DeepThink Tanks

Kelly Writers House

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.  

DeepThink Tank Descriptions

Essential Questions for Decolonial and Anti-Racist Teaching

Location: Barnes Foundation

Terese Guinsatao Monberg (Michigan State University)
Iris Ruiz (University Of California, Merced)
Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (Mighty Writers)
Barbara Wong (Barnes Foundation)

Drawing from a deep and wide range of experience with community organizing informed by our experience with anti-racist and decolonial movement building, we will share essential questions that inform our projects. Moving beyond neoliberal discourses of diversity and inclusion, our approaches move instead toward working against the racist and colonial logics that shape our everyday lives and the communities with whom we work. As we all “teach” in different geographic and institutional locations that engage children to adults, we will organize the DeepThink Tank around essential questions common to our work, including:

  • Who are the storytellers? What does it mean to tell a collective story?
  • What is the structural intervention or impact we hope to enact?
  • What kinds of relationships, connections, and networks do we hope to build and sustain?
  • How do we position ourselves in relationship to histories of structural racism and colonial power?
  • In this context, what does it mean to “educate” or “teach”?

Taking a deeply historical approach, we will foreground the importance of examining historical, interlocking, and dynamic systems of oppression as well as methods for community engagement with social justice and transformative outcomes. We request that participants prepare for our work together by completing the readings we will provide beforehand. In working groups, we will further develop the essential questions as we see how they connect with projects participants bring to the table. It is our hope that this DeepThink Tank will lead to a collective publication, including essential questions/guidelines for antiracist and decolonial teaching.

Education as Liberation: Developing Political Literacy Across Educational Spaces

Location: Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania

Andres Celin (Youth United for Change)
Sarah Zeller-Berkman (Academic Director of Youth Studies Programs, CUNY School of Professional Studies)
Christin Rosario (Girl Power)

In this deep dive think tank, participants will engage with the notion of how to nourish political and civic literacies across multiple learning spaces.  Led by facilitators who are partnering with youth to create liberatory spaces in schools, community-based organizations, and participatory research spaces in higher education, this workshop is for a broad and diverse audience.  Participants will explore the framing and methodology of this type of work, add concrete tools to their toolkit, and design their own writing activities that activate transformative learning.

Building Capacity for Advocacy: Research to Action in Science

Location: Academy of Natural Sciences

Kathryn Christopher (Academy of Natural Sciences, Drexel University)
Phillip Knight (Food Bank Council of Michigan)
Dawn Opel (Michigan State University)
Donnie Sackey (The University of Texas at Austin)

In 2017, the Conference on Community Writing™ held an Environmental/Food Justice and Communication Deep Think Tank with the concept of reciprocity as an organizing principle. The goal of the Think Tank was to equip participants to develop relationships with the various partners that comprise community projects, such as nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, community groups, people, and the material landscapes—including the plant and animal inhabitants—in which these projects take place. The 2017 Deep Think Tank discussions continued after the session and culminate in the forthcoming Fall 2019 special issue of the Community Literacy Journal co-edited by two of this year’s Deep Think Tank presenters, Dawn Opel and Donnie Johnson Sackey. Focused on the concept of reciprocity in community engaged food and environmental justice scholarship, this issue features community-engaged projects and partners as wide-ranging as public school gardens and afterschool programs, food banks, health care organizations, and grassroots community organizing.

For this year’s Deep Think Tank, we seek to build on these CCW-led efforts to assist participants’ move from research to advocacy. Opel and Sackey join two community partners, Kathryn Christopher, Manager of Science Communication and Outreach at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University; and Dr. Phillip Knight, Executive Director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan, to facilitate a discussion of how to translate research for public engagement and public policy outcomes. In this session, we offer examples and practical strategies to answer the following questions:

  • We know we need to act for change, but how do we begin?
  • What is/can be an academic researcher’s role in advocacy efforts?
  • What do community partners look for or find persuasive in academic partnerships?
  • How do I translate my research findings for legislative or public action?
  • What evidence is needed to make public policy arguments?
  • What does writing for advocacy and activism look like?

Presenters will provide insights from specific examples of research and advocacy projects in the areas of food security and environmental activism. Each will discuss what is important when attempting to translate research for larger discussions with diverse stakeholders. From the perspective of researchers, Opel and Sackey will discuss their relationship with Knight and the Food Bank Council of Michigan, to work to improve their data-driven advocacy efforts. As Executive Director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan, Knight will discuss his perspectives on what makes a persuasive case for food security with legislators and the public. Finally, Christopher, as Manager of Science Communication and Outreach at the Academy of Natural Sciences, will present examples of translating environmental fieldwork for public outreach and public policy outcomes.

