Cultivating the Ecosystem for the Next Harlem Renaissance

Meet Our Founder

 
 
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Melinda Weekes Laidlow +

Founder/CEO

Melinda Weekes-Laidlow is a social change architect, master facilitator, ordained minister, and social entrepreneur. She is the Founder/CEO of Beautiful Ventures, a creative social enterprise that influences popular culture, disrupts anti-blackness and elevates perceptions of Black humanity.

Melinda is also President of Weekes In Advance Enterprises , an organizational development firm offering consulting, facilitation, coaching, and professional development services in arts and culture, social innovation, racial equity, and collaborative leadership spaces. Previously, she was the Managing Director at Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation and Senior Consultant at the Interaction Institute for Social Change. One of her great loves is teaching. As Graduate Professor of Management at Marlboro College, Melinda teaches at the intersections of racial justice, design thinking and collaborative leadership. In 2015, leading social impact fund Echoing Green named Melinda its first-ever Social Entrepreneur in Residence.

Melinda is honored to render service to institutions that have profoundly shaped her life -- as member of the Advisory Board of Wesleyan University’s Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the ministerial staff of the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York and of the Board of Directors at the Interaction Institute for Social Change. Melinda holds degrees from Wesleyan University, New York University School of Law and Harvard University Divinity School. A native New Yorker born in The Bronx, Melinda flows between the Big Apple and the Big Peach – Atlanta, GA – where she now makes home and community.

 
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Our Advisory Circle 

 
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MICHELE BARNWELL +

Creative

Michele Barnwell is a Los Angeles-based showrunner, producer and writer/storyteller. She is the founder/CEO of Reel Roost, a transmedia production company specializing in story-driven content creation and production. Her past projects include: America’s Next Top Model (the CW, Show Producer)), Brave New Voices (HBO, Supervising Producer), All American Muslim (TLC, Showrunner, nominated for an NAACP Image Award) and FlintTown (Netflix, Co-Executive Producer) which was nominated for two Critics Choice Documentary Awards and received an IDA Documentary Award nomination for Best Limited Series. Michele delivered BET its highest-rated original series (Tiny & Toya) ever in their then twenty-nine year history, and network executives pointed to the highly adept storytelling ability of Michelle and her team as the key to the series success. Michele regularly presents to audiences around the globe on topics such as storycraft and documentary filmmaking, as well to the tech community on the merits and challenges of storytelling in virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality content. She holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University and an M.F.A. in Film Studies from UCLA.

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Su'ad Abdul Khabeer +

Creative, Narrative Power

Su’ad Abdul Khabeer is a scholar-artist-activist who uses anthropology and performance to explore the intersections of race and popular culture. Su'ad is currently Director of the Arab and Muslim American Studies Program & Associate Professor of American Culture and Arab & Muslim American Studies at the University of Michigan. Her latest work, Muslim Cool: Race, Religion and Hip Hop in the United States (NYU Press 2016), is an ethnography on Islam and hip hop that examines how intersecting ideas of Muslimness and Blackness challenge and reproduce the meanings of race in the US. Su’ad’s written work on Islam and hip hop is accompanied by her performance ethnography, Sampled: Beats of Muslim Life. Sampled is a one-woman solo performance designed to present and represent her research and findings to diverse audiences as part of her commitment to public scholarship. In line with this commitment Su’ad leads Sapelo Square, the first website dedicated to the comprehensive documentation and analysis of the Black US American Muslim experience. Su’ad received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Princeton University and is a graduate from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She also completed the Islamic Studies diploma program of the Institute at Abu Nour University (Damascus).

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Curtis Ogden +

Social Impact, Contemplative Action

Much of Curtis Ogden’s work with entails consulting with multi-stakeholder networks to strengthen and transform food, public health, education, and economic development systems at local, state, regional, and national levels. He has worked with networks to launch and evolve through various stages of development. Curtis writes regularly about networks and social change on IISC’s blog . In addition to his work at the Interaction Institute for Social Change, Curtis is on the advisory board of EmbraceRace, a member of the Research Alliance for Regenerative Economics (RARE) and the Emerging Networks Governance Initiative (ENGI) and shares the Thomas W. Haas Professorship in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of New Hampshire where he is engSolutions. Curtis provides services that support these networks and change efforts, including, but not limited to collaborative process and stakeholder engagement design; complex facilitation; coaching on network leadership, structure and strategy and committing to racial equity; training and and network assessment and mapping.

