52 Weeks of Women
Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company is proud to present “52 Weeks of Women,” which will complement True Colors’ 17th season: She Griots. In his first year as Artistic Director at True Colors, Jamil Jude curated this season to uplift Black women, who are among the most historically underrepresented faces in regional theatre, both on and off the stage.
With this year-long celebration, we will recognize a different “shero” on our website and on social media, sharing their stories and honoring their impact in the community. Each Friday, a new honoree will be featured.
Week 46 // Heather Infantry
Heather Infantry is the Executive Director of Generator, an ideas social house, whose mission is to bring people together to generate ideas that shape the future of cities. Prior to this position, Heather was the Director of Strategy and Expansion for a creative youth development program, where she led a $9M building campaign. Throughout her career Heather has fostered an ongoing curiosity for people, places and ideas at the intersection of culture and equity. Currently she serves as the Arts & Culture Champion for the TransFormation Alliance, on the arts councils for MARTA and the Historic District Development Corporation and on the boards of the Black Mecca Project and the African Diaspora Art Museum of Atlanta. Heather holds a B.A. in Theater from Georgia State University and an MBA in Nonprofit Management from Trinity University.
Week 45 // Clarissa Crawford
Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company
Clarissa Crawford is a creative producer whose practice is shaped by the intersections of art, community, and activism.
She uses her experience in project management, storytelling, and cultural organizing to curate experiences that help inform, empower, and distribute resources to artists and communities of color across the South.
Clarissa holds a Masters in Creative Producing and Theater Management from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), and accreditation as an Independent Producer from UCLA.
She has previously worked and consulted for one of Hollywood’s top talent and literary management agencies, produced bi-coastal artists showcases between Los Angeles and New York, and executed live and digital experiences for media and entertainment entities such as Sony Pictures Entertainment, Walt Disney Studios, NBC Entertainment, and BET.
Week 44 // Johnita P. Due
Johnita P. Due
Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer
WarnerMedia News and Sports
Johnita P. Due is Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer for WarnerMedia News and Sports, the parent company of CNN. Based in CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta, she reports to Jeff Zucker, Chairman, WarnerMedia News and Sports & President, CNN Worldwide.
Previously, Due served as vice president and assistant general counsel of CNN, joining CNN in 2003. Due served as CNN’s chief diversity advisor for almost a decade. She recently completed her tenure as co-chair of Black Professionals@Turner.
As vice president and assistant general counsel, Due provided strategic guidance on media law issues relating to content production and distribution on television and digital platforms. She served as a key resource for digital product teams in advising on evolving technological platforms. She shepherded the development of iReport, which was the first user-generated content website of a major news organization, was an advocate and advisor on the development of “Impact Your World,” CNN’s first pro-social, global, cross-platform programming initiative to empower audiences to respond philanthropically to news events, and advised on the development of CNNgo, a next-generation digital product which gives users unprecedented control over their TV news consumption. Additionally, Due managed CNN’s multinational rights and clearances department. She also oversaw access matters for CNN, with successful lawsuits against the State of Florida for a copy of its suspected felons list prior to the 2004 election which impacted the state’s election policy, against the federal government to gain access to Hurricane Katrina victim recovery efforts which contributed to CNN’s Peabody award-winning coverage, and against local agencies relating to the 2013 death of Kendrick Johnson, which led to the reopening of the investigation into the Georgia teen’s death.
As co-chair of the business resource group (BRG) Black Professionals@Turner, Due helped shape the organization’s mission as “Defining Moments: Building Resilience, Driving Excellence and Moving Forward During Times of Change.” Under her leadership, the group focused on putting the “B” back into the BRG. To that end, BlackProfessionals@Turner developed several workforce, marketplace and community programs that strengthened employee engagement within Turner, provided professional development opportunities, showcased on-air and off-air talent, and created avenues for employees to provide insights on content, fan engagement, and potential new revenue streams during times of significant corporate and industry changes. Due continues to chair a task force on African-American retention and advancement on behalf of the organization.
Prior to that, from 2005-2013, Due served as CNN’s chief diversity advisor. She chaired CNN’s award-winning Diversity Council and provided guidance to CNN management on content, marketplace, workforce and workplace initiatives to advance CNN’s diversity mission of growing its business by reflecting diverse
audiences and perspectives in its programming and supporting an inclusive culture for its employees. By collaborating with programming, network booking, marketing, sales, PR, HR, recruiting, and talent development, Due’s leadership was crucial to establishing CNN’s standing with multicultural audiences leading to some major ratings wins, earning revenue in the tens of millions of dollars for multicultural content franchises, increasing CNN’s racial, ethnic and gender diversity, launching employee development and student pipeline programs, and expanding the diversity of perspectives and storytelling on air. Due was key to the development of global programming initiatives Black in America and Latino in America, community forum “CNN Dialogues” in partnership with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and Emory University’s James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study for Race and Difference, and a company-wide initiative geared toward producing more content for the growing and diverse U.S. Hispanic market.
During Due’s tenure as Diversity Council chair, CNN was honored with significant industry honors that reflected her leadership. In 2007, the organization received the NABJ “Best Practices Award” for exemplary work in covering issues “of great significance to the black community or the African Diaspora and/or for efforts in increasing diversity among newsroom staff and management.” In 2009, CNN received the Corporate Diversity Award from the American Institute of Managing Diversity. CNN was also featured that year for its diversity best practices in a white paper by the Newspaper Association of America for redefining “diversity initiatives in the 21st century” and for using diversity “to help shape strategy, attract new customers, and increase revenue.” In 2010, CNN was honored by the Equality Forum with an International Business Leadership Award for its commitment to a diverse society and workforce and “for reporting with distinction issues about the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities” and by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law for its “unwavering commitment to diversity and…timely and incisive coverage of issues impacting minorities and underserved communities.”
Due herself has been individually recognized for her diversity and inclusion achievements. She was named to Cablefax’s Diversity List for 2019, named one of the “Top Black Voices in Network News” by Ebony magazine in 2007. She was selected one of the “Second 50 Most Influential Minorities in Cable” by CableFAX magazine in 2008. That same year she was named a “Diversity Champion” by Diversity Edge magazine and was presented with the Ida B. Wells Award by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and the National Conference of Editorial Writers, which cited her “passionate and impactful efforts to promote diversity in staffing and expanded coverage of minority communities and issues at one of the nation’s preeminent news outlets, and for championing the cause of diversity beyond her newsroom’s doors.” She also received a 2008 NAMIC Luminary Award for her commitment to promoting multi-ethnic diversity within her
company and for giving back to her community. Due was the 2010 recipient of the corporate award from NV magazine, bestowed upon individuals who have “found a way to raise the standard for how their corporation operates by not only protecting the bottom line but increasing the integrity of the brand.” In 2013, Due was named one of Rolling Out magazine’s “Top 25 Women of Atlanta.”
Due serves as a board member of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights where she recently led the search for its new CEO at the request of board chair The Honorable Shirley Franklin. She is also on the board of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and is president of the board of Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta. She is a member of the American Bar Association (ABA) Forum on Communications Law and a member of the Buckhead Atlanta chapter of Jack and Jill. Previously, she was a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a board member of Vox Teen Communications in Atlanta. Due is a 2008 McCormick Tribune Fellow and an alumna of the Leadership Atlanta class of 2008.
Due has presented or moderated at numerous conferences on media law and diversity subjects sponsored by such organizations as the ABA Forum on Communications Law, the Media Law Resource Center, the National Association of Broadcasters, NAMIC, UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, and the Georgia Diversity Council. Her articles have been published by CNN.com, the MLRC Media Law Letter and The Human Rights Brief.
Prior to joining CNN, Due was associate general counsel for The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., where she practiced litigation, intellectual property, and media law. While at McGraw-Hill, Due received a Black Achievers in Industry award from the Harlem branch of the YMCA of Greater New York. She also served as an adjunct professor of media law at Cornell Law School from 2001-2002. Before joining McGraw-Hill, Due worked as a litigation associate at the New York office of Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts. In 1994, as a pro bono fellow for the firm, Due worked in Rome as vice president of S.O.S. Razzismo Italia, a non-profit organization that is part of a European network committed to fighting racial discrimination against immigrants and people of color.
Due earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges and a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Sussex in England by studying race relations and organizational culture under a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship. She earned her law degree from Cornell Law School, specializing in international legal affairs. As a law student, Due was an NAACP Legal Defense Fund Earl Warren Scholar and intern and she also interned at the United Nations Centre for Human Rights. Due most recently completed the NAMIC Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP) where she studied at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.
Week 43 // La Ronda Barnes
La Ronda D. Barnes
Author, Preacher, Professor, Theological Consultant
Pastor and Founder of Affirmation Church
In my professional roles and as a student, I try to liberate and empower others, especially women. Through preaching, teaching, and writing about a God who created each of us with unique gifts to share with the world, I hope to inspire others to see faith not as observing a set of restrictions or living a life of shame, but as a foundation for developing courage, strength, and a love for all of God’s creation.
My ministry focuses on promoting the use of more feminine images for the divine, writing liturgy that recognizes and uplifts women’s leadership, sexuality and spirituality, and engaging in creative endeavors that broaden how we understand who Jesus of Nazareth was and who Christ is in our lives. As a Womanist, my efforts begin with the empowerment of Black women and expand to include respect for and liberation of all of the life God has created. I try to exhibit the same God-given transparency, vulnerability, courage, and compassion wherever I have served, whether in the pulpit or classroom, on tour with Emory’s Candler Singers, as a chaplain at Northside and Emory Hospitals, in South Africa as part of an international moral leadership group or sharing life with friends and family.
La Ronda Denise Barnes is a pastor, preacher, professor, author, and theological consultant, espousing a faith of grace, passion, social justice and love. As founding pastor of Affirmation Church, a church without walls, she serves parishioners when and where the need arises. La Ronda is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree and a Master of Arts degree in Practical Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta and serving as an adjunct preaching professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.
She is a graduate of Candler (Th.M and M.Div.), Yale Law School (J.D.), the University of Akron (B.A., English), and the University of Michigan (M.A., Journalism). La Ronda is the author of Wells in the Wilderness: A Journey to Faith and Freedom, which speaks of her spiritual journey. Her academic writing interests include Womanist Christology, Feminist Theology, Homiletics, and Christology and the Arts.
Raised in the Disciples of Christ Church, La Ronda left the institutional church in her pre-teens, converted to Reform Judaism in her mid-20s, and for several years was not involved with any faith community. She returned to the church in her 30s after being invited to an adult Sunday school class by a friend. She subsequently was baptized and, in 2008, answered God’s call to the ministry.
Prior to entering the ministry, La Ronda worked in Atlanta serving as an administrative law judge, appellate court attorney, legal aid attorney, and law professor. She was the first African-American female to be elected as chair of the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division in its 75-year history. As leader of the 150,000-member volunteer association, she promoted its public service and professional development programs, headed its legislative assembly, and served as its spokesperson at conferences around the world. La Ronda is an avid traveler and a nature and animal lover who enjoys taking walks, reading, singing, and playing the flute.
Week 42 // Courtney Brooks
Curator, Visual Artist, Artist Advocate
Art on the Beltline’s First Curator in Residence
Journey of a Black Girl is a public art exhibition presented by Art on the Beltline’s First Curator in Residence, Courtney Brooks, on the Atlanta BeltLine’s newest addition of the Southside Trail in Atlanta, GA. Curator, Courtney Brooks’ ( @cbrooksart) vision for Journey of a Black Girl is a public art exhibition, a curatorial narrative, that visually shares experiences the from black adolescence to black womanhood from a creatives point of view.
COURTNEY BROOKS is an Atlanta based independent curator, multifaceted visual artist, and art instructor. Originally from Denver, Colorado, she is an avid supporter for all creatives, and is proud to be a visual artist first. Her studio practices include experimental works with various mediums like, watercolor, acrylic, oils paints and photography. Her goal as a curator is to help maximize artists’ potential and expand visibility in their careers.
