Scholars and Projects
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.
Project: Improve writing and communications skills with a view to placing compelling issue-based articles in popular publications, and engaging a general readership in discussions of public policy.
Vivian Nixon is the executive director of College and Community Fellowship (CCF), an organization committed to removing individual and structural barriers to higher education for women with criminal record histories, and for their families. Nixon joined CCF in 2001 after working as a peer educator during her own incarceration at Albion State Correctional Facility. As a College and Community Fellow, Nixon earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Human Services Management from the State University of New York. Nixon has also held fellowships at the Aspen Institute, the Open Society Foundation and the Petra Foundation. She has received several awards from institutions such as John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Hudson Link for Higher Education, Citizens Against Recidivism and others. She is also an ordained local deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and currently serves as an associate minister at Mt. Zion AMEC in Harlem.
Project: Engaging in archival research on choreographer and dancer Jean Leon Destine in order to catalog her collection of his work and finish writing his biography.
Project: Cross-sectional curriculum study and analysis leading to a report for smarter private and public energy management and sustainable environmental practices in Harlem.
Steven Watkins is the founder of KUURVE (Kinetic Urban User Renewable Visionary Environment), a sustainability development and technology firm providing a platform for eco-friendly urban development building resources, renewable energy solutions, job-training and education. Watkins is a certified LEED professional and has worked with organizations in Harlem in New Jersey around sustainability efforts. Previously, he has worked as a community organizer in Harlem, a professional arts teacher in low-income communities and as a professional actor. He is the writer, director and producer of the Broadway production, “A Broadway Tribute to Katherine Dunham & 200 Years of Haitian Independence.” Watkins has held positions at the U.S. Department of Commerce and National Public Radio. In addition to other community volunteerism, Watkins currently serves on Manhattan’s Community Board 10. Watkins holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political-Economy from Princeton University and a Master in Fine Arts from The New School University.
Project: Advance work and research on a book about the 1970s, produce an oral history of that period with trailblazers of the Civil Rights Movement and seek to present more jazz in Harlem.
Sheila Anderson is the Public Programs Manager at the Newark Museum, host of WBGO’s "Weekend Jazz After Hours," creator of "The Art of Jazz," a weekly 30-minute TV program for Time Warner Cable in NYC, and published author of “The Quotable Musician: From Bach to Tupac” and “How to Grow as a Musician: What All Musicians Must Know to Succeed.” Additionally, Anderson is a freelance writer and producer whose producing credits include the "Somerville Jazz Festival" (now the "Central Jersey Jazz Festival") and the Newark Museum’s "Jazz in the Garden Series". Anderson also works with Jazzmobile, Inc. as a programing consultant for its “Saturday Jazz Workshop” and as a co-producer of "Harlem Jazz Shrines" and "Jazzmobile's Sumerfest", 2013. Anderson has both teaching and lecture experience and received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Bernard M. Baruch College.udies in American History.
Project: Creative Impact Ventures (CIV) is a social enterprise accelerator that aims to connect entrepreneurs in the creative industries in Northern Manhattan with impact investing. Trapp plans to use his time at Columbia to access the University's entrepreneurship-focused centers to help launch CIV.
Rodney Trapp is an entrepreneur with a background in social impact investing. He has served as the director of institutional giving at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and is the founder of Trapp Consulting. In addtion to his 26 years as a nonprofit executive and fundraising professional, Trapp is also an adjunct instructor at New York University. Most recently, he has conducted research that explores the intersection between impact investing and the creative industries. Trapp holds degrees from Wake Forest and American University as well as Spain's University of Valencia and France's Novancia Business School.
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: Examining the impact of artificial intelligence on criminal justice and the social impact of artificial intelligence on communities of color and incarcerated populations, including the creation of a book and a documentary on the subject.
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: Research in women’s studies, Africana studies, music and history toward development of new opera.
