You are here: American University Arts Creativity and Innovation for Social Healing and Restorative Justice

Creativity & Innovation for Social Healing & Restorative Justice

Creativity & Innovation for Social Healing & Restorative Justice

Saturday, November 2, 2019 | 2:00–9:30 p.m.
Katzen Arts Center
Daniel Abraham and Sybil Roberts-Williams, co-chairs
AU Chamber Singers performing Considering Matthew Shepard

In partnership with
Office of Campus Life
College of Arts and Sciences
President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion
Black Faculty and Staff Affinity Group
Latino & Hispanic Faculty & Staff Affinity Group
LGBTQ+ Faculty & Staff Affinity Group
Supported by an AU Inclusive Excellence mini-grant

During times of division and acrimony, how do communities come together to repair the harm caused by hate, work through trauma, and strive for a just future? How can art, creativity, and innovation play a role in building relationships, catalyzing change, and empowering individuals and communities? How can our work as citizens, students, scholars, and leaders promote policy and ideas that deliver true healing and justice? How does the AU community engage these questions as we struggle with acts of hate on our own campus? This university-wide colloquium will explore the role of creativity and innovation for healing and restorative justice.


For colloquium questions or information:
Karyn Castro

Katzen Arts Center

Colloquium Schedule at Katzen Arts Center

Opening Performance, Resolute, choreographed by Britta Peterson
Opening Remarks by Daniel J. Myers, Provost
Plenary 1: "Where Are We Now"; moderated by Fanta Aw, VP of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence, featuring Caty Borum Chattoo, Omekongo Dibinga, Christopher Morgan, and Sarah Stefana Smith
Break and Reflective Conversation
Session 1 (see details below)
Break and Reflective Conversation
Session 2 (see details below)
Break and Reflective Conversation
Plenary 2 (at Abramson Recital Hall)
Reception with Light Dinner and a Day’s Reflections
Concert by AU Chamber Singers: Considering Matthew Shepard

Session 1

Join the editor of the ILA BLB Volume on Grassroots Leadership & The Arts For Social Change to discuss authentic leadership as it applies to people power, community building and social movements. Artists, throughout history, have always been at the forefront of movements of protest, resistance, and liberation. Their efforts kindled a fire, aroused the imagination and rallied the troops culminating in real transformational change. No matter what form their cultural activism took, these movers and shakers have been viewed as authentic, reliable, and trustworthy shepherds and allies for social change. Nevertheless, until now, with the release of the special BLB volume on the topic, artists have been overlooked or given too little attention in the literature on leadership. This interactive session seeks to explore the intersection of authentic, grassroots leadership and the arts for social change by accentuating the many victories artists have won for humanity and engage in a vigorous dialog with those in attendance.


Susan (Susie) J. Erenrich is a social movement history documentarian. She uses the arts for social change to tell stories about transformational leadership, resilience, and societal shifts as a result of mobilization efforts by ordinary citizens. Susie holds a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from Antioch University and is the founder/executive director of the Cultural Center for Social Change. She has more than four decades of experience in nonprofit/arts administration, civic engagement, community service, and community organizing and has taught at universities, public schools, and community-based programs for at-risk, low-income populations. Currently a professor at American University, she is the editor of Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: An Anthology of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and Grassroots Leadership & the Arts for Social Change (a volume in ILA's BLB series). She is the producer/host of Wasn't That A Time: Stories & Songs That Moved The Nation, a live community radio broadcast on WERA.FM. Listen on-demand or live every Friday from 1:00 - 2:00 PM Eastern time.

Of the many themes in Kenyan society, there is none more compelling than those concerning identity in a supposedly post-colonial environment. “Supposedly” because the psychological manifestations of colonialism on the members of this society continue to permeate the collective consciousness in a variety of significant and damaging ways. The implication that British and other Western knowledge and cultural systems are superior to the rich indigenous scholarship, research and culture that can be found in Kenya is a grievous wrong that needs to be corrected. Efforts towards this end can be effectively made through education and new curricular models that celebrate Kenya, East Africa and African thought and culture. This presentation will explore how new curriculums (particularly those in the arts) anchored in this place and these people can address the devastating erosion of national, regional and African cultural identities. We will also employ examples using indigenous musical instruments in a contemporary musical setting that can provide the necessary bridge between past, present and future. It is said that a culture that has lost its past will also lose its present and future. Questions regarding assimilation asking, “how long does it take for a culture to truly assimilate new influences?”, and concerning languages (including music) and their role in shaping thought and cultural identity will also be explored. Presentation will be from Nairobi via audio/visual feed accompanied by short audio/visual clips to illustrate some of the concepts. 

