Meet Our Board

Board of Directors

Natalie Frazier Allen (Founder and CEO)

Natalie Frazier Allen, Founder and Executive Director of The Arts Empowerment Project (TAEP), is an attorney whose passion for the arts and commitment to advocating on behalf of at-risk children impacted by violence inspired her vision for TAEP.  Recognizing the transformative power of the arts, TAEP provides funding to connect at-risk children to high quality existing arts programs in the Charlotte area.  Natalie is honored to have TAEP join the NC District Court as a member of the 26th Judicial District Court’s Mecklenburg County Youth Coalition. TAEP helps bridge court-involved youth and children impacted by violence to arts programs as a way to inspire positive outcomes in their lives.

Natalie formerly served as Assistant Corporation Counsel and Chief of the Domestic Unit in the Attorney General’s Office for the District of Columbia.  For five years, she served the Charlotte community as a Mecklenburg County Guardian ad Litem volunteer, where she assisted the court by representing and promoting the best interests of abused and neglected children. Natalie currently serves on the board of the Women’s Impact Fund.

Natalie is a graduate of Spelman College and The George Washington University’s National Law Center. She lives in South Charlotte with her husband and their two children.

Lyndon Abrams, PhD

Lyndon is an associate professor in the Department of Counseling in the Cato College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  Lyndon earned a B. S. in Criminal Justice from Charleston Southern University, a Masters of Education in Counseling and Guidance from Clemson University, and a Ph.D. in Counselor Education & Supervision from Texas A&M University-Commerce.

Currently, Lyndon teaches counseling theory, multicultural counseling, and supervises counseling students in their clinical training.  He has formerly worked in a university counseling center and as a unit coordinator and counselor with emotionally and behaviorally challenged adolescents in a residential treatment facility.  Lyndon’s research interests include racial identity development, socially desirability responding, and efforts to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM career fields.

Hugh W. Allen (Secretary)

Hugh Allen serves as the Secretary for The Arts Empowerment Project. He is a Senior Vice President and Carolinas Regional Director for Commercial Real Estate Lending at TD Bank. A Texas native, Hugh earned his bachelor’s degree in Business at the University of Texas and his M.B.A. at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

He is a member of the Urban Land Institute, National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, International Council of Shopping Centers, and a founder of African American Real Estate Professionals. Additionally, Hugh is past chairman of the Trustee Board at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, and recently served on the Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center Advisory Board and the Minority Alumni Advisory Board at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business. He is Chairman of BP Basketball, Inc., a youth sports related non-profit, and a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Foundation Board as well as the Global Diversity Summit of Real Estate Board.

Anjali M. Arnold (Treasurer)

Anjali D. Arnold is an advocate for children and education. She is a past Board Chair for the Charlotte Chapter of Communities In Schools, and previously served on the board of the YWCA of Central Carolinas. A former CPA, Anjali has over twenty-five years of experience in public and private accounting.

She holds a BBA from Georgia State University and an MBA from Mercer University.

Sonya Barnes

Sonya is the president and founder of Sonya Barnes International; formerly Harris & Barnes Image Consulting is an international image and lifestyle consultant for over 16 years. Based in Charlotte, NC, Sonya has worked with Fortune 500 companies across the US and internationally on image from the perspective of appearance, behavior, and communications branding. A former member of Association of Image Consultants Int’l; she held multiple board positions and leadership roles including Founding Member of the Atlanta, GA chapter and Vice President of Education on the Int’l Board of Directors. In addition, she received her CIP, Certified Image Professional, at the time which less than 200 consultants were designated worldwide.

From 2003-2011 she presided as Master Trainer at the world-renowned London Image Institute and has partnered with Academy of Image Mastery, Singapore, Singapore teaching advanced communications in image brand strategy and menswear styling.