Paula Kimper is a composer of opera, music for theater, television, dance, film, and song. Her first opera Patience & Sarah premiered in the Lincoln Center Festival ’98. Kimper’s most recent opera TRUTH, An American opera about Sojourner Truth, premiered in February 2012 at the Academy of Music in Northampton, MA, and is now touring in a chamber version. Kimper’s complete catalog of scores was recently acquired by the Loeb Music Library of Harvard University. She is a professional member of BMI and Opera America, and serves on the board of Old Deerfield Productions and The Phoenix Concerts. Kimper is Artistic Director of Salon Harlem, which presents concerts in the West Harlem home of Helen Rodgers to celebrate and showcase neighborhood artists in a salon setting to nourish, challenge, entertain, and build a diverse neighborhood audience. Kimper received a Bachelor of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music.
Project: Contributing to a “new narrative” amplifying the voices of Hatian-Americans, including highlighting enduring contributions from Haitian culture to the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights Movement, and Black Identity.
Nancy Dorsinville, currently Senior Policy Advisor to the United Nations Office of the Secretary General’s Special Adviser on Community-Based Medicine & Lessons from Haiti, worked in and with Haiti with the UN Office of the Special Envoy at the time of the devastating earthquake in 2010. In those roles, she has represented the government of Haiti to the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Clinton Foundation, among others. Prior to her work at the UN, Ms. Dorsinville worked as the Director of Academic Advisement in Global Health at the Harvard Initiative for Global Health and as the Director of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the New York State AIDS Institute. She has been a Revson Fellow at Columbia and a MacArthur Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Project: Curation and production of the Curious Stories podcast series featuring a cross selection of interviews with architects, urban designers, product designers, designers, interaction designers, experience designers, plus designers in areas such as computation design, and makers of color that are designing products.
Michele Y. Washington is a design research + service experience design consultant who has worked on a wide variety of community-oriented projects. Those include Food Wealth, an app to educate residents of Central and West Harlem about healthy food solutions; Empowered to Run, a nonprofit start-up platform to educate people interested in running for office; and Sprout by Design, which teaches urban farming to teenagers in juvenile detention. Ms. Washington is on the faculty at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and often speaks about 20th century African American designers. She has a Master of Fine Arts in Design Criticism from the School of Visual Arts and a Master of Science in Visual Communications from the Pratt Institute.
Project: Writing a biography of her grandfather J. Rosamond Johnson, who was an actor, composer, musicologist, and author.
Melanie Edwards worked in education for forty years, primarily at The Modern School, where she was a teacher as well as the Director of Curriculum Development, among other roles. Following the closing of The Modern School, she has worked at Fordham University, the Schomburg Library, and the East Harlem Council for Community Improvement. Throughout her career in education, she has maintained an interest in photography. Ms. Edwards has a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications from Emerson College.
Project: Development of a hip-hop education teaching/subject certificate program to support teaching artists, activists and cultural workers working, both formally and informally, in education settings.
Martha Diaz (MD) is a community organizer, media producer, archivist, curator, and educator. MD is one of Women’s eNews distinguished 21 Leaders for the 21st Century whose work has traversed the hip-hop entertainment industry, the public arts and education sector, and the academy over the last 25 years. Her passion is advancing human rights and transforming communities through media, technology, and social entrepreneurship, while also lecturing internationally and facilitating workshops on hip-hop as a medium for education, cultural exchange, and building social capital. She began her career as an undergraduate student at Fairleigh Dickinson University studying Communications and Television and Film Production. She has associate produced and consulted on several hip-hop documentaries including, Where My Ladies At? by Leba Haber Rubinoff (2007), Black August: A Hip-Hop Concert by Dream Hampton (2010), and Nas: Time Is Illmatic by One9 (2014). As an educator, she has taught middle and high school students in Harlem and the Bronx and was an Adjunct Professor at New York University’s Gallatin School. MD has produced several community-based initiatives and solution-driven platforms that address social inequities, transform public spaces and challenge gender norms and epistemologies around the production of hip-hop. In 2002, MD founded the highly acclaimed Hip-Hop Odyssey (H2O) International Film Festival, the first and largest festival of its kind. She was invited to curate the first Hip-Hop movie series presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and served as a guest curator at the Museum of the Moving Image. In 2010, as a Graduate student at the Gallatin School, MD formed the Hip-Hop Education Center to research, cultivate and formalize the field of hip-hop-based education. Through her publications of research reports, books, and curricula, she has chronicled hip-hop history to preserve its cultural value and memory. She is co-editor of the Hip-Hop Education Guidebook, Vol. I ( 2007) and Rebel Music: Resistance Through Hip Hop and Punk (2015). A graduate of New York University’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program, MD has worked on archival projects with Parkwood Entertainment (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter), Tupac Shakur Estate, The Paley Center for Media, Kaos Network, and National Jazz Museum in Harlem. She was a Senior Fellow – Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Curator – Alternate Routes Festival, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Fellow – Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Program in Social Entrepreneurship, Curator/Scholar – The Schomburg Center, Community Scholar – Columbia University, and The Nasir Jones Fellow – The Hiphop Archive and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University. MD is currently completing the New School Creation Fellowship at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education where she is designing the first online hip-hop high school. Most recently, she was invited to be a 2020 MacArthur Civic Media Fellow at USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab.