Panelists: Blasto, Barissa, Dominic, and Wangũi wa Kamonji


Cellist and educator Nancy Jo Snider performs regularly in a variety of chamber and period instrument ensembles in venues ranging from The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theatre and L'Opèra Royal de Versailles, to experimental stages and living rooms. Performance highlights have included collaborations with Trisha Yearwood, Miřenka Čechová (Spitfire Company, Czech Republic), Modern Musick, Shakespeare Theatre, Folger Consort (notably a performance featuring Sir Derek Jacobi), Washington Ballet, Washington Bach Consort and VERGE. She is a passionate advocate for new music and co-founded the new music collective INTERFERENCE with Steve Antosca and William Brent in 2015.

Ms. Snider is proud to be the Director of the Music Program at American University where she received the Outstanding Teacher of the Year in an Adjunct Appointment Award in 2005. She is a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher who derives much joy from sharing what she loves with others. Currently, she serves on the full-time music faculty of American University in the position of Hurst Senior Professorial Lecturer. Ms. Snider performed in South Africa with the Spitfire Company at the 2013 National Arts Festival where the production was awarded “Best Overseas Production.” She has enjoyed continued performing opportunities in New York, France, South Africa and Russia and, as a Fellow of the Likhachev Foundation in 2016, delivered a lecture at St. Petersburg State University about music in the 21st century. Her lecture at the Hirschhorn Museum, Music in the work of Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartensson was also a notable highlight Summer 2019 found her with INTERFERENCE new music collective performing “Ma” (co-created with composer Steve Antosca) at the Zero Point Festival in Prague. She is currently living in Nairobi, Kenya serving as a Visiting Lecturer at US International University-Africa to work on curriculum development and performance.

In this session, we will examine how representation in media plays a role in healing and identity. Utilizing the FX series Pose as a basis, we hope to highlight storytelling and the ways it has and will evolve to be more inclusive, particularly of the narratives of people of color. We explore the ways in which retelling history can shape the future through three approaches: hope as a method of historical grounding and future projection, the evolution of documented language to uncover possibilities of existence, and centering people of color’s experiences . Through this exploration of love and storytelling, we hope to center the work media representation has done to center queer and trans people of color.The objective of this session is to explore the ways in which bringing to light and grounding ourselves in history offers new way to imagine many futures and exist within our present. By analyzing ‘Pose’ and its nuances within representation and resistance, we hope to encourage folks to be more critical of media and the outward expression of identity. We will draw on texts such as “Radical Storytelling: Reading Chicana Survival Narratives,” and “Living with Death: Storytelling, Trauma, and Renewal” which illustrate the importance of sharing stories, especially for marginalized people who face trauma or have in the past, including intergenerational trauma, which is often specific to racialized groups. We hope to foster a conversation on the importance of representation and narrative telling through the lens of 21st century explorations of radical histories.


Maria Estefany Gramajo (she/her) is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences pursuing a BA in American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and a minor in Philosophy. She is from the Bay Area, California and hopes to become a professor.

Guadalupe Mabry-Torres (she/her) is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences pursuing a BS in Public Health on the pre-med track. She is from Guadalupe, Arizona and hopes to pursue a career in reproductive health care.

Maggie Stogner and Rick Stack will show 15 minutes of clips of their documentary, In The Executioner’s Shadow: A film about Justice, Injustice and the Death Penalty, followed by a discussion with the audience of the strategic creative approach and design we used to achieve high impact. The film has received numerous film festival laurels including the prestigious Women Critics Filmmaker Circle Award for Best Directing. It is being used as a catalyst in grassroots campaigns across the country to influence hearts and minds about the death penalty and criminal justice reform.The documentary intertwines three powerful personal stories depicting the destructive nature of capital punishment. Two narratives represent the opposing positions of the death penalty debate. The third is the rarely revealed insights of a former chief executioner. The work is not a polemic. The innovative storytelling approach takes viewers on personal journeys that inspire forgiveness and social healing. Innovative outreach strategies developed in tandem with the film are designed to encourage personal engagement and civil discourse.


