Tall Ships America

Committee Members

Tall Ships America and our community of vessel owners and operators, sail training programs and tall ship mariners have been talking about issues of diversity and inclusion across the fleet for years. Our intentional approach with and on behalf of our members is based on our organizational commitment to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in the sail training and tall ships community. It signifies a commitment to taking action, monitoring progress, being accountable and providing evidence of change.

A Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee was established by the Executive Director in July 2020 and the Committee will inform and influence the plan for action and update the plan as steps are taken and progress is made. The volunteer committee members who will work with the staff and Board to implement the plan are identified below.

Chair, Eden Leonard: Eden grew up in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, on a farm outside of Silverton. With a Bachelors of Science in Chemistry from the University of Puget Sound, her initial professional experience included work for a bioanalytical chemistry firm, a materials science research laboratory, a tutor specializing in mathematics, chemistry and physics, and as a community college mathematics instructor. In 2009, Eden jumped at the opportunity to teach outside of the classroom and joined World Ocean School as a deckhand aboard Roseway despite having no previous sailing/tall-ship experience. She quickly took the lead as Education Coordinator before moving into her role as Education Director where she pioneered the Boston-based education, and significantly expanded World Ocean School’s programs. In September 2013, she departed World Ocean School to hike the Camino de Santiago. She then returned to Portland, Oregon, where she established a summer fellowship program, and a community networking group for developmentally disabled adults, all while working as a Director of Development for a community nonprofit called FolkTime. After her busy two-year hiatus, Eden returned to World Ocean School in January 2016. She took over as Executive Director, from World Ocean School co-founder Abby Kidder in 2017.

In 2019, Eden was selected to join a cohort of leaders from the city of Boston to be a part of LeadBoston 2019 a program specifically to drive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the city of Boston, digging into the equity disparities in the city and beyond. Eden is committed to driving anti-racist work within World Ocean School — in Boston, St.Croix, and broadly.

Vice Chair, Amali Knobloch: Amali has served as an educator at The National Aquarium in Baltimore, Hudson River Park, The New York Botanical Gardens, and aboard the Sloop Clearwater, facilitating both day and multi-day programs at these institutions. Amali prioritizes engaging the community on the intersection of representation, equity, and inclusion in all her endeavors. It is her dream for all areas of the climate justice movement and the sailing community to include more Black and brown faces at every level, but particularly in leadership roles. Amali serves on the board of the National Women’s Sailing Association.

Brandyn Colon: “I am a tall ship crew member with 2 years of professional experience aboard 4 different tall ships. As a person of color from an inner city background, I hope to make tall ship sailing feel more approachable to people like me and make steps towards fixing the racial disparity in our industry.”

Kai Perry: Kai M. Perry has acquired over 15 years of experience in youth development, educational research, and social justice education. Kai is the former captain of her sailing team at Hampton University where she earned a B.A. in Psychology. Since leaving her hometown of Toledo, Ohio in 2004 to sail around the country aboard the Schooner Amistad as a deckhand/educator, she has earned a M.A. in Psychology from Southern Connecticut State University, and is currently a doctoral candidate of Educational Psychology at The University of Connecticut. In addition to working at Yale University as a research associate, Kai is an adjunct professor at The University of New Haven. Kai’s greatest passion is evidenced by her work as a community organizer. She serves on numerous boards and volunteers with community organizations to promote equity and inclusion for BIPOC communities.

Ken Niles: Ken was born and raised in New York City. He started his sailing career as a volunteer at the South Street Seaport Museum in 2016, at the same time serving as a kayaking instructor at the Brooklyn Bride Park Boathouse and Horse Walker at GallopNYC. Since then he’s gone on to sail professionally on 5 other tall ships serving in positions ranging from deckhand to chief mate. Now living in the city once more, Ken hopes to utilize the experiences and lessons learned from his sailing career and life to further the efficacy and reach of the DEI initiative.

Maria-Jose Fernandez: Maria Jose (MJ) Fernandez joins us from Dominican Republic. She is an outdoor educator with experience in Latin America, the United States and Europe. She has worked as a backpacking instructor and history teacher in the mountains of Colorado and has sailed with SEA Semester for 3-years in a variety of roles both on deck and in the classroom. Most recently she has focused her work on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and is currently working on her Master’s at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Outdoor Education.

