2020 Harvardwood Heroes
Daniel Banks AB '87 | Fort Worth, TX
Daniel Banks is a Fort Worth, TX-based theatre director who has directed nationally and internationally at such venues as National Theatre of Uganda; Belarussian National Drama Theatre; Market Theatre Lab, South Africa; Playhouse Square, Cleveland; John Houseman Theatre and Public Theater, NYC; Bay Area Playwrights Festival; and at the NYC and DC Hip Hop Theatre Festivals. He has served on the dramaturgy team of Camille A. Brown and Dancers and is editor of Say Word! Voices from Hip Hop Theater and co-editor of Casting a Movement: The Welcome Table Initiative. Daniel is co-director with husband Adam W. McKinney of DNAWORKS, an arts and service organization dedicated to dialogue and healing through the arts, engaging the topics of representation, identity and heritage. He is founder of the Hip Hop Theatre Initiative, promoting youth self-expression and leadership. He is Associate Director of Theatre Without Borders, serves on the national cabinet of the grassroots US Department of Arts and Culture, and is recipient of Theatre Communication Group’s 2020 Alan Schneider Director Award. He serves on the faculty of the MA in Applied Theatre, City University of New York, and previously at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, the MFA in Contemporary Performance, Naropa University, and as Chair of Performing Arts at the Institute of American Indian Arts.
Daniel would like to recognize the leaders of the other organizations that comprise the 1012 Leadership Coalition, who collectively are working to acquire and transform the former Ku Klux Klan auditorium in Fort Worth: Opal Lee and the Juneteenth Museum; Freddie Cantú and Román Ramírez, Sol Ballet Folklórico; Jacora Johnson, Tarrant County Coalition for Peace and Justice; Vanessa Barker and Taylor Willis, The Welman Project; and Ayesha Ganguly, Windows to Your World.
Amy Chu HBS '99 | Princeton, NJ
After a career in consulting, Amy left the corporate world to become a full time freelance writer for comics, graphic novels and most recently, TV animation. She now works regularly for Marvel and DC Comics, writing Wonder Woman, Deadpool, Ant-Man, Iron Man and Poison Ivy stories. She has also written multiple series for Gene Simmons (KISS) and Darryl McDaniels (Run DMC). Amy has worked with nonprofits for many years, believing that comics are not just for entertainment but also an extremely effective teaching tool for children and adults. Perry Pong AB '83, Chief Medical Officer of the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in New York City Chinatown, asked her to find a way to educate an immigrant audience about Hepatitis B and encourage them to get tested. The resulting story about a new nurse who struggles to get her neighbors tested won an award and has since been shared and distributed in Chinese, Vietnamese and English to many community health organizations across the country. Amy has also created comics teaching Chinese American history for the New York Historical Society and the Museum of Chinese in Americas. Her story on Buddhism is currently on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Nosher Ali Khan AB '23 | Hunza, Pakistan
Nosher is a sophomore from Hunza, Pakistan. Nosher's work revolves around producing music and films, focusing on the cultural aspect of the region he works in. Currently, Nosher is working with the Lakshmi Mittal Institute at Harvard to create a web-series of local folk music. Through his research-based web series, Nosher is working on cinematically documenting the relation of poetry and culture, as well as exploring how poetry and music in the Burushaski language have become an integral part of the Hunzukutz identity. Furthermore, Nosher is working with musical artists to have concerts around scenic sites across the Himalayas and raise funds for the preservation and documentation of cultural arts in Hunza.
Crystal Wang AB '23 | Houston, TX
Crystal Wang is a sophomore at Harvard College studying Economics with a secondary in Psychology. Additionally, she is a Dual Degree student at the Berklee College of Music studying Global Entertainment and Music Business. Outside of school, Crystal is a music artist under her stage name, Crystal King, an entrepreneur, and a social activist. In 2016, Crystal’s cousin got diagnosed with bone cancer, which led her to write and release a song uplifting her cousin and others with cancer. This inspired her to found Students for Oncological Aid and Relief (SOAR), a student-led nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing joy and aid to cancer patients. Crystal currently sits as CEO, where she oversees numerous fundraisers and philanthropy projects, such as an annual scholarship, a webinar with cancer specialists, benefit concerts, etc. Over the past few years, SOAR has raised over $50,000, expanded to over 9 chapters and 500+ members across the nation, and impacted thousands of families with cancer. Currently, SOAR is working on developing an app which will integrate music therapy practices for cancer patients virtually.
Athena Bowe AB '15 | Los Angeles, CA
Athena is a co-founder and Director of Operations of Chinese in Entertainment (CIE), a Los Angeles-based nonprofit created to support and spotlight talent with Chinese linguistic heritage (Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, etc.) in the entertainment industry. After years of researching Chinese media and working in cross-cultural business strategy between the U.S. and China for top-tier entertainment companies, Athena met her fellow co-founders in LA. They initially started CIE as a networking platform for industry professionals and aspiring film and arts students alike to make meaningful connections. Looking to improve meaningful collaborations with Chinese talent, CIE started its flagship program, the Los Angeles Chinese Film Festival (annually since 2017). CIE also continues to host monthly mixers and writing workshops. As CIE builds on its success and continues to roll out events and services to the benefit of Chinese language and cultural heritage filmmakers and industry professionals, its long-term mission stays the same—to act as an incubator of new and emerging talents and be the face of original independent Chinese cinema.
