Salon Series: A Conversation on Theater & Policy
April 25, 2019
NYU Washington, DC and the Theater and Policy Salon co-hosted an evening Salon Series conversation on the intersections between theater and policy. The Salon conversation centered on Mosaic Theater's production, Native Son.
Still too many contemporary persons of color feel hemmed in by limited opportunities and a hostile environment, as was dramatized in Native Son. The discussion considered how tools of control and punishment fall short in addressing systemic failures and ensuring that those who write and enforce the laws remain accountable to the communities they serve. The panel also explored opportunities to take a comprehensive approach —in public and behavioral health, education, jobs, and housing—in order to prevent crime; reduce violence and recidivism; and close opportunity gaps.
Panelists for the evening included Dr. Stacey Houston, II, Assistant Professor, George Mason University, Ari Roth, Founding Artistic Director, Mosaic Theater Company, NJ Mitchell, Co-Facilitator, Theater and Policy Salon (TPS), Ajmel Quereshi, Senior Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Karen Volker, Director for Strategic and International Partnerships, Cure Violence.
This program was presented in conjunction with Mosaic Theater Company’s productions of Native Son and Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes on A Native Son.
Please note that this event may have been filmed or photographed.
Dr. Stacey Houston, II, Assistant Professor, George Mason University
Dr. Houston's research interests center around understanding the causes and consequences of justice system involvement. Schooling and racial health disparities are two causes and consequences that are central to his research agenda. Dr. Houston's recent work explores the link between education, justice system involvement, and well-being. More specifically, his work investigates how disciplinary practices in early education contribute to involvement with the justice system, which, in turn, leads to health disparities across racial groups. Dr. Houston is working on a series of projects which focus on life course outcomes for youth as a function of justice system presence, or what he calls justice system toxic reach. These projects investigate the role that residential proximity to justice facilities plays in deteriorating health of youth. In other words, this line of work investigates the ways in which justice system presence is a systematic environmental health hazard. Dr. Houston utilizes a wide-range of quantitative methods with large, longitudinal data-sets. He has expertise in quasi-experimental research designs and has several years of experience with program evaluation. Dr. Houston is currently leading the evaluation of a United Planning Organization reentry program funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance He holds a PhD in Sociology from Vanderbilt University.
Ari Roth, Founding Artistic Director, Mosaic Theater Company
A producer, playwright, dramaturg, and educator, Ari Roth founded Mosaic Theater Company in December 2014, after serving as Artistic Director of Theater J for 18 years where he produced 129 productions, including 44 world premieres, and created the annual festivals “Voices From a Changing Middle East” and “Locally Grown: Community Supported Art” alongside forums like the Peace Café (co-founded by Mimi Conway and Andy Shallal). In 2005, the New York Times praised Theater J as “the premier theater for premieres. . . and its artistic director, Ari Roth, [who] offers a rare mix of professional polish, thoughtful dramaturgy and nervy experimentation.” As a playwright, his work includes The Born Guilty Cycle, commissioned and produced by Arena Stage, directed by Zelda Fichandler, and more than 50 productions across the country; The Wolf in Peter, produced by Theater J, Jewish Theatre of the South; and fused as a diptych for Epic Theatre at Manhattan Theatre Club and CUNY; a prequel, Andy and The Shadows produced at Theater J, directed by Daniela Topol, and Reborn In Berlin, workshopped at The Orchard Project, (in progress). Other produced plays include Oh, The Innocents (directed by Joe Mantello at GeVa); Goodnight Irene; Life In Refusal; Love and Yearning in the Not for Profits; Still Waiting (companion to Waiting For Lefty), and a dozen one-acts. He is a two-time recipient of the Avery Hopwood Award from the University of Michigan where he has taught since 1988, currently for their “Michigan in Washington” program, as well as for Brandeis, NYU, and Carnegie Mellon Universities.
NJ Mitchell, Co-Facilitator, Theater and Policy Salon (TPS)
NJ Mitchell is the granddaughter of a pastor, born to a gospel recording artist and professional sports family, a film, TV, Commercials actress, and 2012 Billboard Actress for Mother’s Against Gun Violence Campaign and 2008 CA Regional Committee Member Women for Obama campaign.
