Meet Tamara

Tamara Barnes is working to make a better Michigan for everyone.


Tamara grew up on a small family farm in Saline. Her parents emphasized a strong work ethic, which empowered her to take risks in her career and to travel the world, knowing that she had a solid education and practical skills of which she could fall back on.

She attended Saline Area Schools, an academic setting that challenged and nurtured her love of learning. As a first-generation college graduate from Western Michigan University, she studied public history and received the Knauss-Burnham Senior History Award in 1996.

Her experience in historical research will serve her well as a state representative as she enjoys pouring over past legislation, preferring to go directly to the source and critically examine all sides of an issue before making conclusions. Her knowledge of American social and economic history gives her a unique advantage in understanding the evolution of our state's strengths and weaknesses.

After receiving an MA in museum studies from the State University of New York in Cooperstown, Tamara worked in museums and other historical agencies, focusing much of her work on engaging communities and especially marginalized groups. Her documentary project on the experiences of African American in south Jersey won an award of merit from the American Association for State and Local History.

She worked as the Assistant Director for Diversity at the Historical Society of Michigan and also the State Coordinator for National History Day in Michigan. In this role, she worked one-on-one with public school teachers throughout the state to engage them in a project-based learning model which celebrated the unique history of minorities in our state in order to help close Michigan's notoriously large achievement gap. 

Upon moving to Coldwater in 2012, she took an interest in the significant Yemeni population living there. Cultural barriers to education, healthcare, recreation and civic involvement were prominent. As the director of audience outreach at the Tibbits Opera House, she secured two consecutive Heritage Grants funded by the Kellogg Foundation to create and implement programming aimed at breaking down these barriers.

She is still active with the Yemeni community, teaching driving and English to women. Her current employment as the Assistant Director of Material Culture at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum allows her to continue efforts of racial equity and social justice through exhibits and outreach.

In 2013 she was appointed by Governor Snyder to serve on the Michigan Freedom Trail Commission. She has been on the board of the Michigan Oral History Association since 2014.