Transformative political education, arts, and healing to build a more just world.

Ages 11 - 21 | Monday - Friday 10am - 3pm | July 9 - August 9, 2018

From July - August 2018, thirty teenagers joined us for the fifth year of our Social Justice Leadership Academy! Each year the Social Justice Leadership Academy (SJLA) combines transformative political education and hands-on arts programming to support young people in developing their visions and voices for change.  Over the course of five weeks, youth develop tools for identifying their own strengths, collaborate to express their ideas, build meaningful relationships of trust and mutual support, learn real leadership skills, and connect with inspiring people and organizations. In 2018 we dove into the theme of AFROFUTURISM, intentionally practicing and envisioning the futures of healing and liberation that we long for. SJLA’s mission is to support the creative power, collective leadership and joy of young people in our community, including youth of color, immigrant youth, queer youth, low-income and court-involved youth. Scroll below to see photos from the summer, hear our songs, see our art, read our newspaper, learn more about who we are and our 2018 youth fellows.


Songs produced in collaboration with Found Sound Nation.


“All organizing is science fiction” – Walidah Imarisha

For the month of August, SJLA youth were the artists-in-residence at the Basilica Back Gallery.
On August 8th, we held a public art exhibition at the gallery, featuring work by Emmanuel, Gavin, Dejia, Melina, Mia, Jason, James, Addison, Courtney, Zia and Adonis.

which future do you choose?

A newspaper project by Melina Jeune, Courtney Murphy and Xyon Haye.




Week 1 is about getting to know each other and ourselves: together building our culture, and exploring the strengths we each bring to our community. We hosted a Know Yourself Fair, inviting everyone to explore their own astrological charts, leadership styles, archetypes and love languages. We began building trust through team games and design challenges. We wrote poetry and held a powerful poetry slam to share our words. We broke out into gender identity groups to discuss our experiences of gender stereotypes, vulnerability, and resilience. To connect our own lives to the bigger world, we created our own jeopardy game to remember the significant political/cultural events that had taken place throughout the year. We practiced putting our ideas into words with passionate discussions about immigration, transgender bathrooms, and the role of police in our schools and communities; and we used Forum Theater to explore ways to respond to bullying and discrimination. At the end of the week, our Youth Fellows, who serve as mentors in the program, had a training with Lisa Good from Urban Grief in trauma-informed mentorship and education.


We began our second week by introducing the teens to their families, groups with shared strengths and orientations: there were families of Healers, who care for the community; Builders, the architects and problem-solvers; Artists, who make the revolution irresistible; Griots, the messengers who preserve our histories, stories, and songs; and Warriors, the strategists who spring into action when they see something unjust. Families, led by youth fellows, met every morning throughout the summer. This week we practiced speech-writing and public speaking, developing our own voices for change. We went on a boat trip on the Hudson River, (thanks to Schooner Appolonia!), to remember that joy is at the heart of our resistance. And we built our knowledge: we became our own “Living Museum,” learning and teaching about our history through skits. Lawyer Anthony Pastel led us in a Know Your Rights training, and then we learned about how people build power for policy change, making phone calls to our representatives, designing creative direct actions, and experimenting with social media campaigns and messaging. We finished the week with a trip to Lake Taghkanic!


We were joined by an extraordinary group of professional artists, to support us in our own expression and production. Musicians Taina Asili and Gaetano Vaccaro led us in a songwriting for social change workshop, helping us to develop powerful lyrics to kick off our week, and we learned dance and step moves with Ntchota Badila and Domnique Curry. Then, some teens dove into a week of music production, collaborating with visiting producers from Found Sound Nation to write and record four songs. Others dove into a week of Afrofuturist visual art, first heading to the Jack Shainman Gallery for inspiration, and then beginning to produce a show as Artists in Residence of the Basilica Back Gallery. The week culminated in a live performance of our songs for visiting guests from the Youth Center and the Hudson Area Library!


We are so grateful to the amazing guests who joined us during week 4: Hudson Muslim Youth led us in a myth-busting workshop about Islam. Bryan MacCormack and the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement joined us for a workshop on myths about immigration, and the current Green Light NY Campaign. Then we headed on a field trip Wildseed, a Black and Brown-led community, farm, and healing sanctuary in Millerton, NY -- where we were joined with 30 teenagers from the Brotherhood Sister Sol, a youth organization in New York City. All together, with over 60 youth, we exchanged our favorite group games and dance moves; went on a medicinal plants walk with the inspiring herbalists of Wild Gather; got our hands dirty at the Wildseed farm; and went for a swim in a nearby pond. Back at Kite’s Nest we explored the intersection of fashion and social movements, learning hair art with guest artist Ngonda Badila; trying our hands at weaving with guest artist Margot Becker; and experimenting with embroidery. The week ended with a Youth Skill Share: workshops led by and for youth, including workshops in poetry and songwriting, skateboarding, law & order, food decorating, and vox pop radio.


