In preparation for the conversation, J.J. El-Far, Megan Sandberg-Zakian and I prepared five framing questions:
- Identify the real need. What is the core issue? How do we propose to solve it? Who are we talking about when we refer to the "They" that are the (mainstream/major regional) players who are lagging in this area? What are the specifics of each situation and what would significant improvement look like?
- In addition to the terms "diversity," "inclusion," and others reexamined during Fall Forum, what other terms around race and ethnicity still need further unpacking such as "whiteness/blackness," "exotic/ethnic," and "representation."
- What would the ideal situation look and feel like? How will we be able to recognize it when we reach our goal?
- How might we shift the language of "difficulty" (i.e., "It's so hard to find board members of color.") to language of opportunity? By the same token (pun intended), how do we negotiate the linguistic territory of racism based on color versus one based on culture or ethnicity?
- What are the resources we can provide an organization? How do we act as advocates for inclusivity? How do we become "Diversity Ambassadors"?
The conversation felt like an extension of the work we were trained to do as Young Leaders of Color at the National Conference back in June. It was powerful, insightful and rejuvenating. Ultimately, there are no easy answers to any of these questions. The social constructs of race, culture, heritage, ethnicity and nationality have long been used as tools to allow or deny access to opportunities, resources and success. And winning the war against institutionalized exclusion will be a long and arduous endeavor. It requires patience, courage, diligence, and humility, all of which must be cultivated. I left the conversation feeling empowered and encouraged that my colleagues and I are working hard to become Diversity Ambassadors and Lead the Charge for change.
As a Diversity Ambassador, the most immediate impact I have is through my work as a playwright. I write about people of color and strive to write roles for women that are strong and meaningful. When going into production, I recommend women and people of color for artistic, production and staffing positions. It's incredibly frustrating when my recommendations don't manifest as I would like, but I am committed to these issues and am in it for the long haul. As a faculty member at the University of the District of Columbia, I am able to teach my students about the world and business they're about to enter. I try instill them with the cultural awareness and sense of responsibility that they'll need in order to be strong leaders as well. Of course, I'm also excited to have this blog. In the days, weeks, months and years to come, I hope to continue having these challenging, but necessary and essential conversations about diversity and inclusion.
TCG has invited those who attended the 2012 Fall Forum on Governance: Leading the Charge and those, like me, who wish they could have attended, to keep the conversation on diversity and inclusion going. They have created a public group on 2.0 called, Leading the Charge: Advancing Diversity and Inclusion. Here, you can take part in the conversation. They've even uploaded the brilliant and useful documents and resources made available at the Fall Forum, and you can even upload your own.
Now, since I wasn't able to attend the Fall Forum, I asked those who were there to share their thoughts, expectations and impression. Here's who we'll be hearing from:
Katie Christie is the Founder and Director of Voices United, Inc., which she established as a high school senior in 1989 to promote cross-cultural understanding through the performing and visual arts. Katie has facilitated and coordinated international arts programs for youth in Japan and Lesotho and directed original productions at the World Youth Congress in Quebec in 2008 and again in Instanbul in 2010. A graduate of New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida, Katie has been recognized for her work on behalf of Voices United with diverse international accolades. In 2001, Voices United was recognized as one of the top 100 organizations addressing race and culture in President Clinton’s “Promising Practices” One America Initiative on Race. Most recently, Katie was nationally featured in “Making a Difference” on NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams. Before dedicating herself full time to Voices United, Katie taught drama, music and creative movement at Casa dei Bambini Montessori School on Miami Beach. She has served as Artistic Director on Peace Child International’s arts exchange programs in Russia and South Africa, and was a Facilitator at the Peace Child International Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. She was the Advisor to the Key Biscayne Youth Council and is a member of the Theater Communication Group/Young Leaders of Colors.
