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Meet Our Staff

Patrick Weems

Patrick Weems

Executive Director

A community builder, social entrepreneur and philanthropy leader, Patrick is setting a path toward restorative justice and racial healing. With more than 10 years of experience in racial justice and restorative justice work, Patrick is leading transformational change that will last through the generations. He co-founded the Summer Youth Institute, an experiential learning youth program for the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. He also co-founded and serves as director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, which uses art and storytelling to share the Emmett Till tragedy, facilitate racial healing and point us toward a new future. A graduate of the University of Mississippi, he holds a master’s degree from the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. He was recently awarded a prestigious Fellowship from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and is a Monument Lab Fellow.

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Benjamin Saulsberry

Public Engagement and Museum Education Director

Benjamin Saulsberry is a native of West Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. He grew up surrounded by social justice activism, which he credits for his deep care and concern for his community today. Ben joined the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in 2016 and has spoken on race, racism, and racial reconciliation across the country on behalf of the Center, including at Harvard Law in 2017 and the University of Detroit at Mercy in 2019. He attended Mississippi Valley State University and the University of Mississippi for graduate work in music.

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Renee Ombaba

Advancement Officer

Renee Namakau Ombaba, a native of Jackson, Mississippi, brings her expertise with digital marketing campaigns, content creation, and orginizational advantage and development to the Emmett Till Interpretive Center. Prior to joining the ETIC team, Renee founded the organization Black Women in Opera, LLC, a digital opera community for Black performers, administrators, and fans. She grew the brand to 18,000 followers setting the brand at the forefront of discussion on diversity and opera and curating two virtual conferences during the pandemic. In addition, to her work with community engagement, Renee worked with Hales Government Solutions, now Bayne Corporations, in Washington, DC as the Director of Operation and Strategic Partnerships. There, Renee helped grow Bayne's DC profile planning, hosting, and governing events and programs for DC Government. Renee also worked for two years with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, now known as the Alluvial Collective, as a graduate assistant. In this position, she worked with Mississippi youth during the summers as a camp counselor for the Summer Youth Institute and helped mobilize large University of Mississippi events to respond to violent events on campus. Renee holds a master's degree in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi and a bachelor's of arts in music performance from Jackson State University. Renee looks forward to advancing the mission of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center.  In her free time, you can find Renee studying opera scores and classical theater. 


Elliot Long

Operations Director

Elliot Long has served as an organizer and community worker with refugee and immigrant populations in Maine, low-income youth in rural Appalachian Ohio, and with graduate assistants and adjunct faculty involved in unionizing efforts. He previously worked as a project coordinator for the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. He holds a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Mississippi and is a doctoral candidate in interdisciplinary arts at Ohio University.


Jermarlius "Jay" Rushing

Youth Coordinator

Jermarlius “Jay” Rushing is a native of the Mississippi Delta. He is a 2013 graduate of East Side High School, a former combat engineer in the Mississippi Army National Guard, and a community organizer. Jay holds a bachelor's degree in history with minors in political science and Africana studies from Mississippi Valley State University. He has served as both a participant and mentor for the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation’s Summer Youth Institute.

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Venita Halbert

Community Engagement Coordinator

Venita Halbert, originally from Chicago, IL, has lived in Tallahatchie County for the past two decades. She graduated from Mississippi Valley State University in 2018 with a bachelors in business administration. Her highest hope is to bring jobs and opportunities to Tallahatchie County for all people. She is eager to make a positive difference in the community!

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J.P. Gairhan

Project Coordinator

J.P. Gairhan is an Arkansas native and proud graduate of the University of Arkansas, where he received his bachelor's degree in history and African Studies. J.P. was a staff member and former intern in the Washington, D.C. office of the late Congressman John Lewis. He moved to the Mississippi Delta to work as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with the Sunflower County Freedom Project and later joined ETIC as a community fellow to support the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Park Campaign. Most recently, J.P. was an English Teaching Assistant in Tsabong, Botswana with the Fulbright Program. He is passionate about topics related to education, rural development, and community reconciliation. 

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