Brooks carries a decade of experience giving creative direction for interactive art events and curating over 20 solo and group exhibitions throughout the Atlanta area. Her works have been featured at Fulton Arts Center, Future Gallery , IWI Fresh, OPE Gallery, Peter Street Station and Mason Fine Art Gallery through ARTiculate ATL. The significance of the work brough by Brooks has opened many opportunities for herself and her peers. She focuses on understanding the creative process, by assisting emerging and established artists and muralists on creative projects of various disciplines, cultures and backgrounds.
In 2019 she opened as the lead curator and gallery director for ArtsXchange , Jack Sinclair Gallery new location in East Point. . Curating exhibitions for local artists ranged from Heavy Clouds a solo show from visual artist and graphic designer Cflux Sing , SHERO, an all black women photography show dedicated to SISTAGRAPHY , and Catch Me In The A, highlighting Atlanta artists like Miya Bailey, Monica Tookes and Muhammad Yungai. Currently Brooks is the first Curator- In-Residence for Arts on the Atlanta BeltLine. Her upcoming public art project, Journey of a Black Girl focuses on empowering young black girls and women through self love, sisterhood and healing generational traumas from a black woman creative’s point of view.
Amidst her success, she is known as CBROOKSART on social media platforms with the hashtag #courtneythecurator. Her contributions thus far have been recognized by Curated Quarters Magazine, 2020 spring issue, C4 Atlanta Leading Lady 2020, blog post, Choose ATL, Atlanta Made feature for Metro Chambers Atlanta, 2019 features in Visionary Artistry Magazine , a mini documentary feature for Our Voices. Our Lives Youtube series and artist feature with YBE Magazine, also in 2019. Her innovative ideas and eye catching skills for the arts are headed in exciting directions as visionary leader across the nation.
Week 41 // Lisa L Watson
Lisa L Watson
Production Manager, Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company
Lisa L. Watson an Atlanta native, received her undergraduate degree from Clark Atlanta University and went on to pursue graduate studies at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in Scenic Design. While in NY she worked with the Negro Ensemble Company, New Federal Theatre, Crossroads Theatre and Diane McIntyre’s Sounds in Motions among others. Returning to Atlanta in 1992 she joined Jomandi Productions as Production Manager, a position she held for 10 years.
Most recent projects – “90 Years-Birthday Celebration for Dr. Joseph E. Lowery” , “MLK – A Monumental Life” for Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity for the unveiling of the King Memorial in Washington DC with Creative Eye Productions and “A Bluesman in the Life of the Mind” celebrating the retirement of Cornel West from Princeton University at the McCarter Theatre.
Week 40 // September Gray
Owner – September Gray Fine Art Gallery
I am dedicated to offering opportunities for artists to exhibit their work and to championing the preservation of the African Diasporic cultural legacy and narrative. I strive to provide a means for cultural engagement for the Arts. I am proud of September Gray Fine Art Gallery, a Black owned and operated art gallery that celebrates our own art and culture to promote pride and provide exposure.
September Gray is the founder of September Gray Art Gallery (SGAG), which has exploded on the Atlanta art scene, since having her first art show 9 years ago. September has brought in the best works of emerging, mid-career and established artist to the city. SGAG provides a comprehensive range of fine arts services. While operating also in Chicago, Illinois, (SGAG) consults and facilitates acquisition of fine art work for homes businesses and special collections.
SGAG assists the client in the art selection process by carefully listening and personally selecting art, which is cohesive, and best conveys the collector sentiment. As an art aficionado, she has been able to connect to the art world with artist of influence who crosses all cultural boundaries. September’s motto is ” Expanding the appreciation of art through education”. Gray believes in setting a standard in collecting and collecting what you love.
For the past 10 years, SGAG has been dedicated to the arts scene. While in Atlanta, September has watched the art scene grow from small to burgeoning, and has been in the forefront of it all by providing dedication from the start to clients and artists. With September’s exclusive client list and even more exclusive artists, she has had major success in her work.
However, September’s dedication to the arts does not stop there. September is the cofounder of The Gray Foundation. The Gray Foundation was founded as an avenue to provide support and encouragement in art, education, and children’s programs. This program provides artistic awareness, art education, positive self-expression and much matriculation of higher education.
September previously worked in the entertainment industry for over 12 years touring around the world with various artists including Peabo Bryson, Kenny G., Roberta Flack, Pattie Austin, Michael McDonald, and Oleta Adams just to name a few. In addition, she has worked in a supportive capacity spending over 15 years for various theater and arts organizations such as the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and The Rialto Center for the Performing Arts here in Atlanta as well as the Advisory Board for the Alliance Theatre. September also served on the Art Advisory Committee with honoring Elizabeth Catlett and the Benin Exhibition in Chicago, which only traveled to four venues in the world.
She has been an avid member of the High Museum of Atlanta for many years, attending events to raise awareness of artists and acquisitions of permanent works for The High. September also highlights events and lectures at the gallery and on artist and collecting art through her newsletter, “The Gray Book”, and is a big advocate of being involved and attending art events and exhibits to understand the art, artist and a informed collector. As an art activist and lifelong student of fine arts, September holds several Museum memberships across the country.
Previously, September Gray sat on the advisory board for Cool Girls, a non-for profit organization dedicated to the empowerment of girls in urban communities in Atlanta. September also previously sat on the Board of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, which supports plant collections for display, education, research and conservation and for the enjoyment of arts.
September is an avid reader and loves to travel and who enjoys researching all things related to the arts and supports education through the arts.
September holds a degree in Art History from DePaul University. She has been married for 30 years and has 1 son.
Week 39 // Towonda Kilpatrick
I am positively impacting communities by bringing together non-profits in community and assisting them in building relationship for their cause. As a playwright and screenwriter, my vision has always been to create what’s in my heart. I have never been afraid to break the rules while telling stories that highlight causes. Four of my projects are stories that I hope inspire others to make a difference. In 2004, at Tri-Cities High School, I mounted my first stage play entitled Mama, I’m Your Child, a story about a village, charged with raising the youth. My next play, Damaged Goods, premiered at the Rialto Theatre in 2012 as part of Georgia State’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. DIGNITY, the story of African American women in denial about their tortuous mental illnesses and the link to suicide, opened at the Barefoot Black Box Playhouse in 2019, followed by a reprise performance at Morehouse College. These two productions were produced in partnership with Kathleen’s Dreams, a non-profit with the mission of raising awareness about suicide. In addition, every Christmas holiday my group of 30 plus women make a donation to three families in need and raise gifts for Toys for Tots.
Towonda Kilpatrick began her studies at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Kilpatrick went on to continue her studies at National Louis University. In 1988, after leaving the life of a runway model in Milan, Italy, Kilpatrick moved to Lubbock, Texas. In Texas, she landed an opportunity to produce the first fashion production for Reese Air Force Base which resulted in an improved community relationship.
Kilpatrick spent the next two years as Tour Director of Reese Air Force Base Morale Welfare Recreation where she produced musical tours outside of Lubbock and promoted the first Lubbock urban concert highlighting MC Hammer at the Civic Center. Kilpatrick resigned that job to focus on building her own company LeMode Modeling Studio in Lubbock. Towonda partnered with Barbizon Models based out of Dallas and landed the contract to train in the west Texas area. She soon wanted more than Lubbock could offer so she packed up and moved to Atlanta, GA. After 9/11 the world changed, and she was forced back into corporate America in a marketing role for Sutherland Law Firm.
Kilpatrick crosses easily between the roles of playwright and screenwriter. After 25 years, her portfolio of original projects is rich with productions guided by her creative talents. Adept at both screenplays and live theater (comedy, drama, and musicals), Kilpatrick also has extensive experience in concept development.
Kilpatrick’s work includes: the national tour of the gospel stage play, Can a Hoochie Become First Lady; productions of Mama, I’m Your Child; Atlanta’s Rialto Theater Production of Damaged Goods; and the musical CheezeCake Boiz & the Diva. Currently, Towonda Kilpatrick has her comedy series pilot entitled THEM on Amazon Prime Video for viewership. Moreover, she is currently developing a film project entitled hussie (slated for filming in August 2020) while simultaneously working on developing DIGNITY for the screen. The coffee table book Unselfish Women will release this April and be available on Amazon and Barnes Noble in May 2020.
Kilpatrick was born and raised in Marvell, Arkansas. She currently resides in Atlanta, GA and is the Creative Writer/CEO of 12:53 Entertainment and TKO Originals.
Kilpatrick has been recognized by Atlanta Business League as Creative; Real Times Media’s list of Who’s Who in Black Atlanta; National Content Writers for Urban Women; and recognized as one of the 100 Most Influential Women in Georgia.
Week 38 // Natalie Keng
CEO/Founder, Chinese Southern Belle LLC
We have a Chinese proverb: “out of crisis comes opportunity.” My passion and vision has always been to make the world a better place through food and culture–breaking egg rolls together and “opening minds, one mouth at a time.” During the Covid19 pandemic, that mantra (and need) rings truer than ever before. I was recently tapped to serve on the Governor’s Task Force focused on Community Outreach to help identify gaps/needs among our most vulnerable populations, e.g. low-income and communities of color. I teamed up with Leadership Atlanta and Connect.com and did a national call to action ad against anti-Asian bigotry and backlash from Covid19, which I and Asian friends have endured personally. As a volunteer board member with the ACLU of Georgia, I am advocating for fairness and equity on many public policies, from criminal justice and voter rights to healthcare. With partners like Georgia Organics, Georgia Grown, WeLoveBuHi, Community Farmers Markets, The Giving Kitchen and Les Dames d’Escoffier, through my own weblog, newsletter and social media (20K+ folllowers), I will keep writing, speaking out against all forms of hate crimes/harassment regardless of background and giving back in support of local owners, growers and ethnic immigrant small businesses who were impacted exponentially by the pandemic. Together we can!
Natalie Keng is a recognized food and culture expert, speaker, author and entrepreneur. She is Founder/CEO of Chinese Southern Belle, a pioneering small business that makes the world a better place through “the power of food and culture.” Through unique, interactive classes and tours, story-telling presentations and a line of award-winning, natural cooking sauces, Chinese Southern Belle supports diversity and inclusion, healthy living, local businesses/farms and cross-cultural understanding — “opening minds, one mouth at a time.” A Georgia native, graduate of Vassar College (B.A.) and Harvard University (M.P.P.), Natalie and popular co-host/mother, Margaret Keng (public schools “Teacher of the Year”) have hosted 400+ cooking events, including an annual 200-guest Lunar New Year Dinner and the original Buford Highway “international corridor” tasting tours.
Before starting Chinese Southern Belle, Natalie was a multi-sector leader in corporate, government, and nonprofit organizations, and a publicly-elected official. She is an experienced speaker, trainer and facilitator on the intersectionality of food and culture; diversity/inclusion/equity; sustainability; multicultural relations; women’s leadership; entrepreneurship. Her ability to find common ground within different experiences while advocating for change and equity is as thought-provoking as it is inspiring, and resonates with diverse audiences, from chefs and farmers to community activists and business professionals.
Natalie’s awards and leadership include:
- Governor’s Covid19 Task Force, Community Outreach, 2020
- Leadership Atlanta 50th Anniversary Class, 2020
- Women’s Small Business Council Trail Blazer Award, 2019
- Flavor of Georgia-Best Cooking Sauces, 2013, 2019, 2020
- Chair of Green Tables Sustainability Committee, Les Dames d’Escoffier, the premier international women’s culinary organization, 2018-present
- Board member of ACLU of Georgia, 2018-present
- Diversity Inclusion Task Force and Alumni Executive Council, Harvard University, 1996-2000, 2017-2019
- Public-elected official, 2002-2007
Week 37 // Charisse Davis
Board Member, Cobb County Board of Education
As an elected member of the Cobb County Board of Education, I strive to do what I can to ensure that our schools serve the needs of all of its students. I have made it a priority to be available to my community beyond traditional communication channels, and so I regularly host weekend meet ups at coffee shops and hold town halls. As a former kindergarten teacher, I am acutely aware of how important the years 0-5 are in a child’s life, and I’ve been a huge proponent of expanding Pre-K offerings within the district. Over the last year, I have been able to contribute a unique perspective and set of experiences to the decision-making taking place and that can only make our school district stronger.