Participants will receive hands-on training and leave the Deep Think Tank with a toolkit to act, focused on three major writing methods and genres—asset-mapping for capacity building; drafting position statements and one-pagers for advocacy; and creation of online content for effective scientific communication.

Our Struggle, Our Joy: Immigrant Activism, Storysharing, and Community Building

Location: Free Library of Philadelphia

Sara Alvarez (Queens College, CUNY)
Steven Alvarez (St. John’s University)
Angie Kim (immigrant activist)
Mark Lyons (Philadelphia Storytelling Project)
Liliana Velasquez (Author of Dreams and Nightmares)

This DeepThink Tank focuses on community writing projects that stand alongside immigrant communities. The session invites community participants to learn about immigrant-led projects that grapple with subjects best understood by people with critical, lived experience and creative reflection about the complexity, joys and struggles of the immigrant experience. To approach this type of work, the team organizing the DeepThink Tank has divided the session along three  sections, 1) background and context for the current moment, 2), collaborative writing honoring the work of immigrant communities, and, 3) planning and collaborating for action. 

To guide our shared work for “Our Struggle, Our Joy,” we respectfully require all attendees to read prior to the event distributed texts that will inform and shape our conversation, including passages from Dreams and Nightmares / Sueños y Pesadillas by co-leader Liliana Velásquez. We intend to build an atmosphere focused on action and interaction, and not rely solely on discussion. Participants will be requested to share their experiences and reflect on what they have learned in their community-engaged work.

Resisting Gentrification: Sharing Our Stories

Location: Drexel’s Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships

Ayana Allen-Handy (Drexel University)
Nora Lichtash (Women’s Community Revitalization Project)
Lauren Lowe (Drexel University)​
Staci Moore (Women’s Community Revitalization Project)

This interactive session will provide participants with the opportunity to learn about affordable housing and gentrification in Philadelphia. The facilitators, through sharing stories of their experiences of gentrification, will help attendees identify these issues in their respective communities. Through reflective writing and power analyses, the aim of this Deep ThinkTank is to foster new understandings that can be used to develop next steps and create tools to implement anti-displacement strategies in local contexts.

Presenter Bios

Terese Guinsatao MonbergTerese Guinsatao Monberg is Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Writing and a founding faculty member of the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University where she currently serves as Director of the Asian Pacific American Studies Program. Her research and teaching focus on Filipinx/American rhetoric, transcultural memory, and community building, which has been published in Representations: Doing Asian American Rhetoric; Reflections; enculturation: a journal of rhetoric, writing, and culture; and Community Literacy Journal. She is co-editor of Building a Community, Having a Home: A History of the Conference on College Composition and Communication Asian/Asian Caucus (with Jennifer Sano-Franchini and K. Hyoejin Yoon) and a special issue of enculturation on Asian/American Rhetorical Trans/Formations (with Morris Young). She is committed to anti-racist pedagogies attentive to historical, structural, and ongoing forms of colonization and imperialism as well as decolonizing movements of Filipinx people and their descendants. She is a former Board Member of the Mid-Michigan Asian Pacific American Association (MAPAA) and co-facilitator of the former Lansing APA Forum, as well as a current Board of Trustees Member of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS).

Iris RuizIris D. Ruiz is a Continuing Lecturer for Merritt Writing Program, and a Lecturer in Ethnic Studies at CSU, Stanislaus. Her current publications are her monograph, Reclaiming Composition for Chicano/as and other Ethnic Minorities: A Critical History and Pedagogy, winner of the honorable mention CCCC outstanding book award, and she co-edited D ecolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies: New Latinx Keywords for Theory and Pedagogy, in which she also contributed a chapter on the keyword “Race.” Her work on race and WPA works was published as an article in the CWPA Journal. Finally, her current research focuses upon Chicanx History, decolonial theory, methods, intersectional and cross-generational trauma, and the politics of critical imperial scholarship and citation practices. Her work is also featured in the NCTE/CCCC Latinx Caucus history book with Parlor Press, Viva Nuestra Caucus and in the Series for Writing and Rhetoric co-edited collection, Rhetorics Elsewhere and Otherwise. She aims to continue to work toward transformative and anti-racist leadership, scholarship and pedagogical practice.