Project: Analysis of Republic of Guinea’s historical women’s movements.
Mariama Ciré Keïta is the founder of HOIMA (HowIMakeADifference), a career development and learning initiative that specializes in leading workforce development workshops and outreach programs that prepare millennial women of African descent for competitive young professional recruitment initiatives for multinational organizations. As a communication strategist with a decade of experience, Mariama also serves as a consultant for leading US government and United Nations agencies that include UNICEF and USAID. Most recently, she managed high-level emergency portfolios for UNICEF where she also advised and provided external relations support to the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and Sports for Development programs. From 2010-2013, Mariama led high-level initiatives with a sub-Saharan Africa regional focus for the World Bank, UNAIDS and the White House. Her portfolios included the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) and President Obama’s signature White House Young African Leadership program. Prior to her transition to international development and intergovernmental affairs, Mariama worked extensively in the fashion and entertainment industries.
Mariama holds a Master of Science degree in Global Affairs from New York University and a Bachelor’s degree in Communication from the University of Maryland at College Park.
Project: This project will focus on preserving and promoting the work of Black documentary filmmakers from 1965 to the present. It consists of two components: the preservation of a cadre of films selected by a committee of experts, and an accompanying essay collection that will offer close readings of each. Haddock plans to take classes at Columbia to develop new research skills in support of her project.
Mable Haddock is an entrepreneur with a long and successful career in media. She has served as the urban arts director for the Canton Cultural Arts Center and is the founder of the National Black Programming Consortium, an organization which sponsors and supports independent filmmakers through advocacy, outreach, funding and distribution. She holds a certificate in public television administration from the Wharton School of Business and is a former Columbia University Revson Scholar.
Project: An collection of essays focused on parenthood and the evolving social and racial climate in Morningside Heights.
Lisa Jones is a journalist, actress and screenwriter whose body of work examines multiculturalism, black identity, and feminist consciousness. Jones graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and afterwards moved to London to work as a freelance writer. As a writer for the Village Voice in the 1990s, Jones gained an international following for her work on race and feminism. She has collaborated with Spike Lee and has written for children's television shows such as Little Bill and Gullah Gullah Island. Jones holds an MFA from New York University's School of Film and Television and is the author of a collection of essays, "Bulletproof Diva."
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: Identifying, documenting and communicating strategies to guide and support first-time authors through the publication process in kids’ books, young adult novels and adult nonfiction.
Kevin O'Connor has experience in every aspect of kids’ media. He started his career at Sesame Workshop: first in television and then in the toy group working on Sing & Snore Ernie, Rock & Roll Elmo and more award-winning toys. Later, he led business development and brands at Kidz Bop earning 5 gold records. He cut his teeth in publishing while overseeing publisher relations for Nook Kids – Barnes & Noble’s foray into digital picture books. As Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Vice President of Consumer Brands & Products, he managed product development and marketing for Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail. Now a literary agent, he focuses on picture books, middle grade novels and adult nonfiction in science, technology, history, and art and design. He is a graduate of Columbia College.
Project: Developing a community based culturally responsive think tank around population health, civic engagement, education and ethical tech.