Karen Harris JD '94 | Chicago, IL
The JPYC Foundation, located in the South side of Chicago, is the nonprofit affiliate of Jackson Park Yacht Club (“JPYC”), one of the oldest yacht clubs in Chicago. JPYC Foundation's mission is to provide the outreach, education, training, support and resources necessary to engage young people and adults in boating and other activities on and around the water, including non-traditional participants in boating activities. In order to combat the dramatic increase in youth and gun violence in Chicago, in 2018, the JPYC Foundation launched its Open Horizons Youth Sailing Program, which focuses on low-income, minority, at-risk children and youth ages 8-18 and teaches them leadership, teamwork, and conflict resolution skills through sailing. This is a sliding scale scholarship program and, depending on income level, can be entirely free for youth, and the 2019 program will also incorporate the visual arts and literature. Nearly 200 kids, including many from areas hard-hit by guns and violence such as South Shore, Woodlawn, and South Chicago, will be able to participate in problem-solving and confidence-building experiences while learning to sail.
Megan McDonnell AB '14 | Los Angeles, CA
Megan is a Staff Writer on a Marvel Studios show Disney+ and has been volunteering for Film2Future since 2016. Film2Future (F2F) is a non-profit creative and technical filmmaking program for low-income, diverse LA youth to build a direct pipeline into the entertainment industry. Through filmmaking, students learn life skills such as self-advocacy, confidence, teamwork, budget preparation and resume writing while making short films for their portfolios. Each student receives healthy meals, transportation and use of a computer during the program. F2F also provides one-on-one professional mentorship to each student in a field of their choice and, upon graduation, works to create a direct pipeline for the students into higher education or paid entry-level industry positions. Check out Film2Future.com to learn more, volunteer as a speaker, become a mentor, become a partner for internships, or donate!
Rodney Sanders EDM '13 | Memphis, TN
Despite spending most of his career in corporate America, Rodney has always had a deep love and appreciation for the arts. Currently, Rodney serves as the Board Chair for a performing arts nonprofit in Memphis, TN called Perfecting Gifts Inc, which provides talented youth an outlet to explore their creativity. As Chair, Rodney drives and champions the organization’s mission to nurture, mature, and celebrate young performers through artistic and spiritual enrichment. Perfecting Gifts, Inc provides education and training in the areas of voice, dance, and performance. Each year, Perfecting Gifts hosts Summer and Winter Camp, various workshops, and afterschool performance intensives. The future of Perfecting Gifts is bright. Its reputation continues to expand given its high-quality performances, community involvement, and enthusiasm of the students. The organization receives many ad hoc requests to perform. Thus, the board and the Executive Director, Sharonda Mitchell, have a unique opportunity to cultivate and impact young Memphians and ensure that the city continues to thrive for many years to come.
Jeanie M. Barnett MPA '02 | Chicago, IL
Jeanie leads a weekly photo workshop for Chicagoans served by The Chicago Help Initiative, which provides meals, social services, and life-enriching programs to people in need and experiencing homelessness. The workshop, which was launched in the fall of 2017, uses the power of photography and social media as tools for self-expression and creativity, and for bringing people together. Jeanie has volunteered with CHI since 2016 and is a member of CHI’s Board of Directors. She is a writer/editor and communications consultant based in Chicago.
"This past Spring, CHI launched an art workshop in partnership with the Chicago Sinai Congregation. Our group often joins this workshop and engages in other media (painting, sketching and knitting).... The funding we’ve received fromHarvardwood will enable us to cover the costs of quality printing and framing, and to create a photo album using picaboo or another online service. We also plan to use a portion of the grant to create printed cards and a calendar featuring ourworkshoppers’ photos."
Farah Art Griffin EDM '08 | Los Angeles, CA
Farah is a visual artist who graduated with a master's degree in Arts in Education from Harvard University. Her work can best be described as stick figure art created by hand-sewing techniques and textile application. Her art-making practice centers on oppression, and she creates all of her artwork for the sole purpose of donation to nonprofit spaces so that her art pieces may exist as a tool to educate and serve the community. Farah's heart is filled with so much gratitude for the Harvardwood Heroes grant, as she will be using it to purchase sewing materials and art supplies to create a visual art piece that reflects on the pain and suffering of women in India who are the victims of acid attacks.
"The incredibly kind and generous Harvardwood Heroes grant provided me the means to create a visual art piece called "The Burn of Acid is No One's Honor." While making my artwork, I would tenderly find myself in the midst of tears in between stitching the very delicate fabric pieces that shaped the body of the figure—the representation of the Indian women who have suffered these acid attacks. The power of this meaningful connection continues to move through me today, and I greatly hope that this artwork connects to the hearts of many in the same way."
Laura Kanji AB '19 | Cambridge, MA
Laura helps to run the Mission Hill After School Program, which serves 60 low-income youth ages 5-16 who live in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston. The program’s mission is to provide a safe, fun, and positive learning experience through personalized attention, creative lesson planning, and involvement from the community. This year, MHASP is focusing especially on self-expression, student voice and empowerment, and novel learning opportunities. Thanks to the generous support of the Harvardwood grant, the Mission Hill After School Program will implement a series of pottery workshops for students of all ages this fall, with the aim of introducing students to pottery as a unique mode of self-expression.