Jamilah Thompkins-BigelowJamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is a program director at Mighty Writers, which provides free writing programs to youth in the Philadelphia area. She is also a children’s book author and her debut children’s book about a Black American Muslim girl, Mommy’s Khimar (2018), was designated a notable book by the American Library Association, Childrens Book Council, and International Literacy Association. Her book is also named on a number of Best Books of 2018 lists including those of NPR, School Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. Her forthcoming book, Your Name is a Song (2020), is an empowering tale about a girl who learns to appreciate her unique name that others often mispronounce.

Jamilah is passionate about educating youth and she has worked for over a decade as an English teacher and curriculum writer in the fields of literacy and anti-racism for educators and youth of all ages. She served as a curriculum developer and fellow with Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, an organization that uses education to combat intra-Muslim racism and Islamophobia. She cares profoundly about using literacy to attain social justice, empowerment, and representation. Additionally, as a Black American and second-generation African immigrant, she strives to bring the griot tradition she has inherited to the work she produces.

Andres Celin is the Lead Organizer and Kensington Multiplex Organizer at Youth United for Change (YUC). He graduated from Haverford College with a degree in Cultural and Social Anthropology, and a minor in Economics. Andres spent five years working in education and social services in Eastern North Philadelphia prior to joining YUC, running tutoring, extracurricular and mentoring programs, serving as a family case manager, and managing a bi-lingual parenting education program. He is also a Trauma-competency Trainer with Lakeside Global Institute, and works with professionals in various service sectors throughout Pennsylvania.

Andres is passionate about creating political education and community organizing models that center the leadership development of working-class youth of color. At YUC, he focuses on supporting young people in the Kensington area of Philadelphia develop critical systems analysis, grassroots campaign strategy, and tactical organizing skills.

Sarah Zeller-BerkmanSarah Zeller-Berkman is the Academic Director of the Youth Studies Program at the CUNY School of Professional Studies and Director of Youth Studies Initiatives at the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Institute for Worker Education.  At CUNY SPS, she oversees the MA and Advanced Certificate in Youth Studies programs and directs the Intergenerational Change Initiative (ICI), a youth participatory action research project involving mobile tech and participatory policy making.  Dr. Zeller-Berkman has spent the last two decades as a practitioner, researcher, evaluator, and capacity-builder in the field of youth and community development. Trained in Social-Personality Psychology, she has worked in partnership with young people on participatory action research projects about issues that impact their lives such as sexual harassment in schools, incarceration, parental incarceration, and high-stakes testing.  Her publications include articles and chapters in the Journal of Community, Youth and Environments, The Handbook of Qualitative Research, AfterSchool Matters, New Directions for Evaluation, Globalizing Cultural Studies, and Children of Incarcerated Parents. She is committed to using participatory design principals, youth-adult partnerships, a critical participatory action research approach, and the latest technical tools to be part of a larger movement to alter the status quo for/with young people.

Christin Lauren Christin Rosario, a West Philadelphia native, began her writing journey at Mill Creek Community Center in West Philadelphia, where she learned to read and write before the age of four. Once she learned the power of words, she never stopped writing, reading, or talking. She went on to complete a B.A. in Organizational and Strategic Communications at Temple University. Dreams of a career as a speech writer in tow, she launched a freelance publicity company in 2008.

The challenges of an industry fraught with racial inequity, gender discrimination, and socioeconomic stigmas found her nearly voiceless and desperate.  After completing an M.A. in Writing Studies at Saint Joseph’s University in 2015, enter Mighty Writers…Christin began as a volunteer at the West Philadelphia site of Mighty Writers, developing a unique curriculum, laser- focused on empowering young girls through leadership and in-depth written expression to proactively combat the social constructs that threaten their freedom and creativity. By teaching young girls to learn their strengths as individuals as well as their collective power, Who Runs the World? Girls! supports the sustainability of one of our greatest resources to date…women. Christin currently is Program Director at Mighty Writers West and founder of Kismet’s Wordluv L.L.C

Kathryn ChristopherKathryn Christopher is manager of science communication and outreach at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Philadelphia. She facilitates and supports meaningful communications, outreach and public engagement initiatives relating to science and human impacts, enhancing the messaging of the Academy’s positions on climate change, water, evolution, and biodiversity and extinction.