Project: Developing a biography and documentary of Harlem legend Percy Ellis Sutton based on oral history resources (project includes interviewing at least forty individuals) and available archives
Keisha Sutton-James is Corporate Vice President at Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, with a professional background in banking and a family background in activism. Throughout her childhood, she worked at the Apollo Theatre and heard stories from her grandfather, Percy Sutton, of his civil rights work. Ms. Sutton-James pursued a career with Inner City Broadcasting, as well as helping build “Circle of Sisters” and starting her own business to create content about women and African Americans. She holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Tufts University and a Master of Business Administration from Wharton School of Business.
Project: Developing a “Harlem Maker Expo,” consisting of an annual exhibition of creative coding and physical computing projects from after school and weekend workshops.
Karioki Crosby is an educator with a STEAM focus who works in New York City museums and public schools, as well as being a practicing artist, a robotics coach, and a coding mentor. He currently works at Figure Skating in Harlem creating the STEAM curriculum and instructing young girls in that area. Mr. Crosby also volunteers at Citizen Schools and holds semi-monthly hackathon workshops at Spotify, HIP HOP HACKS, and the NYU Creative Code Festival. Last year, he partnered with the Department of Education to create a robotics curriculum that he teaches in NYC public schools.
Project: The PromiseLand Project is an initiative that will harness personal experiences, expert collaborations, and joint activities to lead five to ten black men from Harlem in cultivating lasting and meaningful bonds with their children.
Kanene Holder is an actress, activist, poet and educator. She has served as the associate director of NYU's Hip-Hop Education Center and is the creator of various theatre projects designed to enact social change and encourage conversation about sociopolitical topics. For her work she has been recognized as a CORO Educational Leadership Collaborative Fellow, a Bard Artistic Research Fellow, and a New York Life Fellow for Educational Reform. Holder is a graduate of Howard University and holds a Master of Science in Differentiated Instruction from CUNY.
Project: Harlem’s Black and Jewish Music Culture 1890-1930 (walking tour map, sheet music exhibition, book).
John Reddick currently serves as a curator and discussion leader for the Harlem Focus series at the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt Design Center. Reddick has applied his knowledge of Harlem’s culture and architecture towards work he has done with the Heritage Health & Housing: Heritage Heights Village Business Improvement, the Apollo Theater and the Harlem One Stop. He has worked on public art & space projects at a number of Harlem-based organizations including Abyssinian Development Corporation, the Ralph Ellison Memorial Committee, Harriet Tubman Square and Frederick Douglass Circle, among others. Reddick also served as President of Cityscape Institute and held leadership positions at the Central Park Conservancy. Reddick received a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Ohio State University and a Master of Architecture from Yale University.
Project: Advance work and research on book, tour and talk projects aiming to reclaim forgotten history and heritage from many of upper Manhattan’s languishing neighborhood sites.
Eric K. Washington is an independent historian and author, and the owner of Tagging-the-Past, which endeavors to reconnect forgotten history to present landscapes through articles, talks and tours. His book, "Manhattville: Old Heart of West Harlem," prompted a notable 2004 exhibition at The City College of New York. His research on Harlem, Trinity Church Cemetery and Upper Manhattan is reflected in numerous publications and presentations including the "New-York Journal of American History," the "Encyclopedia of New York State" and the Historic House Trust lecture series. Recently, Washington coordinated Harlem “Y” Talks, two pilot speaker programs in the Harlem YMCA Little Theatre. His honors include the Municipal Art Society’s 2010 MASterworks Award for his interpretive signage in West Harlem Piers Park, a Civic Engagement and Social Justice Faculty Mini-Grant from Eugene Lang College of the New School for Liberal Arts, and a Preservation League of New York Award. A licensed New York City tour guide, Washington is featured prominently in Phillip Lopate’s "Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan," and Jonathan R. Wynn’s "The Tour Guide: Walking and Talking New York." He is also the regular host of the Harlem Chamber Players.
Project: Developing and producing “Becoming Othello: A Black Girl’s Journey,” a exploration of her journey while taking on the role of Othello, which will include a memoir, a published script, and a one-woman touring show.
