2023 DeepThink Tanks

Love This City mural at the junction of Broadway, Arapahoe St., and Park Ave. West in Five Points, Denver. 
Artists: Jason T. Graves, Pat Milbery, Remington Robinson, Patrick McKinney

DeepThink Tanks are participatory, action-oriented working sessions focused on critical social and environmental issues. Attendees actively engage with how to address these issues in our teaching, research, community activism, and organizing.  

We’ve Got the Power: Accessing Radical Imagination through Community Healing and Storytelling for the BIPOC Community (Session for BIPOC teachers, students, scholars, administrators, and community workers)


  • Create community among a diverse group of BIPOC community members
  • Use storytelling to create healing around issues of BIPOC identity and culture
  • Create a communal healing space that addresses difficult emotions in work and life
    among BIPOC
Accessing radical imagination requires learning about ourselves, dealing with difficult emotions and  accessing our power. How do we access our own power? How do we reclaim difficult emotions in our stories around power? How do we hold space with others and to the benefit of
others in our communities? How does all this work for further community building?

This Deep Think Tank (DTT) aims to create a communal healing space for BIPOC teachers, students, scholars, admin, and community workers who are interested in beginning transformative change in our communities. This is a safe space for BIPOC communities to come together, create connections, and find healing through our stories. This DTT seeks to provide a foundation for future community building through contemplative practices and writing. This DDT will be exploring difficult emotions in work and life experiences with the goal of celebrating joy and radical imagination.
Alter with three white bowls of different sizes in foreground on African print cloth. In background several objects such as a bowl and a bell.
Image credit: Simone Jenifer Christian
Why We Keep Writing Inside, and How You Can Support Incarcerated Writers

JoyBelle Phelan, Prison Journalism Project

Co-Facilitators, a panel of currently incarcerated writers 

In this DeepThink Tank, a formerly incarcerated writer and a panel of currently incarcerated writers will explore their experiences with overcoming obstacles working with the carceral system. Colorado has the only statewide prison newspaper, The Inside Report, and Reverberations, a literary magazine created inside a correctional facility, and several of our presenters will talk about the challenges of creating and editing a newspaper during COVID, amid staff shortages and limited access to the infrastructure necessary for gathering articles from across 20 facilities all over Colorado, editing, layout, getting approval from the Colorado Dept of Corrections, etc. JoyBelle Phelan started writing while incarcerated and upon her release, worked her way into a leadership role. She now works for Prison Journalism Project, and she encourages people nationally to work with incarcerated writers. JoyBelle and the incarcerated writers who will co-lead this DeepThink Tank will challenge attendees to consider storytelling as a vehicle for humanizing incarcerated people to the wider population and how attendees can return to their communities and support incarcerated writers to help change the narrative around how incarcerated people are seen.  
Building Community Health and Wealth: The Valverde Movement Project

The Valverde Movement Project (VMP), created in 2020 by the Valverde Neighborhood Association in collaboration with university researchers, city and regional government, and non-profit organizations, seeks to expand community health and wealth in the hopes of addressing the trends in displacement and climate change in Valverde. Originally conceived to focus on investments in transportation, VMP now deploys its multi-sector, intersectional, engaged approach to a broad array of topics driven by community-identified interests, including the planning and design of built and natural infrastructures, such as sidewalks, trees, and community gathering spaces. Through the use of archival research, story circles, story mapping, and other interdisciplinary and community-based writing and storytelling processes, organizers have been successful in naming and reclaiming a park after a cherished Valverde family, the Ulibarris, participating in a neighborhood planning process, and addressing climate justice initiatives with the City and County of Denver’s Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency Office and The Park People.

This DeepThink Tank session engages participants in conversation and idea generation to think through community-rooted, culturally responsive, asset-based approaches that have the potential to build on collective strengths of numerous individuals and organizations.

Image Description: Farmworkers, dressed in grey clothes and grey wide-brimmed hats, are seen bent over and harvesting from a large field of bright green crops.
Image credit: Eneida Ramírez
Essential Voices: Creating a Story Archive to Resist Invisibilization
(Spanish translation will be provided)

This DeepThink Tank will present one community’s approach to developing a people-centered process for channeling the stories toward decision making processes in resistance to the harms of invisibilization. Agriculture workers have been neglected by institutions in data collection and analysis, advocacy efforts directed toward food systems workers and by government officials. As agricultural workers are a group that has been invisibilized and face concerns of legal safety, the DeepThink Tank facilitators and their organizations (FrontLine Farming, Project Protect Food System Workers, and University of Denver’s Ethnography Lab) developed story collection techniques that allow us to share narratives through audio, video, photo and writing while maintaining workers’ centrality and safety. In early 2021, this community advocated and lobbied for the passage of Colorado Bill SB21-087, which was signed into law in June 2021. This legislative advocacy process further highlighted the need for improving Colorado specific data and engaging workers in policy development and analysis. Quickly after the passage of the bill, the community set out to create www.esencialcolorado.org, a community story archive that documents the fight for rights, respect, and visibility of and by agricultural workers in Colorado, using testimony submitted for the bill as the initial archival stories.

