Who's Involved

Dr. Enkeshi El-Amin

Host, Black in Appalachia Podcast

Dr. El-Amin is researcher, and culture worker in Knoxville Tennessee. She currently teaches at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she earned a Ph.D. in sociology. Her research, exploring the link between race and place, is focused on how racial practices shape black places and how Black people in turn are involved in practices that define, contest and re-imagine places. Prior to her time at the University of Tennessee, Enkeshi completed her master’s degree in Pan African studies at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York and her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Africana Studies at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. Along with her research and teaching, Enkeshi maintains an active involvement in community and culture work. In organizations like Knoxville Rescue and Restoration and the City Council Movement she works to bring about social, political and economic change and build community among African American and/or other marginalized groups in Knoxville.

Rebecca Howard

Digital History Director

Rebecca is a graduate of the University of Tennessee's Master of Information Sciences program, focusing in archives and digital collections. Now living in Knoxville, she is originally from southern New Jersey, where she earned a B.A. in History from Stockton University. Rebecca previously worked in a public library and in an archive, and plans to continue that line of work following the completion of her master's degree. Her work with Black in Appalachia includes supervision of practicum students and covers the collections associated with Elizabethton/Carter County, Morristown College, Bristol and Kingsport.

Robert Berlin

Digital Media Specialist

After more than 10 years as a photojournalist for both military and civilian publications, Robert earned a Master’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Missouri-Columbia.  He specializes in digital marketing strategies with his production company, Open Roads Media, and is a producer, editor and digital media specialist for East Tennessee PBS.  Robert lives in Maryville, Tennessee.  In his free time, he can be found on the hiking trails of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Lauren Cole

Digital History Curator

Lauren is originally from Newport Beach, California. She received her bachelor’s degree in American Studies from the University of Notre Dame in 2006 and graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a master’s in Information Science. Lauren plans to work in a public library or archive. She loves history, books, music, and hiking. Her work with Black in Appalachia focused primarily on the Kingsport and Elizabethton, Tennessee Digital Collections.

Jillean McCommons


Jillean McCommons is a Ph.D. student in History at the University of Kentucky. A Detroit native, she spent most of her youth in the rural Black communities of Stanislaus County, California. After tracing her great-grandmother’s roots to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Franklin County, Virginia, she dedicated herself to researching and writing the histories of Black people in the Mountain South. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She considers sitting with elders just as important to her growth as a scholar and activist. Jillean is also a librarian, banjo enthusiast, and writer. Her Op-Ed columns have been published in the Lexington Herald-Leader, the History News Network, and Newsweek.

Jabari Guthrie


A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Jabari Guthrie is a documentary photographer with an acute eye for portraiture and a love for our kids. Over the years he's taken his vision for street photography into the studio. Specializing in high quality sessions and now video production in arts, entertainment and culture, Mr. Guthrie has began contributing his talent to the Black in Appalachia project to document current Black life from the hollars to the city.

Kelle Jolly

Music, Arts & Culture Advisor


Kelle Jolly, is one of East Tennessee's most celebrated musicians. Kelle received a B.S. in Music Education from South Carolina State University with a vocal concentration. As an acclaimed vocalist and instrumentalist as well as purveyor of culture, Kelle has given presentations on blues songwriting at Rural Arts conferences for the past 5 years. She has graced the stage as an ensemble member of the Carpetbag Theatre play, "Between a Ballad and a Blues", which tells the story of Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong. As "The Tennessee Ukulele Lady", Kelle is the founder of Ukesphere of Knoxville. She is also the founder of the annual Women in Jazz Jam Festival. Kelle and her husband, saxophonist Will Boyd have traveled to Muroran, Japan as Knoxville's Sister City representative at various jazz festivals and events. In recognition of their work throughout the region and beyond, they were the 2015 MLK Art Award recipients for the City of Knoxville. Kelle made her debut as the host of  “Jazz Jam with Kelle Jolly,”a weekly hour-long show on Knoxville’s WUOT 91.9FM, which celebrates local, national and international jazz singers. Recently she was named 2017 Knoxville’s Finest Jazz Act by the Blank Newspaper Readers Poll. 

William Isom



William Isom II is a 6th generation East Tennessean and is the director of Black in Appalachia, based in Knoxville, Tennessee. In that role he coordinates locally-specific research, community data base development, documentary film and photography production, oral history collection and educational events with residents in the region around Black history in the Mountain South. Currently, William is an Equality Fellow with the Open Society Foundations.

Saro-Lynch Thomason

Digital Archival Systems Development


Out of Asheville, North Carolina, Saro is a multi-media storyteller. Her pursuits include teaching Appalachian ballad singing and regional folklore, producing audio documentaries and freelance illustration. She earned a certificate in Documentary Studies from Duke University and a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Arts from Bard College. In 2018 Saro completed her master’s degree in Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University. She currently works as the Assistant Director of the Swannanoa Valley Museum of Black Mountain, NC.