About Our Guests
Jennessa Burks is an educator, activist, mentor, and self taught artist based in Central Massachusetts. She earned her Bachelor’s from Worcester State University in 2015 and later her Master’s from Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2019. Art is a passion she uses to express her emotion and amplify not only her voice, but the unheard voices of her communities. While her works include mixed mediums she works primarily in acrylic to create art pieces intended to capture the beauty, strength, and resilience of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). Too often Black and brown folx are missing from art spaces; Their stories and truths selectively muted throughout history. With her creations Jennessa aspires to bring joy to others who may experience the void of being unseen while bringing awareness to those who hold the privilege and fulfillment of being seen.
Amaryllis Lopez (she/her) is a Black Puerto Rican cultural worker committed to an afrofeminist praxis. Lopez serves as Elevated Thought’s Program Director developing and supporting programming and engaging in meaningful coalition work cultivating both inside and outside the Massachusetts social justice landscape. Her thesis, Se dice pelo bueno: Black Affirmations in Contemporary Puerto Rican Literature highlights how nonfolkloric, contemporary literary affirmations of Blackness serve as an additional resistance strategy to counter blanqueamiento. Lopez holds a B.A. in English with minors in Latin American & Caribbean Studies and African American Studies from Bridgewater State University.
Steenz is a St. Louis based cartoonist, editor, and professor. She’s the cartoonist on the syndicated comic strip ‘Heart Of The City’, the co-creator of Dwayne McDuffie Award winning GN Archival Quality, and is featured in short story anthologies such as Eisner and Ignatz Award-Winning Elements: Fire, Mine!, and Dead Beats. Steenz launched and edited the popular RPG periodical Rolled & Told. She participates in and creates community building comics related programming, and is a frequent panelist at comic cons. Steenz currently teaches cartooning at Webster University while editing titles from Mad Cave Studios. She lives with her husband, two cats, and watches a lot of esoteric social documentaries.
Milena Braga was born in Rio de Janeiro, where she lived until her family moved to Massachusetts in 2001. She attended FAU’s Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, graduating in 2019 with a B.S. in Psychology. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Mental Health Counseling, and hopes to one day be an LMHC. While studying in this field, she also believes that writing can be a powerful form of healing. Milena has always had a profound love for storytelling, and for the magic her words could create. She hopes that her poems and stories can inspire others to find their own inner strength.
Cedric “Vise1” Douglas was born in 1977 in Boston, Massachusetts. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2011. He currently resides in Quincy Massachusetts, and his studio is in Abington Massachusetts. At an early age, Cedric Douglas’s 1st experience with public art was writing his name creatively on abandoned spaces, in Boston, Quincy, and surrounding New England areas. In the early 1990s, he went under the alias “Vise1,” which was also an acronym for Visually Intercepting Society’s Emotion one image at a time. In 2000, with growth, and college education his work developed more conceptually, and in college, he was heavily influenced by his professor, a world-renowned poster designer, and social activist Chaz Maviyane-Davies. During this development, he felt the need to reach a wider audience with a deeper social message and he felt the need to use his work to engage people in the public space.
Jui Talukder (formerly known as Farhana Hossain) is an illustrator with a Masters of Fine Arts in Computer Art from the School of Visual Arts (2017) and a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture (Honours) from National University of Singapore (2014). She grew up in Singapore, where she developed an interest in architecture, theatre and fine art. After graduating from architecture school and working for a year as an architectural designer, Jui moved to New York to escape the tropical humidity and pursue animation (a decision she only lamented once during her first ever snow storm). She is now based off her studio in East Hartford, Connecticut where she finally gets to enjoy some greenery when she isn’t staring at her Cintiq screen.
Myranda Victoria Peterson is an author/illustrator with a contagious passion for storytelling. She first started off writing plays, which her parents and friends helped her perform when she was a little girl. A self-taught artist, Myranda’s art is heavily inspired by anime and Japanese pop culture. She currently writes, illustrates and independently publishes her own books for children and young adults. She creates original content that aims to inspire the youth of today with themes of generosity, courage, justice, friendship and hope.
