Khari Brown is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Spark the Journey. Khari joined Spark the Journey in 2001 as the organization’s Executive Director and became CEO in 2015.
At the time Khari joined, he was Spark the Journey’s only employee and has since built the organization from a niche program that reached only 50 students per year to a burgeoning organization that is currently supporting more than 500 students and has grown by 400% since 2012. By expanding its program offerings and leveraging the power of hundreds of trained volunteers on daily basis, Spark the Journey has been remarkably successful in helping its students overcome the barriers that limit most low-income students. Under Khari’s leadership, Spark the Journey has seen 61% of its graduates’ complete college on time, a rate that is nearly three times that of similar students nationally.
Khari received both a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies and a Master’s degree in Education from Tufts University. A two-time captain of the Tufts basketball team, he played professional basketball in Helsinki, Finland upon graduating from college. After his playing career ended in 1995, he spent six years coaching high school and college basketball in the Boston area. He also owned and operated a fitness and sports performance business serving individual clients and offering clinics and camps for high school and college athletes. Khari’s involvement working with urban teens through his various coaching experiences led him to pursue a career in expanding educational opportunities for low-income youth.
Khari and his wife are the proud parents of two children who attend DC Public Schools.
Personal Quote: “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
– Malcolm X
Brandon White, Spark the Journey’s Executive Director, joined the staff in February 2017, first as Director of Learning and Evaluation and then as Chief Program Officer. Brandon is responsible for leading Spark the Journey in nearly all aspects of executing its mission, ensuring that the organization’s many functions that support its programs are working collaboratively and are fully resourced. This includes overseeing the Programs, Communications, and Evaluation teams, and promoting the organization’s ongoing strategic vision.
Prior to joining Spark the Journey, Brandon was a Doctoral Candidate and Graduate Student Instructor at the University of California, Berkeley, where his research explored the intersection of 20th century educational policy and literary history. He previously served as an Educational Consultant and a Teaching and Learning Fellow at Brandeis University’s Research and Instruction Services, where he managed a research group developing novel educational tools to support the university’s teaching priorities. Brandon is the co-editor of Learning Analytics: From Research to Practice, the earliest entry in the budding field of learning analytics, which attempts to use digital tools to explore the pedagogical process. Brandon obtained his B.A. in English from Princeton University, an M.A. in Cultural Production from Brandeis University, and his Ph.D. in English at the University of California, Berkeley.
In his free time, Brandon can be found with a book or on his bike — an avid cyclist, he enjoys getting lost on the streets of D.C.
Director of Programs
Justine Quintana joined Spark the Journey in October of 2015. In her role, Justine develops and manages the strategy for the organization’s high school, college, and volunteer engagement programs to help support students, mentors, and staff as they partner in the pursuit of each mentee’s academic achievement and career development.
Justine discovered her passion for youth development shortly after receiving her Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of New York, Hunter College. It was during this time that she engaged in case management and resiliency building with young hurricane Sandy survivors and their families. Directly following this experience, Justine was on-boarded with the YMCA of Greater New York as a Social Worker providing services to several after-school programs within urban middle and high schools. This foundation has motivated Justine to purse a life of service and to enhance her abilities through continued learning. Since her relocation to D.C., Justine has earned an Executive Certificate in Nonprofit Management at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.
Outside of work, Justine maintains close relationships with her family and enjoys visiting them in her spare time. She also enjoys reading, watching theater, rock climbing, hiking, and attempting the occasional endurance challenge such as Tough Mudder.
Personal Quote: “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Communications and Marketing Director
Danielle Tyler joined Spark the Journey in September of 2018. Danielle is a passionate, strategic communicator and plays a key role in managing Spark the Journey’s brand identity, messaging, and marketing and communications strategy to increase the visibility and reach of the organization.
Danielle graduated from Georgetown University with a Master’s of Professional Studies in Public Relations and Corporate Communications.
Prior to Spark the Journey, Danielle served as PR & Communications Specialist for PowerSchool, where she engaged with a variety of K-12 stakeholders and provided communications support to executive leaders to help enhance the company’s brand. There, she also led the communications for 6 mergers and acquisitions, ensuring consistency and efficiency in strategy and execution to integrate teams, cultures, and processes.