For our final week together, we dove into a 3-day “project lab”: a time for self-directed projects and preparation for our end-of-summer celebration. Some teens spent the week in the Basilica Back Gallery, preparing for the opening of their public art exhibition. Some teens spent the week choreographing and rehearsing dances, with support from Chenea Gordon and Ntchota Badila. Some teens spent the week preparing speeches; others spent the time in our newsroom, writing an Afrofuturist newspaper from the future; and others took on planning the logistics and decor for the final event, and preparing a Liberation Cuisine meal to feed our community at our final event. On Wednesday evening, 200 community members joined us at the Basilica for an art opening; a full show with speeches, performances, and dances; an incredible community meal; and of course, a dance party! On our final day together, we headed out to Lake Taghkanic, for our final appreciation ceremony.


Youth Participants: 

Addison Geer, Dejia Chenault, Devin Middleton, Dominique Geer, Frank Boswell, Gabby Xavier, Gabriela Rivera, Gavin Strickland, James Robinson Jr., Kyla Woods, Lebron Frazier, Mia Justiniano, Melina Jeune, Oziah Stroman, Rihanna Brandt, Surayya Cora, Trevor Slowinski, Kenold Dorce, Xyon Haye and Zia Williams.

Youth Fellows: 

Adonis Ragland, Angelique Rivera, Courtney Murphy, Deja Beauford, Dominque Curry, Emmanuel Carr-Hinds, Egypt Thomas, Jamar Beauford, Jason O’Brien, and Terrell Starr. Read full Youth Fellow bios here. 

Community Partners & Guest Educators: 

Thank you to all of our community partners and guest educators: Wildseed (Millerton, NY), Found Sound Nation (Brooklyn, NY), Brotherhood Sister Sol (New York, NY), Bryan MacCormack & Columbia County Sanctuary Movement (Hudson, NY), Hudson Muslim Youth (Hudson, NY), Taina Asili & Gaetano Vaccaro (Albany, NY), Hudson Dept. of Youth (Hudson, NY), Wild Gather (Hudson, NY), Basilica Hudson (Hudson, NY), Schooner Apollonia (Hudson, NY), Lisa Good, Urban Grief (Albany, NY), NaQuera Roach and Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood (Hudson, NY), Quintin Cross and the SBK Social Justice Center (Hudson, NY), Youth FX (Albany, NY), NY State Summer Youth Employment Program (Hudson, NY), Ngonda Badila, Ntchota Badila, Lorn Barnes, Margot Becker, Chenea Gordon, Jason Marlow, Scott Langley and Anthony Pastel.

Program Directors:

Zebi Williams (Lead Program Director): Zebi is the Educator Director at Kite’s Nest. At the age of 18 Zebi founded the Lil Ragamuffin Summer Camp in Jamaica, which grew to be recognized as one of the top arts programs in the country. Zebi has worked as a community organizer in a range of contexts, and was a founding member of the Sista-2-Sista Youth Summit. Zebi is also a Mom, an artist, a fashion designer, and a UX designer.

Sharece Johnson (Program Director, Chief of Staff): Sharece grew up in Hudson, NY, where she has worked with a number of youth organizations and after school programs. Sharece is an educator, musician, and singer. With appreciation for the counselors and mentors in her own life, Sharece is dedicated to being a source of strength to the young people in her community.

Jalal Sabur (Program Director). Jalal is a farmer, activist, organizer, educator and herbalist. He is a co-founder of Wildseed, an emerging Black and Brown-led, feminine-centered, queerloving, earth-based community and healing sanctuary in Millerton, NY. Previously Jalal has worked with WESPAC Foundation, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Freedom Food Alliance, the Victory Bus Project, and Sweet Freedom Farm.

Ingrid Romero (Program Director): Ingrid is an educator, media-maker and organizer, and a Sister Sol Chapter Leader with the Brotherhood Sister Sol in NYC. Ingrid has been active in movement building and youth-led social change since she was 14, as a feminist youth worker at Sadie Nash Leadership Project. She has completed trainings from School of Unity & Liberation (SOUL), the Highlander Center and Theatre of the Oppressed NYC.

Resilience Team: 

Sara Kendall, Kaya Weidman, and lead chef Jarin Ahmed

Thank you to those who supported us with food for our summer and final event:

Jarin Ahmed (our lead chef!), Kaya Weidman, Long Table Harvest, Sasha Pearl, Briggin Sharf, Eli Berkowitz, Kayah Payton, Common Hands Farm, Whistle Down Farm, Letterbox Farm, Ronnybrook Farm, Quintin Cross, and Larry Walker.

And thank you to all of our funders who made SJLA 2018 possible:

North Star Foundation, The Dyson Foundation, The Janey Fund, Margot Seigle, and the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation’s Fund for Columbia County.