Richard Stack began researching the interaction of courts and media after his work in the Public Defenders Office revealed the criminal justice system’s frequent mistakes. His first books pioneered litigation communication. His third and fourth books – Dead Wrong: Violence, Vengeance & Victims of Capital Punishment and Grave Injustice: Unearthing Wrongful Executions – apply theories of public relations to influence opinion about capital punishment. Stack is among the thought-leaders who reframed the national debate from, “Does the death penalty deter crime?” to “Can we trust government to make irreversible, life-and-death decisions, when it errs so often?" His efforts have been acknowledged by political and civic leaders in Maryland for helping repeal the state’s death penalty. Professor Stack earned his B.A. in Psychology from Indiana University and his J.D. from the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

Maggie Burnette Stogner is the Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University’s School of Communication. She has been directing, producing, and writing award-winning documentaries for 30 years. She was a film producer at National Geographic for ten years and supervised over 200 documentaries for their signature series “EXPLORER”. Through her production company Blue Bear Films, she creates large-screen films and immersive media for world-touring museum exhibitions for National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institution, LucasFilm, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and others. And, she recently directed and produced the award-winning independent film “In the Executioner’s Shadow”, which won the prestigious Women Film Critics Circle award for Best Directing. She is a judge for the national Emmy Awards Best Documentary and Best Natural History categories; a member of the Academy of TV Arts and Sciences; and an Executive Member of Women in Film and Video.

The AU Library Makerspace will host event participants in our space (located in the lower level of the library) to collaboratively work on a collage project. Makerspace is an open, safe space where people can perform community healing through creative collaboration, particularly with students who use the space as a gathering place to create as an outlet for stress relief, etc. To create this collage, participants will be using current periodicals which feature articles/media particularly relevant to the social and political landscape of our time. The hope for the interactive session, and by creating this mural together, is to spark discussion and have event participants experience the healing nature of creative collaboration. The mural itself will be an imprint and reflection of society today and will capture this moment for the AU community as we will display it in the library Makerspace. We will have all supplies necessary for this interactive session.


Donna Femenella is the Course Reserves Coordinator at American University Library. In her role, she oversees the daily functions of the Course Reserves and Technology Borrowing desk as well as helping faculty provide access to their course materials.

Session 2

Comedy is a genre and artistic mechanism for expression that aligns deeply with social justice. By expressing social critique and creatively engaging in tough social issues – in ways that can either skewer the status quo or infuse motivating hope and optimism into dismal problems – comedy can attract attention and engage audiences in ways that are memorable and effective, and it also can supply resilience and healing for marginalized communities dealing with the daily trauma of injustice. Given the importance of public engagement with the world’s most urgent challenges, the strategic use of comedy is not insignificant. Research across disciplines shows that comedy is uniquely persuasive, memorable, enlightening, and attention-getting when it comes to serious issues and engaging publics in social challenges.

The contemporary moment is powerful for social justice – and urgent. Contemporary activism in the networked media era has changed public engagement dramatically; social justice and civil society groups are newly empowered as content producers taking control of telling their own stories. They are also influencing entertainment industry marketplace trends. Today’s media environment means that social justice groups can, and must, engage the public through creative, entertaining ways – not through one-dimensional strategies of information and journalistic framing alone – if they want to be effective.In this talk, the author of “A Comedian and An Activist Walk Into a Bar” (forthcoming, University of California Press) will address how comedy works, and how and why contemporary social justice organizations are embracing comedy for public engagement, from environmental issues to racial justice.


