy garnered the Richmond Human Rights Coalition Human Rights Award in 1983, and the Richmond YWCA Outstanding Woman of the Year Award in Human Relations in 1990. The Richmond Lesbian and Gay Pride Coalition recognized Beth with awards in 1990, 1993 and 1999. In 2008, Beth co-authored the book Lesbian and Gay Richmond. On November 1, 2008, she conducted the first bus tour featuring the history of the LGBT community for the Valentine Richmond History Center, where she is a master tour guide. In 2009 she was recognized by Equality Virginia as one of 20 Outstanding Virginians. She continues to be an activist for civil rights and human rights.

Chris Moore

Board member Chris MooreChris Moore is a writer, photographer, and community volunteer who has lived in Richmond since 1991. His work has appeared locally in Virginia Living, Style Weekly, 64 Magazine, and Richmond Family Magazine. As a community volunteer and advocate, Chris has served on the Boards of Directors of Peter Paul Development Center, Virginia Supportive Housing, VCU College of Humanities & Sciences (Advisory Board), St. James’s Children’s Center, ACTS (Area Congregations Together in Service), James River Writers, and Friends of the Richmond Public Library.

Chris and his wife, Dena, have two sons, Ben and Sam.

Ayana Obika-Clayborne, Program Committee Co-chair

Owner, Gratitude Rising Events

A lifelong Richmond resident, Ayana Obika is an experienced creative project manager, with a focus in networking, fundraising, event planning and community engagement. In 2011, she founded Gratitude Rising Events, creating and managing outstanding events that seek to entertain, educate and engage. She also serves as a non-profit and for-profit consultant in development and fundraising. Ayana currently serves as a board member of Project Yoga Richmond and the Richmond Business Alliance.

Ayana is a proud veteran of the U.S. Army, and served as a Flight Ops Specialist. She was voted as one of the Best of Gay Richmond in 2012 by the staff of GayRVA.com. She is the mother of four beautiful and smart grown-ups and the “Yaya” of four beautiful and smart grand-darlings, as well as “pet parent” of a very affectionate teenager cat and the cutest Chihuahua in the world. She is passionate about hiking, running and dancing, especially salsa, hoop and Zumba. Ayana loves vegan cooking and her kale salad is legendary. When not spending her time on any of those things or planning an event, she’s probably hanging out in her meditation space.

Jean Segner, Treasurer

Jean Segner

With a passion for fairness, equality and justice, Jean has been a volunteer and leader in a number of LGBTQ advocacy efforts beginning in 1997, as member and later president of the Central Virginia Business and Professional Guild, the area’s first LGBT Chamber of Commerce. She served as director of Equality Virginia, from 2002 until 2012. She served as interim Executive Director of EV in 2010-11. During her Board tenure she chaired the EV Commonwealth Dinner for three years from 2009-2011, and was engaged in the 2006 legislative fight for marriage equality in Virginia. Her legislative work for EV led her to become more active as a fund-raiser and host for LGBTQ allied candidates for local and statewide office in Virginia. Jean was named an OUTStanding Virginian in 2014 for her advocacy work. She has been a member of the Board of Directors of Richmond Triangle Players since 2012.

Jean manages Communications and Community Engagement for Richmond-based SunTrust Mortgage. Prior to joining SunTrust, she held leadership roles in marketing, corporate communications and investor relations at several financial services companies including Wells Fargo predecessors Central Fidelity and Wachovia; Genworth Financial and its predecessor, GE Financial.

In addition to her LGBT advocacy Jean volunteers for the Junior Achievement, Making Strides, the United Way and in 2016 co-chaired the Open Your Heart campaign of the American Heart Association Go Red for Women. She is in the 2016-7 class of Leadership Metro Richmond.

Shawn Smith

Smith ShawnShawn serves as the Director of Workforce Development at Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia. With a degree in Biology, graduate work in Public Administration and Christian Counseling and certifications in Business Coaching and Non-Profit management, he has worked in higher education, the pharmaceutical industry, served in ministry and the non-profit sector and most recently, the sports and entertainment industry.

His return to the non-profit world was born out of strong passion for helping individuals reach their maximum potential through the discovery of their individual purpose. His current role requires him to develop opportunities and guide strategies for building workforce pipelines that train and support job seekers in filling regional employment gaps.

In his free time, Shawn enjoys working out, traveling and connecting with friends.

Michael Young

Michael YoungMichael Young is a Vice President at SunTrust Banks, Inc. Prior to transitioning to the Commercial group at SunTrust, Michael worked in the Business Banking Group as a Relationship Manager. He has served the Central Virginia market since Joing the Business Banking Division in April of 2003.

Michael joined SunTrust in January 1993. Prior to that, he worked for Virginia Federal Savings Bank in Charlottesville and Richmond. During his time at Virginia Federal, he worked as a Market Manager responsible for the branch network.

Michael is active with the Scott's Addition Boulevard Association, as well as various other charitable organizations in the community.