Community Scholars: Cohort IV

Cohort IV

The Columbia Community Scholars Program Cohort IV (from left to right): Lil Nickelson, Renee L. Hill and Peter Noel. Not Pictured, Regan Sommer McCoy and Vivian Williams-Kurutz

Project: A study of religious communities of West Harlem, culminating in public forums and an online interactive platform designed to educate and foster multi-faith community networks.

Renee L. Hill is an independent scholar of religion and social change. Her interests include religious pluralism, liberation theologies, feminist studies, history and movements for political and social justice. In addition, she is an experienced community organizer who has worked with faith based groups and has served as the organizer for marriage equality for Lambda Legal focusing on religious and African American communities in New Jersey. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Bryn Mawr and a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary.

Project: The expansion of the Mixtape Museum through developing practical research skills in oral history, digital archiving, and cataloging 

Regan Sommer McCoy has over 15 years of experience in the music industry, most notably as a liaison to Virginia hip-hop duo Clipse. As a community organizer, Sommer is dedicated to gathering music artists, DJs, techies, and scholars to explore the intersections of hip-hop and tech; celebrate and preserve hip-hop history; and promote hip-hop education. As an advocate, she encourages protection of DJ-produced mixtapes in danger of deterioration, and seeks to achieve systematic preservation in the DJ community. She is founder of The Mixtape Museum, an archive project dedicated to advancing public understanding and appreciation of the art, history, and technique of the mixtape. In 2016, she launched Hip-Hop Hacks, an initiative for students to explore how hip-hop interacts with and inspires technological innovation. She is Associate Director of The Hip-Hop Education Center and a 2018 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Travel Grantee recipient.

Project: A book-length compilation of Mr. Noel’s investigative reporting on police brutality in 1980’s and 1990’s New York City.

Peter Noel is a journalist with 30 years experience in investigative reporting for The Village Voice, The Amsterdam News and others. Born in Trinidad, Mr. Noel immigrated to New York City in 1978 where he began reporting on instances of police violence against unarmed African American men in Harlem as well the rise of controversial figures like Al Sharpton. In the 1990’s, he also covered the Los Angeles riots that followed the Rodney King verdict and post-apartheid election violence in South Africa. He is the author of one previous book, "Why Blacks Fear America’s Mayor: Reporting Police Brutality and Black Activist Politics Under Rudy Giuliani" and was the co-host of The Week in Review on WRKS-FM radio.  

Project: Healthy Living for People of Color is a multi-faceted approach to promoting healthy eating habits for residents of Upper Manhattan; it includes an online newsletter, pop-up shops, and cooking classes.

Lil Nickelson’s love of home cooking dates back to her childhood spent preparing meals from scratch at her mother’s side. As an adult with diabetes, she began relying on her cooking skills to take charge of her health and encourage others to do that same. In “Dining with Miss Lil,” her monthly column for Harlem World Magazine, she has documented her quest to establish a healthier relationship to food. Ms. Nickelson holds a Master of Business Administration from New York University and has taken courses at the Institute of Culinary Education .

Project: To work towards growth and sustainability for the Harlem Wellness Center, a nonprofit that promotes preventative strategies for combating health disparities.

Vivian Williams-Kurutz is the founder and Executive Director of the Harlem Wellness Center, where she focuses on educating those most vulnerable to adult onset diseases that can be managed or prevented through positive health choices. She is certified as a personal trainer, meditation teacher, yoga instructor and Thai massage practitioner. In addition, she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and is a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Ms. Williams-Kurutz is currently pursuing a Masters degree in mental health counseling.