This DeepThink Tank will answer questions including: How was this digital community story archive born? How does data and story play a role in policy advocacy and activism? How might this project be replicated in other communities? What role did community-engaged learning play in this project? How do different community members support the archive?

Facilitator Bios

Stephanie R Briggs (image)

stefani renee (Briggs) (she/her/they) is the owner of Be.Still.Move. (www.bestillmove.com), a program of creative arts-based and embodied contemplative practices. As a contemplative consultant, she has created workshops for numerous organizations and colleges. She is a trained facilitator of 400 Years of Inequality Mindfulness Work and has certification in Mindful Compassion Training and Authentic Leadership, as well as Sound Immersion, Second Degree Reiki, MBSR and is a Stephens Minister. In her TEDx, “Developing Empathy as Practice”, she shares her use of empathy through storytelling and contemplative photography in the college classroom. stefani is the daughter of Juanita and her storytelling father, Stephen Briggs. She currently is working on retelling the story of her recently discovered great great grandfather, Stokes Maddox Judd, utilizing and developing somatic approaches to how she holds the container for enslavement, suffering, joy, fortitude, and contradiction.  stefani is also currently working on a visual/storytelling project, “Black Spots,” a travelogue focusing on the reclamation of memories connected to historic, almost forgotten Black communities across the country.

Image description: A close-up of a man's face, looking at the camera.Alejandro Cerón is a researcher interested in understanding the relationship between public health practice and health as a human right, as well as on using collaborative ethnographic methods to promote social justice. He is the author of Epidemiología Neocolonial: Prácticas de Salud Pública y Derecho a la Salud en Guatemala (AVANCSO, 2018). He is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Denver, where he is also a co-leader of the DU Ethnography Lab. He maintains collaborations with organizations in Guatemala and Colorado.

Cara DiEnno, PhD is the Executive Director in the University of Denver (DU)’s Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL). In 2017, Cara founded the Campus-City Partnerships for Public Engagement team. She is a community-engaged scholar who has led the design and implementation of various public participation projects in collaboration with non-profits and city governments. She has a background in social aspects of natural resources with a specific emphasis in environmental communication focused on urban residents’ interactions with city greenspaces. Through her role at CCESL, she works alongside faculty and administrators to institutionalize high-impact, community-engaged work to advance discovery and learning. She holds a BS from Western Michigan University and an MS and PhD in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources from Colorado State University.

Evon Lopez is a lifelong resident of Denver, Colorado, and comes from a family of community activists led by her parents, Fred and Elaine Lucille Ulibarri. She served the City and County of Denver as a human resource professional and systems analyst for more than 25 years. During her remarkable career, she was recognized by colleagues for her commitment, compassion, and care for others. Through her collaborative work with The Park People, she is working towards green justice for her community, the Valverde neighborhood. She also works closely with her University of Denver partners in the Valverde Movement Project and planning students and faculty at the University of Colorado Denver. She is inspired by the climate change initiatives from the City and County of Denver, working with other community activists, and the power of bringing people together to create sustainable and vibrant living environments that support health and wealth in underserved communities. She is in her 3rd year of the BS in Human Resources Management Colorado State University Global.

Carrie Makarewicz, PhD is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at University of Colorado Denver. She does applied research on the implications for individuals and families from the interactions among public investments, private development, planning processes, and public policies with a focus on transportation infrastructures, affordable housing, public schools, community development, and disaster recovery. Prior to academia, she worked as a city planner, consultant, and policy analyst. She earned her BBA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a MUPP from the University of Illinois-Chicago, and a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley.

Image description: A person with dark hair stands in front of a bookshelf smiling at the camera.Kassandra Neiss is FrontLine Farming’s Data Activist and Systems Manager and the Data Lead for Project Protect Food System Workers. She holds an MA in cultural anthropology from the University of Denver and a BA from Hampshire College in US ethnic studies and oral history. She also owns her own research consulting company and has taught anthropology at Community College of Aurora, Colorado. Kassandra pursues applied research and community organizing at the intersection of multiculturalism, social and racial justice, health and food equity, and community-driven data ethics. Kasey has decades of experience in service of increased food access and racial justice initiatives, and has worked in agricultural spaces for 5 years.

JoyBelle Phelan, a Colorado native, has been creative since childhood, playing multiple instruments before utilizing her vocal skills all throughout high school. She was incarcerated twice, for a total of seven years behind the walls, and has successfully completed community corrections and was granted early release from parole. She passionately believes that no one should be remembered for the worst decision they ever made. She is using her lived experience to challenge the perceptions of what prison is like for women and what re-entry can look like. While inside, she fostered her love of the written word as she completed Cosmetology, Breakthrough (formerly Defy Ventures Colorado), Realness Project’s Art of Being Human workshop, the inaugural Inside-Out Prison Exchange program at La Vista, and volunteered as a Peer Education Mentor and a 7 Habits Core Group Member. She worked as the Pre-Release Clerk and assisted in the development and implementation of the Re-Entry Unit Program at La Vista Correctional Facility. She is currently an operations associate at the Prison Journalism Project and volunteers in the Colorado Dept of Corrections providing writing workshops. She was the first woman from La Vista to be published in The Inside Report newspaper and has an essay published in the CCJRC Go Guide about being successful on parole.  She has been a guest on multiple national podcasts focused on re-entry. Her TEDx San Quentin talk can be found here.