She currently serves on Board of Directors for Hospice Palliative Care Carolina, is an active alumnae of Leadership Charlotte, Class 29 (the best class ever) where she currently serves on the Executive Board as Immediate Past Board Chair of (2015-2016). She is also a member of Women Executives Charlotte and the Women’s Impact fund. She is a founding Board Member of The Lunch Project; a global non-profit organization that provides hot lunches with charter schools in Tanzania, East Africa. She has been featured in both local, national and international media outlets including our local Charlotte Observer, Charlotte’s 25 Most Stylish, and Six Generations of Innovators by the Greater Charlotte Chamber of Commerce (2008). She’s been quoted in national publications including Essence Magazine and appeared on international television and newspapers including Good Day Vietnam.

She is a graduate of University of Colorado, Colorado Springs with B.A. in Organizational Communications and is continuing her education at Savannah College of Art & Design as a candidate for her Masters of Arts in Luxury & Fashion Management. She is the proud grandmother of grandson Duke and enjoys all things the arts, reading, and travel. She is married with 2 adult sons; PJ and Matthew Barnes.

Dan Brienza

Dan Brienza is a Senior Vice President in Wealth Management at Merrill Lynch where he has served as a Wealth Management Advisor since 1994. He is a managing partner within The Brienza Wealth Management Group at Merrill Lynch where he is both a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) and Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC®). Dan also leads the Brienza Group’s commercial and personal lending areas. In recognition for excellence in financial and investment strategies, Dan and his team have received both local and national recognition, most recently in The Charlotte Business Journal and Charlotte Magazine.

A New Jersey native, Dan earned his dual bachelor’s degrees in Economics and Psychology at Wake Forest University. He is an active member of the Advisory Board to the Wake Forest Catholic Campus Ministry and participates in various alumni panels and guest speaker roles for his alma mater.

Additionally, Dan is past President of the Junior Membership for the Charlotte City Club, former Board Member of the Crown Athletic Club and former Vice President of the Highgrove Community Home Owner’s Association. Dan resides in South Charlotte with his wife, Lisa and his three children.

Sharon Portwood, PhD (Board Chair)

Sharon G. Portwood, J.D., Ph.D., serves as Professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dr. Portwood received her J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law, and after more than ten years as a practicing trial attorney, received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Virginia.  Her research reflects an integration of her training and practice in law, developmental psychology, and community psychology applied to a broad spectrum of issues involving health and human services policy and practice, particularly as they impact children, youth, and families. Dr. Portwood has authored numerous journal articles and book chapters covering a wide range of topics, including the prevention of child maltreatment and youth and family violence, children’s mental health, and effective community collaboration. She is co-author of the legal textbook, Scientific Evidence in Civil and Criminal Cases (5th ed.). Dr. Portwood has presented her work both nationally and internationally and has consulted with numerous government and not-for-profit agencies in regard to needs assessment and program development, implementation, and evaluation. In addition to teaching research methodology and evaluation at the undergraduate and graduate levels, Dr. Portwood has conducted training sessions on program evaluation and research at the invitation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA); the Missouri Department of Mental Health; and the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. From 2002-2005, Dr. Portwood served as Program Director and Principal Investigator for the KC Metro Child Traumatic Stress Program, a collaborative network of more than 100 community-based agencies, which was funded by SAMHSA as part of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. From 2005-2012, she served as the first Executive Director of The University of North Carolina at Charlotte Institute for Social Capital, Inc., which was created to serve as a link between government and non-profit agencies and university researchers, with the broader goal of fostering research and data-based community decision-making through data sharing and integration.  Dr. Portwood is a fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA), Past-President of APA’s Section on Child Maltreatment, and Past-President of Division 37 of APA, the Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice.

Kimber Morgan

A native of Orlando, Florida, Kimber received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Advertising from Florida State University. Before becoming a Senior Account Executive for an advertising firm in Florida, Kimber previously worked in marketing and advertising for the Armed Forces Recreation Center in Garmisch, Germany. Kimber has been involved in fundraising for her community for many years. Since relocating to Charlotte 9 years ago with her family, Kimber has been an active member of the Charlotte philanthropic community and was a Host Committee for The Arts Empowerment Project’s inaugural New Day Luncheon in 2015.  Kimber is married to Trey Morgan and they have 3 children.