Debra Ann Byrd is a fifth generation Harlem resident with a background in the performing arts as an actor, producer, arts manager, and business leader. Since beginning her career in the arts in 1990, she has appeared in productions across the county and founded Take Wing And Soar Productions, Inc., and the Harlem Shakespeare Festival. She has also received many awards, including the NAACP Shirley Farmer Woman of Excellence Award and the 2013 Take Wing And Soar Founder’s Award. Ms. Byrd has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from Marymount Manhattan College, as well as further training at Shakespeare & Company, the Public Theater’s Shakespeare Lab, and the Arts Leadership Institute at Columbia University and Teachers College.
Project: Creating an organization to address the systemic issues and the policies that allow dyslexic students and struggling readers to fail, including pressuring universities to address these issues in their teaching programs.
Debbie Meyer is a non-profit fundraising and strategic planning professional and an active volunteer. Ms. Meyer served on the Women's City Club Physical Education Task Force (2011 to 2014) and is currently a member of the Board of Directors, and the Education Policy Committee. She also serves on the Citizens’ Committee for Children’s Advocacy Council, and on the Advocates for Children Arise Coalition. In spring 2013, she led the advocacy efforts of the public, progressive, and small Central Park East schools to expand with a combined middle school. Previously, she served on the boards of directors of College and Community Fellowship and Phys Ed Plus.
Project: Completing a book on the architectural history of institutions in West Harlem, and virtual model of the area into a time-traveling experience where viewers can begin to understand change through space and time.
Dalton Whiteside is originally from Tennessee. He moved to New York City in 2012 to pursue a Bachelors in Architecture at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York (CCNY), from which he graduated in June 2018. While working for his College Archives, he developed a fascination with the architectural history of CCNY. He has been giving architectural tours of institutions in West Harlem for about five years and has been mapping and modeling the buildings and grounds in the area from 1625 to the present.
Project: Developing skills and knowledge in support of his nonprofit Pellettieri Stone Carvers’ Academy, with the goal of being able to expand the training offerings.
Chris Pellettieri, professional stone carver and native of Morningside Heights, is the founder and executive director of Pellettieri Stone Carvers’ Academy, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting stone carving and which offers training in the traditional methods. After attending the Cathedral School and Stuyvesant High School, Mr. Pellettieri found his way to the Cathedral stoneyard where he trained in stone carving. In addition to his training in stonework at Cathedral Stoneworks and Artida Atelier, he has a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics from New York University.
Project: Conducting a comprehensive survey of shareholders in the nearly 200 Housing Development Fund Corporations (HDFCs) in Community Board 9. The project will include the development of a database of buildings, developing a means to share best practices of strongly running HDFCs, and creating recommendations for struggling HDFCs.
April Tyler, Co-Chair of the Housing, Land Use and Zoning Committee of Community Board 9, has a background in tenant and community organizing, and worked in real estate brokerage in Brooklyn and Upper Manhattan. Ms. Tyler’s experience in nonprofit housing comes from working with the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, Housing Develop Fund Corporation cooperatives, and conducting graduate research at CUNY. She also studied to be a Foreclosure Prevention Counselor, and served as a volunteer district Leader for West Harlem for 18 years. Ms. Tyler attended City College and Syracuse University.
Project: Apply University resources towards the growth of ProjectArt, a nonprofit arts education organization that serves the West Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood communities.
Adarsh Alphons is the Founder and Executive Director of ProjectArt, an organization which provides free after-school art classes in public libraries in West Harlem to youth ages 4-17 years old, allowing opportunity for program participants to express their artistic visions, set goals and display their art in galleries. Alphons was named one of NYC’s 25 Rising Stars by Pave (March 2014), awarded the citation of “Hero of Education” by NYC Councilman Robert Jackson (June 2012), and was selected as the New Yorker of the Week by NY1 News (July 2011) for his work with ProjectArt. Prior to his work with ProjectArt, Alphons was General Manager at STREB Lab for Action Mechanics, Director of Visual Arts at the Harlem School of the Arts and General Manager of chashama, the largest studio-residency program in NYC. Alphons received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Maryland Institute College of Art and a Master of Science in Art Administration from Boston University.