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Akiba Solomon +

Creative, Narrative Power

Akiba Solomon is the Senior Editorial Director of Colorlines . She is an NABJ-Award winning journalist from West Philadelphia. The Howard University graduate has written about culture and the intersection between gender and race for Dissent, Essence, Ebony, Glamour and POZ. Solomon has also been a health editor for Essence, a researcher for Glamour and a senior editor for the print versions of Vibe Vixen and The Source. Solomon recently co-authored “How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance” (Bold Type Books, March 2019). As a forerunner to the explosion of digital work about race, body image and representation, Solomon’s first book was “Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Lips, Hips and Other Parts” (Penguin Books, 2005).

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AJ Wilson +

Entrepreneurship, Social Enterprise

Archie “AJ” Wilson Jr. attended Dominion Christian Schools in Marietta Georgia from the time he was in seventh grade until he graduated high school. He was a three-sport athlete and an entrepreneur during his high school years -- founding a non-profit youth-serving organization, Dream Chasers. He earned a total of 1.3 million dollars’ worth of scholarships for college as a senior in high school including the Gates Millennium Scholarship and the Ronald McDonald's House Charities Scholarship. AJ was recruited to play football at many colleges, electing to play wide receiver at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Since graduating from college, AJ has worked as a Social Entrepreneur in Residence at the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, supporting student entrepreneurs in building out sustainable and impactful businesses. AJ is aspiring towards a legal career where he can focus on closing the educational and opportunity gaps in the southern United States generally, and in ensuring thrivability for all of the residents of the city he loves - Atlanta, Georgia.

 
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Melvin Bray +

Social Impact

Melvin Bray is an Emmy® award-winning storyteller, social entrepreneur, and author. He lives with his wife, three kids and two dogs in southwest Atlanta, GA. Melvin is an active participant in vanguard networks seeking more beautiful, more just, more virtue-filled ways of showing up in the world. He is author of BETTER: Waking Up to Who We Could Be, and co-editor of Faith Forward (Vol 1 & Vol 2 Copper House, 2013, 2015), which explore ways children and youth can make the dream of beloved community possible. He is also the coordinating author of The Stories in Which We Find Ourselves, online reimaginings of the Biblical narrative that make faith something young people have reason to care about. Melvin is Principal Consultant of Collabyrinth, LLC where he helps communities of goodwill design better systems,structures, policies and practices that transform persistently inequitable outcomes into equitable ones. He is deeply interested in facilitating high achievers’ efforts to build infrastructures for the success of those widely disenfranchised by mainstream systems and structures. Bray brings to bear a unique skill-set that is indispensable in any change-making endeavor. He holds a B.S. in Language Arts Education from Oakwood University.

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Sekou Laidlow +

Creative, Contemplative Action

Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Sekou Laidlow is a classically trained actor who has played a broad range of characters in leading works from Shakespeare to Suzan Lori Parks. He has performed in major American repertory theaters, on and off-Broadway, and has appeared as a guest star and in recurring roles in television. His most recent Broadway credits include the 2019 Tony Nominated Boys in the Band and Tony Nominated Airline Highway, both directed by Tony Award winner, Joe Montello. He originated the role of Homer in Father Comes Home from the Wars, a co-production between the New York Public Theater and the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University. Recent regional theater credits include the role of Reggie in the Tony nominated and critically acclaimed Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morrisseau, and also starred as Torvald Helmer opposite Andrea Syglowski in the Huntington Theater’s production of A Doll’s House. His most recent on-camera credits include playing the recurring role of Walter Camp in the critically acclaimed series, The Breaks, on VH1 and a guest appearance as Josiah Banner in the acclaimed CBS dramatic series, The Good Wife. He also played supporting lead as Pierce, in the feature film The Mend, and appeared in the romantic comedy, Better Off Single, starring Aaron Tveit and Kal Penn. When Sekou is not working as an actor he is the curriculum developer and acting teacher at Studio 27 Talent in Tyrone, GA. Sekou sees his artistry as an extension of his responsibility to his community and has a passion to use his storytelling craft to empower others to tell their stories. Sekou is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Drama. He is currently charting a path at the intersections of contemplative practice and artistic practice at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University where he is. Robert W. Woodruff Scholar.