"This fall, Mission Hill After School Program has been implementing clay-based art workshops with the funds provided by the Harvardwood Heroes award. These workshops have been wonderful opportunities for our students to use clay as a unique medium for their artistic creations.... They gave students the opportunity to learn about famous artist that express themselves through a clay medium, allowed them to actually use the clay to make their own personal art pieces, and also aided in socio-emotional development within our classrooms. Our program has had so much fun with clay this semester and is so grateful to you for funding this experience! The rest of our classrooms eagerly look forward to incorporating the clay workshops into their curricula in the spring."
Priten H. Shah AB '19 | Cambridge, MA
Priten is a recent graduate of the Harvard College Class of 2019. In addition to concentrating in Philosopy, he earned a secondary concentration in South Asian Studies and a language citation in Sanskrit. Priten is mainly interested in political and moral philosophy, with a special focus on issues concerning gender and children. He is also interested in moral and political thought in pre-modern India and the ethics of scholarship on oppression. When he's not reading, thinking, or writing about philosophy, he's usually teaching it! Priten founded and runs United 4 Social Change, a platform for a global community that works to spur social change by training young activists, and aims to encourage people to think critically about arguments concerning social issues.
"Thanks in part to the Harvardwood Heroes grant, we were able to greatly expand our workshop offerings and presented to almost 1,250 students since May 2018!... We were able to use the grant to help fund any space we had to rent and to provide students with printouts, and snacks. We also were partially able to purchase mini whiteboards that each students can use to write their answer and show it to us, which will stay with us for a long time, thanks to the Harvardwood Heroes grant."
Shaun Chaudhuri AB '15 | SF/Bay Area, CA
Shaun has been a gender rights activist through his undergraduate work in gender studies and by currently serving on the board of directors for the US National Committee for UN Women (SF Bay Area). UN Women was created in 2010 as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and helps by advocating and fundraising for social, political, and economic equality for women and girls all over the world. Shaun is the co-chair for one of their major annual events, The Global Voices Film Festival, which promotes female filmmakers, producers, and writers. He also represented the US National Committee at the UN’s Annual Conference on the Status of Women (CSW 61) this past March in New York. This two-week planning session focused on female economic empowerment and rolled out the 2030 gender equality roadmap.
"My passionate for gender equality and the transformative creative power of film served as inspiration for the year-long planning process and countless hours I put into running this event and managing the sponsorships, events, film screening and virtual reality committees. With 235 submissions there were a lot of challenges going through the films in timely manner and making the final selections (I watched 200 of the films). Additionally as a 100% volunteer role with limited funds, the Harvardwood donation helped immensely in the operating costs and allowed us to offer free and discounts tickets to local women’s groups. Additionally, Harvardwood helped promote the event to members in Northern California leading to a sellout on both days."
Juliana Han AB '03, JD '08 | New York, NY
Juliana is a pianist based in New York City, where she is currently finishing a doctorate in performance at the Juilliard School. At Harvard, she discovered by volunteering with groups like MIHNUET and Harmony MED how music can bring about societal change. Juliana co-founded the the Piedmont Chamber Music Festival (PCMF), an annual summer festival in the Bay Area featuring internationally-renowned performers. An important component of the festival is the community engagement program, which brings together performers for interactive chamber music performances in Oakland, CA at local community centers such as homeless shelters, hospitals, and nursing homes. The program will also present a Children's Concert designed to introduce young kids to classical music. The mission of the program is to engage with people with limited access to live music and to use the power of music to help diverse individuals communicate and commune together.
"The performances were successful, not because the sound quality was recording-worthy, but because we brought our musical language, undiluted, to a new audience, and connections were made. The program at each center included Beethoven, Schubert and Taiwanese folk songs. At the men’s shelter, after the Schubert Rondo, one participant raised his hand and asked how many songs were in that last bit. We answered that it was just one piece, but he was right in hearing so many different parts, as that is exactly the form of a classical rondo! Many at that shelter had never heard Schubert or Beethoven before, a fact that not only astounded us but highlighted the gap between what we take for granted and the experiences of others. That gap, and the opportunity to bridge that gap with the music we love, perfectly illustrated the reason for the Initiative.
"We thank Harvardwood for the grant that helped us carry out the 2017 Community Engagement Initiative. Our experience this summer reinforced how important it is to use whatever means we have to bridge divisiveness in society, to see and reach out to the communities which are merely miles away in geography but much more distant in personal experience."
Betsy Storm AB '14 | Los Angeles, CA
Betsy is the Program Director at Better Angels, a LA-based organization guiding low-income high school students through the college admissions process. Through one-on-one mentorship, Better Angels helps its Scholars use college application essays as opportunities for self-expression and change—for themselves, their families, and their communities. Better Angels believes in the power of young people’s stories to heal, reaffirm our shared humanity, and inspire hope, even in the most difficult of circumstances. One Scholar wrote her college application essay about becoming the primary caretaker for her chronically ill mother after her father passed away; in 2016, this Scholar graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College after writing a prize-winning thesis on education. Harvardwood’s generous support will help arts-focused Scholars pay for their college application fees, pursue independent projects that develop their passions, and communicate those passions to college admissions officers. Betsy and her team are thrilled to see how Scholars will use art and story to positively impact the world.