Charisse Davis joined the Cobb County Board of Education in January 2019 after a 15 year career in education. She started her teaching career working with kindergarteners and helping them to develop a love for learning. After obtaining a Masters of Library and Information Science, she became a library media specialist and taught students in grades K through 6. Davis is currently an assistant branch manager and youth services librarian with the public library system. She lives in the Smyrna/Vinings area with her husband Sean, and her two boys that attend Cobb County Schools. After growing up in New York City and Orlando and spending summers with family in Puerto Rico, Davis moved to Georgia to attend Spelman College and received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. Davis has been the recipient of school librarianship and leadership awards and is an avid school volunteer, serving on the local school council and leadership boards of the PTA and parent foundation. As a Cobb County resident for 9 years, Davis draws upon her experiences as an educator and mother to serve the students and employees of the district.
Week 36 // Caren Cloud
Director, Administration and Court Support Services, Fulton County Juvenile Court
A staunch child advocate with over 20 years of extensive litigation and programming experience focused on youth and families in Fulton County, my career has been dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth throughout Atlanta and the state of Georgia. My daily purpose is to protect the interests of children and families, as well as to engage the community in efforts to rehabilitate and restore families in Fulton County.
I am also very active in the legal community, currently serving as the President of the Gate City Bar Association, the oldest African-American bar in the state of Georgia. As president, my focus is on strengthening Gate City’s social justice and community service footprint in our most underserved communities and ensuring we are creating a pipeline for young students of color pursuing legal careers.
Caren Cloud currently serves as Director, Administration and Court Support Services for the Fulton County Juvenile Court. Most recently, she served as the Court Program Administrator for the Fulton County Juvenile Court. Caren previously served as the Legal Director for the Truancy Intervention Project Georgia (TIP Georgia) and as an adjunct professor of Juvenile Law at Georgia State University’s College of Law.
A third generation Atlantan, Caren is a proud graduate of the Atlanta Public Schools system and Clark Atlanta University. After graduating from the University of Georgia, School of Law in 1999, Caren embarked upon a career in juvenile justice and child welfare, where she has remained a dedicated advocate for the past twenty years.
Caren currently serves as the President of the Gate City Bar Association and is an immediate past member-at-large of the Atlanta Bar Association’s Board of Directors, a member of the Atlanta Board of Education Ethics Commission, immediate past co-chair of the Atlanta Bar Association’s Law School Outreach Committee and a current co-chair of the Atlanta Bar Association’s Minority and Diversity Clerkship Committee.
In 2019, Caren was selected as an honoree amongst the “The Atlanta 500”, Atlanta Magazine’s 2nd Annual Guide to the City’s Most Powerful Leaders and successfully completed Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s Education Policy Fellowship Program.
Caren is the recipient of several awards including: Distinguished Service Award, Atlanta Bar Association (2018 and 2016), the Fred Gray Social Justice Award, John Marshall Law School (2010), the Child Advocate Award, State Bar of Georgia Young Lawyers Division, Juvenile Law Committee (2010), and Best Service to the Public, State Bar of Georgia Young Lawyers Division (2002-03).
Caren lives in Atlanta with her son, Anderson.
Week 35 // Kim Bentley, RN, MS, CCRN
Kim Bentley, RN, MS, CCRN
Vice President, Operations, Emory Hillandale Hospital
Kim Bentley, MS, RN, CCRN, is the Vice President of Operations for Emory Hillandale Hospital and is one of the healthcare professionals who is on the front line fighting to contain COVID-19 in Atlanta.
A registered nurse, Bentley started at Hillandale as Director of Patient Care Services in 2011 before being promoted to Vice President in 2014. In her current role, she focuses on leadership development, accountability, quality of care and patient safety at the Emory Hillandale, overseeing all elements of the campus. She supervises both operations and patient care services and ensures that all of support pieces are in place to manage care needs, from facilities to environmental care to security and beyond.
During the recent COVID-19 crisis, she has been responsible for developing and implementing the procedures necessary for dealing with increasing patient volumes and needs, from redirecting patient flow, addressing security requirements, ensuring availability of needed resources, and implementing government and CDC procedures and mandates.
Prior to her executive positions at Emory Hillandale (formerly Dekalb Medical), she worked as a clinical nurse specialist at Gwinnett Medical Center and served as the Chief Nursing Officer at Emory Johns Creek. Bentley received her BS in nursing from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA where she attended on a full Division-One track and field scholarship. She later received her master’s degree from Georgia State University in Atlanta.
Kim has been married for 25 years to her husband, Dion, who is a Captain with the DeKalb County Fire Department. They have three daughters: Camille (22), Erin (20) and Morgan (17).
Week 34 // Dr. N. Jean Hudley
Dr. N. Jean Hudley
Founder, Boys2Men Home & Sanctuary for Youth, Inc. (B2M)
Dr. N. Jean Hudley is the founder of Boys2Men Home & Sanctuary for Youth, Inc. (B2M). B2M is a nonprofit organization created to bring hope to an underserved segment of our society, specifically male youth ages 13-25. These are young men who have been neglected and marginalized at crucial stages of their development. As a wrap-around services provider, B2M intercedes by dispelling negative influences through positive programs and services.
Initially, Dr. Hudley began her work with youth in shelters, group homes and foster care environments, and eventually expanded her network to include youth with adjudicated histories. She discovered that abuse, neglect and risky behavior surfaced in house-holds where the fathers were absent and mothers struggled to raise their children alone. In 2015 the Georgia Department of Community affairs reported that 65% of the state’s homeless population were African American with 74% being male and 13% youth between the ages of 18 and 24. These are young men who have been neglected and marginalized at crucial stages of their development.
Dr. Hudley is a committed servant leader who believes in the inherent value of our children. As a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Child Abuse Victims volunteer at Fulton County Juvenile Court, Dr. Hudley committed eight years of service to advocating for (and in some instances fighting for) the most vulnerable youth. It was there that she identified the need to respond to the complex and far-reaching challenges that our young black sons face daily. B2M was birthed out of a need to address and remove those challenges through supportive relationships, tailored training and educational opportunities.
Week 33 // LaTeshia Ellerson
Director of Development, Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company
LaTeshia Ellerson joined Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company in 2007 as Development Associate and was promoted to Director of Development in 2013. In this position, she develops, oversees and implements the strategic fundraising plan for individual donors, corporations and foundations. LaTeshia was a participant in the 2014-15 SPARK Leadership Program, funded by American Express, The Joyce Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by Theatre Communications Group.
In 2015 LaTeshia was chosen as one of twenty theatre practitioners to watch in American Theatre Magazine’s People to Watch. LaTeshia began her career as a development professional at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. LaTeshia also serves as teaching artist for the National August Wilson Monologue Competition. LaTeshia holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago and Masters of Science in Urban Policy Studies/Nonprofit Leadership from Georgia State University in Atlanta.
Week 32 // Karen Duckett
Karen I. Duckett, JD, RD
President/CEO, Duckett Design Group, Inc.
Karen Duckett RD, JD is a Game Changer. She made the “START” button green on the Xerox machine in 1972. In 1973, frustrated with wearing dresses/skirts on construction sites, she changed women’s dress code at Xerox, wearing a pant suit to work for a construction inspection. In 1975, she was the first African American female to direct the urban planning and development department of a city over 300,000, in Flint, Michigan. She inaugurated her firm, Duckett Design Group, Inc. in 1985, providing Architecture Planning and Design services which has successfully been in business for 35 yrs.
Most notable work: Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. International Terminal at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Airport; Phase 1 for !mpact UMC 75,000sf church facilities; Atlanta City Court, Fulton County Juvenile Court, the Fulton County Superior/State Courts Complex, DeKalb County Courthouse, Douglas County Courthouse, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta ‐ Hughes Spalding, 1996 Olympic Equestrian Venue, 1996 Olympic Shooting Venue, and the Dian Fosse Gorilla Fund International Interpretive Center in Rwanda. In total, Ms. Duckett and the firm have designed more than 600 projects since the firm began.
Ms. Duckett always says that what we design is not a personal achievement for the firm, but for all of us, to be proud of the architecture that women of color create. We leave a legacy and hopefully inspiration.
Her community contributions include co‐ founding the Atlanta Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, serving as President from 1991‐1994. Under her leadership, the Coalition inaugurated Women’s Economic Development Agency (WEDA), to empower more women of color to pursue entrepreneurship. The entity is now a self‐supported nonprofit.
Other community involvement includes:
- Board Member & Past President, Women’s Forum of Georgia, 2003‐2007 (currently member)
- Member, Georgia State Board of Architects and Interior Designers, 2001‐2004
- Associate Member, American Institute of Architects, 1995 to present
- Member, International Interior Design Association, 1995 to present
- Member, National Organization of Minority Architects 1990 to 2000
- Member, Institute of Business Designers (IBD), 1990 to 1995
- Member, American Society of Interior Designers, 1985 to 1995
- Board Member, Atlanta Business League, 1995‐1998
- Board Member, Women’s Economic Development Agency, 1996 – 2008
- Leadership Atlanta Executive Committee 1988 ‐ 1991, 1996
- President, Coalition of 100 Black Women, Atlanta 1991 – 1993
- Board Director and Founder, Metropolitan Atlanta Coalition of 100 Black Women, 1987 – 1996 (currently member)
- ACOG President’s Representative, Olympic Field Hockey Venue, 1996
- Board Member ‐ The Governing Board for Contract Interior Design Standards, 1994
- Board Member ‐ Atlanta Chamber of Commerce 1993‐1995
- Board Member ‐ Northwest Georgia Girl Scout Council 1990 ‐ 1993
- Board Member ‐ EduPac 1993
- Member, Fulton County Public Safety Training Center Advisory Board 1989 ‐ 1992
- Member, Leadership Atlanta Alumni Association 1988 to present
- Member, Leadership Georgia Alumni Foundation, 1990 to present
- Member, Regional Leadership Institute Alumni Foundation, 1995 to present
- Member, Jack and Jill of America, Atlanta Chapter; Treasurer, 1995
- Member, Emory Board of Visitors, 1992‐95
- Former Chair, Women’s Advisory Board, Georgia Department of Corrections, 1994‐1996
- Board Member, African American Biographies Hall of Fame, 1994‐1996
Recently received recognition as one of the “50 Most Notable Fellows of the National Urban Fellows in 50 yrs.”
Other recognitions include:
- 2014 Who’s Who In Black Atlanta ‐ Cover & Featured
- 2012 Atlanta Business League Entrepreneur of the Year
- 2011 Atlanta Tribune/Wells Fargo Small Business 12 (SB12) Mentee
- 2011 Atlanta Business League 100 Black Women of Influence “Tenured”
- 2011 Trumpet Awards, High Tea for High Heels Awardee
- 2010 Atlanta Business League Hall of Fame Induction
- ABL’s Top 100 Black Women of Influence, 1996 ‐ 2010
- 2007 Business Alliance Ministry Award, Cascade United Methodist Church
- 2007 Trailblazer Award, East Point Business Association
- 2004 Professional Woman of the Year, NANBPWC, Inc. Atlanta
- 1996 Blueprint for Success, Atlanta Minority Business Award
- 1996 YWCA Academy of Women Achievers
- 1996 Women Looking Ahead Honoree
- 1995 Atlanta Regional Leadership Institute
- 1994 ABL Super‐Tuesday Award Salute Non‐Traditional Business
- 1989 Georgia Finalist ‐ Ernst & Young/Inc. Magazine: Entrepreneur of the Year
- 1989 Finalist ‐ Atlanta Chamber of Commerce: Small Business Person of the Year
- 1989 Winner ‐ Atlanta Tribune Minority Entrepreneur of the Year
- 1989 Leadership Georgia
- 1987 Leadership Atlanta
- 1974 National Urban Fellow Class of ‘74
Married to Wardell Duckett, three adult children and 3 grandchildren
Week 31 // Lauren Tate Baeza
Lauren Tate Baeza
Director of Exhibitions at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights
Curator of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection
Lauren Tate Baeza is a curator, anthropogeographer, and Africanist with a professional background in international aid organizations and museums. Baeza currently serves as Director of Exhibitions at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and is Curator of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection. At the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, she has developed 14 temporary exhibitions, including Her Truth | Her Power, a collaboration with Facebook and Tribeca Film Festival using virtual technology to tell global stories of young women, the lasting impacts of war, and health and education disparities.