Caty Borum Chattoo is Executive Director of the Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI), an innovation lab and research center based at American University’s School of Communication in Washington, D.C., that showcases and studies media and social change. Her book, "A Comedian and An Activist Walk Into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice," with co-author Lauren Feldman, is forthcoming from University of California Press. Her documentary book, "Story Movements: How Documentaries Empower People and Inspire Social Change," is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. In 2017, she launched The Laughter Effect, a research and creative initiative, and in 2019, she co-created and launched, with Moore + Associates, the Yes, And Laughter Lab, a creative incubator of comedy for social good, in partnership with Comedy Central. In 2016, she launched Story Movements, a biennial national convening at the intersection of civic storytelling and social change. As a film and TV producer, Borum Chattoo’s social-justice documentaries have aired internationally and nationally, and her creative and research work has been funded by more than 35 grants and contracts from the MacArthur Foundation, Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Open Society Foundations, many more. A former philanthropy director and producer with legendary TV producer Norman Lear, program officer at the Kaiser Family Foundation, and senior vice-president in social change communication at global agency FleishmanHillard, Borum Chattoo serves on the Board of Directors of three leading organizations working at the intersection of mediated storytelling and social justice: The Peabody Awards, Kartemquin Films, and Working Films.

American University Dance Faculty will introduce and lead participants through three practical tools for use in classroom, conversational and community settings. Participants will leave the workshop as a justice seeking body ready to encounter the unexpected and process individual experiences of collective resolution. No dance experience needed.


Britta Joy Peterson is a dance artist who choreographs, performs, designs, and collaborates on contemporary dance works. A native of the thriving Minneapolis arts community, BJP is now a DC-based creative, working locally, nationally, and internationally with travel informing and shaping both process and product. As a dance maker and educator working primarily in contemporary and jazz forms, BJP’s current research interests includes the intersections of responsive media and movement, prioritization of macro structure in the choreographic act, and in spatial/spacial design. BJP also specializes in dance for the theatrical stage, developing fresh material for classic plays and musicals, and devising choreographies and movement languages for new theatre works. Currently, BJP is the Director of Dance at American University in Washington DC, is choreographing several new works, regularly teaches across the nation, is in process with +++, a creative team producing performances, installations and workshops. She holds her BA in Dance and Communications, magna cum laude, from Gustavus Adolphus College and her MFA in Dance, summa cum laude, from Arizona State University.

During time of division, communities can transcend divisiveness by focusing on addressing timeless issues. Having recently completed a large multi-media public art installation work on gender-based violence, artist Marta Pérez-Garcia will share her experience of how, through the involvement of hundreds of participants, she was able to create an aesthetic space to stimulate reflection and conversations within the community on how gender-based violence has become an integral part of society. She worked with dozens of local survivors’ organizations in the District of Columbia and throughout Puerto Rico, creating a large and immersive 30 ft by 24 ft installation with a variety of features including a 10 ft metal structure supporting hundreds of nylon and fabric dolls created by survivors of gender-based violence during workshops.

Her presentation will cover the creative process, the project’s outcome, and the participant’s and public’s ownership of the issue. Through the piece, participants contributed, not only by giving a voice to women in marginalized communities, but also by fostering a cathartic and empowering dialogue through art. This installation was a call to action so that, through art, the community goes from silent witness to becoming an active healer.


Marta Pérez-Garcia was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She is a printmaker (reduction process), and also works on drawing, painting and installations. In 2017, the Library of Congress acquired several of her large-format color woodcuts. Her works have been exhibited in museums in the United States (including the Perez Art Museum in Miami) and in Puerto Rico, where she recently opened a new Installation on gender-based violence. Pérez-Garcia’s works are in the collections of the main museums of Puerto Rico, including the Museum of Contemporary Art of Puerto Rico, the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico, the Museum of Art of Bayamón and the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, and have been acquired by private collections such as the Chase Manhattan Bank, (New York, NY), the Reyes Veray Collection, (San Juan, PR), Jaime Fonalledas in Plaza Las Américas, (San Juan, PR) among others.

Pérez-Garcia has been awarded the First Prize at the Biennial Arte Joven, Chase Manhattan Bank (San Juan, PR, 1989), the first prize at the XIII Biennial of San Juan in Latin America and the Caribbean (2001). In 2003 I was awarded the Alfonso Arana Scholarship to study in Paris for a year, where she exhibited at the Grand Palais at the "Art in Capital" Salon, among others. Over the years, she has received the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities grants and notably, in 2018, was awarded a public Arts Grant to work on a project focusing on gender-based violence. She has exhibited in galleries in Washington DC such as the Inter-American Development Bank Gallery, among others. She has a Master of Fine Arts from the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, and has resided in Washington DC for more than 10 years.