Nancy Richardson: Nancy is known throughout the tall ships fleet in the United States and Internationally for her dedication and commitment to sail training, the mariner girl scouts, and creating connections between people and possibilities. One of the original members of the American Sail Training Association – now Tall Ships America – Nancy produced the first “Directory of Sail Training Ships and Programs” (now Sail Tall Ships!, the only comprehensive directory of ships and programs in the world with the 23rd edition having been published in 2020) and the “Guidelines for Educational Programs Under Sail” in response to USCG SSV Act. Nancy was a Girl Scout Mariner ‘Skipper’ with a USCG License (50 ton) Inland Waters, and she joined the USCG Reserve as the only woman in her class. She was a national staff member of Girl Scouts of the USA from 1977 to 2000, and has developed water-related badges and programs such as Smooth Sailing, From Shore to Sea, Wildlife and Windjammers. Nancy graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in Art Education, and Standford University with a MA in Art. She has a California Lifetime Teaching Credential in Art & English.

Nicolas Hardisty: Nic holds BA and MA degrees in history, focused on African American and Colonial Atlantic histories. He has presented articles at numerous academic conferences throughout the United States. He previously worked with youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems for a local non-profit, where he helped develop an award-winning experiential education initiative designed to give current and former foster youth employment opportunities while increasing relational competency. He collaborated on developing the program’s research/assessment materials, the 16-week course curriculum, and was a program instructor. He also served as the coordinator for Rhode Island College’s Rhode Island State House Tour Project, a semester-long immersive learning program for college students. In addition to Tall Ships America, Nicolas is co-authoring a book on vicarious trauma, organizing an upcoming virtual historical conference, and periodically works as an adjunct instructor of history Rhode Island College and Community College of Rhode Island.

Phil von Hemert: Phil was raised in Philadelphia and worked at a summer camp for underserved boys from Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Jersey City for two summers. He was a Vista Volunteer in Chicago and Milwaukee and a consultant to ACTION after university. Phil worked for two heavy equipment manufacturers, the second as President, and owned and managed a small equipment distributor until he retired and joined the Piscataqua Maritime Association in Portsmouth, NH.

Robin Hamill: Robin Hamill is the CEO of the Bermuda Sloop Foundation (“BSF”).  The BSF utilizes the sail training vessel Spirit of Bermuda to offer one-week experiential learning voyages to middle school children in Bermuda.  Robin has been with BSF since February 2020.  Prior to BSF Robin was the President of HaitiChildren, a Non-Governmental Organization working with the most vulnerable people in Haiti, the disabled youth.  Prior to HaitiChildren Robin was an executive in the reinsurance business in Bermuda.  Robin lives in Bermuda and has three adult children.

Rory Kane: Rory grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. He started sailing on the Sloop Clearwater in 2012 and since then, has sailed on both coasts of the United States and the Caribbean. He joined the DEI committee because he was given the opportunity and he believes the work can make a real difference.

Steve Keilar: Steve grew up in upstate New York and recalls how important playing in the woods and a connection to place were to his future. A fond childhood memory includes using sticks and moss to create houses for real and imaginary creatures. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, he worked as a Deckhand/Educator aboard SoundWaters. The experience teaching and living on a sailboat instilled a passion for learning and community.  For the next 9 years he taught environmental education both at sea and on land in various places throughout the United States. In 2015, he received a masters degree in marine biology from San Francisco State University with a focus on Scientific Teaching. He spent a few years teaching oceanography at Diablo Valley College and working as an Assistant Scientist with Sea Education Association. He is currently the Director of Education at Call of the Sea who operate the Seaward and Matthew Turner. He is passionate about educating himself and learning how to take action around equity, inclusion and diversity in the tall ship world.

Tommy Seda: Tommy is a devoted husband and father of two wonderful children. He is proud of his African, Irish and Puerto Rican background. He started boating as a teenager at New York’s South Street Seaport Museum on board their schooners and tugboat. He has since participated onboard dozens of vessels including dinghies, ships, tall ships, motor yachts and tugboats. He has a background in finance with experiences as a broker, financial advisor and bank branch manager. He is currently Master of the research vessel John Dempsey for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and still participates as relief captain on board schooners.

As a member of the DEI committee, Tommy is looking forward to sharing his experiences as a person of color in the maritime industry including his work with the Schooner Amistad and their diversity efforts. He wants to make sure the great experiences he has had continue to be made available to as many people as possible regardless of any differences.