Before joining the English Department at UMass in 2008, TreaAndrea Russworm earned her B.A. from Brown University and M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Her areas of research and teaching specialization include: video games and new media, digital cultural studies, African American popular culture, digital humanities, comic books and visual representation, and postmodern and psychoanalytic theories.
M. Olson is a 19-year-old sophomore Art Education (Illustration) student attending the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. He likes to explore different mediums and art styles in his work (variety is the spice of life, after all), but is primarily a 2-D artist. He illustrates both digitally and using “traditional” methods such as graphite and charcoal, and hopes to bring a wide array of artistic knowledge into his future career as an art teacher. Alongside becoming an educator, he also aspires to professionally write and illustrate comics that explore and expand upon elements of the fantasy genre. When he isn’t drawing, he’s likely daydreaming about what he wants to write and draw next.
The “one and Oni” Will Wiggins III, aka Black Oni, is a multi-talented illustrator, graphic designer, gamer, and live content creator on Twitch and Facebook. He is an action RPG focused Twitch Partner, content creator, and artist, heavily influenced by Black and Japanese culture. “Born, and protector of sacred land,” reflects his views of art and gaming as sacred forms of exploration & expression. As an Illustrator, designer, and content creator, he leans into his passion for telling stories through visuals, and sharing his love of gaming through podcasts, game coverage, and Twitch livestreams. He has led panels on branding, (including the most viewed and attended Twitch creator camp panel at Twitchcon 2018) had his designs presented to Congress, and has been highlighted in several large gaming publications. Above all, he aims to entertain, entice, and educate.
Rayya Chek: I am a 19-year-old student at Tufts University pursuing a BFA in Studio Arts. I am currently working for a culinary publication known as the Tufts Palmier in the layout department. I used to be a part of a non-profit art organization known as Raw Art Works. I used to be a muralist for one of their groups, Good 2 Go. During my time as a muralist, I helped create murals at locations such as a literacy house for the READ Program and the garage in the New England Biolabs. From my time as a muralist, I am interested in the relationship that art imposes on a community as well as on self-identity. As of right now, I am creating a book that addresses the Anti-AAPI hate crimes through personal voice and interviews of those in the community.
Janae Phillips (she/her) is a writer and community organizer with over a decade of experience in training, activism, and fandom. As Fandom Forward’s Managing Director of Programs, she has helped shape the landscape of modern fan activism. Janae is a queer woman from the Sonoran Desert and lives on traditional Tohono O’Odham land in the quirky, complicated, magical city of Tucson. You can learn more about her at janae.online.
Matt Zambrano is a Performance Artist, Improviser, Writer, Director, Spoken-Word Artist, Teaching Artist and Mime based in New York City. He is a writer and performer for The Story Pirates, Broken Box Mime Theater and Recent Cutbacks Theater Companies, and volunteers with groups such as Leaders By Choice, 826NYC, Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP) and many more. He has been a Dungeons & Dragons fanatic for over 10 years, and is the founder and creator of Heroes & Dice, where he offers his services as a qualified Game Master for adventurers of all ages. For more info check out http://www.MattZambrano.com and http://www.HeroesAndDice.com.
Becky Baumwoll is an NYC-based artist and educator originally from Massachusetts. In 2011 Becky founded theater and education non-profit Broken Box Mime (BKBX), a collaborative theater company that reimagines French pantomime for contemporary audiences. While she has served as it’s Artistic and Executive Director, BKBX has performed annually in NYC, toured regionally, taught internationally, and partnered with collaborators from MTV to the Alliance Francaise. As a teacher, Becky develops curriculum with BKBX, the International Rescue Committee, Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), Opera on Tap, Clowns Without Borders, and as an adjunct faculty member at the College of Performing Arts at The New School. As an actor, Becky has worked in downtown, Off-Broadway, and regional theaters. Becky discovered D&D during Covid, and it’s been the pandemic’s only silver lining.