AU has recently undergone a series of painful racist incidents that have torn at the fabric of our community. This summer, a group of faculty, staff, students, and administrators began to explore how using restorative practices could serve as a vehicle to (re)build the authentic relationships needed to hold ourselves and each other accountable. In this interactive workshop, we invite participants to engage in a series of restorative circles to explore how this practice could play a role in bearing witness to the harm and building the space for healing our community so deeply needs.


Dr. Amanda Taylor's research and teaching focus on the intersection of culture, power, and education in domestic and international contexts. She earned her doctorate of education and her master's in education at Harvard University, where her dissertation focused on antiracist educational policy implementation. Her research on antiracist education and transnational and multicultural community organizing for educational justice has been published in top peer-reviewed journals and presses including the Harvard Educational Review, Oxford University Press, and the Peabody Journal of Education. She is currently serving as Assistant Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at AU, where she works to collaboratively implement the university’s plan for inclusive excellence. For the past five years, Dr. Taylor has been a faculty member in the School of International Service, where she served as Program Director of the MA in Intercultural and International Communication. She has won several awards for her student mentorship and teaching, which focuses on cross-cultural communication, international education, and culturally responsive program design. She is also the education team lead for AU's new Antiracist Research and Policy Center led by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. Most recently, Dr. Taylor worked as a Faculty Fellow for AU’s Center for Teaching, Research, and Learning where she developed and co-led several faculty learning communities focused on building culturally sustaining classrooms. She began her career as a K-12 teacher in urban, rural, and international schools, and served as the Director of Graduate Enrollment Management in SIS. Along with her supportive partner, Dr. Taylor is the proud mom of two active young sons.

Sybil R. Williams is a playwright and dramaturge who currently teaches in both the Theatre/Musical Theatre Program and the Critical Race and Gender Studies Collaborative where she serves as program director for African American and African Disapora Studies. Her areas of research include African and Caribbean indigenous performance and women’s performance; as well as theatre- for- social change. Her research has taken her to South Africa, Tanzania, Cuba, and Jamaica as well as the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia.

Her work has been professionally produced by Chicago’s ETA Creative Arts Theatre; New York’s National Black Theater; Pittsburgh’s Kuntu Theatre; University of Pennsylvania; CALARTS; and Harlem’s Rebel Theatre and the Red Shirt Reading Series in New York City. Her latest work I Am a Drum was presented as part of FRESSH Theatre’s inaugural season in March 2016.

As a dramaturge, she completed a three-year project creating a docudrama to celebrate the lives of the Little Rock Nine titled It Happened in Little Rock and the Latino/African-American Theatre festival Voices at the River at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. She served as dramaturge for Three Little Birds at Adventure Theatre . Her latest projects include a new musical titled U.G.L.Y. at Sigworks Summer Musical Theatre Development Series, and a new hip-hop musical at New York City’s Flea Theatre titled Synching Ink to premiere at Houston’s Alley Theatre in January 2017. She most recently worked at Signature Theatre as dramaturge on The Scottsboro Boys in June 2018. Her play From U Street to the Cotton Club produced by the In-Series January 2019. An additional play, Gloria and Rwanda was produced as a reading by FRESHH Theatre in July 2019. Her commissioned play tentatively titled Stormy Weather will be produced by the IN-Series in October 2019.  

AU Chamber Singers: Considering Matthew Shepard

Matthew Shepard next to window

Friday, November 1 at 7:30
Saturday, November 2 at 7:30
Sunday, November 3 at 3:00

Daniel Abraham, conductor
Seth Andrew Watring, visual realization
Abramson Family Recital Hall, Katzen Arts Center
Talk-back panels to follow each performance

Join us for the first complete hearing in the mid-Atlantic of this powerful work: an oratorio concerning the life and tragic death of Matthew Shepard, the openly gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered out of hate. The tragedy brought national and international attention to the need for LGBT state and federal hate-crime legislation. In October of 2018, twenty years after his death, Matthew was interred at the Washington National Cathedral.

The life and death of Matthew Shepard inspired this 2016 oratorio by award-winning composer-conductor Craig Hella Johnson. Incorporating a breadth of musical styles, the texts are drawn from passages of Shepard’s college journal, newspaper reports, testimony by his mother at the trial of her son’s murderers, and rich poetry by Rumi and others.

Owing to the nature of the subject matter, this performance may not be suitable for young audience members.