Baeza previously led an environmental initiative in Central Uganda, utilizing community assets and local partnerships to create solutions to water scarcity issues in the region. She also consulted with a nonprofit that collaborates with regional governments to build sustainable groundwater wells and crop irrigation networks in Northern Kenya. She has published articles on the political economy of food in emerging markets and spoken at conferences, universities, and the United States Department of Agriculture on appropriate technology, gendered implications of climate change, food history, and a range of cultural and sociopolitical topics related to Africa and the African Diaspora.
Baeza completed her Master of Arts in African Studies at University of California, Los Angeles, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in African and African American Cultural Studies at California State University, Northridge, graduating with numerous honors. She has been featured on NPR, PBS, and Creative Mornings, as well as in Associated Press News, the Atlanta Voice, and Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine, which honored her as one of Atlanta Tribune’s Women of Excellence in 2018.
Week 30 // Dr. Catherine Foster Rowell
Dr. Catherine Foster Rowell
Councilwoman, City of South Fulton
Dr. Catherine Foster Rowell is the Councilwoman for District 1 of the City of South Fulton and served as the first Mayor Pro Tem. Currently, she is employed with Fulton County Schools. She has also worked in the nonprofit sector and served as Executive Director of Operation PEACE; Senior Government Grants Manager for Families First; and Senior Program Director with Enterprise Community Partners.
Additionally, she has held leadership roles in a number of public-sector consulting firms to include Beacon Analytics, the Bronner Group and MAXIMUS consulting firm. Dr. Foster Rowell is published and has served on numerous volunteer boards which include but are not limited to the Conference of Minority Public Administrators, National Forum for Black Public Administrators, and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter. She holds bachelor degrees in Sociology and Social Work from Cleveland State University and a Masters of Public
Administration and doctorate of Political Science from Clark Atlanta University.
Week 29 // Nikia Phoenix
Model, Actress, Blogger, Influencer
Black Girl Beautiful
Dipped in honey, sprinkled with happiness, and exuding love, that is Nikia Phoenix. There’s no one way to describe her. Nikia has worn many hats in her career from model to commercial actress to blogger. While she is all those things, she is also a big believer in humanity. Nikia is an agent for social change and conscious living. She believes in connecting people to their true callings and reuniting them with their authentic selves. Nikia does this through by using her voice whether its written word, connecting digitally, or in live and in person. To put it simply, Nikia Phoenix is a dream instigator who wants to help make the world beautiful.
As a model and content creator for over a decade, Nikia has been an integral part of numerous international campaigns from Google to Cadillac to SheaMoisture. In 2017 and 2018, Nikia appeared in the highly-influential 23 and Me campaign that helped spark a trend in DNA-based travel. Throughout her career, she has been profiled in Vogue, Essence, Darling Magazine, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, and I-D.
Amidst this success, Nikia created her first blog, Model Liberation, and worked as a contributor to other online beauty publications. Holding a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism from the University of South Carolina , Nikia’s early work as a television news producer has allowed her to nurture her craft as a storyteller.
Nikia currently works on passion projects including the socially uplifting platform Black Girl Beautiful. In 2019, Nikia and Black Girl Beautiful debuted the empowering #HeyBrownGirlMural in Atlanta, Georgia. She also contributes regularly to top beauty and editorial print and digital publications, campaigns, and empowerment initiatives. Nikia currently splits her time between Atlanta and Los Angeles. She enjoys traveling to serene locations, documenting her journeys, and occasionally road tripping with her cat. You can find her with her feet in the sand and her head in the clouds.
Week 28 // Brenda Nicole Moorer
Brenda Nicole Moorer
Vocalist, Actor, and Songwriter
Vocalist, actor, and songwriter Brenda Nicole Moorer is southern bred, raised in a family with musical roots stretching back to the 60’s with Gold Records. She is known for her distinctive vocal quality, original blend of modern jazz, soul, folk and thoughtful storytelling songwriting.
Winner of Creative Loafing’s Best Soul & Jazz vocalist award and the National Black Arts Festival NEXT UP award for music, Brenda has building a name for herself. She has shared stages with Grammy-Winning artists like Christian McBride, Booker T Jones, Roy Ayers, and Incognito. She headlined the next generation stage at the Atlanta Jazz Festival, the indie stage at Capital Jazz Festival, High Museum of Art, and Good Day Atlanta. Brenda has performed at notable venues like the Blue Note in New York, Rockwood Music Hall, and City Winery.
As a millennial and artist, Brenda’s love for jazz keeps her exploring herself musically with new sounds. Brenda fuses jazz, chamber, and folk elements into her songwriting, crafting songs with a quiet ache and intriguing pull. In 2011, she self-released her first album, Songbird. In 2014, she self-released her EP For Lovers and Believers, which garnered attention from tastemaker Gilles Peterson, DJ Jamal Ahmad, Ebony Magazine, AfroElle, and Afropunk. In 2017, she released her second full studio album Brand New Heart (P Vine Records Japan) with Brooklyn based producer Jesse Fischer, which features Chris Turner from Snarky Puppy’s Family Dinner.
Currently, Brenda is working on her third studio project, a collaborative concept jazz record and short film bringing together 25 Atlanta based artists. The album is co-written with pianist Kenny Banks Jr and a band of talented Atlanta musicians, and is produced by London producer and composer Troy Miller (Gregory Porter, Jacob Collier, Laura Mvula, Jamie Cullum). The album is expected to be released in August 2020.
Brenda is a graduate of SCAD’s Master of Arts Program, an Arts Leaders of Metro Atlanta Alum, and a Georgia Center for Nonprofit High Potential Diverse Leaders Alum. She is also the Founder and Executive Director of Touch + Agree, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating space for musicians to create.
Week 27 // Kristen Parker
Sales Manager, True Colors Theatre
Kristen Parker is True Colors Theatre’s Sales Manager. Originally from Alabama, Kristen received a Communication Arts degree in theatre at the University of North Alabama. Upon graduating, she left to pursue acting and management work in New York City. While in New York she was fortunate to intern and work on multiple On and Off-Broadway productions as well as hold a 7-year career in finance with Lincoln Center Theatre. After 12 years in the city, she found her way back south to Atlanta where she joined the Alliance Theatre’s off-site season as assistant house manager for two years. Kristen enjoys reading, athletics, and writing, where she also excels.
Week 26 // Ming Chen
Professor and Resident Theatrical Designer, Kennesaw State University
Born in Shanghai, China, Ming Chen is currently a full professor and resident theatrical designer at Kennesaw State University. Her design tablework was seen at Prague Quadrennial, Czechoslovakia, China’s National Stage Design Exhibition, Beijing and Tokyo (co-designs), and USITT Design Expo in California. She designed sets for performances at the Kennedy Center American College Dance Festivals in NYC and Washington D.C., Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Shanghai International Arts Festival, Shanghai Theatre Festival and China National Theatre, theatres in India, and in Atlanta, including the Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre, the Alliance Theatre, Horizon Theatre, Atlanta Ballet, 7 Stages, and Theatre in the Square. She also designed for performances in university theatres, such as SUNY at Buffalo, Cornell University and KSU. She received design awards from Prague Quadrennial (co-design) and Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. She is the author of Visual Literacy for Theatre, a 556-page textbook on design, and a major contributor to ArtsTrends USA, a 347-page bilingual book on performance designs. Drawing from her cross-cultural experiences, she directed many intercultural projects, which received grants from National Endowment for the Arts, the Cultural Services of French Embassy, the Georgia Humanities Council, the French Consulate in Atlanta, Confucius Institute, and Coca Cola Foundation.
Week 25 // Stevie Flowers
Established April 1992 in Los Angeles, CA. Stevie and flowers share the same attributes. When Stevie Flowers greets people, her face blossoms into an oasis of friendliness, spreading a contagious cheer. And much like a special floral arrangement, Stevie Flowers personality is disarming and invokes calmness and quietude. There must be some spell that Flowers – and her flowers – cast upon her clients and friends. How else do you explain how a former administrative assistant from Baltimore used her gift for flower arrangements as a ticket to “Oprah’s Oxygen Network”.
Not only that, Flowers is so gifted, so succinct and precise in her ability to arrange flowers that she was selected to decorate Hollywood heavyweight Samuel Jackson’s 50th birthday party. And to top it all off, Stevie’s last name really is “Flowers”. Are the planets aligned in her favor or what? Additionally, the Baltimore native has made floral arrangements for several NFL Super Bowl parties, one of the country’s greatest annual events. Stevie is invited to each Super Bowl city to participate in their “Minority Empowerment Program”. Stevie teaches other minority business hopefuls how to do business with the NFL. “I was a makeup artist, so I know how to blend colors. And that’s what you do when you make floral arrangements,” she says – beaming brighter than one of her colorful arrangements. “They kind of tell you what to do and where they want to go. Once you get your rhythm, it’s on.” Flowers certainly has a rhythm going. The event planner and florist has created the ambiance at the Soul Train Music Awards, the Peoples Choice Awards, France Ford Coppola’s film “Dracula”, The NAACP Image Awards, Grammys, Lady of Soul, and BET awards shows and even worked with stars like Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Duke, and Stevie Wonder, and many others during her 30+ year career.
In fact, on Friday, December 30, 2011, Stevie completed her last round of 29 radiation treatments and has successfully recovered from stage 4 breast cancer. On January 3rd – 7th, 2012, she set up 100 centerpieces, and other decors for the 2012 Trumpet Awards. It was an affair that left her breathless, yet truly excited as to how her energy level had so quickly returned. Stevie was released from her oncologist, April 11, 2019, 8 years to the date that she started her breast cancer journey. Stevie is now CANCER FREE! Stevie Says”I really love what I do. It’s a true labor of love”, she says through her bright smile. Humbly, she credits her early success to a “who you know” kind of thing. Let’s see: her Baltimore friend Tony Bulluck was Whitney Houston’s tour manager. Backstage during Houston’s concert, Flowers met VicAngelo Bulluck, Tony’s producer cousin, and the rest is history. The business has been on and poppin’ ever since.
Seriously, Flowers credits the Almighty for navigating her towards this prosperous and exciting career. “So I’ve been blessed. I’ve been truly blessed,” she says almost breathlessly. “It’s not me, it’s God. And a little bit of flower power.”
Week 24 // Malaika Adero
A writer and editor, Malaika Adero, has enjoyed a celebrated career in publishing. Her experience as an acquiring editor includes eighteen years at Simon & Schuster, where she was a Vice President and Senior Editor for its Atria division and Executive Editor at Amistad Press in its early years as an independent company. Among wide range of bestselling and critically acclaimed authors on her roster were Miles Davis, Quincy Troupe, Susan L. Taylor, Maryse Conde, Kanye West, Sheila Weller, Pearl Cleage, Common, and George Clinton.
She launched her career as a book author and writer with the anthology Up South: Stories, Studies, Letters of This Century’s African American Migrations (New Press 1993). Henry L. Gates, Jr. wrote that it was “splendidly edited.” The Boston Globe review described it as “overwhelming poignant.” She ghost wrote Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston for author by Dr. Lucy Hurston (Doubleday 2003) which was also well received by critics and readers. Since leaving corporate life in 2014, the former librarian has published a paper, Black Dance Narratives, commissioned by the New York Public Library Performing Arts Division (2015). And again collaborated to write the memoir of actress Jenifer Lewis, The Mother of Black Hollywood (Amistad 2016).
She founded a boutique book development firm and literary agency called Adero’s Literary Tribe, LLC in 2016 and landed publishing deals for critically acclaimed novelist Peter Kimani (Dance of the Jakaranda) and veteran journalist Ron Harris (The Black and the Blue). She lives in New York City, spending parts of the year in Atlanta, Georgia and Knoxville, Tennessee the homes of her big extended family. Her next book as author is A Black Woman Did That: Forty Women who Broke Barriers , an illustrated book for middle graders (Downtown Book Works Fall 2019).
Week 23 // Na'Taki Osborne Jelks, Ph.D.
Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Environmental & Health Sciences, Spelman College, Agnes Scott College
An associate professor at Spelman College and Agnes Scott College, Na’Taki Osborne Jelks also is the manager for Community and Leadership Development Programs for the National Wildlife Federation and chair of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, an organization committed to ensuring environmental justice in southwest and northwest Atlanta’s African-American neighborhoods. An environmental engineer by training, Osborne Jelks is committed to being a social change engineer.