Kathryn also provides overall organizational support in the Academy’s role as lead scientific organization of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. She coordinates outreach with project partner organizations and communicates water quality data to various audiences via reports and visual data representations.

After first starting at the Academy in 2012 as a volunteer in the Botany Department, Kathryn was hired as a field technician in 2013 to support the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. She has a master’s degree in environmental science from Drexel University and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Penn State University.

Dr. Phillip KnightPhillip Knight, LPC, is Executive Director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan, a non-profit organization working to create a food secure state through advocacy, resource management, and collaboration among stakeholders and Michigan’s unified food bank network. He is also the author of The Diamond Life, a leadership workbook designed to grow the next generation of leaders and hosts an award-winning weekly radio show on WJR 760 AM, “Food First.”

Dawn OpelDawn Opel is Assistant Professor of Digital Media and User Experience in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures in the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University. She also serves as Policy Fellow at the Center for Health and Research Transformation at the University of Michigan. A lawyer and community-engaged action researcher, Dawn partners with legal, healthcare, and nonprofit organizations to improve the coordination of care across sectors. She particularly focuses on working with healthcare organizations to integrate community-based services into clinical practice, particularly those services related to the social determinants of health, such as food security. Her community partners include Michigan State University Extension, Elder Law of Michigan, Inc., Sparrow Health System, and The Food Bank Council of Michigan. Her research is funded by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living, and the Humanities Without Walls initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Recent published work appears in Literacy in Composition Studies, Computers and Composition: An International Journal, and Technical Communication.

Donnie Johnson SackeyDonnie Johnson Sackey is an assistant professor of Rhetoric & Writing at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a senior researcher with Detroit Integrated Vision for Environmental Research through Science and Engagement (D•VERSE). He formerly served as an executive board member of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition. His research centers on the dynamics of environmental public policy deliberation, environmental justice, and environmental cultural history.

Sara P AlvarezSara P Alvarez is Assistant Professor of English at Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY), and 2018-2020 Cultivating New Voices Fellow at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Sara’s qualitative research focuses on the multilingual and academic writing practices of self-outed U.S. undocumented young adults. Her past research ethnographically examined the multilingual social media literacy practices among second-generation Latin@ youth and their transnational families in Kentucky. Her publications have appeared in the journals Equity and Excellence in Education and The Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, among others.

Steven AlvarezSteven Alvarez is Assistant Professor of English at St. John’s University. He specializes in literacy studies and bilingual education with a focus on Mexican immigrant communities. Dr. Alvarez teaches courses ranging from autobiographical writing, ethnographic methods, visual rhetoric, and “taco literacy,” a course exploring the foodways of Mexican immigrants in the United States. Dr. Alvarez is the author of Brokering Tareas: Mexican Immigrant Families Translanguaging Homework Literacies (State University of New York Press) and Community Literacies en Confianza: Learning from Bilingual After-School Programs (National Council of Teachers of English). Dr. Alvarez is also the author of three books of poetry. His book The Codex Mojaodicus was the winner of the 2016 Fence Modern Poets Prize.

Angie KimAngie Kim is an Asian American immigrant activist based in New York City. Since her 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) enrollment, Angie has advocated and worked for immigrant rights and comprehensive immigration reform. Angie has arranged and conducted meetings with legislators, community organizers, and policy-makers across the U.S. context, and in 2013, along with fellow activists and undocumented young adults, Angie urged the 44th President of the United States, President Barack Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden, to pass immigration reform. Despite the outcome of these efforts, Angie continues to be invested in her immigrant communities. Angie Kim works with grassroots and community-based organizations building empowerment and community engagement. She focuses on cultivating awareness about race and ethnicity in the immigrant experience, and the importance of facts over myths in discussing immigration.

Mark LyonsMark Lyons is director of the Philadelphia Storytelling Project, where he uses digital storytelling in his work with teens, the immigrant community, and homeless veterans. He edited and translated the memoir Dreams and Nightmares / Sueños y Pesadillas, by teenager Liliana Velásquez, who fled Guatemala alone to seek asylum in the United States. He also edited and translated Espejos y Ventanas / Mirrors and Windows, Oral Histories of Mexican Farmworkers and Their Families. Both books are in Spanish and English. He does workshops with high school and university teachers on using oral histories to create conversations among and between communities, improve literacy, and give marginalized peoples a voice.  His collection of short stories, Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines, was chosen as a Kirkus Reviews book of the year.