"Harvardwood’s grant has allowed us to support our arts-focused Scholars in several key ways. Sharrel, our anime artist, is a finalist for the Posse Foundation Scholarship, which gives full tuition for four years to the brightest students across the U.S. Sharrel’s family could not afford the application fees for several universities, so Better Angels used the Harvardwood grant to cover them. Anali, our filmmaker, is creating her first independent film this fall and working hard on applications to film schools across the country. Ali, our fashion designer, was named head costume designer for her high school’s fall production of Orlando. She came to the U.S. in ninth grade without knowing English after her older sister passed away. In addition to daily practice, Ali and Anali took a four-hour SAT practice test nearly every week this summer to improve their SAT scores. Ali jumped nearly 200 points – an incredible leap – and Anali improved by nearly 100 points. The Harvardwood grant covered the printing costs of their weekly practice tests.
"Paris, our linguist, has worked for years to create an original script that revives the historical Filipino text, Baybayin. As a Filipino-American, she longed to identify with her culture after her parents refused to teach her to speak Tagalog, so she read books about Filipino history and culture. She discovered that Baybayin was dying, and set out to create a more functional script to encourage Filipinos to connect with their lingual heritage.Paris could not afford to take the SAT again this fall; Harvardwood’s grant covered the registration fee.... We are deeply grateful to Harvardwood for supporting our work as we encourage these special students to share their stories, receive healing, and push past obstacles to reach for their dreams."
Sara Lynne Wright AB '09 | Los Angeles, CA
Sara Lynne interviews and writes for a program called Living History, part of the UCLA Student Volunteer Program at UCLA Medical Centers in Santa Monica and Westwood, that beautifully bridges the art of storytelling and the practice of medicine. She interviews long-term patients, usually in geriatrics or oncology, providing them with company and an opportunity to focus on something other than their illness or injury. She then writes one-page biographies of the patients that go in their medical files and help their doctors care for them as people rather than only as medical cases. "I've seen firsthand the huge difference this program makes in the lives of those who participate. I see an immediate change in the moods of the patients who are interviewed. One woman asked if she could use the biography I had written of her as her obituary, because her son didn’t know any of those facts about her. I'm so grateful for this grant, which can provide higher quality patterned paper and laminating sheets for the finished biographies as well as stipends as incentives for good writers to spend their time with the program."
"Thanks to the Harvardwood Heroes grant, the Living History Program at UCLA was able to provide its volunteers with better tools to write up one page biographies of patients in the palliative care, geriatrics, oncology and med-surg units at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica.... The most important resource the program needs to do its work is the volunteers, but the lasting impact of what the volunteers do occurs through the physical write-ups. The lovely new stationery, as well as the high-quality lamination and printing, make a big difference in the quality of the write-ups given to the patients. These biographies are brought home by the patients, kept as keepsakes by the patient’s family members, and become part of the patient’s legacy. UCLA Medical Center Volunteer Services deeply appreciates the Harvardwood Heroes grant, which has provided the physical resources necessary to create these high-quality biographies."
Jang Lee AB '19 | Cambridge, MA
Jang is currently a sophomore at Harvard College studying Visual and Environmental Studies. He enjoys painting and drawing and is interested in the intersection of public service and arts. Jang does volunteer work with the Phillips Brooks House Association and has been involved with HARTZ, an arts therapy public service program, since the spring of his freshman year. Along with two other co-directors, Thang Diep and Catherine Tang, Jang helps lead weekly art workshops at the Cambridge Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. Along with its nursing program, HARTZ is working to launch a pilot program leading art tours for stroke patients in collaboration with the Harvard Art Museums.
"We wanted to create a program that would allow the residents to get out of the nursing home and enjoy great art. Additionally, we wanted to create dialogue with the residents about the art they were looking at and even use this conversation as a starting point to discuss emotions and feelings.... The pilot program was able to successfully launch at the beginning of the semester thanks to the Harvardwood Heroes grant. It helped to fund the transportation of the residents to the art museum and also helped to purchase the art supplies we used for art workshops."
Raz Mason MDV '09 | The Dalles, OR
Raz works in a high-poverty, high-trauma middle school of approximately 620 students. She proposed a selective (a class to which students are assigned each trimester) called "MindUP and Movies" for 7th graders, and the principal of her school has tasked another teacher with offering the same course for 8th graders. Together, they will offer the “MindUP and Movies” curriculum to approximately 200 students a year. The course educates students on neuroscience, research-based mindfulness, and positive character traits – especially using the mechanism of mainstream movies, working through the positive character trait (PCT) curriculum developed by TrueSpark.org. Unfortunately, TrueSpark has fallen on hard times. Though they provide extensive character-based lessons and movie analyses, they no longer send out DVDs to cooperating schools. Due to the lack of movie availability through TrueSpark, or concrete support from our financially-strapped rural school district, Raz's school is scrambling to find copies of the movies in their regional libraries. Occasionally they are resorting to the usual teacher thing...buying some out-of-pocket. It would be wonderful to develop a stable collection of movies available to each teacher when needed.
In addition, they plan to expand their selection so that 8th graders who take the course next year will have a new set of movies different from 7th grade. Their school is 70% free and reduced lunch. A high proportion of students come from homes with inter-generational poverty, abuse, and/or addiction. As a result, many come to school “dysregulated” – anxious, jumpy, disruptive in some cases, and more concerned about survival than learning. Inevitably, the struggles and deficits of living in homes without stable nurturing impacts their fellow students in some negative ways. Alongside school-wide initiatives promoting inclusion, empathy, and resilience, Raz and her colleagues have seen concrete positive changes in their students’ social-emotional and learning capacities through this course, just in a short time.
