Our Team


Verniss McFarland III, - Founder &CEO.jpeg

verniss mcfarland iii

Verniss McFarland (Pronoun: Verniss) is a gender-nonconforming-trans-identifying person from Houston, Tx who been active in the community for more than 15 years, starting as a student volunteer for HISD and HIV resource navigator. Born in the South Park community, Verniss always had a passion for community togetherness, revitalization, volunteerism and cultural starting in elementary school and evolving as they continued to mature and develop a better understanding of building a sustainable future in community.    

In the Spring of 2017, Verniss McFarland, III, founded The Mahogany Project in Houston, TX. TMP, Inc. sparked after the death of Chyna Gibson, a Black Women of trans-experience who was shot in New Orleans on February 25. Chyna was a much-loved performer in the ballroom community who was visiting friends and family in New Orleans at the time of her death. That year 30 individuals of transgender experience (that we know of) died of anti-trans violence. That year we released The Trans Empowerment and Alliance Party, a safe and affirming space for trans-identified individuals to be uplifted in the community; which evolved into Black Trans Empowerment Week in 2018.

Currently, Verniss is working to end stigma aim at BIPOC folx of TGNCNB experience in Texas through The Mahogany Project and The Trans Ally Collective, combating HIV as Testing Counselor and work to mobilize community around varies efforts surrounding systematic racism, homelessness, body positivity, sexual health, reproductive justice, advocate and activist for Human Rights, LGBT+ Rights, decimalization of Sex Work, ending stigmatized language, Inclusive Education and working to end voters suppression in Texas and Nevada, where Verniss helped make history by getting the first Latina-X individual elective to office.

Marnina Miller.JPG

Marnina Miller

Marnina Miller is a Human Rights Activist. Her expertise revolves around HIV Advocacy, Queer Community Engagement, Language Justice, and Body Positivity.   She fell in love with Activism after joining Positive Organizing Project, a movement that trains People Living With HIV on how to become Effective HIV Activists.  This out and proud, Black Queer young woman facilitates trainings on Anti-Stigmatizing Language, Effective Leadership, Sex Positivity, and Community Organizing. At Positive Women’s Network-USA (PWN-USA) she currently serves on the Board of Directors. She is also a graduate of the PWN-USA’s Public Policy Fellowship. Marnina is a Youth Ambassador for Youth Across Borders where she spends time at Montaña de Luz which is an orphanage for Children Living With HIV in Honduras. She is also the Co-Chair for the Texans Living With HIV Network, and a recipient of the Violet Award; which recognizes LGBTQ advocates in Houston. At NMAC she is the graduate of the Inaugural Building Young Leaders of Color (BYLOC) leadership training and a Youth Council Facilitator for the Youth Initiative Program. Marnina is also a feature writer for the international online publication Life and Love with HIV where she is dismantling the stigma of women; developing, maintaining, and pursuing a healthy sex life one blog post at a time. Marnina has been a board member of The Mahogany Project Inc. since 2020 where she is also a cohost of the In Living Colors Podcast.

Joelle  Bayaa-Uzuri - Media and Communication Manager.jpg

Joelle bayaa-uzuri

Joelle Bayaa-Uzuri, the Communications Director, is new to social advocacy and the South, but brings with her a rich background of fashion & arts, entrepreneurship (owning her own T-shirt company, Ten90Two, LLC), freelance writing, and a unique lived experience that gives her a different perspective as a black woman of trans experience.  

Joining The Mahogany Project, Inc in November, 2018, Joelle has helped to extend our message and community advocacy by helping to create content for our various social media platforms and being an active member of various panels/discussion.

Crystal Townsend - Board Member.jpg

crystal townsend

Crystal Townsend (she/her), a native of southeast Texas, uses her intersectionality to fight for racial and social justice in public health. Through the work of END HIV Houston – a citywide, grassroots coalition focused on ending the HIV epidemic within Houston/Harris County – Crystal amplifies the experiences of Black, Latinx, and TLGBQ+ communities to honor their humanity often as a reminder that we live full, beautiful, complex lives, not single issue ones.

As a board member of The Mahogany Project, Inc., Crystal brings over a decade of community-rooted activism and social advocacy work centered around HIV, health care, education, and policy.

Darrien Dyrell - Board Member .jpeg

Darrien dyrell

Darrien Dyrell, The Sophisticated One, is a Black Queer Individual from the south side of Chicago, IL. He has been in Houston for about 2 and a half years and he still loves it. He chose to maneuver through life with faith, love, fashion, conversation. He joined The Mahogany Project Inc. because he wants to be a part of the change he wants to see happen for his communities.