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Andy Shallal +

Entrepreneurship, Social Impact, Creative

Anas “Andy” Shallal is an artist and social entrepreneur. He is the founder of Busboys and Poets , an environment where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted. Spaces to feed the mind, body and soul and where art, culture and politics take center stage and collide. With 6 locations in the Washington metropolitan area, Busboys and Poets has become home for progressives, artists and intellectuals including such notables as Howard Zinn, Cornel West, Alice Walker and Nikki Giovanni to name a few. Shallal’s businesses are members of the Restaurant Opportunities Center and the American Sustainable Business Council focusing on sustainable business and employment practices. Busboys and Poets has been at the forefront of environmental stewardship as one of the first businesses in Washington DC to be 100% wind powered. It remains at the cutting edge of the local/sustainable food movement winning many awards and recognitions locally and nationally. Mr. Shallal has received numerous awards including the Mayor’s Arts Award, Employer of the Year from the Employment Justice Center and the Mayor’s Environmental Award. Shallal has also founded or co-founded several peace and justice organizations and holds leadership positions in numerous others. He is on the board of trustees for the Institute for Policy Studies and a founding member of Think Local First DC. He also sits on the board of several arts and peace organizations and was appointed by the Mayor to head the Workforce Investment Council, an advisory board that focuses on spending workforce development dollars more effectively. Shallal continues to strive to make his hometown of Washington DC a more livable community.

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Josef Sorett +

Narrative Power

Josef Sorett is an Associate Professor in the Religion Department and the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University. He also directs the Center on African-American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice (CARSS) . As an interdisciplinary scholar of religion and race in the Americas, Josef employs primarily historical and literary approaches to the study of religion in black communities and cultures in the U.S. His first book, Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, 2016) illumines how religion has figured in debates about black art and culture across the 20th century. Josef's second book, The Holy Holy Black: The Ironies of an African American Secular, is forthcoming. Additionally, Josef is editing an anthology tentatively titled The Sexual Politics of Black Churches. His research has been supported by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Louisville Institute for the Study of American Religion, the Forum for Theological Exploration, and Yale University’s Institute for Sacred Music, where he was a senior fellow. Josef's scholarship has been published in academic journals and anthologies; and his writing and commentary have also appeared in a range of popular media outlets, including ABC News, the Huffington Post, New York Times, and the Washington Post, as well as on the BBC and NPR.

 
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Cheryl Dorsey +

Entrepreneurship, Social Enterprise

Cheryl Dorsey is a pioneer in the social entrepreneurship movement and the President of Echoing Green, a global organization seeding and unleashing next-generation talent to solve the world’s biggest problems. Cheryl received an Echoing Green Fellowship in 1992 to help launch The Family Van, a community-based mobile health unit in Boston. She was the first Echoing Green Fellow to head the social venture fund in 2002. An accomplished leader and entrepreneur, Cheryl served in two presidential administrations as a White House Fellow and Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Labor (1997-98); Special Assistant to the Director of the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Labor Department (1998-99); and Vice Chair for the President's Commission on White House Fellowships. Cheryl is a board member of the SEED Foundation, and previously on the Harvard Board of Overseers among others. Cheryl has received numerous awards for her commitment to public service, including the Pfizer Roerig History of Medicine Award, the Robert Kennedy Distinguished Public Service Award, and the Manual C. Carballo Memorial Prize. She was also featured as one of "America's Best Leaders" by US News & World Report and the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School in 2009, and as one of The Nonprofit Times' "Power and Influence Top 50" in 2010 and 2011. Cheryl earned a medical degree from Harvard Medical School and a Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard Kennedy School. She received a B.A. in History and Science magna cum laude with highest honors from Harvard-Radcliffe Colleges.