Erin Sweeney MPP '07 & Antonio Valla MUP '08 | Newark, NJ
Erin Sweeney (HKS '07) and Antonio Valla (GSD '08) each came to Newark over five years ago, Erin to return to the urban nonprofit sector after a stint in the Foreign Service, and Antonio to continue his dream work as an urban planner; each fell quickly and deeply in love with Newark. Antonio was first to connect with GlassRoots, an incredible nonprofit glass art studio that uses the power of fire and glass to transform lives, especially those of Newark youth. A year after joining the Board, Antonio introduced Erin to the organization and they have each been devoted volunteers and supporters of GlassRoots ever since.
GlassRoots is more than an art studio; it is an organization that has been changing the lives of thousands of youth, young adults, and adults since its start 15 years ago. GlassRoots uses various types of glass art methods to teach students not only about self expression and creativity, but about business, entrepreneurship, teamwork, patience, persistence, and much more. As volunteers and Board members, Erin and Antonio work countless hours each month assisting the organization. The highlight for both of them is whenever they teach career or life skill sessions to students in the programs.
Erin says, "It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to watch our students grow in front of our eyes from timid, self-conscious, unsure teenagers into confident, proud, and motivated young adults. GlassRoots changes lives every day and is a true force for transformation, not only for our youth, but for the greater Newark community."
"With the generous Harvardwood Grant, we were able to offer our acclaimed Volcano Project to Science Park High School on March 30, 2017. The program cost is $872; with the generosity of the Harvardwood Grant, we were able to offer the program to SPHS for $350.... The knowledge gained in this program goes beyond casual intrigue or passing high school science; we believe a solid grounding in earth science will prepare students to understand and act on pressing societal issues such as climate change, oil exploration, pollution and species threatened with extinction, and hope to instill a desire in our inner-youth to stay in science classes in school, and to pursue science studies in higher education. We are so grateful to Harvardwood Heroes for making this program possible!"
Rylie Zhang AB '13 | Boston, MA
Rylie is the Co-Chair of No Limits Media, a Boston-based non-profit that uses media projects such as documentaries, videos, art exhibits, and educational curriculum to showcase the talents and abilities of people with disabilities. The organization believes that having a “disability” is really about possessing a “different ability”, and that showcasing the passions, missions, and points of views of people with disabilities can empower them to be themselves and change society’s preconception that they live limited and lackluster lives. Rylie's commitment to raising disability awareness started when she met her college roommate who was paralyzed in a car accident, and continued as she co-wrote songs about hope and courage with her severely ill cousin. After receiving significant publicity from winning Season 3 of the China Dream Show and co-performing with actress Zhang Ziyi, Rylie and her cousin toured around rural Chinese villages and hospital beds, hoping to create for many severely ill children the supportive environment they needed. Rylie saw first hand just how far showing faith in these children went in empowering them. Rylie believes that with respect, faith, and equal treatment of people with disabilities, each life can be made to believe in its value and want to live on.
In 2017, Rylie plans to lead No Limits Media in undertaking several exciting projects: a stand-up comedy with a comedian who has cerebral palsy, a ballet film about an award-winning choreographer coaching adaptive dance for disabled children at the Boston Ballet, and a documentary on the high rates of violence against children with disabilities, among others. In addition, using the Harvardwood Heroes grant, Rylie will via No Limits Media award grants to four filmmakers in college film classes who are either creating content showcasing the talents of disabled individuals or have a disability themselves ($125 each). She is thrilled to work with them to bring visibility to this important issue!
"In 2016, I had proposed that the Harvardwood Heroes grant be used for supporting students in film classes produce films involving disability-related content or disabled actors / filmmakers.... We have successfully sponsored one student from Northwestern to produce a short disability-related film; we are looking forward to be involved in the process this year and next year. In addition, the Harvardwood Heroes grant has helped us move forward with several other No Limits Media initiatives. The grant has helped provide initial funding for a new No Limits Media documentary called Rolling Across America. The focus of the film will be to show for the first time the disability community of the United States. The documentary’s host is Chris Waddell, a 13-time Paralympic champion and the co-anchor of NBC’s 2016 Paralympic Games coverage. Chris will travel around the country highlighting a variety of people with disabilities and their accomplishments.... Thank you Harvardwood for providing this generous grant and furthering our mission of changing the image of disability in society!"
Theodore Cheng AB '91 | Princeton, NJ
Theodore K. Cheng is a partner at Fox Horan & Camerini LLP where he practices in general commercial litigation, intellectual property, and alternative dispute resolution (ADR). He has nearly 20 years of experience counseling individuals and businesses in industries as varied as high-tech, entertainment, consumer products, food and hospitality, retail, and financial services. Mr. Cheng is also an arbitrator and mediator with the American Arbitration Association and Resolute Systems, as well as on several federal and state court rosters, and has conducted over 250 arbitrations, mediations, settlement discussions, and inquests. He is actively engaged in community activities, including his current volunteer service as a Trustee and the Secretary for Storytelling Arts, Inc. (SAI). SAI, founded in 1996 as a non-profit organization, brings together professional storytellers who are dedicated to sharing stories and the power of storytelling to classrooms, educators, and community organizations. Its mission is to impart stories and storytelling to help students connect learning with life skills, and its vision is to transform the educational environment and empower students, teachers, and parents to reach their full potential for the benefit of themselves and their community. Since its inception, SAI has had the privilege to work with over 26,000 participants in over 70 schools, community organizations, juvenile detention centers, and youth shelters across the State of New Jersey and is the only organization of its kind in the State (and perhaps in the country).