A woman with long dark hair smiles at the camera.Eneida Ramírez

Soy una inmigrante salvadoreña, representante orgullosa de Centro América viviendo en Estados Unidos, altamente motivada y apasionada por ayudar a la comunidad inmigrante, actualmente trabajo como promotora de alcance comunitario para Project Protect Promotora Network en el Norte de Colorado. Mi trabajo es ser un líder comunitario en el área asignada de Greeley, Kersey, Evans y Milliken enfocada en ayudar a los trabajadores agrícolas y sus familias, escuchando los desafíos, barreras y dificultades que tienen como comunidad migrante.  En este contexto trabajo para ser un apoyo, una guía, un puente de comunicación proporcionándoles información, organizando,  navegando  y conectandolos con los recursos disponibles en la comunidad para sus necesidades relacionadas con la salud, alimentación, vestimenta, recursos legales, educativos, consulares,  justicia social y el respeto por sus derechos laborales, entre otros.

I am a Salvadoran immigrant, a proud representative of Central America living in the United States, highly motivated and passionate about helping the immigrant community, currently working as a community outreach worker for Project Protect Promotora Network in Northern Colorado. My job is to be a community leader in the assigned area of ​​Greeley, Kersey, Evans and Milliken focused on helping farmworkers and their families by listening to the challenges, barriers and difficulties they have as a migrant community. In this context, I work to be a support, a guide, a communication bridge providing them with information, organizing, navigation and connection with the resources available in the community. I have helped with their needs related to health, food, clothing, legal, educational, consular resources, social justice and respect for their labor rights, among others.

Monika L Son, Ph.D, is a consultant, certified Embodied Leadership Coach and trauma informed facilitator. As a trained psychologist and expert facilitator with a twenty-year career in teaching on issues of access, opportunity and justice, she is skilled at supporting and building containers that examine issues around identity, oppression, power and privilege. Her work centers on cultivating healing and connection  with, and for others who are committed to transformative change through love and justice.  Monika is a student  in the Buddhist Soto Zen lineage and holds a  practice of meditation, yoga and somatic practice for more than a decade. She is daughter of Dominican immigrants, a parent of two mixed raced boys, and enjoys listening, telling and writing stories about beginnings and endings.


Brenda Tanori

I have been working as a Project Protect Promotra on the Western Slope since the beginning of the program in 2020. In my role, I help agricultural workers and others in my community with translation, filling out documents, giving them rides to their appointments, providing food and clothing, and connecting them to the other legal, social, financial and health services they need. I was born in Delta, Colorado and continue to help this same community as a leader in my community. My family has always been in agriculture. When I was 14 I started working in the fields as my first job. With these personal connections to agriculture, I know the realities that agricultural workers have to face every day and know how much this work is needed.

Jenna Wyatt is a Master’s Student at the University of Denver, obtaining a degree in Environmental Management and Policy with a concentration in sustainability and energy. She holds a BS in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources from Colorado State University. She has spent most of her career traveling around Colorado holding various roles supporting local governments, nonprofits, and grassroots efforts for sustainable communities. She’s worked for the Metro Denver Nature Alliance, the City of Aspen, and the University of Denver Bike Shop. Jenna is practicing community-engaged scholarship through her work with Valverde Movement Project. In service of the Valverde community, she is developing a pilot storytelling tour in hopes of increasing a sense of community awareness and motivation to address environmental impacts caused by exclusionary zoning practices. 

Ada Vilageliu-Díaz (image)Ada Vilageliu-Díaz is an Assistant Professor at the University of the District of Columbia. She teaches writing and literature courses with a focus on community and diversity. Her research focuses on rhetoric and community-based teaching. Her poetry has been published in Beltway Poetry Quarterly and Knocking on the Door of the White House: Latina and Latino Poets in Washington, D.C. Her creative writing is based on legends and myths about the indigenous Guanches from the Canary Islands and on a fragmented African Latina identity. She is currently writing her memoir in Spanish about the process of reconstructing narratives about her Guanche roots. She is also a documentary filmmaker. Her directorial debut was in 2014 with the documentary Near the River about environmental women leaders in the DC area. This film was in the official selection of film festivals in Colombia, Brazil, India, Spain, and the US. She is the host and creator of two bilingual community-based projects in Washington, DC: Mi Libro, Mi Espejo (My Book, My Mirror) Story Time and the Creative Community Writing Salon. Her website is adavilageliudiaz.com.

Scroll to Top