When her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer after living in proximity to polluting industries in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” corridor, Osborne Jelks was motivated to work to ensure that all people, regardless of race and income, have access to healthy and safe living and working conditions and equal protection under environmental laws. With more than 12 years of experience helping people in environmentally degraded communities find their voice and develop the necessary skills to speak and act out against polluters who impair and threaten their quality of life, she has helped to change the landscape of her African-American community on Atlanta’s west side, which is impacted by numerous hazards including landfills, incinerators, illegal dumps, wastewater treatment plants, and sewer overflow facilities, but is least represented at environmental decision-making tables.
In addition to her role at NWF, Osborne Jelks is a Senior Fellow with the Environmental Leadership Program, and is co-founder of the Center for Environmental Public Awareness, a public interest, nonprofit consulting organization that develops environmental education and leadership development training for community groups working to achieve environmental justice nationwide as well as diversity training and coaching for environmental non-profit organizations.
An alumna of Spelman College, Osborne Jelks studied civil and environmental engineering at Georgia Tech through a dual-degree program and earned her master’s of public health in environmental and occupational health from Emory University. She is Atlanta’s 2011 Cox Conserves Hero.
For her work to improve environmental quality and quality of life in Atlanta, Osborne Jelks has received a Humanitarian Award from the Georgia Department of Labor, a President’s Service Award from Former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, and recognition from Redbook, Uptown, and Ebony magazines. She is currently working on her first book on the contributions of women of color to the Environmental Justice Movement.
Week 22 // Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry
Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry
122nd Elected and Consecrated Bishop of the AME Church (Retired)
Long before the Right Reverend Carolyn Tyler Guidry became the 122nd Elected and Consecrated Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, she seemed destined for a life of commitment and significance to her church and her community. She was born and raised in Jackson Mississippi and came of age in the early years of the Civil Rights Movement. As a very young woman in 1959 Bishop Tyler-Guidry was employed asthe office manager for Rev. R. L. T. Smith, the first African American to run for Congress in Mississippi in one hundred years. After Rev. Smith’s unsuccessful electoral run, Bishop Tyler Guidry later that year began to work for Medgar Evers andthe NAACP. Here she worked as the women’s voter registration chairperson for that organization. From this work Bishop Tyler Guidry worked to coordinate Freedom Rider activities between, SNCC, CORP and the NAACP out of the office of the Jackson, Mississippi NAACP. She was engaged in this work while raising two of the eventual six children she would have with her husband of 35 years the late Cary B. Tyler.
The Right Reverend Carolyn Tyler Guidry received her first pastoral appointment to First A. M. E. Church in Indio, California, in 1977. Under her leadership the congregation undertook a massive renovation of the church building and parsonage, and the establishment of a Day Care Center. She was the founder/director of the Unity Center for Human Development, a community faith based project funded by HUD.
In 1983 she was assigned to Cain Memorial A. M. E. Church in Bakersfield, California. Rev. Tyler demonstrated her business acumen and led the Bakersfield congregation in purchasing adjacent property, now valued at over three million dollars. The church utilized this key property and established a day care center and began several community service programs, including a “Senior Sack Meal.” In 1989, Rev. Carolyn Tyler was assigned to the 600 member Walker Temple A. M. E. Church in Los Angeles, California. This assignment gave her the distinction of being a trailblazer again, the first female appointed to a major metropolitan charge in the A M E Church. She was appointed as the first female Presiding Elder in the Fifth Episcopal District in 1994 and served in that capacity until elected and consecrated the 122nd AME Bishop in 2004. She was assigned Presiding Prelate to the 16th Episcopal District (including the Caribbean, Europe, Central America, and initiated the exploration of a congregation in Leon, France which now has a vibrant growing congregation. Under Bishop Tyler Guidry’s leadership the 16th District purchased its first Episcopal Residence in Jamaica to provide a permanent home base for its bishop. She started the first Annual Christian Education Conference, and partnered with Payne Seminary in a Ministerial Training Program. Economic Development projects, seeded through her, were established in all conferences in the 16th District. In 2008 Bishop Tyler Guidry was assigned to the Eighth Episcopal District, comprising Mississippi and Louisiana. She led the District in acquiring an Office Building and Episcopal Residence in Jackson, MS.
She served two terms as the chairperson of the Social Action Commission of the AME Church, and initiated the effort to have the US Postal Service to designate a stamp in honor of the founder of the AME Church, Bishop Richard Allen; that stamp was released during the first quarter of 2016. She is a life-time member of the NAACP, and an Honorary member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority. The Right Rev. Carolyn Tyler Guidry received her Associate of Arts Degree in Business and Secretarial Science from J. P. Campbell College in Jackson, MS. She studied Economics at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, MS. In 1977 she graduated from Los Angeles Bible School (under the auspices of Talbot Seminary) with a four year certificate in Religion and Bible; she is a graduate of the Fuller Theological Seminary with the Master of Arts in Theology.
She was awarded an honorary degree, The Doctor of Humane Letters, by Payne Theological Seminary in May 2009. She was included in the archives of the HistoryMakers in November 2004. In April, 2011 she was inducted into the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Board of Preachers at Morehouse College.
The Turner Seminary presented her The President’s Lifetime Achievement Award in February 2019.
She is a contributor to the fourth edition of “Those Preaching Women,” by The Rev. Dr. Ella Mitchell, published by Judson Press which was released in June, 2004, and has contributed to the publications of the AME Bishops, “The Anvil.”
Carolyn Eujean Jackson Tyler Guidry is the mother of five sons and one daughter, thirteen grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren.
Week 21 // Tinashe Kajese-Bolden
Director, School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play
Originally from Zimbabwe, Tinashe was last seen in Detroit ‘67 and Proof as an actor at Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre and is honored to be returning as a Director. She is the BOLD Artistic Director Fellow for the Alliance Theater and recent recipient of The Princess Grace Award. As a Director, previous productions include Ghost, Nick’s Flamingo Grill (Alliance Theatre) Native Gardens (Virginia Stage Company), Pipeline (Horizon Theater), Eclipsed (Synchronicity Theatre, Best Director Suzi Bass Award); Graveyard Shift (finalist for the Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition); Atlanta 24 Hour Play event with Working Title Playwrights; In The Continuum at Clark Atlanta University and Blood On A Cat’s Neck at Armory Theater.
Next she will be directing the Pulitzer Prize winning play Sweat by Lynn Nottage on the new Coca-Cola Stage at the Alliance Theater and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison at Synchronicity Theatre. As an actor, her Broadway and Off-Broadway credits include Corum Boy, Bulrusher, Angela’s Mixed Tapes, Richard III and In the Continuum to name a few. She has worked at numerous regional theaters, as well as in TV and Film.
Quadrennial (co-design) and Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. She is the author of Visual Literacy for Theatre, a 556-page textbook on design, and a major contributor to ArtsTrends USA, a 347-page bilingual book on performance designs.
Drawing from her cross-cultural experiences, she directed many intercultural projects, which received grants from National Endowment for the Arts, the Cultural Services of French Embassy, the Georgia Humanities Council, the French Consulate in Atlanta, Confucius Institute, and The Coca- Cola Foundation.
Week 20 // Marian Liou
Associate, Holcomb and Ward LLP
Principal Program Specialist, Atlanta Regional Commission
Founder, We Love BuHi
Marian Liou is an associate at Holcomb and Ward LLP who focuses her practice on litigation. She has prior corporate and employment benefits experience from her time at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP and Morris, Manning & Martin LLP.
Marian is the Founder of We Love BuHi, a social enterprise that catalyzes and supports a livable, inclusive Buford Highway through creative placemaking, and the Principal Program Specialist for the Atlanta Regional Commission. She is passionate about affirming people and places to strengthen their purpose and become more just, inclusive, and whole.
Professional and Community Involvement Includes:
- Board of Directors, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta
- Fellow, The Center for Civic Innovation
- Member, Cross Keys Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative Steering Committee
- JD, Columbia University School of Law
- BA, Stanford University
Honors and Awards Include:
- Creative Loafing, 20 People To Watch (2016)
Week 19 // Maryline Blackburn
CEO and producer of “Divas With A Cause”
City of Smyrna City Councilwoman
Born in Europe, Maryline spent her formative years in Fairbanks, Alaska. In 1984, she won the Miss Alaska Pageant where Sarah Palin was her second runner up. Maryline then went on to represent Alaska in the Miss America Scholarship Pageant where she was a talent finalist. She has performed with and opened for such legends of entertainment as Bob Hope (USO/Department of Defense), Cab & Chris Calloway, The Platters and contemporary icons like Celine Deon, Peabo Bryson, Phyllis Hyman and Exile. Maryline has shared her talents with international audiences in Spain , Argentina, Switzerland , Portugal , England , Ireland , Mexico , Costa Rica , Philippines , Diego Garcia , Honduras , Guatemala , Korea, Japan and Russia . Special appearances have been requested of Maryline to sing the National Anthem for Inaugural ceremony of Senator Max Cleland, NFL teams and many more. Television and talk show’s in which Maryline has appeared are: Natalie Cole’s “Big Break”, Inside Edition, Entertainment tonight, DL Hughley “Breaking The News” on CNN. Her musical style can best be described as progressive, incorporating elements of Urban Contemporary, Mainstream Pop, Country and Western, Old School Romantic R&B, with a touch of the power and deep spiritual intensity of Southern Gospel Music.
In 2017, Maryline was elected as the first African American to the Smyrna City Council in the cities 145 year existence (Smyrna, Georgia). On February 23, 2019, she was responsible for Smyrna’s first Black History Month Celebration in which the city council officially proclaimed and adopted in February 2020.
Maryline is CEO and producer of “Divas With A Cause”, a 501c3 non-profit organization committed to communicating, educating, raising awareness and funds for seven non- profit charitable organizations whose efforts in finding cures, aiding families, and to sponsor research commits them to enhance the quality of life in our communities (www.divaswithacause.org).
Week 18 // Soumaya Khalifa
Executive Director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta (ISB)
President, Khalifa Consulting
Known in Atlanta and across the country as a trail-blazer and innovator, Soumaya Khalifa is one of the American-Muslim community’s most visible and prolific women. As a founder and the current Executive Director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta (ISB), Soumaya is a frequently requested speaker and can often be found discussing issues important to American-Muslims on radio, television and social media.
In August 2001, Soumaya, along with a group of Atlantans launched the ISB to be a resource for faith and civic cooperation, to promote understanding and inclusion, and to fight bigotry through education and collaboration. Under Soumaya’s leadership the ISB engages a wide variety of audiences including public and private schools, universities, healthcare providers, law enforcement agencies, and civic and faith based organizations.
As a leader who is willing to take risks to strive for excellence, Soumaya has encouraged the ISB board of directors to launch several key initiatives. In 2017, the ISB partnered with the Atlanta Mayor’s office to host the first ever Ramadan Iftar (break-fast) hosted at the Atlanta City Hall. In 2018 and 2019, the second Atlanta Mayor’s Iftar was attended by over 250 people, and is quickly becoming an annual highlight of the Mayor’s cultural calendar. To focus on the goal of leadership development and recognition, ISB’s “100 Influential Georgia Muslims” and “40 Under Forty Georgia Muslims” gathered the best and brightest Muslim leaders in our state. The newest initiative, Institute for Muslim Civic Leadership, a program for emerging leaders, began in 2018, allowing Soumaya to use her background in professional development to support her community.
In addition to her work with the ISB, Soumaya is president of her intercultural consulting firm Khalifa Consulting which provides consulting, coaching and training to business executives across the county. With her background in business and an MBA in Human Resources, Soumaya works with her clients to increase their understanding of Arab cultures, US culture (for overseas clients), global virtual teams, and cultural competency for Muslims in the workplace.
Soumaya is an adjunct professor at Emory University’s Center for Continuing Education where she offers courses on intercultural communication and Human Resources Certification. Her work has been featured in the New York Times and in the book, 50 Green Card Stories, and she authored the chapter on Islam in the book Religious Diversity at Work. Soumaya also hosted a 16-part television series on the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters (AIB) station titled, “Meet Your Muslim Neighbor.”