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Tyrha M. Lindsey-Warren +

Business, Creative, Narrative Power

Tyrha M. Lindsey-Warren has over thirteen years of experience working in marketing and public relations in the health, arts, entertainment and non-profit sectors. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, she joined the faculty at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business as a Clinical Assistant Professor of Marketing where she teaches Advertising and Digital Marketing and serves as an advisor for the Center for Sports, Sponsorship, and Sales (S3) program. Her credits include work with Quincy Jones, David Salzman Entertainment, NBC, Creative Artists Agency and Edmonds Entertainment -- developing television and film ideas and properties. Tyrha has produced the following TV shows: MAD TV (FOX), In the House (UPN), Lost on Earth (USA) and VIBE, and worked as Director of Marketing for the United States Tennis Association and the Associate Director of Public Relations for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She was also the Director of Public Relations at UniWorld Group, the longest-standing multicultural advertising and communications agency in the U.S. As an entrepreneur, Tyrha leads her family’s award-winning marketing/PR consulting company, L.A.I. Communications, which specializes in creating strategic marketing/PR solutions with a focus on cross cultural marketing for media companies, corporations, arts organizations, health nonprofits and small businesses. She is national speaker on cross-cultural marketing, social media, public relations and fundraising. She received a B.S. in Radio/TV/Film and a Certificate in Musical Theater from Northwestern University, a Masters of Business Administration from the Peter F. Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University and a Phd in Marketing from Rutgers Business School.

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Marvin Scott +

Creative, Narrative Power

Marvin Scott is a storyteller with a deep background in business and innovation. Born into Caribbean family and raised in New York City, Scott grew up in a mix of cultures, ethnicities and pursuits. He is well-versed in brand strategy, business development and corporate philanthropy. Marvin works with select clients on fundraising, brand and business development, marketing and content development. He started his own path in arts and business by taking a role in Sony Music Publishing A&R department where he worked on albums and projects with iconic artists including Lauryn Hill, Santana, Mary J. Blige, Cee-lo Green, Cyndi Lauper, Ben Folds Five, and a host of others.He then moved into film - working in production and artist management with writers, directors, stylists, etc.. for several years until he joined Home Box Office, who tapped him to execute and later manage their multicultural marketing campaigns. Scott has received numerous awards for his campaigns focused on African American, Latino, Asian and LGBT communities. In 2012, HBO, asked Scott to join corporate affairs. In that role, he was responsible for managing pro-social initiatives, including a variety of interests in corporate philanthropy, film festival sponsorships, and employee volunteer programs. Marvin has the ability to integrate artistic passion, business acumen, cultural responsibility, insight into innovation and experience collaborating with talent, creatives and stakeholders -- all to bring ideas to life. Now, he exercises his own creative voice, entrepreneurial instincts and business experience in new ways that challenge and empower him to engage his passions in new domains of innovation. His focus is to serve communities, partner with innovation, create wealth and help us all thrive in a new economy. Marvin earned a B.A. from Hunter College and an M.S. in Organizational Change Management at The Milano School for International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at The New School University.

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Rodney Trapp +

Social Enterprise, Philanthropy

Rodney Trapp is the Vice President for Advancement for the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) where he is the institution’s chief fundraising officer and he manages the UDC Foundation. A seasoned business development and philanthropy professional, Trapp has provided senior leadership and fundraising counsel to nonprofit organizations at the forefront of education access, arts education, cultural inclusion, and poverty alleviation for over 30 years. A thought leader, Mr. Trapp has been an adjunct instructor at New York University and a guest lecturer at the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki, North Carolina A&T State University and UDC. His article, The Creative Social Enterprise, an Impact Investment , has appeared in two journal publications: Making Sense of Arts Management: Research, Cases and Practice (2017) and Grantmakers for the Arts Reader (2015). In addition, Trapp presented his research at the 2015 Social and Sustainable Finance and Impacting Investing Conference, SAID Business School, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. He is a graduate of Wake Forest University with a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communications and Theatre Arts. Rodney also holds an International Masters of Business Administration from the University of Valencia in Valencia, Spain; a Master of Science in International Business Development & Consulting from Novancia Business School in Paris, France and a Master of Arts in Arts Management from American University in Washington, DC.

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