Clifmon Leroy: I am currently a 3rd-year student going into my senior year at Salem State University. I am an Art major with a concentration in Graphic Design. I also have a minor in Media Communications. Outside of that, I like to pursue Illustration in my own time. In my art, I am drawn to exploring narratives that are tied to identity or finding creative solutions to visual problems. I personally enjoy a lot of children’s book illustration as well as colorful and shape-based graphic design.
Isis Asare is a serial cultural entrepreneur with over a decade of finance and business development experience at Fortune 500 companies such as T-Mobile, Microsoft, Shutterfly, and Amazon. One of her earliest ventures was Sistah Sinema. Asare started Sistah Sinema in her living room and expanded it to 20 cities across the US and internationally, a social/email reach of 10K points of contact, and online presence with Indieflix within five years. She successfully exited Sistah Sinema by selling it to community investors in 2015. Asare officially launched Sistah Scifi February 2, 2019 with a celebration of Jewelle Gomez’s 25th Anniversary edition of The Gilda Stories. Between 2019 and 2020, Sistah Scifi sales increased tenfold through expanding physical book selection; launching private label shirts, sweatshirts, and bags; and offering audiobooks and ebooks. Sistah Scifi is on-track to see 10X sales growth again in 2021. Isis Asare earned her BA in Psychology and African American Studies from Stanford University, Master’s In Public Policy from Harvard University, and MBA, International Finance from Columbia Business School.
Robyn Warren M.S. Ed (Physical Education B.S., Health Education M.S.Ed., ACE Certified Health Coach, Accredited XPERT Pole Instructor, NYS Certified Teacher) is the founder of Geek Girl Strong (GGS), a wellness community for those seeking a non-traditional, holistic, and supportive coaching experience. GGS clients and classes include people who are beginning their wellness journey or those who are just in need of a supportive boost and have a common interest in all things geeky. You can join the Geek Girl Strong community online, through Patreon, or in-person in Brooklyn, NY and surrounding areas. You can also join in the fun by listening to her podcast, Healthy Geek Academy!
Lexie Blake, 21, has been drawing since the moment she could hold a pencil. She incorporates art, music, and activism into her college career. Approaching her senior year at Springfield College in the Digital, Web, & Multimedia design program, Lexie serves as the President of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, and a facilitator for other leadership programs and equity projects on her campus.
Tyrone “ZeroSnake” Motley is a multi-media creative, with years in both animation and illustration. Two notable works of his are animated web series “A!M” [available on Youtube], and original manga “UNRIVALED” [available in digital & paperback]. ZeroSnake’s work encapsulates the flare of 90’s anime with other cultural influences such as African history, urbanism, & other East Asian communities. When not working on projects ZeroSnake shares his knowledge of art with others using workshops, panels, and live streams. For more info please visit www.zerosnake.com.
Shauna J. Grant is a cartoonist who creates cuteness! With a love for all things pink and magical, Shauna is on a mission to add diversity to the comics community by creating stories that feature Black girls as the heroines of their own adventures. Her work has appeared in Black Comix Returns, Noisemakers, and the Secret Loves of Geeks. She enjoys spending her downtime daydreaming, reading Korean comics, and playing with her own magical dog, Sugarpaws. Shauna casts cuteness into the world via her comics from her home in New York City, the place she was born and raised.
Erika Hardison is a writer, social media junkie, podcaster, publisher and aspiring novelist from Chicago currently residing in New Jersey. When she’s not bridging the gap between Black feminism and superheroes on FabulizeMag.com, she’s spending sleepless nights as a new mom with her talkative toddler playing and giggling under the covers.