Along with her work with ISB and her consulting firm, Soumaya volunteers for a wide variety community organizations. She serves on Grady Foundation’s Grady Ambassadors, the board of the Concordia Forum, and is a past board member of AIB TV and SIETAR USA. Soumaya is an active volunteer with the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and has led the Muslim community at the annual Hunger Walk for the Atlanta Community Food Bank. As a member of the Leadership Atlanta Class of 2015, she is a mentor for the LEAD program and has helped develop engagement activities for future classes.
Her work has brought her much recognition and significant honors, including an invitation to the White House and being named a Citizen Diplomat by the US State Department. Soumaya received the 2018 Arab American High Achiever Award by the ALIF Institute, the prestigious Phoenix Award by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in 2017, and the FBI’s Community Leadership Award in 2012. Soumaya was inducted into Morehouse College’s Martin Luther King Jr. College of Ministers and Laity, and has been named by the Huffington Post as one of “Five People Inspiring Peace” in 2013.
In her “off time,” Soumaya and her husband love to visit with their three children and to travel for adventure, fun and great food.
Week 17 // Deborah Richardson
Executive Director of the International Human Trafficking Institute (IHTI)
Deborah Richardson is the Executive Director of the International Human Trafficking Institute (IHTI) of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. IHTI is charged with a three-year strategic plan to reduce human trafficking in Metro-Atlanta. She is a nationally recognized expert on social justice for women and girls and advocate to end human trafficking. Twenty years ago, she pioneered the first programming for sexually exploited girls in the southeast, then led a national campaign to eradicate the facilitation of trafficking on online platforms.
She testified before Congress, and advised more than 20 communities throughout the United States on organizing and implementing their efforts to address child sexual exploitation. In addition to also serving as the Center’s Interim CEO, her impactful career includes: Chief Program Officer at the Women’s Funding Network in San Francisco, CEO of The Atlanta Women’s Foundation, Director of Program Development for Fulton County Juvenile Court, Founding Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice Fund (now YouthSpark).
Deborah received honors and awards from many organizations for her lifetime of community service and contributions to the field of ending human trafficking. In 2018, Deborah was appointed the Alonzo F. and Norris B. Herndon Human Rights Expert in Residence in the Honors College of Georgia State University. Recently she received the Lives of Commitment Award from Auburn Theological Seminary, Big Voice Award from Georgia Voices for Children, Community Service Award by Spelman College Board of Trustees and The Pathbreaker Award from Shared Hope International.
She holds a Masters of Arts in Leadership from St. Mary’s College of California and is a doctoral candidate in Public Policy and Social Change from Union Institute & University.
Week 16 // Dr. Vicki Crawford
Dr. Vicki Crawford
Director, Office of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection
Endowed Chair of Civil and Human Rights, Morehouse College
Dr. Vicki Crawford is Director of the Office of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection and Endowed Chair of Civil and Human Rights at Morehouse College. She leads academic initiatives, public education, and curatorial projects that advance the teachings and nonviolent philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In this capacity, she also serves on the curatorial team at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights where she assists in curating rotating thematic exhibitions of Dr. King’s papers.
Dr. Crawford is a nationally recognized civil rights scholar whose groundbreaking collaboratively edited volume of essays, Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers (1993) was one of the first publications to address the under-researched role of women in the African American freedom struggle. Crawford is a nationally recognized civil rights scholar, having spent over three decades teaching, researching and publishing in the field. She has authored many papers, articles and book chapters and received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for the project, Humanities Teaching with the Morehouse College King Collection. Currently, she is co-editor of a newly published book titled, Reclaiming the Great World House: The Global Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2019) and General Series editor of the Morehouse King Collection/UGA Series on Civil and Human Rights. Dr. Crawford has a Ph.D. degree in American Studies from Emory University and has completed post-doctoral fellowships at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Week 15 // Zenith Houston
Zenith N. Houston
Director, Posse Atlanta
Zenith Houston is an inspired nonprofit leader and fundraising professional with more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit management and fundraising who joined The Posse Foundation in December 2011 as the Director of Posse Atlanta.
The Posse Foundation identifies public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes. The Foundation extends to these students the opportunity to pursue personal and academic excellence by placing them in supportive, multicultural teams—Posses—of 10 students. The Foundation’s partner colleges and universities award Posse Scholars four-year, full tuition leadership scholarships. In Atlanta, Posse Scholars attend Bard College, Boston University, Brandeis University, The College of Wooster, The George Washington University, Syracuse University, and Texas A&M University. Highlights of her tenure at The Posse Foundation include the selection and support of more than 600 Atlanta high school students who have earned more than $97.2 million in full-tuition, merit and leadership scholarships and 28 prestigious fellowship awards, including 5 Fulbright Fellows.
Zenith’s nonprofit tenure includes leadership roles at National Jewish Health in Chicago as the Regional Development Director in Chicago/Midwest Region, Meharry Medical College and the Center for Women’s Health Research, Doris and Alex Jewish Community High School where she led a $24 million capital campaign, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leading corporate development, and numerous consulting roles with national and local nonprofit organizations including The Wonder Foundation (Stevie Wonder).
Zenith has served on several national and local boards including Hands on Network (now Points of Light Institute), Holyfied/Warren Boy and Girls Club, Association of Fundraising Professional (Chicago Chapter), Friends Against AIDS- Cromer Children’s Hospital, University of Chicago, Circle Urban Ministries, Chicago Council on Planned Giving, Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy, and the Friends of East Lake First Tee. In 2014, she received the Harvard Business Club of Atlanta Scholarship to attend the week-long, Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management (SPNM) program at Harvard Business School. Recent honors and recognitions include 100 Black Men of North Atlanta Image Award, United Way Volunteer Improvement Program (VIP), and Golf Women Mean Business for Outstanding Work in Youth Leadership Development, and Chick-fil-A True Inspiration Award. She currently serves on the advisory board for the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project, Vice Chair of Leadership Buckhead, member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter, Second Century Circle and Camp CEO with Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta. Her leadership extends to being selected in 2018 for the Atlanta Regional Leadership Institute and in 2019 by the Schusterman Foundation as Nonprofit Changemaker for the REALITY Impact experience in Israel. She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and Leadership Atlanta Class of 2020. Zenith is a native of Columbia, South Carolina and holds both a bachelor’s in science and master degree from the University of South Carolina in Criminal Justice.
Week 14 // Pearl Cleage
Some Thoughts from Pearl Cleage on a Season of She-Griots:
These are what the old folks used to call ‘tryin’ times.’ Now that I am officially one of those folks myself, I too can recognize those moments in our lives when nothing seems to be going the way we hoped it would. The climate is changing all around us. Our country is divided against itself in ways that pit rich against poor, black against white, immigrant against native born, and all of us against anyone who doesn’t look like and think just like we do. Increasingly suspicious of our neighbors, we begin to retreat into the cold comfort of our electronic devices, tapping out messages to people we rarely see and might not even know. When we do venture out, we rarely make eye contact with each other or offer the seat beside us to a stranger. Instead, we check the location of the nearest exits, grip our phones a little tighter and remind ourselves to get home before dark so we can lock ourselves safely inside, except it doesn’t feel safe at all. It just feels sad. One of the first things fascism does is begin to take away our capacity for joy. Our capacity to dance together and sing together and laugh out loud. Those who pretend to offer leadership sometimes want us to forget how to sit together, watching the stories of our lives unfold on the stage before us and recognizing how similar the heart of the story is even when the details may differ as wildly as we do. Because our differences are rarely when we remember when we share our stories. What we remember are the things that make us more alike than we suspected. We realize that all grandmothers worry about the future of their families no matter what they serve for holiday dinner. All mothers want to keep their children safe from harm no matter what language they use to sing their lullabies. All young lovers see endless possibilities in each others’ eyes and all old folks know beyond a show of a doubt that trouble don’t last always; that the darkest hour is just before dawn; and that in spite of what you see on your twitter feed, most people are good. Even better, most people are just like you. Not as good as they want to be. Not as bad as they think they are. And never as all alone as we feel, even in these tryin’ times. And when we forget those basic, fragile, lovely human truths, the work we do as theatre artists is one of the most important ways we have to remind us. That’s why we go to the theatre in the first place. It’s something we’ve always done, gathering together with others of our tribe, to sit together in the close and holy darkness and turn our faces toward the light.
Week 13 // Ciarra McEachin
Ciarra McEachin is the Director of Development for Susan G. Komen Greater Atlanta. She began her career in nonprofit fundraising with ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as an Event Marketing Representative. After leaving St. Jude, Ciarra transitioned to fundraising within the realm of higher education, serving as Director of the Annual Fund at Hampton University. In this position, Ciarra created the University’s Day of Giving and assisted in increasing the alumni giving percentage rate by nearly 12 percent. Ciarra has also held positions with Georgia Piedmont Technical College and the United Negro College Fund.
In her current position with Susan G. Komen Greater Atlanta, Ciarra is responsible for diversifying and expanding current Komen fundraising strategies with an emphasis on annual giving, major gifts, sponsorships, events and grant acquisition. Komen currently has a Bold Goal of reducing breast cancer mortality by 50 percent by 2026. Achieving breast health equity for African American women in Greater Atlanta, who are 45% more likely to die of breast cancer than their white counterparts, is how Ciarra and the Komen Atlanta team plan to achieve this Bold Goal.
Ciarra grew up in Salisbury, Maryland and earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations from Hampton University. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and currently resides in Atlanta.
Week 12 // Leslye Joy Allen
Leslye Joy Allen (Ayọ) is a fourth-generation native of Atlanta, Georgia, USA. A historian, oral historian, educator, dramaturg, public speaker, theatre and jazz advocate, genealogist, and environmentalist (better known by her middle name “Joy,”) she holds Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in History from Agnes Scott College and Georgia State University, respectively. She is also a charter member of Agnes Scott College’s Alpha-Theta-Psi chapter of Phi Alpha Theta National History Honor Society and is a former Coca-Cola Foundation Museum Fellow at The Atlanta History Center. She currently is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History department at Georgia State University, and is finishing writing her dissertation about Black Theatre in Atlanta; she was a 2015-2016 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Doctoral Scholar and Dissertation Fellow. She specializes in the History of the American South (ante- and post-bellum), 20th century Georgia History, Atlanta History, Oral History, and Performance Arts History with a specific emphasis on Theatre. She is the author of the essay about Black theatre luminary Anne Cooke titled “The Birth of Queen Anne: Re-discovering Anne M. Cooke at Spelman College” featured in The Routledge Companion to African American Theatre and Performance (2019). She is a proud member of National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Association of Critical Heritage Studies, and Africans Rising.
Week 11 // Leatrice Ellzy
LEATRICE ELLZY, a cultural curator, producer, thinker and fan of disruption is the founder and CEO of Beatrix Moss. She has a penchant for pushing the envelope to engage new responses to old questions and solutions to old problems. Her unique skill set has been developed over 27-years of migrating through non-profit management and development, broadcast, media relations, arts presenting and technology. She has held key management positions with organizations such as Girl Scouts of the USA, YWCA, Georgia Public Broadcasting and Fulton Government Television.
Her arts management and administration experience developed through work in two major arts institutions, Woodruff Arts Center and the National Black Arts Festival (NBAF). During her tenure at NBAF Leatrice was the architect of a technology initiative that was awarded 1 million dollars in funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and thousands of dollars worth of knowledge-based support from IBM. The work she was able to engage in with her team was invaluable to further developing her understanding of how technology can support the creation, distribution and monetization of art and culture.
Leatrice is active in the field and is frequently asked to sit on panels, serve on advisory committees, consult and participate in conversations about the state of the arts nationally, regionally and locally. Her past and present professional affiliations include Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Fractured Atlas, Women of Color in the Arts, the Contemporary African Arts Consortium, C4 Atlanta, Idea Capital, serving on the International Advisory Committee for the Kumasi Festival in Ghana, West Africa and the Fulton County Arts Council. She recently joined the newly formed advisory board of LANE (Leveraging a Network for Equity) who will work with the National Performance Network and the Non-Profit Finance Fund to shape diagnostics, planning and education around an eight-year initiative focused on the capitalization and sustainability of artistic organizations of color.