In her spare time, Danielle enjoys reading, writing, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always.”
– Brad Meltzer
Director of Talent and Operations
Lydia Bailey joined Spark the Journey in April 2022, when she relocated back to Washington, DC after spending 6 years in Brooklyn, NY. In her role, Lydia is responsible for leading the talent management, financial, and operational plans that support the organization and staff.
Prior to joining Spark, Lydia served as the Director of Operations and Talent Management for a Brooklyn charter school, where she developed people and teams to achieve goals, created systems to manage workflows and budgets, and helped align people to their career paths. She produced talent management initiatives with a strong focus on ensuring that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are embedded in operational practices and were representative of the community. She has worked in charter schools, education associations, and various nonprofits that serve her personal mission in closing the opportunity gap for underserved populations. Lydia graduated from the College of William & Mary, where she received her degree in Government Affairs.
She enjoys reading, hiking, eating outdoors, as well as traveling to new places.
Personal Quote: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
– James Baldwin
Director of Development
Ann Marie Elmayan
Ann Marie Elmayan joined Spark the Journey in September 2022. In her role, Ann Marie develops and leads all fundraising strategies in a manner that guides the strategic direction and mission of the organization.
Over a decade ago, Ann Marie served as a mentor and discovered her true passion for helping nonprofits create pathways for economic mobility and reimagine more inclusive systems. Earlier in her career, she served as an AmeriCorps ACCESS volunteer, helping immigrant and refugee communities gain better access to human services while becoming economically self-sufficient. Prior to joining Spark, Ann Marie has served in several chief fundraising roles to support equitable community development, employment and career pathways, affordable housing, and nonprofit leadership development. She holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan and is certified in nonprofit management, which allows her to lead high-impact teams within a framework of social work values and ethics.
In her free time, Ann Marie enjoys going to the mountains, baking, and spending time with her loved ones.
Personal quote: “When we identify where our privilege intersects with somebody else’s oppression, we’ll find our opportunities to make real change.” – Ijeoma Oluo
Director of Strategic Initiatives
Rachel Sier joined Spark the Journey in March of 2019. In her role, Rachel leads the organization’s impact measurement and strategic planning process.
Rachel brings a wealth of experience in all facets of nonprofit management, having held roles in development, operations, policy advocacy, and programs. Previously at Spark she served as the Director of Evaluation and the Associate Director of Research and Evaluation. Rachel holds a Masters in Nonprofit Management and Social Policy from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University.
In her spare time, Rachel enjoys cooking, traveling, and macramé.
Personal Quote: May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears. – Nelson Mandela
Director of Data and Systems
Casey Gergen joined Spark the Journey in July 2017, as the Associate Director of Programs. In her current role, Casey leads the Data and Systems team in developing systems, processes, and tools to support the work of each team member at Spark and utilizes data to inform strategic decisions and center student impact.
Prior to Spark the Journey, Casey worked in a public high school in Kansas City, MO, with the College Advising Corps. As a college adviser she worked with primarily first-generation, low-income students to navigate the college application process and find a best-fit institution. Casey earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Art History from the University of Missouri and her Masters in Public Policy from American University.
In her free time, Casey enjoys cooking and, when the weather is nice, spending as much time outside as possible.
Associate Director of Program Design
Malisha Cooper-Suggs joined Spark the Journey in June 2017. As the Associate Director of Program Design, Malisha is responsible for the design integrity of programmatic content and its delivery.
Malisha graduated from Ithaca College with a Bachelor of Arts in Culture and Communication studies and a Masters in Public Administration from American University. Prior to Spark, Malisha was a Literacy Fellow with the Work First Foundation where she focused on developing and teaching adult basic literacy classes as well as provided comprehensive case management and job placement services to individuals seeking to re-enter the workforce.
In her free time, Malisha enjoys yoga, roaming the aisles of Target and spending time with friends and family.
Curriculum and Training Manager
Imane Zirari joined Spark the Journey in August 2018. As the Curriculum and Training Manager, Imane is responsible for the strategic revision, expansion, and adaptation of curricular content and training for internal and external stakeholders.
Imane graduated from James Madison University, where she received her Master of Education in Equity and Cultural Diversity and Bachelor of Arts in History with concentrations in Secondary Education and Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Prior to Spark, Imane worked for a scholarship program at James Madison University where she provided multi-level program and mentor support for low-income, underrepresented students.