Joel Christian Gill is a cartoonist and historian who speaks nationally on the importance of sharing stories. He is the author of the acclaimed memoir Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence, cited as one of the best graphic novels of 2020 by The New York Times and for which he was awarded the 2021 Cartoonist Studio Prize. He wrote the words and drew the pictures for Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride and the award-winning graphic novel series Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, as well as 3 volumes of Tales of The Talented Tenth, which tell the stories of Bass Reeves, Bessie Stringfield and Robert Smalls. He is currently at work on the graphic novel of Ibram Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, forthcoming from Ten Speed Press in 2023. Gill has dedicated his life to creating stories to build connections with readers through empathy, compassion and, ultimately, humanity. He received his MFA from Boston University and his BA from Roanoke College. Catch all his updates on Instagram,Tik Tok @joelchristiangill and on Twitter @jcg007.
Maria Photinakis is an illustrator and comic book artist exploring science fiction and autobiographical narratives about resilience, alienation, and self-discovery. “Liminal State,” her comic on grief and post-partum anxiety, won a MICE 2019 grant. In 2020 she documented the tumult of her life with a young child in lockdown in “Extraordinary Times,” her visual journal project. She is currently developing her memoir about expectations and failures as the child of immigrants in America called “Benedictions.” She lives in Waltham, MA and has a B.A. in Journalism from UMass Amherst.
Kiara Valdez is an Afro-Dominican writer and associate editor at First Second Books. She was born and raised in New York City (shout out to Washington Heights) and has been an avid comics reader all her life. She graduated from Williams College with a double major in English Literature and Japanese, and spends her free time reading, writing, and enjoying a long list of other hobbies she can’t keep up with. She is interested in middle grade and young adult graphic novels doing with magical realism, memoir, #ownvoices stories (especially those from Latinx creators), and stories with LGBTQ+ characters and romance. She likes stories that feel contemporary, real, and are grounded in our world regardless of the genre it’s in, and is a sucker for well-done resolutions/happy endings. The long list of First Second books she’s worked on include: the Check, Please! series, Bloom, Kiss Number 8, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, Snapdragon, and Himawari House.
Rixy is a contemporary painter, street artist, educator & storyteller, conceptualizing feminine divinity in their various forms. She reinterprets fantastical stories of agency and identity – like episodes of a never-ending cartoon. Approaching “sensuality” as a range of one’s mind, body, and soul, the stylized work mixes mediums like loose paints, fabric, & drawing tools to create these characters or ‘sabores’ (flavors). Here, this practice is for one’s reflection of our various layers, and to test the limits of one’s depicted. She received her BA in Studio Art at UMass Boston, with a concentration in Sculpture, that go beyond physical practice – understanding space, community, and what we feel in between. She has received the 2019 Ruth Butler Travel Fellowship for a Studio Residency in Mexico, and the 2017 Arts|Learning Award for Student Arts Advocacy. Her passion to expand her practice, personifies her drive to educate, to provide access to the Arts for others. This has allowed her to evolve into a Teacher and Director, recently becoming an Adjunct Instructor at the Boston Architectural College, & the Public Art Coordinator of Central Sq’s BID’s “Speak Your Piece” Campaign; exhibiting on street-wide to institutional walls.
Sneha Shrestha (IMAGINE) is an artist, educator and social entrepreneur from Kathmandu, Nepal. She established Nepal’s first Children’s Art Museum to provide a creative space where children and youth can develop 21st century skills through project based art experiences. Before working on the Children’s Art Museum of Nepal, Sneha worked at Artists for Humanity which played a huge role in inspiring her to dedicate her life to art, education and innovative social impact. Sneha recently graduated from Harvard Graduate School of Education with a Master’s degree in Education. During her time at Harvard, Sneha explored the effective leadership in education and the intersections of creativity, learning and technology. Sneha Shrestha is also known as IMAGINE in the art world and has established herself as a Nepali street artist meshing the Nepali alphabet and the Boston graffiti scene. Imagine has redefined the Nepali alphabet and given it a new identity through graffiti. Being the first to mesh American Graffiti with Nepali Alphabets, she has shown her work in several exhibitions, commissioned works and public walls around the world including Boston, San Francisco, Bali, Istanbul, Geneva and Copenhagen. Her works can be described as thoughtful yet irreverent pieces, marrying the beauty of an elegant script with the mindful mantras she often incorporates into her canvases. When not painting these intricate pieces, Sneha paints bold larger than life walls.
