Meet Team MEI
not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) charitable organization
originated in 2009 and founded as a nonprofit in July 2013
received 501(c)(3) status in May 2014
based in northwest Arkansas where the largest concentration of Marshallese in the continental United States reside (approx. 10,000-12,000 residents)
first Marshallese-focused nonprofit formally established in Arkansas
staff are made up of Marshallese, Americans, and Marshallese-Americans
opened the Marshallese Resource and Educational Center (MREC) in Oct. 2018
Our Mission: Through educational programming, MEI promotes the cultural, intellectual, and historical awareness of the Marshallese people and facilitates intercultural dialogue to foster positive social change.
Media Specialist & Office Manager
Women's Program Coordinator,
Benetick Kabua Maddison
Project Specialist, Climate and Nuclear Issues, and Education
Project Coordinator, Education
Christopher Balos, Climate Ambassador
Interpreter, Community Outreach
Program Assistant, Women's Program
Kristina Stege, International Liaison and Cultural Advisor
MEI Board of Directors
April L. Brown, Ph.D.
Sevin Gallo, Ph.D.
Jessica A. Schwartz, Ph.D., Cofounder and Intercultural Advisor
Not pictured, Sharlynn Uluitavuki, UAMS Community Health Worker, FDSME-RMI
Carmen Chong Gum, Translator
Mandy Ritok, Translator
MEI was cofounded by Dr. Jessica A. Schwartz (N.Y.U. 2012), Assistant Prof. of Musicology at UCLA, and Dr. April L. Brown (U.A. 2006), Professor of History at NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, Arkansas, in July 2013. Schwartz and Brown are humanities scholars and specialists in interdisciplinary higher education. Jessica spent two years in the RMI 2008-2009 conducting fieldwork, where the idea of an intercultural organization was hatched between Jessica and Johnny Johnson. She has been working with community members in northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri since 2010. April is a long time proponent of international education and, as NWACC’s Honors Director 2008-2014, she founded and directed the global themed semester hosted at NWACC in collaboration with Service Learning Director, Dr. Chris Huggard. The focus of the spring 2013 themed semester: the Marshall Islands.
The themed semester, which consisted of joint Marshallese and non-Marshallese community events, brought many of MEI's current team members together for the first time. The semester's premier event: Nuclear Victims and Survivors' Remembrance Day, held at NWACC on Feb. 28, 2013, was coordinated by then-
Jessica Schwartz, Faith Jibas, Carmen Chong-Gum, Chris Huggard, and April Brown pose for a photo on Feb. 28, 2013 at NWACC, following Nuclear Victims and Survivors' Remembrance Day. (Photo provided by Lou Lo)
Consul General Carmen Chong Gum and Brown with the assistance of local Marshallese leaders. The intercultural dialogue that resulted from the event was what had been envisioned by Schwartz and Johnson in the RMI in 2009, and would become the basis of MEI's founding. Schwartz, who was a featured speaker, and Brown and Faith Laukon Jibas, who co-emceed the commemorative event, began collaborating early that summer on how to create future educational events to bring Marshallese and non-Marshallese communities together in a safe, educational space.
Since then, MEI has hosted several nuclear remembrance events, including Nuclear Remembrance Day 2014: Reflect. Honor. Educate., held at the Clinton Presidential Center. MEI's International Liaison, Tina Stege, emceed the event, which included speeches by Rongelap Senator Kenneth Kedi, Ambassador Charles Paul, and Law Professor Michael Gerrard, and cultural performances by the Bikinians and Rongelapese. The work of Bikini Councilman Nixon Jibas and Faith Jibas, and their outreach to the Bikinian and Rongelapese communities in the region, were essential to NRD's success, as was the work of Albious Latior, Sharlyn Lang, Terry Takamaru, and Benetick Maddison, who also spoke at the event. MEI also collaborated with RMI nonprofit, REACH-MI, and the Oregon Marshallese Community to host the Salem Nuclear Summit in 2016.
MEI has also developed humanities-based programming, which includes the ongoing Marshallese Oral History Project (MOHP) and Digital Music Archive - MEI's first project - and one that was awarded a major grant by the Arkansas Humanities Council / National Endowment for Humanities in October 2013. The organization's work to raise educational attainment levels among Marshallese community members was given a boost in 2016 with a grant from Tyson Foods. MEI offered the first local culture and language classes, hosted MyED (Marshallese Youth Empowerment Day), a Back 2 School event, and a mentoring program at Hellstern Middle School.
In the summer 2017, MEI was awarded a grant through the Office of Insular Affairs to expand our cultural and language text and develop an online component, to develop curriculum for middle schools, and to create public service videos to help newcomers navigate life in Arkansas and the US. In 2018 MEI was awarded two major grants: one from OIA to open the country's first Marshallese Resource and Educational Center, and a second through the Arkansas DFA and Dept. of Justice to provide culturally appropriate training and outreach for female survivors of violence; both grants were renewed for 2019-2020. MEI is also engaged in Get Out the Count efforts with Census 2020 and has received funding from EPIC and AR Counts toward those efforts. We continue our outreach efforts with both Marshallese and non-Marshallese community members, and continue work in the area of education through the Marshallese Youth Academy and Manit Camp (summer 2020).
Work by MEI staff and board members, our community partners, and support from granting agencies and private funders ensures that MEI will continue to serve the community and fulfill our mission.
International Liaison Tina Stege leads a Q&A during a Nuclear Forum in Salem, Oregon, May 2016. MEI hosted the event with partners, REACH-MI and the Oregon Marshallese Community. (MEI Photo)
MEI Programming & Activities Photo Gallery
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