"During the 2015-2016 school year, with the assistance of the Harvard Heroes Grant (in conjunction with other funding sources), SAI was able to serve the Paterson and Morristown, NJ communities by (1) finishing a three-year residency model with the Alexander Hamilton Academy; (2) providing In-Classroom Residency and Mentoring Program with St. Mary’s Preschool and School #19; (3) developing and executing the first year of a Creating Student Storyteller program with the Rosa L. Parks School of Fine & Performing Arts; and (4) teaching Middle School Youth Through the Art of Storytelling with the Frelinghuysen Middle School."
Marissa Gutiérrez-Vicario EDM '13 | New York, NY
Marissa Gutiérrez-Vicario brings over a decade of experience of working for social justice on the ground and around the world: she worked on a documentary film on labor rights in Mexico; volunteered for women’s rights nonprofits in Guatemala and Senegal; and documented minority rights abuses in India. In her adopted home of New York City, Marissa has worked with several non-profit organizations dedicated to youth development, community organizing, and leadership building.
As a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Marissa has a master’s degree in education, focusing on the Arts in Education. At the age of seven, Marissa learned the traditional Mexican art-form of piñata-making, and since then has worked with youth as an arts educator. Marissa began Art and Resistance Through Education (ARTE) as a project in 2011 and formally launched the organization in 2014. ARTE uses art, design, and technology to empower young people to develop creative solutions and bring awareness to local and global human rights challenges, fostering leadership opportunities to train and organize other young people in their own communities.
In this work, ARTE remains at the intersection of community organizing, democratic participation, and global citizenry, first established as a way to make the universal instruments of human rights and fundamental freedoms more accessible and relevant to teens between the ages of 14 and 19, through public, art-based community projects. Learn more about some of ARTE’s most recent projects, highlighted on the Amnesty International Human Rights Now blog.
Marissa is incredibly grateful to Harvardwood for their support of ARTE to provide a space for young people to learn about human rights education through the arts, in order to create positive change in their own communities.
(group photo above of ARTE participants by Corey Torpie)
"Through the generous support of the Harvardwood Heroes Fund, one of our students will be awarded an academic scholarship in order to continue their studies after high school. For our students, this scholarship is incredibly important, as many of them may not be able to access federal funding due to their immigration status. Furthermore, Art & Resistance Through Education (ARTE) believes it is important for our students to feel empowered as individuals. We want them to understand that their voice matters and that they are capable of making positive change in their communities, particularly on pressing human rights issues that directly affect them. As one of our students, Meylin, 16, best says it, 'The message of my project is to show that people can fly. I chose to break the stereotype that people have limits; humans can fly high and reach as far as we want.' Thank you for giving ARTE and our students the opportunity to fly."
Margot Kessler AB '77 | Venice, California
Working with Christian Rozier, a dedicated artist and teacher, Margot Kessler has witnessed first hand how making movies turns restless middle schoolers into thoughtful, focused young people full of ideas, who are eager to create together in an atmosphere of respect, criticizing constructively and never with judgment. More importantly she has seen how learning to tell stories allows kids with difficult and sometimes tragic family situations to find inspiration, comfort and a sense of personal transformation within their films.
"In a world of increasing income disparity, it is great to learn that something as simple as making movies can be such a powerful tool for change. Being with the kids at Venice Arts reminds me why I do what I do, and it is my hope that these kids will continue to use art and technology to transform not only themselves, but their communities. The more time I spend with Venice Arts the more inspired I become.
"Working with Venice Arts, and their DIRECT THIS class, I have had the pleasure of meeting some truly inspirational kids.... Our field trip to YOUTUBE occurred in the middle of shooting [their] final short movie. The kids got to visit a green screen room, explore the equipment and props bay and experiment with a dolly camera.... On our final day of editing, several declared the YouTube visit had been the highlight of the year. The Harvardwood grant was helpful both as an entrée to YouTube, and in giving these hard-working, inspiring and creative kids a sense of possibility (and of cool factor) as they head into high school. If you want to know more about them, definitely take a look at their short movies at the Venice Arts YouTube channel."
Margot Leger AB '13 | Johannesburg, South Africa
Margot Leger is a writer, videographer and graduate from Harvard College ’13. She also holds the paintbrush behind “Margot’s Murals”. While traveling in Fiji, Indonesia, Nepal and Kenya she saw the potential for art projects to creatively reimagine space. Transforming blank walls into works of art was a way to leave tangible and lasting contributions in the places that she visited. Two of her latest projects include painting an orphanage in Pokhara, Nepal and a primary school in Ukunda, Kenya. She has worked solo, with other artists and with enthusiastic school children. It is beautiful to see how the community gets involved and feels ownership over the space in a positive and empowering way.