Kobi Brinson

Kobi Kennedy Brinson has been involved with The Arts Empowerment Project since its inception, and currently serves on its Advisory Board. She currently serves on the Charlotte Ballet Board of Trustees, and previously served on the Theatre Charlotte Board. In addition to her passion for the arts, Ms. Brinson was involved in child advocacy as a former Assistant Public Defender representing juveniles in North Carolina and South Carolina, and as Board Chair for Youth Homes, Inc. (now Children’s Home Society), which serves abused and neglected children.

Ms. Brinson is a litigation and regulatory enforcement partner at Winston & Strawn, LLP. Before joining Winston, she spent twelve years as in house counsel at Bank of America and Wachovia/Wells Fargo. Ms. Brinson is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard Law School.

Board of Advisors

Julie Cooling

Julie Cooling has over 20 years of experience in the financial services industry. She is the founder and CEO of Labworks, LLC. Labworks is a technology company that provides software, data and marketing services to over 400 financial services firms globally. Prior to starting Labworks, Julie worked for Webster Investment Management, Montgomery Asset Management and SEI Investments in various sales, product development and marketing roles. Julie served as a board member for the Forward Funds in 2000-2001. She also served as a two term, four-year board member of the HHT Foundation.

Julie graduated with her B.A. Degree in Economics from Bucknell University in 1994. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, Chris Jasinski and their two children.

Patrick Diamond

Patrick Diamond has been a longtime supporter of Charlotte’s arts and human services. He is a past board member of the Mint Museum of Art, United Family Services, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Boy Scouts and the Charlotte Urban League. Patrick currently serves on the Board of Directors of the McColl Center for Visual Art, the Art Institute of Chicago Print & Drawing Committee, the National Advisory Committee for the Reynolda House Museum and the Board of Trustees at Charlotte Country Day School.

Patrick is currently Development Director for the Children’s Home Society of NC. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Boston University.

Steven Durant

Steven Durant has been a Charlotte, North Carolina resident since 1991. Currently Steven is assigned to CMPD Eastway Division.  Steven holds the rank of Lieutenant – Special Operations and Community Engagement Commander.  Steven is responsible for the supervision of a team of Detective, Community Coordinators, and the Crime Reduction Unit in addition to the Eastway Division’s operation.  Over the course of 26 years of service, Steven has worked in many capacities, served on several committees, has been featured in a local publication, received community service awards and recognitions to include Excellence in Policing Award.

Steven is a Mason and an active member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., Pi Phi Chapter.  As a member of the Charlotte community and a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD), Steven committed his personal time to support TAEP’s Promoting Peace Program. faciitating the involvement of CMPD officers and personnel participation to promote mutual respect, understanding, and dialogue between Law Enforcement and at-risk youth resulting in lasting and meaningful relationships.

A New York native, Steven attended Virginia State University studying Electronics, SUNY- Old Westbury studying Business and Management however earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Pfeiffer University. Steven is a graduate of Leadership Charlotte Class 37.

Alexandra Frazier

As one of the newest members of The Arts Empowerment Project’s Advisory Board, Alexandra Frazier brings with her an intrepid creative spirit, a passion for community building and two decades of arts involvement.

After graduating with honors in English Literature and Creative Writing from Washington and Lee University, Alexandra embarked on an advertising career that marries her artistic talents with her professional writing skills. She currently serves as Senior Copywriter at Mythic, a Charlotte-based advertising agency whose clients run the gamut from national stalwarts like SunTrust and Meineke to local favorites like the Charlotte Ballet.

Prior to joining Mythic, Alexandra has held positions with the editorial staff of the Shenandoah Literary Review, the strategic planning department of Select World Manhattan, and the creative team at Riggs Partners in Columbia, South Carolina. It was while working at Riggs — an agency best known for its work with socially conscious companies and nonprofits — that she had her first brush with The Arts Empowerment Project. The experience left an indelible mark on her personally and professionally, and she is delighted to now serve the Advisory Board in a formal capacity.