Leatrice hosts Beatrix Moss’ weekly podcast, The 13th Floor Lounge, which focuses on art, culture and cultural intersections through interviewing artists, thinkers and doers who are animating our NOW and informing our LATER. She is a graduate of Tennessee State University where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Government and Public Affairs.
Week 10 // Debb Moore
Debb Moore, a veteran radio host who has cherished the opportunity to assist in fostering the sounds of Americas’ only indigenous art form – Jazz! During her broadcast career she has produced and hosted a popular Jazz program heard throughout metro Atlanta and worldwide via the internet – always hoping at least one new set of ears joins the musical caravan and are able to perceive and enjoy the rich and vast history and sound of what is known affectionately as Americas’ classical music – Jazz!
Debb has become known for her prepared, articulate, insightful, candid, humorous and hard to get interviews with some of the world’s greatest artistic voices and most talked about talents in all genres of entertainment. They include trailblazers such as world renowned photographer Gordon Parks, Jazz saxophone legend Sonny Rollins, the multitalented Wynton Marsalis, the mesmerizing storyteller Abbey Lincoln, music impresario Quincy Jones, award winning actresses Ruby Dee, Angela Bassett, Public Television host Tavis Smiley and producer/director Julie Dash – to name only a few. Listening to one of her broadcasts/interviews has often been described as “soothing and inviting, as if sitting across the kitchen table sipping a cup of tea with your favorite person.”
Debb has produced several national programs including “Four Divas of Jazz,” spotlighting the storied lives and careers of Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan; the weeklong Duke Ellington centennial: “Duke@ 100” and Louis Armstrong titled “Looking @ Louis,” and most recently On The “Sonny” Side of Harlem (2018), all of which drew rave reviews from an enthusiastic national radio audience!
Debb has also taught a daylong workshop during the 2006 National Black Arts Festival, holding down the attention of excited festival goers during the class titled “Jazz Music is What I Want 2 Know,” it was attended by multi-generational, gender and ethnicities and celebrities in town for festival activities! Debb credits her beloved mother educator Mozelle E. Moore, with helping to shape her understanding of Jazz music by introducing her early in life to the glorious sounds of Jazz music, along with art and culture. Debb has not limited her broadcasting skills to only radio but has hosted television shows and has moderated several Jazz Times convention panels and has served as a moderator/panelist with the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) conferences. Debb continues to explore and expand her broadcasting prowess as a voice–over artist and looks forward to doing movie animation, documentaries and commercials.
Debb graduated from Clark College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism. She is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. A former Miss Black Atlanta and an Atlanta City council legislative aide where she worked tirelessly with the community. Debb also visits local elementary and middle schools and encourages children to embrace and live multidimensional lives by understanding and developing their interest in music, art and culture and learn to become critical thinkers so they can grow to become productive, contributing and engaged members of society. Her favorite word is “peace.”
Week 9 // Doris Derby
Activist, Documentary Photographer
Doris Derby is an American activist, documentary photographer and retired adjunct associate professor of anthropology at Georgia State University. She was active in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, and her work discusses the themes of race and African American identity.
Derby has exhibited her photographs both locally and nationally. Her photographs have been shown at the Smithsonian Institution, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, the Bronx Museum of the Arts in New York, and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, California. Derby’s photographs have also been exhibited in Atlanta, Georgia, at the High Museum, the Hammonds House Museum, Spelman College, the Fulton County Southwest Arts Center, and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. As well, her photographs have been exhibited at the Art, Design and Architecture Museum, UC Santa Barbara, the Jackson State University and Margaret Walker Alexander Center Art Galleries and the George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art in New Orleans. Other exhibits displayed in Atlanta were at Georgia State University, in the Gallery Lounge and The Ernest G. Welch Gallery. In 2009, her work was part of an exhibit, “Road to Freedom,” at the High Museum in Atlanta, which explored the role of photography in the Civil Rights Movement.
Derby lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, actor Bob Banks. They are active leaders in their community and members of local and national organizations.
We invite members of the True Colors family to send your recommendations for featured women! Please include your nominee’s name, e-mail address and a brief note on why you’d like us to feature your nominee. Email your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Week 8 // Dr. L. Nyrobi N. Moss
Dr. L. Nyrobi N. Moss is an award-winning costume designer with more than 29 years of experience. However, her work, life, interests, and careers have spanned a number of sectors including business, music, theatre, public health, travel, and academia.
Dr. Nyrobi’s list of artistic accomplishments includes the titles of author, director, background vocalist, actor and spoken word performance artist. Nyrobi is an original member of the triple-platinum gospel choir GOD’S PROPERTY (winners several 1998 Grammy, NAACP, Dove and Soul Train Music Awards), a former voting member of The Recording Academy – Atlanta Chapter, and currently serves as Co-Vice Chair on the Board of Directors at 7 Stages Theatre. Her costume design work has appeared in theatres nationally across Atlanta, Virginia, New York, Las Vegas, and Dallas, as well as, internationally in Holland, West Africa, South Africa, and Dubai. She is currently nominated for two Atlanta Suzi Bass theatre awards for Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical (Five Guys Named Moe – Theatrical Outfit) and Outstanding Design Team TYA (Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds – Synchronicity Theatre). In 2018, she was nominated for two awards for Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical. Nyrobi won two Suzi Bass awards for Outstanding Costume Design in a Play for Eclipsed (Synchronicity Theatre, 2017) and Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery (Horizon Theatre, 2010).
Dr. Nyrobi also has a diversified background in public health as a Sexual Health Educator, Certified Relationship Specialist, Theatre Intimacy Consultant, and Life Coach. She an international facilitator contracted to execute Training-of-the-Trainers for more than 12 evidence-based behavioral interventions both statewide and globally. She has developed, prepared and disseminated group seminars and individual training on self-help, healthy relationships, agency sustainability, HIV/AIDS/STIs, sexual reproductive health, alternative intimate relationships, and peer education models. Dr. Nyrobi is one of the original developers and evaluators for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Diffusion of Evidence–Based Interventions entitled, Healthy Love and is a published co-author in the journal Health Promotion Practice. She is a noted motivational public speaker and facilitator that has been invited to serve as a host, presenter and keynote speaker at various universities, conferences, and forums in the U.S. and abroad. As an effective orator, Dr. Nyrobi has been labeled engaging, dynamic, and unforgettable.
Holding several degrees, including two in Theatre, an MBA and a Doctorate, Nyrobi balances business and art by heading two consulting firms. Goddess Enterprises, LLC. offers business consulting services to non-profit organizations, entrepreneurs, artists, start-ups and small businesses. Goddess Complex Costumes and Styling, Inc. provides costume and fashion design; build, sew and alteration services; personal shopping and event styling; and image consultations and overhaul.
“Although my experiences appear to be in vastly different industries, the core of my success in each sector is my ability to see common threads, creatively bridge gaps, and build solid relationships. I see my life’s mission in being able to motivate, inspire, and plant seeds of growth and healing. In every capacity, it is the honor of my life to combine my loves of people, exploring culture, connecting communities, theatre, music, travel, life/work balance, and thriving in this human experience.“
Week 7 // Chandra Stephens-Albright
Managing Director, Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company
Chandra Stephens-Albright is the Managing Director of Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company, where she co-leads the theatre with Artistic Director Jamil Jude. She is accountable for the Company’s operational excellence and financial sustainability. Her scope includes patron experience, fund development, ticket sales and marketing, and audience development via productions and educational programming. Prior to joining True Colors in 2017, Chandra served as Executive Director at C5 Georgia.
Chandra joined the nonprofit sector in 2016, following a successful 22-year career at The Coca-Cola Company, where she directed productive teams, tackled tough challenges, and led strategic initiatives that drove positive business results.
An active community leader, Chandra currently serves on the boards of Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company, the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, and The Alliance Theatre Company. She is a past board member of the Emory Alumni Board, the Emory Annual Giving Board, the Emory College Alumni Board, Girls Inc. of Greater Atlanta, and the Multi-Cultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance.
Chandra is a member of the Leadership Atlanta Class of 2005 and was named a Woman of Excellence in 2019 by the Atlanta Business Leauge and The Atlanta Tribune. A native Atlantan, Chandra graduated from Emory University with a Chemistry degree. She was a Consortium for Graduate Studies in Management Fellow at the The Olin School of Business in St. Louis, Missouri, where she earned her MBA. She is married to Warren Albright.
We invite members of the True Colors family to send your recommendations for featured women! Please include your nominee’s name, e-mail address and a brief note on why you’d like us to feature your nominee. Email your nominations to email@example.com.
Week 6 // Sue Ross
Susan J. “Sue” Ross is a “photo-griot” with a specialization in documenting images which portray the comings and goings of the African-American community – cultural, political, social and economic. In the African tradition, the griot is the oral historian holding the essence of African history and culture through the word. Sue Ross, the photo-griot, uses photographs to tell the stories of the African-American community.“I am primarily a people photographer, finding grace and dignity in the faces of our people.”
Sue Ross has combined her lifework with her positions in government administration for the City of Atlanta, serving as photographer for many Atlanta events including the annual Dream Jamborees, the 1988 Democratic Convention, the Atlanta Third World Film Festivals, the Atlanta Jazz Festivals, the Nelson Mandela visits, King Week, the National Black Arts Festivals, the Centennial Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, and as the informal, and sometimes formal, chronicler of activities during the administrations of Atlanta’s five African-American mayors. Currently, she serves as vendor development manager for the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management.
Sue has exhibited through the city since 1985, including the Atlanta Life Insurance annual Afro-American Artists competitions, the National Arts Program Atlanta Municipal Employees exhibitions, Spelman College, City Gallery East, the Hammonds House Galleries, Atlanta Photography Gallery, the APEX Museum, Frames ‘n’ Fine Art Gallery, M’Print Gallery, the Ellis-Chambers Gallery, Changing the Face of Creativity, the Arts Exchange, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library, Rush Art Gallery (NYC), Auburn Avenue Research Library, Native Sun Gallery, Paradigm Artspace, Cleveland State University African-American Cultural Center, Salem College Fine Arts Center Gallery, Georgia Perimeter College, the Center for Aids and Humanity, Studioplex, Art Farm, One Night Stand, the Michael C. Carlos Museum, City Gallery Chastain, Mason-Murer Gallery, the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts, Georgia State University and Alabama State Univerity. Sue’s first solo exhibition, Jazz Atlanta Style, was exhibited at the Gilbert House as part of the 1999 Atlanta Jazz Festival and at the Southwest Arts Center (2005). Recent solo exhibitions include In a Mellotone: Portraits in Jazz at the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts (2007), Sheroes at the Douglass Theatre in Macon (2008) and Sankofa: Looking Back to Move Forward; National Black Arts Festival 1988-2010 at the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts (2011). Her portraits of Pearl Primus and Maya Angelou were included in the Fay Gold Selects show at APG. Her work was selected for the Atlanta Master Photographers exhibit at Kennesaw State University, the Reflections in Black exhibit at the Atlanta History Center and Civil Rights and Social Justice at Alabama State University.
Her work appears regularly in local and national publications. She served as the photo editor and principal photographer for the City’s weekly newspaper City Beat from 1996-2001, and later as principal photographer for the e-newsletter, City Newsbytes (2004).
Her photographs have appeared in numerous books, including In the Eye of the Muses: Selections from the Clark Atlanta University Galleries; Generations, Present Tense Past Perfect: 20th Anniversary of the National Black Arts Festival; Maya Angelou: A Glorious Celebration; Savoring the Salt: the Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara; Posing Beauty, Black: A Celebration of a Culture and Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers: 1840 to the Present by Deborah Willis, A Love Supreme by TaRessa and Calvin Stovall, Dr. Richard A. Long’s Black Americana and African Americans, Patricia Bell Scott’s Life Notes and Double Stitch, Andrea Young’s Life Lessons My Mother Taught Me, Andrew Young’s An Easy Burden and the catalogues Dreaming Identities, 30 Years of the Atlanta Jazz Festival and Sistagraphy: A 10 Year Retrospective.