Next Margot will return to her home country and work with communities in the Western Cape, South Africa. She will paint five murals with local artists in underprivileged areas. Through discussions with the community, she will identify walls in places such as schools, AIDS orphanages and old age homes. Through the generosity of the Harvardwood Heroes Grant she will buy the paint and other supplies for these murals. She is thrilled to have the support of Harvardwood to continue this mission of painting for social change.
"I applied for a Harvardwood Heroes Grant because I wanted to be able to make a larger contribution to communities that could do with more color. A lot of my previous murals have been for enterprises – like hostels, bars and cafes - as they had the ability to pay the supplies. With my Harvardwood Hero grant, I have been able to pick schools that didn’t have the capacity to pay for paint. It also allowed me to tackle larger murals, bigger than I had dreamed of before, because I had budget to buy the paint required for artwork of that scale.... In Kenya, I did three wall murals at Mekealas Academy. The primary school had burnt down completely when the thatch roof had caught on fire last Easter. They had rebuilt the classrooms by Christmas, and my murals added some rainbows to this resilient school.... I have not used up my Harvardwood grant yet, and I’m looking forward to painting more murals in France over the summer. I’ll be sharing my work on www.margotmedia.co.za."
Osh Ghanimah A.R.T. '13 | New York, NY
Osh Ghanimah is an actor and the Founder & CEO of Broadway For All—a NYC-based non-profit born out of his fellowship through the Office of the President at Harvard University. Broadway For All is a summer conservatory led entirely by Broadway and TV/Film professionals; it trains talented students from varying socio-economic statuses and ethnic backgrounds to become the next generation of diverse performers and writers for the American stage and screen. Before acting and Broadway For All, Osh was a Teach For America (TFA) New York City corps member teaching in Washington Heights, Harlem, and the South Bronx. He has also served as Artistic Director, English & Arts Department Chair, and School Leadership Chair for various schools and trained new TFA corps members. Oshs holds a B.A. in Theatre and English and a B.S. in Secondary Education from Loyola University Chicago and an MFA in Acting from the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University. Recently he was a guest lecturer of acting at Harvard’s Office of the Arts. Osh has appeared onstage in Hansel & Gretel (American Repertory Theater) and internationally in The Imaginary Invalid and The Proposal (Moscow Art Theater). TV appearances include: The Blacklist, Deadbeat, and Law & Order: SVU. Next February, Osh will present a talk at the 2015 TEDxBroadway Conference in NYC. Through Broadway For All, Osh aims to create opportunities for young artists so that one day, the American stage and screen will truly reflect the America in which we live.
"Since receiving the [Harvardwood Heroes] grant, Broadway For All has boasted many wins. As an organization, we just acquired 501c3 status and are now in talks with two large media corporations about coming on board as founding corporate sponsors. We have also welcomed a new board member, Ryan Chang, a Broadway producer, and are being introduced to many more. In terms of enrollment, we had a 300% increase in applications this year and we doubled our enrollment by 100% to meet a strong demand for the work we do."
Watch Osh's TEDxBroadway talk!
Kaitlin McGaw '00 | San Francisco, CA
Kaitlin McGaw is the founder, producer and lead singer for Alphabet Rockers, a unique hip hop musical program for young children based in the Bay Area. Alphabet Rockers "makes learning come alive through through the beats, rhymes and movement of hip-hop" and builds community through the celebration of individual expression. Since graduating from Harvard in '00 in Afro-American Studies, Kaitlin has dedicated her career to this program, designing high-quality music/dance learning experiences for children 3-7 years old. Her efforts have produced three award-winning albums, engaging school assemblies on bullying prevention and nutrition, music and movement based Common Core curriculum, and an engaging iPhone app for the Alphabet Rockers learning platform. Kaitlin has been commissioned to write songs for kids for fitness and wellness programs, and was recognized by the John Lennon Songwriting Contest as a finalist for the song, “Dynamite.” Kaitlin is a teaching artist who serves over 600 students a year in the greater Bay Area, focusing on preschool (2-4), TK-2nd grades. Currently Kaitlin is producing a web series for Alphabet Rockers, to be released in early 2015. With the support of Harvardwood Heroes, she will create a series of arts workshops for families to accompany the release of each of the web series episodes in the Bay Area. Prior to Alphabet Rockers, Kaitlin worked for The Recording Academy, Blue Bear School of Music, served as Vice President for West Coast Songwriters, and was a featured writer for Electronic Musician.
"As the founder of Alphabet Rockers, I have dedicated my professional career to creating high-quality educational hip hop music experiences for children, families and educators. The 2014 Harvardwood grant helped support the production of a series of three family/community events in early 2015, each paired to the release of a video.... It is clear that the support of grants such as Harvardwood and others will be crucial to the continued success of this community-focused artistic project – and I remain so grateful that the $500 grant helped support myself and the artistic group of Alphabet Rockers in this incredible experience."
Watch the three videos — Food Calculator, You Can Write, and The New Kid in School — here!
