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Proud to be

Married to Our Heritage

The Burnett-Eaton Museum Foundation is located in the heart of the Wilmington, NC Historic District. The museum welcomes an inclusive learning environment and is charged with the responsibility for preserving history. It is through exhibits, archives, publications, events, lectures, artifacts, and antiquities by which stories are told. The museum collaborates with its community and other organizations to promote understanding and appreciation of diverse heritage in New Hanover County and abroad.

Our foundation is an official African-American Historic site recognized by the National Park Service's Civil Rights Network.

Our Founder

Islah Speller
Founder & Executive Director

Islah Speller is a native of Wilmington, NC. She attended New Hanover High School and Cape Fear Community College, where she furthered her education in the medical field. Ms. Speller is a National Certified Health Unit Coordinator, Medical/Clinical Assistant, and a member of the American Society of Clinical Pathology. She has worked in specialty areas of health care for the past 27 years.

She served the community in many volunteer roles, including as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee for the New Hanover County Blue Ribbon Commission. She currently serves on the NHC Adult Care Home CAC and is a certified Community Advisory Committee Volunteer for the NC Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. She has also served on the Commission on the Prevention of Youth Violence. Ms. Speller spearheaded a unique initiative providing affordable housing to the underserved. Her activism to restore African-American history to our community began in 1996, when she began a ten-year campaign to rebuild community and stop violence. She has overcome many challenges to make this happen, including competing with pressure from developers to preserve the history of her neighborhood, investing thousands of hours of research to recapture the history, locating and purchasing authentic artifacts to exhibit in the museum, raising funds on her own, and overcoming the stigma of establishing a museum in a low-income part of town.

Islah and D. Damiyr Speller

Thanks to her dedication and with the support of her husband and foundation co-founder, D. Damiyr Speller, her brother and co-founder, the late Darryl E. Goodwin, and Friends of Community Hospital aided in the support of the Burnett-Eaton Museum Foundation, a nonprofit opened in Dec. 2006 dedicated to empowering community through education about African–American history, which also received the Public Organization of the Year award in 2008 by the MPA Program at UNCW. She is a recipient of the 2011 YWCA Cape Fear Women of Achievement award (Rachael Freeman Unsung Hero). She served on the Historic Wilmington Foundation Plaque Committee. In 2017, she gave a African–American walking tour with C-Span city tour staff which can be viewed on Islah was awarded a Trailblazer Certificate of Recognition by the historic St. Stephen AME Church in 2020.

Islah has been building and curating the museum, preserving history, and building capacity for 17 years. Her community involvement and dedication is building community cohesion.

Our Goal

Our goal is to establish and maintain a museum that will provide an appropriate setting to display items, photographs, documents, letters, artifacts, etc. detailing African-American history and events. The Burnett-Eaton Museum Foundation will create an atmosphere of interest and appreciation for history to the public by giving them the opportunity to view historical roots; furthermore achieving an identity for African-Americans to become active in preserving history. The Burnett-Eaton Museum will educate and raise the self-esteem of what African-Americans were forced to go through and instill pride and respect so that all Americans will have a better life together.

Violence Prevention Goals

To increase alternatives and enhance student and community awareness on the influence on their perception of violence the media holds

To teach participants how to test media presentation and peer pressure against reality

To raise self-esteem through respect, creativity, and interactive arts (silk screening, dance, entertainment/sound studio, etc,) to encourage community participants

To promote and develop summer youth training and jobs, and to observe "Anti-Violence Day in the Park Concert"

To create fundraisers for the Burnett-Eaton High School Scholar/College Sophomore Program, to obtain a building to operate the activities, and to create an environment for reconciliation

Our Board & Staff

Photo of D. Damiyr Speller

D. Damiyr Speller


Mr. Speller is a native of Virginia and graduate of John J. High. After high school, he entered the USMC and served on the USS Oklahoma City during the Iran Hostage Crisis. The ship, decommissioned in Oklahoma City, is now a museum. He has received medals and honor while serving.

D. Damiyr was a middleweight boxer in Brooklyn, NY, earned a brown belt in Okinawa karate under Sensei Goshin Ryu, and studied photography at Cape Fear Technical Institute in Wilmington, NC. He is also a self-taught artist in charcoal, acrylics, oils, and pencil.

D. Damiyr works as a Commercial Driver and also maintains a unique initiative, "Keeping Families Together Under One Roof," providing affordable housing to the underserved.

"The most interesting job that I have and enjoy the most is volunteering in the community through the Burnett-Eaton Museum Foundation. I am proud to be standing with the BEMF."

