Michael Cirelli: an accomplished poet and the Executive Director of Urban word NYC, a grassroots non-profit organization that provides free writing and performance opportunities to NYC teens. The organization has really expanded since 2004, when Michael first joined it. It now works in over 100 schools and serves 15,000 youth a year. Cirelli is an writer, educator and arts administrator. He is the author of four acclaimed collections of poetry, two award-winning curricula, and his work and writings have been featured on a range of both local and national media news outlets, including HBO, CNN, and elsewhere. Michael is the co-founder of Street Smart Press, and teaches courses on critical literacy and hip-hop education at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education. As the Executive Director of Urban Word NYC, Michael manages the organization’s financial development and strategic growth.
Toni Blackman: an international champion of hip-hop culture, known for the irresistible, contagious energy of her performances and for her alluring female presence. An award-winning artist, her steadfast work and commitment to hip-hop led the U.S. Department of State to select her to work as the first ever hip-hop artist to work as an American Cultural Specialist. She has already served in Senegal, Ghana, Botswana, and Swaziland where her residencies include performance, workshops, and lectures on hip hop music and culture. Her first book, Inner-Course was released in 2003 (Villard/Random House). Highly respected as the founder and director of Freestyle Union, a cipher workshop that uses free styling as a tool to encourage social responsibility, Blackman’s work has held great influence in the world of hip hop activism.
This former Echoing Green Fellow has also been a fellow with the Open Society Institute. Toni most recent efforts involved the Freestyle Union initiative I Rhyme Like A Girl which is run in partnership with the New School University’s Institute for Urban Education. Toni has done an extensive amount of work with the Girl Scouts of America and was instrumental in launching “The Girls Hip Hop Project” at the Center for Cultural Exchange in Portland, Maine (a program that provides workshops for teen girls from the Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and many other places). Her latest efforts are as a teaching artist at Brooklyn Communication Arts & Media High School (BCAM) where she teaches “The Art of Emceeing”.
Blackman is a member of the Spoken Word Committee of the New York Chapter of the Recording Academy (a.k.a. The Grammy’s). Also, AOL BlackVoices named Toni as one of the top ten African-American Next Generation Leaders to watch. Toni is a Creative Consultant for Sesame Workshop’s “The New Electric Company” and is recording new music for her debut album.
Eagle Nebula: Born and raised in Inglewood, California, Eagle claims the planet as her stomping grounds. Currently residing in Brooklyn, NY, she has performed throughout France, Ghana, West Africa, and the United States. Those who have experienced her energy live, or on recording can attest to fact that she is pure Cosmic Power! Described on Okayplayer.com as “spaced out and down to earth,” Eagle Nebula is a force of nature headed for the heart of Hip-Hop. In the fall of 2008, she released her critically acclaimed debut album “Cosmic Headphones” on the Epistrophik Peach Sound/Groove Attack label. She has shared the stage with Pharoah Monch, Dead Prez, Brand Nubian,Smiff and Wesson, Styles P, Black Thought, Bahamadia, Ursula Rucker, Pete Rock, J-Live and many more.
Bettina L. Love: is an award-winning author and Associate Professor of Educational Theory & Practice at the University of Georgia. Her research focuses on the ways in which urban youth negotiate Hip Hop music and culture to form social, cultural, and political identities to create new and sustaining ways of thinking about urban education and social justice. She also concentrates on transforming urban classrooms through the use of non-traditional educational curricula and classroom structures. Recently, Dr. Love was named the Nasir Jones Fellow at the W. E. B. Du Bois Research Center at Harvard University. She will begin her fellowship at Harvard in the Spring of 2016, where she will develop a multimedia Hip Hop civics curriculum for middle to high school students. She is one of the field’s most esteemed educational researchers in the area of Hip Hop education for elementary aged students. She is the founder of Real Talk: Hip Hop Education for Social Justice, an after school initiative aimed at teaching elementary students the history and elements of Hip Hop for social justice aligned with core subjects through project-based learning.
Finally, she is the author of Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak: Negotiating Hip Hop Identities and Politics in the New South. Her work has appeared in numerous books and journals, including the English Journal, Urban Education, The Urban Review, and Journal of LGBT Youth. She is currently editing a special issue of the Journal of Lesbian Studies focused on the identities, gender performances, and pedagogical practices of Black and Brown lesbian educators.
Donald Sawyer: is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conneticut, where he teaches courses on sociology, race, the sociology of education, and sociology of hip-hop culture. His research includes urban education, visual sociology, youth culture, hip-hop culture, qualitative methods, and youth critical media literacy.
Born and raised in New York City, he grew up in Harlem in the Abraham Lincoln Housing Projects. “Growing up in the projects had its ups and downs, but if I had a chance to start all over, I wouldn’t change a thing! If it wasn’t for the support of my Harlem community, I would not be where I am today.” A first generation college student, Sawyer asks the following question of himself and others: “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”
As an educator, he strives to create an atmosphere that engages, excites, and inspires students where knowledge is co-produced through facilitation and finding ways for students to become motivated about understanding the complexities of the social world. Sawyer’s Crossroads Collective was developed using hip-hop culture to (re)engage Black and Latino males with school.
Martha Diaz: is a community organizer, educator, media producer, archivist and social entrepreneur. She has been dedicated to advancing social justice, cultivating leaders and artists, and mentoring youth for over 15 years. She was a production assistant for the late Ted Demme, the TV and film producer/director behind Yo! MTV Raps (1988), Life (1999), Blow (2001) and A Decade Under the Influence (2003). In 1999, Diaz produced and directed, H2O [Hip-Hop Odyssey], a short documentary on the evolution and global impact of Hip-Hop culture. In 2002, Diaz formed the H2O International Film Festival and subsequently developed the Hip-Hop Association [H2A]. For seven years, Diaz served as president and executive director of the H2A; she is currently its chair. Diaz launched H2ONewsreel, the first Hip-Hop media distribution label dedicated to the education field, in collaboration with Third World Newsreel. Diaz co-created and edited the Hip-Hop Education Guidebook Series with Marcella Runell Hall. In 2008, she launched the Womanhood Learning Projectas an intervention strategy to empower women in Hip-Hop, and she is the editor of the forthcoming book, Fresh, Bold and So Def: Women In Hip-Hop Changing The Game, with Dr. Irma McClaurin and Dr. Rachel Raimist. As a resident of NJPAC’s Alternate Routes Residency Program, Diaz developed the Ladies First Fund, the first micro-grant for women social entrepreneurs. As a 2008 NYU Gallatin Graduate student and a Catherine B. Reynolds Fellow, she founded the Hip-Hop Education Center for Research, Evaluation and Training, in partnership with Dr. Pedro Noguera of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Behavior.
Brian Mooney: is an educator, scholar, and poet from New Jersey. He explores the intersections of hip-hop, spoken word, literacy, and urban education. Brian holds a bachelor’s degree in English Education from New York University and is currently studying in a graduate program at Teachers College, Columbia University.
His research examines the identities of young writers who participate in high school poetry slams and considers the effects of hip-hop culture on teaching and learning. In 2013 and 2014, Brian was invited to present his work at the Preemptive Education Conference in New York City. He is the founder of Word Up, a high school poetry slam that champions the voices of youth poets and MCs in Hudson County. The event has featured guest poets and teaching artists from across the country, including Andrea Gibson, Sarah Kay, Jon Sands, Angel Nafis, Shira Erlichman, Ken Arkind, and Rudy Francisco.