In her free time, Imane spends time with her family and friends, going on long walks, and reading. She also loves 90’s music and trying new pizza restaurants.
Diamond Bell joined Spark the Journey in January 2019. As a Recruitment Manager, Diamond oversees the cycles of student and mentor recruitment at Spark the Journey. Her responsibilities at Spark also include curating events for the organization’s mentor community, building relationships with DC schools, and supporting Spark’s mission to improve upward mobility for our students.
Prior to Spark the Journey, Diamond worked to improve criminal justice outcomes for individuals disproportionately represented in the Philadelphia region. As well as focusing on ensuring quality education and healthcare access for low-income communities of color. She is committed to advocating for youth, improving social justice issues and giving back to her community. Diamond graduated from Rosemont College with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.
In her spare time, she loves practicing yoga, listening to music, watching crime documentaries, exploring new restaurants, and of course, spending time with her loved ones.
Personal Quote: “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” – Malcolm X
Muhammed Abbas Abdulkarimu
Muhammed Abbas Abdulkarimu joined Spark the Journey in September 2018. As a Program Manager, he helps coordinate a caseload of student- mentor pairs and serves as a resource and support system.
Muhammed graduated from Goucher college in 2016, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Prior to CPE, Muhammed was an AmeriCorps member for Reading Partners where he managed a literacy center and volunteer tutors in tutoring students.
In his free time, Muhammed enjoys playing basketball, listening to music, and exploring different brunch restaurants.
Associate Director of Program Execution
Adriona Isom joined Spark the Journey in September 2018. As the Associate Director of Program Execution, she is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the High School and Post-Secondary Navigation programs.
Adriona earned her Master of Social Work degree in 2017 from Georgia State University, and also earned her social work license in 2020. Since being at Spark, she’s been able to work directly with students, lead the Post-Secondary Navigation team, and contribute to program design and implementation. Prior to joining Spark, Adriona spent time working at nonprofits in the Atlanta area. Most of her work there was focused on youth, family stability, and emergency assistance.
In her free time, Adriona enjoys making candles, watching documentaries, and trying new restaurants.
Associate Director of Data and Systems
Jaydeb Mukherjee joined Spark the Journey in March 2019. As the Associate Director of Data and Systems, he heads a small team that manages the various data systems used across the organization, provides periodic trainings on data best practices, and helps drive a more strategic approach to both operations and programs.
Jaydeb graduated from the University of Maryland – College Park with two bachelor’s degrees: a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese Studies. Prior to Spark, he developed his data science skills by working as a digital marketing specialist and data analyst for Thermo Fisher Scientific, where he was a Salesforce Administrator in addition to blog writer and market researcher.
In his free time, you’ll find Jaydeb visiting local microbreweries with his wife and dog, reading fiction, playing video games, or engaging in collaborative storytelling (with 20-sided dice).
Personal Quote: “The most important words a man can say are, ‘I will do better.'”
– Brandon Sanderson, Oathbringer
Finance and Operations Manager
Miranda Forte joined Spark the Journey in December 2022 as the Finance and Operations Manager. In her current role, Miranda supports the Operations team in maintaining accurate, efficient data and processes in finance, operations, and human resources.
Prior to Spark the Journey, Miranda worked for a Maryland-based commercial furniture liquidation and relocation company. In her previous role, she was responsible for full cycle financial management and human resources, as well as overseeing office management, contract management, and marketing. Miranda earned her Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from Emory University and her Masters in Business Administration from Shorter University.
In her spare time, Miranda enjoys baking, spending time with her dog and two cats, and most of all, trail running and exploring the outdoors in any way she can.
Personal Quote: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost
Data and Systems Analyst
Elizabeth Wilson joined Spark the Journey in February of 2022. As Data and Systems Analyst, she works across teams to support and recommend improvements to systems, applications, and processes. She also works to structure strategic communications and conduct team-wide evaluations of student progress.
Elizabeth graduated from Washington College in 2019, where she majored in political science with a minor in Hispanic studies. Prior to Spark, she worked as a Development and Campaigns Assistant at 314 Action.