“No’qa kani Maya Lazzaro. My name is Maya Lazzaro and I am a Quechua and mixed European warmi (woman).” Maya Lazzaro has spoken at universities, on radio shows, at museums and on the streets during nonviolent direct actions. She has presented at the Smithsonian Museum, at the Af3irm School of Activism, at The New School and Columbia University. She is passionate about water conservation and protection, and regularly speaks and writes about decolonizing indigenous healing wisdom, ecology, and sovereignty. Maya is pursuing her Master’s degree at the University of New Mexico and is a graduate of Eugene Lang college at The New School with a degree in Culture and Media Studies. Asked to speak at community centers in her own neighborhood and at her nieces and nephews schools back home in South America, Maya considers these events to be among her greatest accomplishments. She is fluent in Spanish and English and is currently learning Quechua.
Sort of from here, sort of from there, Daniel Elias Carrero is a Bronx-born writer who’s spent much of his young life moving between the east coast and midwest. According to Daniel, wherever his mom’s car is parked at night is where he calls home. While currently studying English at Providence College, Daniel’s mom’s car has been parked on Prospect Hill in Lawrence for the last six years or so. Having spent most of his adolescence in Lawrence, the city holds a special in Daniel’s heart. In the midst of earning his BA, Daniel is also working on a collection of short stories, based on his experiences in Lawrence.
Bayana Davis is a writer and content creator born and raised in Oakland, California. She is the co-founder and CEO of Black Girls Create and co-host of the podcast #WizardTeam and YouTube series Things We Imagine. She is a fierce advocate of critical fandom, the increased representation of Black women in media, time travel, dragons, and avoiding the AI apocalypse. You can generally find her fangirling and agonizing about writing on Twitter at @yanawroteit.
Delia Gallegos has been a nerd longer than she has known the meaning of the word. Texas-born and raised, she’s host of ‘The Nerds Are Typing: An Enneagram and MBTI Podcast,’ a writer, an off-key singer, and journal enthusiast. When she’s not reading fanfiction into the late hours, Delia enjoys nerding out over K-Dramas, Jane Austen, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, and anime. You can nerd out with her on Twitter @deliaistyping or on Instagram @thenerdsaretyping.
Robyn Jordan is a content creator, host, moderator, and community manager. She is the Co-Founder and Chief Community Officer at Black Girls Create where she is also the co-host of the podcasts #WizardTeam and Who Watch: Time and Relative Blackness in Space. Her favorite things include playing vinyl records in dark rooms, browsing city library shelves, sporadic marathons of Star Trek, and baking sporadic cakes. You can find her live-tweeting TV on Twitter @Robyn_Rambles.
Identical twin brothers Mark and Mike Davis are the two-man art team known as The Madtwiinz. Their dynamic style has them working alongside most major Hollywood studios and on a wide range of animated shows from “Boondocks” to “How To Train Your Dragon: Riders of Berk.” Recently, the twins produced an animated segment for ABC’s Blackish featuring the grammy award winning band The Roots. Currently, Mark works as a Supervising Director at Cartoon Network’s Victor & Valentio animated series. Mike works at Harvard University’s Hip-Hop archive as Director of Creative Branding and Development. The twins’ creator-owned intellectual property, Blokhedz, landed a development deal with Cartoon Network and has been published as a graphic novel in Europe (Egmont Ehapa) and North America (Simon & Schuster). It was produced as an animated series by Gatorade and partnered with fashion giants Adidas and Carhartt Japan to produce limited edition toys featuring Blokhedz characters.
Christine Chapman is a Somerville resident, a lifelong reader, and the Programs Director for Uplift. Uplift is a nonprofit dedicated to combatting sexual violence in online fan communities through education and advocacy.