Photo of Beverly Faison

Reverend Dr. Charles W. Davis II
Vice President


While rooted in ministry, Charles is an accomplished business entrepreneur who seeks to use his knowledge and business acumen to empower others. Among his many accomplishments, Charles has established several successful businesses that include an Accounting Firm, a Psycho Therapy Practice, a Home Health Care Agency, a Real Estate Company and Commercial Cleaning Businesses.

His educational pursuits include a PhD in Counseling and Psychology, Master of Counseling and Psychology, Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting, Bachelor of Business Administration majoring in Accounting and Finance and a Bachelor’s degree in Sacred Music.

Charles has worked tirelessly to improve himself and to make life better for others. He believes that true success can only be attained with spiritual wellness and emphasizes faith as the most important element of any endeavor. He is the founder and pastor emeritus of Faith Soldiers Empowerment Center Inc. Additionally, Charles is an accomplished musician. He uses his gifts and talents to provide training for others.

Charles developed a love of history as a teen; as an adult, African American Experience became his focus. He believes in the quote "You don’t know where you are going until you know where you have been" and uses that as his cultural compass. Charles feels a responsibility to assisting other in knowing their heritage.

Photo of Catha Jones-Portillo Ramirez

Catha Jones-Portillo Ramirez
Assistant Executive Director


Catha Jones-Portillo Ramirez is a native of Pender County. She has been a supporter of the Burnett-Eaton Museum since 2006 as a board member then accepted the position as staff.

Catha was educated in her early years in the Pender County School system. She continued her education at James Sprunt Community College, Kenansville, NC in Childhood Credentials I & II as well as Administration I & II. She later attended Shaw University Cape, Wilmington, NC where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Management. She recently attended Wilmington College of Theology Bible College with an Earned Doctorate in Biblical Theology.

She volunteers with the Bread of Life Outreach Ministries at the Robert Taylor Senior Home. Catha is a caring, reliable person. Her heart long attachment for 19 years has been working in the public sector in childcare, Head Start and afterschool programs. Her love for and experience with children has led her to assist in the programs at the Burnett-Eaton Museum Foundation as a museum educator. She aids in preserving history, promoting programs to help prevent violence and encouraging community participation.

Photo of Larneice Spencer

Larneice Spencer
Secretary & Treasurer


Larneice is a native of Wilmington, NC and a retired teacher of 32 years in New Hanover County schools. She is a graduate of Williston Senior High School, has a BS from Fayetteville State University, and holds degrees in Elementary Education and Consortium from ECU and UNCW with special training with Exceptional Children. She holds additional credits from State University in Orangeburg, SC.

"My Collection of Notebooks" is a shared collection of her lifelong involvement with organizations, children, and photography. In addition to collecting current news and historical articles, her notebooks feature her travels abroad, including Africa, Germany, the Eiffel Tower, and many other interesting places in the world.

Larneice is an active member of the St. Philip AME Church and Missionary Society, the Fayetteville State University Alumni Chapter of the LCF, Continental Societies Inc., and the Retired Teachers of the Cape Fear Area. She is a NHC NAACP Life Member and a Wilmington NAACP Youth Council Advisor. She has served in many volunteer roles and has received numerous accolades from the county and state.

"I am proud to be standing with BEMF!"

Photo of Latricia Starks

Latricia Starks
Educational/Activity Director


Latricia is a native of Wilmington, NC and a graduate of John T. Hoggard High. She is an educator in New Hanover County Schools and has worked with and around children for most of her life. She is currently furthering her education in Early Childhood Development at Cape Fear Community College.

Latricia and her family have been a part of the Burnett-Eaton Museum Foundation for 12 years, recognizing that the organization is very active in the community and interacts with other community-based organizations to activate change and progress.

"I am thankful that the museum has a platform to support the history of African-Americans. I am excited to see the growth and future of the foundation for our city and years to come. I am proud to be standing with the Burnett-Eaton Museum Foundation."

Photo of Linda Gilchrist

Linda C. Gilchrist
Dance Trainer


Linda was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut and graduated Mullins High School in South Carolina. She was introduced to the art of dancing at the early age of 8 through the PTB Drill Team. She has participated in numerous talent shows, parades, and church and community events.

Linda became captain of the Mullin Drill Team at the age of 27 over a diverse group of 33 girls, which sometimes included boys and seniors. Through dance, she teaches her girls to express and release, as well as the importance of a healthy diet and sleep. Good attitudes and makeup artistry requires discipline and training of each girl. She has received many awards and trophies through her art and expression of love. In 2016, she received the inspiration to name her gift, Angel of Love Praise Dance.

"I am proud to be standing with the Burnett-Eaton Museum Foundation."


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