Marissa is a writer, activist, DJ, teacher, and also runs a small literary press. Over the past six years, fiction has become her primary means of artistic expression and she is currently working on her first novel, which starts in Detroit then moves to a fictional Latin American country. In Philadelphia, Marissa has worked, among other places, at two different social service agencies; such positions took her all over Philadelphia and into homes, schools and courts. The humanity and complications of those experiences are the inspiration for some of her short stories including "Bootstrapping," published by Make/shift magazine. Overall her stories explore themes of what we owe other people, of judgment and value, and of resilience and self-determination. Marissa has organized, with Leeway, a social change writers networking meetings and also started a quarterly series of literary salons. Additionally, she is the co-founder of Thread Makes Blanket press, which is dedicated to publishing justice-minded books that may not otherwise find a home. She is currently instructing a college course on Prison Literature while also facilitating a correspondence course on Latino History and Culture for inmates in solitary confinement in Pennsylvania (a project of Books Through Bars Philadelphia).
2011 LeewayTransformation Award
2009 Art and Change Grant
1999 Window of Opportunity
Betty is a culturally-inspired fiber mixed media artist, her work is informed by artistic and cultural traditions of Africa and the African diaspora, is inspired by cultural contributions of African Americans (such as Jazz) and addresses themes of identity, heritage, nature, cultural symbolism and ritual. She considers herself a shape-shifter of textiles, blending multiple techniques and processes including, hand- and machine-stitching, quilting, wet felt making, and surface design such as dyeing, painting, marbling, stenciling, and printing. Sewing and quilting existed on both sides of her family; her maternal grandmother taught her to sew as a child. Her Guyanese maternal grandfather ignited an interest in world cultures. Betty attempts to create opportunities for under-served and under-resourced ethnic communities and individuals through interactive, hands-on, fiber art projects where participants acquire new artistic skills, share untold stories, and develop respect for cultural diversity in our communities.
2010 Leeway Transformation Award
2008 Art and Change Grant
2004 Window of Opportunity Grant
2001 Window of Opportunity Grant
Deborah is a painter and teaching artist. She is inspired to create art around the human condition, by challenging oppression and mainstream beliefs, listening with compassion, and building community. The forms that her work has taken have been interview-based portraiture and images of birds imbued with anthropomorphic ideas and concepts. Her Portrait of a Generation series is aimed at giving voice and visibility to eleven women who came of age before American women's rights became mainstream. Portraits in Emotion is a project Deborah facilitated whereby eleven artists whose lives have been touched by mental illness. She is currently working on a third interview-based portrait project about faith and feminism. Deborah has collaborated with the Trans-gression Artists' Collective, William Way Community Center, and currently teaches at Oasis Arts and Education, assisting adults with mental disabilities in creating art. Ultimately, Deborah's intention is to fill her work with empathy and compassion so that the viewers may find empathy and compassion for others and, most importantly, for themselves.
2010 Leeway Transformation Award
2010 Art and Change Grant
Catzie Vilayphonh is a Lao American writer, spoken word poet, and performance artist. She uses her work to inspire other Asian Americans, particularly Lao Americans, to embrace the arts and find new ways of preserving and documenting cultural heritage. As a member of a community marked by trauma and war, Catzie is especially interested in examining how one begins a process of remembering what another tries to forget and how first- and second-generations can connect with a country to which they can no longer return.
Catzie’s poetry confronts racial stereotypes, analyzes the notions of racist love versus racist hate, and exposes the racial sexualization related to the trafficking of women and children from Asia. Her art also addresses issues such as generational divides within refugee-immigrant communities, the complications of language barriers, and being a member of an ‘unpopular’ ethnicity. Catzie believes that by sharing what has been lost or learned in the process of emigration and assimilation that one can retell their own folktales, rewriting history along the way. She sees her art as contributing to this process, ultimately preserving and extending the legacy of Lao Americans.
2008 Art and Change Grant
2004 Windows of Opportunity Grant
Elba Hevia y Vaca was born in La Paz, Bolivia, where she studied classical Spanish dance from the ages of five to thirteen and became enthralled by the power of flamenco. She has studied with masters of the flamenco art form in Madrid and Seville for the last twenty years. In 2000 she founded Pasion y Arte’s, an all-female dance company. Under her visionary guidance, Pasión y Arte has achieved widespread acclaim for its unique dance forms that are simultaneously steeped in tradition and perilously avant-garde. Elba draws from her cultural experience (Bolivian-born, Spanish, Indian and American) and the lives of contemporary women to create and dance feminist flamenco. She believes that her choreography and direction excavates the truths that she have always felt and resonated with as a woman- strength, passion, and determination. Her work celebrates women as the protagonists of their own story and not just a form of seductress, sexual object or a love object.