In her free time, Elizabeth enjoys running, hiking and is always looking for new ice cream spots to try!
Jennifer Ventura joined Spark the Journey in June of 2021. As a Program Manager, she helps coordinate a caseload of student-mentor pairs and serves as a resource and support system.
Jennifer graduated from the University of the District of Columbia with a degree in Social Work. Prior to joining Spark, Jennifer worked at Service Women’s Action Network as their Director of Operations Assistant and Creative Director.
She spends her free time going for walks, drinking Boba tea, and trying new things.
Jose Lima Rosas
Jose Lima Rosas joined Spark the Journey in June of 2021. As a Program Manager, he helps develop, implement, and oversee the goals of Spark’s post-secondary program. He serves as a resource and support system for post-secondary students and their mentors to help ensure students are developing a meaningful relationship with their mentor and cultivating the skills they need to meet and exceed their academic and/or professional post-secondary goals.
Jose graduated from the University of Maryland in 2018, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Prior to CPE, Jose provided mental health services to students at the University of Maryland’s Counseling Center and DC community members through Whitman-Walker Health’s Behavioral Health unit. He also served as a staff member of the University of Maryland’s Career Center where he provided resume and cover letter reviews and career exploration services to students.
In his free time, Jose enjoys listening to music, spending time with friends and family, and watching reality television.
Ranya Ayoub joined Spark the Journey in September 2021. As a Program Coordinator, she helps coordinate a caseload of student-mentor pairs and serves as a resource and support system.
Ranya graduated from Florida State University where she received a Bachelor’s Degree in International Affairs with a concentration in Political Science and a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. Prior to Spark, Ranya was worked at PeaceJam, an international youth-empowerment nonprofit, serving as a mentor and coach supporting elementary school through college students.
She spends her free time painting, baking sweets, watching international films, and exploring new places.
Zachary Itteilag joined Spark the Journey in November of 2021. As a Program Coordinator, he helps coordinate a caseload of student-mentor pairs and serves as a resource and support system.
Zack graduated from Juniata College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Prior to Spark, he was an AmeriCorps member at Teens Run DC, a youth empowerment nonprofit. He worked with students to accomplish both their fitness and social emotional goals.
In his free time, he enjoys anything sports related, keeping up with all things Marvel, and exploring restaurants and breweries in the DC area.
Ruth Assefa joined Spark the Journey in March 2022. As a Program Coordinator, she helps coordinate a caseload of student-mentor pairs and serves as a resource and support system.
Ruth graduated from Washington College where she received a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in psychology. Prior to Spark, Ruth worked at Leadership Exchange, a study abroad program that empowers young people to become active and responsible citizens in the global community.
In her spare time, she loves practicing yoga, traveling, sewing, and riding her bike.
Destiny Smith joined the Spark the Journey team in July 2022. As a Program Coordinator, she helps coordinate a caseload of student-mentor pairs and serves as a resource and support system.
Destiny graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2022, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Literature and a minor in Secondary Education. Prior to Spark the Journey, Destiny worked with her college’s Campus Events Board where she planned events for students.
She spends her free time reading, rock climbing and tending to her garden.
Cammy Sessoms joined Spark the Journey in August 2022. As a Program Coordinator, she helps coordinate a caseload of student-mentor pairs and serves as a resource and support system.
Cammy graduated from Washington State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a concentration in comparative ethnic studies. During her undergraduate experience she served as a mentor and office assistant for Multicultural Student Services, helping to provide resources to underrepresented, first-generation, and low-income students. Prior to Spark, Cammy worked in D.C. Public Charter Schools, serving as a teacher and club advisor.
She spends her free time curating playlists, trying new restaurants, and planning her next travel adventure.
Sarah Ostrow joined Spark the Journey in October 2022. As Communications Specialist, she creates content and campaigns that increase Spark’s visibility in the community, engage its network of supporters, and elevate the stories of mentees and mentors.
Sarah graduated from Hamilton College with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. At Hamilton, she served as a peer writing tutor for three years and ran workshops for students on the ins and outs of college papers. She went on to work as an Editorial and Publishing Assistant at Thames & Hudson, a publishing house, and then held roles in digital and content marketing at Faraday, a technology startup, before joining Spark.