Sue’s portraits of Miles Davis and Pearl Primus are in the permanent collection of Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries. Her work toured in the national exhibit Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, curated by Deborah Willis. Her 2011 solo exhibition “Sankofa: Looking Back to Move Forward” explored the 22 year history of the National Black Arts Festival. Her work was recently featured in ‘Dreaming Identities’ at the Arnika Dawkins Gallery, curated by Dr Deborah Willis, and is currently on display in exhibits at AUC Woodruff Library, Southwest Arts Center and Stonecrest Library.
She is a 2004 recipient of the Paul R. Jones Family Fund’s first national Spiral Award to Artists of Distinction and has been honored for her cultural work by the Trumpet Awards Foundation, Spelman College Digital Moving Image Salon, Rolling Out Magazine Top 25 Women in Atlanta, Who’s Who in Black Atlanta,Welcome Magazine MECCA Award, Concerned Black Clergy, the Black Women Film Preservation Project, the Hammonds House Museum, the Center for Democratic Renewal and the Atlanta City Council. Sue is one of 5 photographers honored for their lifelong commitment to documenting African-American life and culture by the Georgia House of Representatives.
Sue is a founding member of Sistagraphy™: the collective of african-american women photographers, a member of MOCA and the Atlanta Photography Group. She serves on the boards of the Black Women Film Network, the BronzeLens Film Festival, the Hammonds House Museum, Nutrition Plus HHC and Sistagraphy. Sue also served for many years on the boards of the National Black Arts Festival, the Atlanta African Film Society and the Metropolitan Atlanta Coalition of 100 Black Women.
We invite members of the True Colors family to send your recommendations for featured women! Please include your nominee’s name, e-mail address and a brief note on why you’d like us to feature your nominee. Email your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Week 5 // Dominique Morisseau
Dominique Morisseau is a playwright whose works portray the lives of individuals and communities grappling with economic and social changes, both current and historical. With a background as an actor and spoken-word poet, she uses lyrical dialogue to construct emotionally complex characters who exhibit humor, vulnerability, and fortitude as they cope with sometimes desperate circumstances.
Her plays juxtapose beauty with destruction, hope with despair, and bring to light the complicated realities of urban African American communities. The Detroit Project, a trilogy of works inspired by August Wilson’s Century Cycle, paints an authentic picture of the city at three moments in time. Set during the riots of the summer of 1967, Detroit ’67 (2013) delves into the bond between a brother and sister and the difficult, life-altering decisions they must make against a backdrop of chaos and economic instability. Paradise Blue (2015) dramatizes the lives and music of the jazz community in a Detroit neighborhood in 1949, where legendary artists performed and flourished before urban renewal policies forever altered the landscape. The final play in the trilogy, Skeleton Crew (2016), is set in 2008 in an automotive stamping plant during the worst of the recession and centers on characters wrestling with conscience, identity, and the instinct for economic survival. Music features prominently throughout The Detroit Project, with Motown, jazz, and hip-hop tracks serving to accentuate a mood and underscore dialogue, while Morisseau captures the city’s distinctive rhythms of speech to further convey the specificity of place.
Other works include Sunset Baby (2012), a raw, potent look at a daughter’s relationships with her estranged revolutionary father and her drug-dealing boyfriend, and Pipeline (2017), which explores a mother’s desperation and fatalism as she witnesses her black son’s seeming inability to avoid the “school to prison pipeline.” Still early in her career, Morisseau is a powerful storyteller whose examination of character and circumstance is a call for audiences to consider the actions and responsibilities of society more broadly.
Dominique Morisseau received a B.F.A. (2000) from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She is currently a Residency Five Playwright at the Signature Theatre. She has had work commissioned by the Steppenwolf Theatre, the Hip Hop Theater Festival, the South Coast Repertory, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; and her work has been staged at the Public Theater, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and the Atlantic Theater Company.
Week 4 // Leona Barr Davenport
President and CEO, Atlanta Business League
Leona Barr-Davenport is President & CEO of the Atlanta Business League (ABL), Atlanta’s oldest minority business development and advocacy organization.
As president, she works with the board of directors to provide increased access to business opportunities for minorities with specific emphasis on the development of businesses owned or operated by African-Americans. Her background combines more than twenty-five (25) years experience in the areas of customer service, program development, organizational management & fund raising for associations and youth oriented programs.
A native of Johnsonville, South Carolina, Leona received a B.S. Degree in Business Administration & Economics from Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. In 1999, Leona was awarded the inaugural Dean’s Community improvement Scholarship totaling $28,000 in the School of Business Administration by Clark Atlanta University. She completed the requirements for a Master of Business Administration with a Marketing concentration in the Weekend Working Professionals Program in August 2001.
Several organizations have been the beneficiary of her community and civic volunteerism. They include the Southwest Atlanta Youth Business Organization (SWAYBO), Metro-Atlanta Opportunities industrialization Center (OIC), the Atlanta inter-Alumni Council of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the Voter Education Project, inc., Atlanta Red Cross, Minority Recruitment (2002 Co-Chair);Workforce investment Board for the State of Georgia; Atlanta Development Authority; Clark Atlanta University Community Advisory Board (2002-03 Chair); Workforce Development for Fulton County; Boy Scouts of America and the National Leadership Coalition on Aids. She currently serves as an advisor for SWAYBO and is a previous board member. Subsequent to coming on staff with the Atlanta Business League, Ms. Barr-Davenport served on the ABL Board of Directors.
Ms. Barr-Davenport serves on the Advisory Boards and committees for Business NOW of Goodwill industries of Atlanta, inc.; the Atlanta Coalition of 100 Black Women of Atlanta; the Community Foundation and United Way of Metro Atlanta. Her current board affiliations include Crossroads Community Ministries, Economic Development Corporation of Fulton County; Minority Entrepreneurship Education, inc. (Secretary) and the National Business League. She is a 1999 Leadership Georgia graduate, 2002 Leadership Atlanta graduate and recent graduate of the Diversity Leadership Academy.
In 1997, Leona received the Keeper of the Dream A ward from the Golden Neo-Life Diamite (GNLD) Wellness Center and Bradley-Carmack, Inc.; the Ordinary Women with Extraordinary Talents Awardfrom Women Looking Ahead News Magazine, Inc. in 1998; Outstanding SWAYBO Advocate in 1999; the President’s Award from Concerned Black Clergy in 2000; the Community Achievement Award in celebration of the 10th Anniversary of For Sisters Only from WAOK/WVEE Radio; the 2002 Pinnacle Leadership Awardfrom the Fortitude Educational and Cultural Development Foundation, the AIACJUNCF Outstanding Alumnus Award and the Advocacy Award from the National Association of Minority Contractors. in April 2006 Leona was featured in Atlanta Woman Magazine as its Woman of the Year Nominee and was inducted into the 2006 YWCA Academy of Women Achievers.
Leona resides in Sharpsburg, GA, with her husband, Jewel L. Davenport. She is member of Antioch Baptist Church North where Reverend Dr. Cameron Madison Alexander is pastor.
Week 3 // Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado
CEO, Preserve Black Atlanta; Assistant Professor of African-American History at Morehouse College
Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado has studied the history and culture of African Americans throughout the Black Atlantic World. Whether in the classroom, museum, or in the field, she has sought to document and to teach the African-American odyssey through various mediums.
As the CEO of Preserve Black Atlanta, a non profit 501(c)(3) dedicated to identifying, recording, and preserving African-American history and culture, Dr. Sims-Alvarado has developed a model for utilizing historical and cultural assets as a catalyst for economic and community development. She has worked with some of Atlanta’s leading institutions: the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta History Center, Herndon Home Museum, and Central Atlanta Progress.
Dr. Sims-Alvarado received a B.A. in Mass Media Arts and a M.A. in African and African-American Studies from Clark Atlanta University and a Ph.D. in History from Georgia State University. She is currently pursuing a M.A. degree in Museum Studies from Harvard University. As well, she is a multi-recipient of the prestigious National Endowment for Humanities Summer Institute Fellowship with the Georgia Historical Society and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University.
Dr. Sims-Alvarado has served as the Program Director of the John Lewis Fellowship with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and has taught at Agnes Scott College, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, and Georgia State University. She serves as a leading authority on Alonzo Herndon, Atlanta’s first black millionaire as well as the Nineteenth-Century Back-to-Africa Movement in Georgia.
She serves as the civil rights historian and exhibition consultant of “A Right to Freedom: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr” with the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden. And, she is presenting a 4-mile photography exhibition on the Atlanta Beltline Trails that celebrates Atlanta’s contribution to the Modern Civil Rights Movement.
Dr. Sims-Alvarado is the author of the newly published book, the Atlanta and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1968, with Arcadia Press.
Week 2 // Maiesha McQueen
Singer, Actor, Dancer; “Charlesetta” in True Colors’ production of East Texas Hot Links
Maiesha McQueen has graced stages all over the nation most recently as “Becky” in the hit musical Waitress, and most recently appeared on True Colors’ stage at the Soutwest Arts Center as “Charlesetta”, the no-nonsense owner of the Top O’the Hill Cafe in East Texas Hot Links.
“[Maiesha McQueen] moves and delivers language in a variety of ways…Her voice is velvet and her delivery is always authentic and original.” -Kenny Leon, Tony Award-winning director
McQueen is an alum of Tri-Cities High School in East Point. There, she met her first mentor, Freddie Hendricks, who was her theater teacher at Tri-Cities and founder of The Youth Ensemble of Atlanta (YEA). The YEA empowered McQueen through storytelling and self-created work, giving her a non-traditional exposure to musicals. There, the company of young actors would create their own songs and their own scripts written about subjects that mattered to them. The first traditional, commercial musical she took part in was Godspell when she was in the ninth grade.
After her time at Tri-Cities, McQueen moved to New York where she graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2002. McQueen moved back to Atlanta in 2005. She started to teach theater at the KIPP Strive Academy in 2014 and credits founding principal Ed Chang with supporting her desire to teach as well as pursue performing.
“Teaching, it wasn’t a Plan B for me. It was an integral part of my development as an artist and a professional,” McQueen shared with the AJC. While teaching, she performed True Colors’ production of Chasin’ Dem Blues, quickly becoming an audience favorite.
McQueen has traveled the globe for over a decade as co-founder, original composer and lead ensemble member of the touring company, Progress Theatre, whose work has been presented at spaces such as The Public Theater, 14th Street Playhouse, The Kennedy, and World Music Festival in Amsterdam. McQueen is also a certified teaching artist of over a decade, and provides classes, workshops, and mentorship to youth of all ages.
Week 1 // Nikki Toombs
Director of Education, Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company; Assistant Director, East Texas Hot Links
Nikki Toombs, actress, director, playwright, commissioner and True Color’s very own Director of Education, has had significant success in both the educational and professional theatre worlds. As an arts educator, Toombs has created programming for True Colors (Act like a Lady and Page to the Stage), for East Metro Health (S.T.A.R. Arts Camps) and for the Fred and Mattie Foundation (D.I.M.E. by Design). As an Artist, she has directed over 40 productions and written four stage plays (Normal, B.L.A.C.K., Twisted Colors and Parallel) which garnered her theatre program both sub-regional and regional championship wins.
Toombs’ unrelenting commitment to providing quality instruction to her students warranted her Teacher of the Year honors in both the Birmingham City (Huffman Speech Arts Division) and Gwinnett County Public School (Meadowcreek High School) systems. Professionally, her plays, Hallways and Lemons were both produced at the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center and the 14th Street Playhouse. Her newest work, B.L.A.C.K. had a staged reading at True Colors Theatre Company
In September 2017, Toombs was appointed Arts Commissioner for the city of Snellville, tasked with bringing artistic programming to the citizens of this Gwinnett County, Georgia suburb. She was also selected nationally, as one of 12 teaching artists for the National Endowment of the Arts and Educational Theatre Association’s Model Curriculum Framework. Toombs has been commissioned to conduct acting workshops and seminars throughout the country.
She is a graduate of Alabama A&M University and received a master’s in Arts Intergraded Curriculum from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Some of Toombs’ professional affiliations include: The Playwrights’ Center, International Literacy Association, Reading Recovery Council of North America, Southeastern Theatre Conference, Educational Theatre Association, and Sigma Alpha Iota Professional Musical Fraternity for Women (Charter member Theta Zeta).