NJ Mitchell is also a Teaching Artist for Creativity First, Creative Kids Drama elementary school program. NJ has worked in DC with amazing leadership at Mosaic Theater, Theater J, Woolly Mammoth Theater, Alliance for New Music-Theatre, THEARC Theater, and Theater and Policy Salon and has created community social justice eduTainment programs such as FROM SELMA TO FERGUSON TO BALTIMORE, SALT and Blacks & Jewish Unity Poetry Slam hosted at facilities like Mt Gilead/National Baptist Educational Conference and John Wesley AME Zion Church. She is co-facilitator of Theater & Policy Salon (TPS) and founder of SALT, Social Justice & Art Lessons using Theater, and Blacks and Jewish Unity Poetry Slam productions.
Ajmel Quereshi, Senior Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Ajmel Quereshi serves as Senior Counsel at LDF. Before joining LDF, Ajmel worked as Staff Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, where he litigated complex class action claims involving the United States’ most inhumane correctional facilities. He served as one of the lead counsel in Dockery v. Epps, challenging conditions at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, and assisted in the representation of the Plaintiff class in Parsons v. Ryan, a statewide class action concerning the lack of health care and conditions of confinement in Arizona’s prisons.
Ajmel previously co-directed the Civil Rights Clinic at Howard University School of Law, where he also taught courses in Torts and Federal Civil Rights. Under his direction, the Clinic filed amicus briefs in several cases before the United States Supreme Court, as well as in Fletcher v. Lamone, in which the United States District Court for the District of Maryland upheld the nation’s first statewide law to prohibit prison-based gerrymandering. Prior to joining Howard Law School, Ajmel received a Skadden Fellowship and directed the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU of Maryland. In that capacity, he argued before Maryland’s highest court and regularly testified before the Maryland legislature. He currently serves on the ACLU of Maryland’s Board of Directors. Ajmel’s editorial writings have appeared in various newspapers; he has published articles in several legal journals; and his cases have been featured by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, among others. In 2010, the Maryland Daily Record named him one of the top legal professionals in Maryland under 40. Ajmel is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School. After graduating, Ajmel clerked for the Honorable Damon J. Keith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the Honorable James G. Carr of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
Karen Volker, Director for Strategic and International Partnerships, Cure Violence
Karen Volker is the Director for Strategic and International Partnerships at Cure Violence, an international NGO that uses a health approach to interrupt and stop the spread of violence. Karen plays a key role on strategic planning, developing strategic partnerships, and pursuing opportunities to expand the Cure Violence global footprint, with emphasis on expanding Cure Violence’s work in the Middle East. Karen leads Cure Violence’s work in Syria, including a new project that includes both top-down and bottom-up approach to preventing violence in Syria.
Prior to joining Cure Violence in January 2012, Ms. Volker spent over 25 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, including as Director of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), a $500 million program that supports civil society organizations in the Middle East and North Africa, leading up to and during the Arab Spring. Ms. Volker has devoted her professional life to promoting pluralism, peace, and democracy, defending human rights, and preventing violence. As Director of Strategic and International Partnerships, Ms. Volker interacts with donors, policy-makers, and other NGOs on behalf of Cure Violence and represents Cure Violence at national and international events and meetings.
About the Performances at Mosaic Theater Company
Richard Wright's iconic novel about oppression, freedom, and justice comes to life on stage in this ground-breaking adaptation. Suffocating in rat-infested poverty on the South Side of Chicago in the 1930s, 20-year-old Bigger Thomas struggles to find a place for himself in a world whose prejudice has shut him out. After taking a job in a wealthy white man's house, Bigger unwittingly unleashes a series of events that violently and irrevocably seal his fate. Adapted with theatrical ingenuity by Chicago's own Nambi E. Kelley, this Native Son captures the power of Richard Wright's novel for a whole new generation.
Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of A Native Son
Set in the legendary Parisian café Les Deux Magots in 1953, Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of A Native Son reimagines the meeting between Native Son author Richard Wright and essayist/activist James Baldwin. It explores the tension between Baldwin’s searing critiques of Native Son and Wright’s unbridled indignation in response—a confrontation between two mighty African-American artists, with echoes of a present-day rap battle.
The NYU Washington, DC Salon Series: Conversations with Writers & Artists presents an opportunity for the NYU and Washington, DC community to meet and engage in dialogue with acclaimed writers and artists as they reflect on their craft. This program provides facilitated conversations that aim to illuminate the guests’ creative processes, discuss their current works, and explain the impact of their work on the world around us. The Salon Series is made possible by NYU Washington, DC through the collaboration of NYU schools, departments and centers, as well as through special relationships with selected external organizations.