Liliana VelasquezLiliana Velásquez: When she was seventeen, Liliana Velásquez wrote a remarkable memoir, Dreams and Nightmares / Sueños y Pesadillas, which tells of escaping unrelenting violence and poverty in her village in Guatemala at fourteen and heading out alone to seek safety in the United States. On her trip through Mexico she was robbed by narcos and rode the boxcars of La Bestia. Finally, she made it to the US border, and headed out across the Sonoran Desert, where she encountered death and was caught by US Immigration. She spent months in detention and ultimately gained asylum status in the U.S. She currently is in college and supports her family back home. Liliana shares her story in schools, universities and communities and gives workshops for teachers on using oral histories in the classroom to talk about the place of immigrants in our communities. She has received several honors for her work.

Ayana Allen-HandyAyana Allen-Handy, is an Assistant Professor of Urban Education in the School of Education at Drexel University. She received a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas A&M University, and completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at The Urban Education Collaborative at UNC Charlotte. Her research interests include qualitative, ethnographic, and participatory action research methods to strengthen youth, teacher, and community member capacity, advocacy, and empowerment to address critical issues of educational equity and social justice in urban schools and communities.

Nora Lichtash Nora Lichtash has worked with the Women’s Community Revitalization Project (WCRP), a multi-racial community development organization committed to social and economic equity for low income women and their families, since its founding in 1987. Working first as a volunteer, and then as its director. She has managed the organization’s growth from an operating budget of $50,000 to its current annual operating budget in excess of $1.5 million.

WCRP is known for the quality, innovation and effectiveness of its affordable housing and community development strategies; and as an organization that involves low-income women in the process of community building, self-empowerment and change. Most recently the women of WCRP have been speaking out and organizing to make sure that long-term residents in North Philadelphia have the ability to remain in the community and not be pushed out due to high property values and rents. As part of this work they have created the Community Justice Land Trust.  Nora has helped to create a group that builds power and honors leadership, dignity and justice in the community.

Lauren Lowe photoLauren Lowe has been a member of Writers Room, a university-community literary arts program engaged in creative placemaking and art for social justice, since its very first season. Her experiences at Writers Room formed the heart of her undergraduate education at Drexel University. She remained involved after graduation while serving as an ArtistYear Teaching Fellow at Paul Robeson High School in West Philadelphia. During the 2018-2019 academic year, she was the program’s first Alumni Fellow.

Writers Room’s mission is to develop inclusive, intergenerational, co-creative places that foster connection and community. When all stories are valued, emerging and more experienced writers can recognize and share in each other’s gifts. Together with neighborhood and university partners, Writers Room has embarked on a community-led design process for an intergenerational writers house that would provide space for public programming and catalyze other intergenerational houses nearby—creating a network of homeowners and student tenants whose shared interest in writing and storytelling would form the foundation for meaningful cohabitation. Over the last five years, Lowe has been part of the team developing this project in addition to supporting general program coordination.

Her own writing focuses on the history of redevelopment in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, where her father grew up, and the gentrification she witnessed in West Philadelphia as an undergrad. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at New York University.

Staci Moore Staci Moore is an energy assistance worker for the State’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and an advocate for affordable housing. She was homeless for a year living in a shelter with her very young son, and that experience forever changed her awareness of the importance of affordable housing, not only for her own family, but for everyone.

Staci’s advocacy message is clear:

  • Behind the gap in decent, affordable housing are the stories of thousands of low-income households like hers.
  • Government policies must promote an environment that encourages the creation of more affordable housing and preserves the affordable housing that we have.

When she began working on this issue she had never done any public speaking, but over the years she has provided testimony at public hearings, met with members of city council, and spoken to the press on issues such as how the real estate market can bring new resources and residents into a poor community—but also that these same changes can force long-term, low-income residents out of their neighborhood. She is a key activist in the creation and operation of a community land trust which assures long term affordability.

Her leadership has contributed to a number of important policy victories including the creation of the Philadelphia Housing Trust Fund, the Philadelphia Land Bank and the new infusion of $70,000,000 into the city’s Housing Trust Fund which came out of the campaign to win a Construction Impact Tax.

Staci is the co-chair of the Women’s Community Revitalization Project’s board of directors. She has received the Bank of America’s local heroes award and the award for advocacy from the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania. She is also an artist whose work related to displacement and gentrification has been exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through the 2018 exhibit—Philadelphia Assembled.

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