Founder & Executive Director
415.255.9035 ext. 11
James Kass is an award-winning writer, educator, producer and media maker. He is also the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Speaks, and is widely credited with helping to launch the youth spoken word movement, working with tens of thousands of young people from across the country – and helping launch over 50 programs nationwide – to help them find, develop, publicly present, and apply their voices as leaders of societal change.
Creator and Co-Executive Producer of the 7-part HBO series Brave New Voices and the Peabody-nominated HBO’s Brave New Voices 2010, James also created the concept and served as the Artistic Director of the PBS series Poetic License, created the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, serves as Executive Editor of First Word Press, and was, among many other things, a founding member of the San Francisco Poet Laureate Selection Committee, and helped launch the SF and Oakland Youth Laureate Programs. James has received several awards for his writing, his work in the nonprofit sector, and his work as an educator. Widely published, James recently curated the poetry for the first ever White House Poetry Jam, performing in front of the First Family, and was invited to be one of the first 35 people to meet the administration’s arts action team. In May of 2010, James was the Commencement Speaker at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, speaking to over 60,000 graduates and friends.
James was named a Future Aesthetic artist by the Ford Foundation in 2001, and Youth Speaks was named by the Ford Foundation to be one of ten organizations in the United States representing “Next Generation Art for the 21st Century.” James has served on numerous funding panels, including the San Francisco Arts Commission, The Oakland Arts Commission, the NEA, the Future Aesthetics Arts Grant, and the California Arts Council.
He served on the Steering Committee for the Oakland International Hip Hop Museum (On Up), Chaired the Community Engagement Advisory Board for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, was an Advisory Board Member for SlamBush.net, 826Valencia, and the NYC Hip Hop Theater Festival, is a Board Member of the National Performance Network (NPN), CAS, a small school at Berkeley High, and a former Board Member of Speak Out, a progressive national speakers bureau, and Youth Sounds, the nation’s premiere youth media program (now a part of BAVC).
James also created the Brave New Voices Network, helpings to launch over 50 spoken word programs across the country, including co-founding Youth Speaks NY in 1999 (now called Urban Word NYC), Youth Speaks Seattle, Youth Speaks Hawai’i, Youth Speaks Wisconsin, and many more. James also created a partnership with Robert Redford and the Redford Center to launch the groundbreaking Brave New Voices Speak Green project, a national program that has brought hundreds of young poets of color to national stages to speak about the environment. Recently, James launched a collaboration with UCSF’s Center for Vulnerable Populations and the California Diabetes Project to counter the social and environmental factors that have led to the dramatic rise of Type-2 Diabetes in California.
James also served as the Casting Director for a national anti-substance abuse Spoken Word PSA Program, curated a video series on Spoken Word for Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute, and served as Lead Casting Director for HBO’s Def Poetry. James is also a recipient of the prestigious Northern California Creative Work Fund Arts Grant, with which he conceived, wrote and starred in No Man’s Land with Paul Flores, Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Beau Sia. James has also received awards and fellowships from the San Francisco Arts Commission, the California Arts Council, the Gerbode Foundation, and the James Irvine Foundation, among others, and has been recognized by San Francisco State University on three occasions for his work serving the arts. James was named a Goldie Award Winner by the SF Bay Guardian, and has been featured in media across the nation, including Poets & Writers, the New York Times, Seventeen Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, CNN, ABC, Nightline, Source, Vibe, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, SF Magazine, 7×7, Language Magazine, HBO’s The Buzz, Ode Magazine, and National Public Radio. James founded Youth Speaks while a graduate student in the MFA program at San Francisco State University, and later studied in the Executive Leadership Program in the Arts at Stanford University.
James has spoken on numerous panels, including at TEDx Silicon Valley, TEDx Presidio, The New Progressive Coalition, the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, the Social Venture Network, Changemakers, Hip Hop Activism, the Open Society Institute, and Grantmakers in the Arts, and has published numerous articles on youth, poetry, spoken word, and education. James has also edited a number of books, and has had much of his own fiction and poetry published, while producing a number of nationally touring theater pieces and collaborating with choreographers Robert Moses and Sara Shelton Mann to stage his own writing through dance. He’s lectured and taught at numerous colleges, including San Francisco State University, Stanford, and University of San Francisco, and presented at NCORE (National Conference on Race and Ethnicity). Through his work with Youth Speaks, he has raised over 20 million dollars toward the development of a national movement of brave new voices bringing the noise from the margin to the core.
Having produced the first poetry slam for youth in the country, he has helped to develop a national network of nonprofits that believe the passion, intelligence, creativity and courage of young people can change the world.