JJ El-Far is an Arab-American producer and interdisciplinary artist based in Harlem. She was named one of Theatre Communications Group's Young Leaders of Color. She currently holds the position of Arts Intern at the British Council in the British Consulate General. She is the Founding Executive Director of Otto Award nominated Hybrid Theatre Works, a network of theater artists engaging in cultural diplomacy through international exchange and innovative theatrical events. She is the Founding Creative Director of the multi-disciplinary Harlem Arts Festival. JJ is a Core Team member of Theatre Without Borders with whom she helped produce the “Acting Together on the World Stage” conferences at Brandeis University and La Mama. She is the contributing theater critic for Uptown Flavor. JJ has worked with The Castillo Theatre, Ted X Harlem, LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, the NY Arab American Comedy Fest, Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, Berkshire Theatre Festival, and the Jerash Festival of Arts and Culture (Amman, Jordan). She has presented at the ReOrient Festival and Forum at Golden Thread Productions, Arts in the One World at Brown University; and attended the 2010 La Mama International Symposium for Directors in Umbria, Italy. She holds a B.A. from Brandeis University in Theater Arts and International Global Studies.
Al Heartley is currently the Education Associate at Cleveland Play House where he coordinates and implements all education programming as well as supervises the inaugural class of apprentices. In November, Al was selected as a Small Group Facilitator for the Theater Communications Group’s 2012 Fall Forum on Diversity and Inclusion. Al was recently the Multicultural Leadership Fellow in Theater Management. He previously worked at Steppenwolf as the Casting Intern under the supervision of Associate Artistic Director Erica Daniels. While in Chicago Al worked for Writers Theater and was briefly the Associate Artistic Director of Sankofa Theater Company which is dedicated to works by minority writers. Al also focused on new plays while in Chicago working as dramaturgy support for the workshop of a play by Robert O’ Hara at Steppenwolf and directing a ready of Same Difference by Sam Roberson with Sankofa Theater. Al as assistant directed Greenetree Theater’s Yellowman under the direction of Jonathan Wilson. This past summer, Al was honored to represent Steppenwolf Theater as a Young Leader of Color at the 2012 TCG Conference in Boston. Al graduated from Florida State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater with an emphasis in Directing and Theater Studies.
Megan Sandberg-Zakian is a current recipient of the Theater Communications Group (TCG) “Future Leaders” grant to spend two seasons at Central Square Theater (Cambridge, MA), working on a series of publicly engaged development and production projects. Most recently, Megan co-developed and directed Danny Bryck's "docu-play" about Occupy Boston, No Room For Wishing, which was co-produced by CST, Company One and Boston Playwrights' Theatre, and is currently touring. Other recent directing projects include co-developing The Cabaret Series at CST, co-directing the Boston premiere of Tarell McCraney's The Brother Sister Plays at Company One (IRNE Award, Best Production; IRNE nominee, Best Director; Elliot Norton nominee, Best Production), Lydia Diamond’s Harriet Jacobs at Underground Railway Theater (Elliot Norton nominee, Best New Play; IRNE nominee, Best Ensemble, Best Actress) and the Rhode Island premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Perishable Theatre/Trinity Repertory Company (Motif Awards, Best Production, Best Set Design, Best Actor). Megan has served as Associate Artistic Director of the Providence Black Repertory Company (RI) and The 52nd Street Project (New York City). She is a graduate of Brown University and holds an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College. Her production of Katori Hall's The Mountaintop can be seen at Central Square Theater January 10-February 3, 2013. www.megansz.com
Yolanda Williams (B.A. University of Dallas, M.F.A. University of Southern Mississippi) is a highly accomplished director, producer, educator and theatre artist with successful productions throughout her career that demonstrate her unique and innovative style in the Theatre Arts. She believes Theatre creates an understanding of the human condition by telling the story of the world while informing people of the past, present and future. Her commitment to her craft has always been based in the belief that by helping young artists understand the workings of the theatre, one is able to teach others while motivating them to build upon their individual strengths and therefore cultivate other future artists! For more information please contact Yolanda Williams at YolandaRWilliams@gmail.com.