Michael Philson '08 | Newark, NJ
Mike Philson '08 is a music artist & producer, writer, actor & filmmaker, business executive, consultant, and social/community activist from Plainfield, New Jersey. As CEO & Founder of MMP Guided Entertainment, Mike's communicative art embodies the struggles, hopes, and dreams that persist in all of us. Philson strives to highlight entertaining stories of enlightenment, perseverance, and faith, and he has a diverse set of experiences ranging from Investment Banking & Consulting, to running a global urbanwear fashion line, and educational mentoring & community leadership. In 2013, he developed the #Jerseygrown Community Foundation and partnered with the Newark Yoga Movement. The Newark Yoga Movement, a 501c3, was started in 2009 as a way to use yoga to help Newark children reach their fullest potential both academically and personally. After reading articles about the severely low graduation rates, Founder Debby Kaminsky knew that yoga could absolutely provide a solution for positive change. By sharing life tools of yoga with children, they learn how to reduce stress and anxiety, increase focus and confidence as well as gaining physical benefits of strength, balance and improved flexibility. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and/or making sure students are college or career ready are big in the education world. Newark Yoga Movement provides a solution to help in this important area by further cultivating student’s social and emotional development (as early as important pre-k years). We also believe that we must be sure to connect with all who positively impact children (pre-k through 12th grade), hence community, educators, and public safety officials. Longer term, we really can shift cultures of communities.
"The Harvardwood Heroes grant was used to help provide yoga to a group of 5th grade students in Sussex Avenue Elementary School that was known as one of the worst performing schools in New Jersey. These eight children have been meeting twice a week with Newark Yoga Movement and learning values of respect, trust, confidence, and more."
Suvai Gunasekaran, Yacoub Kureh, and Danni Xie | Cape Town, South Africa
We are Suvai Gunasekaran, Yacoub Kureh, and Danni Xie, graduates of Harvard College and co-founders of Ceramics United. On a visit to South Africa last summer, we were immediately impressed with the beauty that pervaded the city - the vibrant culture of art and design was unmistakable. However, as excited as we were by the art, we also witnessed a massive socioeconomic disparity, particularly in the realm of educational opportunities for underprivileged youth. Our communal passion for the arts combined with our ardent belief in education as one of the greatest equalizers compelled us to take action. Ceramics United is a social enterprise to promote arts education for youth and to give South African art a spotlight on the world's stage. In 2014, we wrapped up our first annual international surface design competition, recognizing the exceptional work of students, artists, and designers from all around the world, with a special focus on Cape Town.
"Ceramics United is an organization aimed to give more opportunities for local South African ceramicists to show off their unique surface designs to the world and increase the access for underprivileged children in South Africa to arts education. We did this by organizing a surface design competition in which artists in South Africa had the opportunity to decorate a ceramic vase that was especially created for the competition.... In December, Ceramics United announced the winners of both the grand prize and student competitions and with the funding through the Harvardwood Heroes Grant we were able to showcase the winning designs. This showcase, on February 5th at Cape Gallery, was done in partnership with First Thursdays and was an amazing event. All the winners were able to receive recognition for their creative work and were also able to meet and connect with each other, fostering collaborations in the ceramics community in South Africa."
Robyn Abraham | Los Angeles, CA
In the interest of promoting social justice, Robyn has been successfully ‘translating law, business and finance’ to television, documentary films and social media for more than a decade. She is producing a documentary entitled CASH FOR KIDS, which tells the tragic story of how several American States are drugging and experimenting on children for multimillion-dollar profit.
"In follow up to the Harvardwood Heroes announcement, several prominent friends within the entertainment and media industries provided introductions to US Academy and British BAFTA award-winning producers and directors. As of today's date, one of the leading American Academy and Emmy award-winning documentary film production teams has offered to co-executive produce CASH FOR KIDS subject to certain terms and conditions."
Dr. Mari Hamill | Los Angeles, CA
Mari is an engaged volunteer with two art/community organizations, LA's Best and Inside Out Community Arts. Building upon her work organizing benefits, speaking with youth about college life and academic goals, and helping children develop creative work, Mari will utilize this grant to develop an outreach project for Inside Out Community Arts.
"The Harvardwood Heroes grant allowed me to dedicate more time than customary to help an organization that teaches young minds how to express themselves through art. I am committed to helping others and sharing the skills I acquired through higher education to bring innovative solutions to challenging situations."
D. Dona Le | Chicago, IL
A longtime Harvardwood Highlights profile writer and the Co-Chapter Head of the Chicago Chapter (2012-2013), Dona also works with the Westside Writing Project, a youth enrichment program that uses journalism and digital media as tools for personal transformation and civic engagement.
"The Westside Writing Project has experienced a tremendously exciting half-year since my receipt of the HH grant. We've made great strides in expanding our local partnerships with other nonprofits, impacting the lives of a greater number of students, and procuring more technological resources and grants to support our programs."
Dr. Lisa Wong | Boston, Massachusetts
Lisa integrates the arts into medical education through her work with the Committee for the Arts & Humanities at Harvard Medical School. This committee encourages faculty, students and staff involved in the arts and humanities to explore ways to incorporate their art into medical education, personal advancement and patient care.
"This year has been one of exciting growth for me, and I am grateful to Harvardwood Heroes for recognizing my work with a 2013 Harvardwood Heroes grant. In June 2012, after twenty years, I retired as President of Longwood Symphony Orchestra, a Boston-based orchestra of medical professionals dedicated to music and service.... Thanks in part to the HH grant, I have been able to devote more time and resources to encouraging young people, through several channels: my recently-published book Scales to Scalpels: Doctors Who Practice the Healing Arts of Music and Medicine; in collaboration with the Committee for the Arts & Humanities at Harvard Medical School; and with Boston Arts Consortium for Health (BACH)."