Robin Grey

Robin Grey has been with The Arts Empowerment Project since its 2011 founding. She works closely with Natalie Allen to extend the reach and depth of the organization. Robin is the co-owner and CEO of Charlotte based production company, GreyHawk Films, in addition to being an attorney. Her career has taken her from Vice President – Business and Legal Affairs, Production Supervisor and Controller at Scholastic Entertainment, to Managing Director/COO of RGA Media Group and Adjunct Professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

At GreyHawk, she oversees business growth and development for corporate, commercial and feature work as well as non-profit and passion projects such as Purple Dreams, which documents the inspirational story of a group of African American high school students whose lives are positively impacted through the power of performing arts.

Robin volunteers as a Guardian Ad Litem with the North Carolina courts. Among her many achievements, Grey was named a Women In Business Achievement Award winner by the Charlotte Business Journal.

Bethany Hoff

Bethany Hoff serves on the Advisory Board for The Arts Empowerment Project, which follows her passion for child advocacy. She has previously served as a community volunteer and coordinator for numerous Charlotte non-profits such as Urban Ministry, Loaves and Fishes, and Crisis Assistance Ministry. Most recently Bethany was at Care Ring, in a Development capacity, responsible for the expansion of the Nurse-Family Partnership Program. The Nurse-Family Partnership Program provides Registered Nurse consultants for at-risk mothers and children.

Bethany formerly was a Senior Marketing Manager and National Account Sales Manager at AT&T in New York and New Jersey. She is experienced in Business Development and all facets of Marketing and Communications. Bethany earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the Villanova School of Business in Marketing and Business Management. She is currently on the Board of the Villanova Alumni Carolinas Chapter.

Sharon Holm

Sharon Holm currently serves on the Advisory Board of The Arts Empowerment Project. After living abroad for 20 years where worked as a Marketing Executive for major multi-national corporations she relocated to Charlotte 3 years ago and is the former Marketing Manager at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.  Sharon currently serves as Marketing Director at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. In this capacity, she works very closely with the Charlotte community to engage them and enrich their lives with the stellar exhibitions and programming. She has served as a volunteer with the Urban League of Central Carolinas. During her years of living abroad, she also served as a community volunteer for the Museo Picasso Malaga Educational Programs for Children and Families in Malaga, Spain and the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, Denmark.

A passionate lover of the arts and children, she is a graduate of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and holds a BS in Marketing and Managerial Information Systems from Syracuse University.

Kellie Lofton

Kellie H. Lofton serves on The Arts Empowerment Project Advisory Board and has been active with the organization since its founding. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Junior League of Charlotte and previously served on the Charlotte Ballet Board of Trustees. She holds a Master of Accounting from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has over 13 years of experience working in the public and private accounting sector.

As a former dancer, Kellie brings great passion for the arts and welcomes the opportunity to combine this passion with her commitment towards advancing the wellbeing of children in the Charlotte community.

Cory Mitchell


Dwayne Wilson

Dwayne is currently an art instructor at Charlotte Country Day School in South Charlotte. He has been an advocate for the arts for over 10 years. He recently moved from California, where he had extensive experience working with the inner city youth of Los Angeles County schools. He assisted with programs and projects that connected k-12 students to the arts and fostered young minds to be charismatic, independent, and confident. In Charlotte, Dwayne also works with Freedom Schools, Communities in Schools, and Brookstone Schools, coordinating art projects for the k-8 students throughout the year.

Dwayne serves coordinator for The Arts Empowerment Project’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC). He recently led the coordination for TAEP’s first Twirl ‘N Swirl 5K Race to raise awareness during Child Abuse Prevention Month each April and raise funds for the Judge Bill Jones Memorial Scholarship Fund benefiting at-risk students pursuing private study, specialized training and personal advancement in an arts related field. He also supervised a pinwheel mosaic tile art project involving the YAC and court-involved teens. The art project currently hangs on the 8th floor of the courthouse in Uptown Charlotte.”

Dwayne holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts from North Carolina State University, and a Bachelors of Fine Arts, Masters of Fine Arts and teaching credential from California State University, Fullerton.