Outside of work, she loves to read novels, bake desserts, get outdoors, and spend time with friends and family. She’s also an avid women’s soccer fan.
Data and Operations Analyst
Shawn Linzer joined Spark the Journey in November 2022. As a Data and Operations Analyst, he works across teams to support and recommend process and system improvements to help sustain high operational efficiency within the organization. He also works to support the Development and Communications teams in most effectively utilizing data to inform decision making.
Shawn graduated from the University of Maryland in 2020, where he majored in information systems and operations management and business analytics and minored in sustainability. Shawn developed his passion for social impact through a social innovation fellows program at the university, where he learned about the theory of change process and completed a consulting project with the DC-based nonprofit Share Our Strength to help them improve their school meals program. Prior to Spark the Journey, Shawn worked in operations at the financial technology company Vestwell, where he assisted in process and system improvements to increase the effectiveness of the company’s savings platform.
In his free time, Shawn enjoys photography, hiking, exploring new places in the DC area and beyond, and looking for the best local restaurants.
Jordan Farris joined Spark the Journey in November 2022. As a Recruitment Coordinator, Jordan supports and helps facilitate mentor and mentee recruitment efforts at Spark.
Jordan graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Arkansas with two degrees: Political Science and Africana Studies. Before joining Spark, Jordan interned and became a project manager for XQ Institute – a non-profit organization committed to rethinking high schools nationwide. There, Jordan spearheaded XQ’s first-ever mentorship initiative, a program that helped minority interns integrate into the company’s high-performing ecosystem. Moreover, he co-managed XQ’s Student Advisory Committee, co-led the Youth Engagement Teams intern recruitment strategy, and recruited high school students to participate in a roundtable discussion with the Governor of Rhode Island.
When Jordan isn’t working, he enjoys reading, jogging, and eating charcuterie boards.
Personal Quote: “Find that thing that breaks your heart and fix it” – Wes Moore.
Sarah Bourdon joined the Spark the Journey team in February 2023. As a Program Coordinator, she helps coordinate a caseload of student-mentor pairs and serves as a resource and support system.
Sarah graduated from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania where she received a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies with a minor in International Development. She earned her Master’s in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University. Prior to Spark, Sarah worked as a Program Coordinator at Everybody Wins DC. She worked with elementary school students and their mentors as they participated in a shared reading program called, Power Readers.
In her free time, she loves reading, drinking tea, going on runs and camping.
Social Media & Graphic Design Specialist
Monique Meyer joined Spark the Journey in February 2023. As the Social Media & Graphic Design Specialist, she works to elevate the appearance of our brand’s communications and implements strategies in order to increase brand awareness and improve digital marketing efforts.
Monique is a practiced visual storyteller and has used her extensive background in marketing communications to help education and nonprofit organizations across the country look amazing through great graphic design and engaging social media.
She is a mentor for the Dallas Entrepreneurship Center, Women Who Create, and the Women’s Print Mentoring Network, & has been featured on podcasts, at tech conferences, and on Adobe Live. She uses her skills as an educator, as a recurring judge for Adobe design competitions and college portfolio panels, and as a global FieldTrips Host with CreativeMornings.
In her free time, she loves making her own earrings, roller skating, learning bass guitar and face-timing with her global family.
Angie Lotfi joined Spark the Journey in March 2023. In her role, Angie manages daily activities of the development team and assists in the execution of goals and strategies for all fundraising campaigns.
Prior to joining Spark, Angie has served specifically in development roles to support children with critical medical conditions, food insecurity, homelessness, as well as racial equity in areas of early childhood education and youth development. In the last few years, she has focused specifically in the areas of database management, special events and cross-departmental logistics. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Indiana University and aspires to obtain a CFRE International certification in the future.
In her free time, Angie enjoys trying new restaurants and cuisines, traveling, the arts and spending time with her friends and family.
Kera Donaldson joined the Spark the Journey team in March 2023. As a Program Coordinator, she helps coordinate a caseload of student-mentor pairs and serves as a resource and support system.
Prior to Spark the Journey, Kera worked as a Senior Technical Advisor at Fairfax Public Access in Fairfax, Virginia while simultaneously completing her internship at New Futures as their Project Support Intern.
She loves spending time with her family and friends experiencing new restaurants, traveling, and attending dance classes.