Valentino Achak Deng, co-founder, was born in southern Sudan
(now South Sudan), in the village of Marial Bai. He fled in the late 1980s during the Sudanese second civil war,
when his village was destroyed by murahaleen—the same type of militia that currently
terrorize the Darfur region of Sudan. Deng spent nine years in Ethiopian and Kenyan refugee camps,
where he worked for the UNHCR as a social advocate and reproductive health educator.
In 2001, he resettled to Atlanta, GA. Deng has toured the United States speaking about his
life in South Sudan, his experience as a refugee, and his collaboration with author Dave
Eggers on What Is the What, the novelized version of Deng’s life story.
As a leader in the South Sudanese diaspora, Deng advocates for the universal right to
education. In 2006, Deng and Eggers established the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation to help rebuild South Sudanese
communities by increasing educational access. The Foundation’s first major initiative
has been the creation of a community-driven educational center in Marial Bai.
Dave Eggers, co-founder, is the author of seven books,
including You Shall Know Our Velocity, winner of the Independent Book Award, and
What Is the What, a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award
and winner of France's Prix Medici. That book, about Valentino Achak Deng,
a survivor of the civil war in South Sudan, gave birth to the Valentino Achak
Deng Foundation, run by Deng and dedicated to building secondary schools in
South Sudan. Eggers is the founder and editor of McSweeney’s, an independent
publishing house based in San Francisco that produces books, an eponymous
quarterly journal, and a monthly magazine (The Believer).
In 2002, with Nínive Calegari, he co-founded 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing
and tutoring center for youth in the Mission District of San Francisco.
Local communities have since opened sister 826 centers in Chicago, Los Angeles,
Brooklyn, Ann Arbor, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Boston. In 2004, Eggers
taught at the University of California–Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism,
and there, with Dr. Lola Vollen, he co-founded Voice of Witness,
a series of books using oral history to illuminate human rights crises
around the world. A native of Chicago, Eggers graduated from the
University of Illinois with a degree in journalism. He now lives in the
San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children.
Barb Bersche, Board Member, is a partner and former
president of McSweeney’s Publishing. Bersche is a founding board member of both the
Valentino Achak Deng Foundation and 826 Valencia. She is additionally a designer
(with a Grammy-nominated box set called Alan Lomax in Haiti), a New York Times
best-selling children’s book author, as well as a consultant to other creative
agencies and nonprofits. Bersche is also a member of the Marin County Search and
Rescue/Mountain Rescue team.
Tiffanie DeBartolo, Board Member, is the Chief Executive of the
record label, Bright Antenna. She wrote and directed the film, Dream for an Insomniac,
as well as authored the novels, God-Shaped Hole and How to Kill a Rock Star.
DeBartolo has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley.
Reece Hirsch, Board Member, is a partner in the San Francisco
office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius specializing in privacy, security and healthcare law.
Hirsch received his J.D. from the University of Southern California Law School in 1990,
where he served on the Southern California Law Review. He received his B.S. in
journalism from Northwestern University in 1982. In addition to serving on the board of directors
for 826 National, Hirsch is a member of the editorial advisory boards of Bloomberg/BNA's
Health Law Reporter and Healthcare Informatics. He is the author of a legal thriller,
The Insider, which was published by Berkley Books.
Phil Mays, Board Member, is EverBank’s Portfolio Director &
Legal Affairs Manager. Mays is a recognized expert in banking regulatory law,
transactional law, regulatory compliance, and related litigation. Mays recently
completed the Harvard Business School Leadership in Financial Organizations program,
and holds a law and political science degree from the University of Florida.
He is a member of the Florida and Georgia Bar and has served as a Board member
on numerous industry organizations, including the North FL Transportation Organization
and a FL DOT Advisory Board. Mays recently finished serving a Governor-appointed position
to the Board of County Commissioners in St. Johns County, FL.
Scott Schumaker, Board Member, is the Managing Partner and Chief
Operating Officer of Bright Antenna Records. Schumaker has a B.A. in Mass Communications
from the University of California, Berkeley and a Master's in Journalism from the
University of Colorado. Schumaker is a former professional triathlete.
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History of the Foundation
Founders and staff
Community development in South Sudan
Working with the Sudanese diaspora in the U.S.
Advocacy on Sudan policy
Comments from other authors
Interview with Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng