Youth Speaks is comprised of passionate
artists and educators.
Mush is a poet, narrative strategist, and pioneer of spoken word pedagogy. A Harvard University Project Zero Fellow, Mush is frequently a featured speaker on the intersection of emergent cultures, racial justice, and solidarity movements, and women of color in leadership. Her talks and writings have been featured on Vogue, HBO, PBS, AfroPop, Summit Series, Social Venture Network, National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education (NCORE), and the Berkeley Communications Conference.
Mush has shared the stage with powerhouses like Natalie Baszile, Jeff Chang, David Banner, Hope Solo and Harrison Ford. Her writings have been commissioned by the University of California, Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, Stop AAPI Hate, and See Us Unite campaigns. Mush has also been published in All the Women in My Family Sing, an anthology of essays by women of color at the dawn of the twenty-first century.
In 2019, Mush was invited to serve the City of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Division as a Cultural Strategist-in-Government (CSIG), where she worked in City departments to infuse policymaking and practices with radically creative and culturally-competent thinking and problem-solving to promote civic belonging. Mush is the Vice-Chair of the City of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the City’s Funding Advisory Committee. In her spare time, Mush enjoys running, organizing her bookshelf, and laughing at mom jokes with her son.
Joan Osato has played a pivotal role in local and national theater for well over a decade and has been an indispensable part of Youth Speaks since 2001. She served as Youth Speaks’ Managing Director from 2001-2007 and has been Producing Director of The Living Word Project since its inception with Artistic Director Marc Bamuthi Joseph. She produces Youth Speaks Festivals and Performance Events, as well as LWP works for stage. She has brought her multiplicity of production and design talents to Living Word Project Repertory works such as The Break/s, Word Becomes Flesh, Scourge, Tree City Legends and Mirrors in Every Corner. She is the inaugural recipient of the San Francisco Arts Commission Artist and Communities Partnership Grant for a project she is conducting through Asian American Recovery Services of San Francisco, and in 2007 she was recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service for her work on behalf of Arts and Culture in the Bay Area.
In 2008 she began her visual arts practice as a photographer. Since then she has been considered for prestigious awards such as the Prix de la Photographie, and awarded an Exhibition in The Bay Area Currents 2009. Her work has been exhibited at the Meridien Gallery, Ictus Gallery, Intersection for the Arts, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Her notable portraits have been featured in publications including the SF Chronicle, Houston Chronicle, Koream Magazine, and Artslant (as the Juried Exhibition Winner in Photography).
She is visual designer for Tree City Legends, by Dennis Kim, directed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and is designer on two plays for Campo Santo including The River by Richard Montoya, and Alleluia, by Luis Alfaro, directed by Jonathan Moscone. She is currently designing for Berkeley Rep (Tribes, by Nina Raine), directed by Joanthan Moscone and producing three new plays; Chasing Mehserle, by Chinaka Hodge & Spiritrials by Dahlak Brathwaite; both directed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and Nogales by Richard Montoya. As a collaborator and designer of community engagement projects that hold art and social justice at the center, her work endeavors to break open new modes of narrative, employing emerging aesthetics and techniques that push the possibilities of storytelling and theatre. Her current projects include a state-wide community engagement project called Califas (for which she received the 2013 Rockefeller Mapfund) with Calshakes and Intersection for the Arts, Reflections of Healing with muralist Brett Cook, and Life is Living, a project in neglected parks in urban centers around the country.
Nick James is an African-American artist who has worked in different capacities at Youth Speaks for the past 10 years. Nick utilizes his design talents as well as educator and activist background to help assist in the design and programmatic efforts for numerous nonprofits, small businesses, and initiatives. Past positions include fooounder and creative for I Create for a Living, UX Design for Center for Cultural Power, Curriculum Designer at Urban Arts Partnership, Designer for GirlTrek and Director of Special Projects for Youth Together. Nick is born and raised in Oakland and currently bicoastal between Oakland and Brooklyn.
Gabriel is a poet and teaching artist. His work has been featured on KQED, Upworthy and the Huffington Post as well as performed in front of thousands in venues such as the Oracle Arena, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. Gabriel is a member of Ghostlines and a co-founder of The Root Slam and Write Home. For more on Gabriel, visit GabrielMCortez.com
Born and raised in Oakland CA, Bijou came to Youth Speaks with a diverse background and skill set in the areas of non-profit development, event production and marketing. In 2016 Bijou, along with a group of friends, founded a community based startup called OAKHELLA which specializes in event production and marketing. Since launching, OAKHELLA has carved out a unique place on the cultural pulse of Oaklands creative scene with their signature micro-festival day parties and high quality events.
Sandy Vazquez is originally from Los Angeles, CA and currently resides in Oakland. She is a multidisciplinary artist with a focus in dance and spoken word. In 2016, she graduated from UCLA with a dual degree in Dance and Chicana/o Studies. Through her performance work, she has featured on stages such as The John Anson Ford Theater, The Broad Stage, as well as the Harare International Festival of the Arts. As the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants, she has committed her life’s work– both in and out of the classroom– to uplifting and honoring the legacies we come from.
Eric was born and raised in The Bay Area, with a special place in his heart for art and culture from around the world. He has an educational background in communication, psychology, accounting, and humanities. He has work experience in accounting, event organizing, youth arts education and counseling. He enjoys creative writing, studying, performing arts, songwriting, drawing, and nature.
Hailing from the Filipino American community of southeast San Diego, California, Ann Smooth brings a mix of program, administrative, and creative experience as the Youth Speaks Development Associate. She earned her BA in Communications at UC San Diego writing countless research papers about Hip Hop culture, and also went to work beyond the classroom to build her reputation as a bgirl and event organizer in the San Diego breakin’ and Hip Hop community. Executing events, dance workshops, and co-directing the “We Got Next” youth breakin education program led her to her current role as board member at Mighty4 Arts Foundation, and a member of Rock Force Crew.
Ann’s love and dedication to Hip Hop culture led her from San Diego to the Bay Area in 2014, making strides in her career in the non-profit sector for artists and young people. Prior to Youth Speaks, she worked primarily in direct service programs as a dance teaching artist with Mighty4, and a High School Program Coordinator at Girls Inc. of Alameda County. When she’s not dancing with her crew, you can find Ann at a park buried in a book or making very important ice cream flavor decisions.
EJ Walls (Sin Q) is an artist & educator who recently returned home to the Bay Area. Before teaching middle school and high school humanities in San Diego, California, the Brave New Voices alum and Bay Area MC Olympics Champion studied Communication with a minor in Spanish at San Diego State University, where he had opportunities to share stages with several renowned poets and emcees. He also studied abroad and blazed stages in Puebla, Mexico and Ghana, West Africa, had the pleasure of opening for artists such as Travis Scott, Casey Veggies, and TDE rhymesayer Ab-Soul, and headlined a show in San Diego as half of the rap duo KYNG$. EJ is ecstatic to return to Youth Speaks as a staff member to support young artists and leaders in the development of their identities and voices. His work can be found on Soundcloud, or at Youtube
Paola Soyumi Ramírez Peña
Paola Soyumi Ramírez Peña (she/they) is a poet, screenwriter, and sociologist on multiple planets. They are the oldest of four, a novice skater, and a mediocre baker. They are the host and creator of Somos Poetas, a virtual poetry workshop for people of all experience levels and a performing member of In Full Color. They are one-half of Local Fruit Podcast, an audiovisual call for imagination, justice, and hope. Paola is a graduate of The University of Kansas.
Aleah Bradshaw, known performatively as Nyfe, is a 25 year old performing artist, writer, and educator with a passion for poetry and hip hop as tools of liberation and creative expression. They were born and raised in Aurora, Colorado by two Trinidadian American immigrant parents and a community of poets and activists who inspired creativity in both their work and their conscious imagining of a world less overrun by racial discrimination, misogyny, queerphobia, and xenophobia. They now live in California, where they work as an artist and educator while managing their own small business and collective musical project closegood.
Hieu Minh Nguyen
Hieu Minh Nguyen is the author of two collections of poetry, Not Here (Coffee House Press, 2018), and This Way to the Sugar (Write Bloody Press, 2014). His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Hobart, Boaat, Best American Poetry, The New York Times, and elsewhere. He is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and a recipient of the Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. Originally from Saint Paul, Minnesota, Hieu now lives in Oakland.
Jayson P. Smith is a Bronx-born and raised poet, educator and curator. A 2017 NYFA Poetry Fellow, Jayson is a recipient of previous support from The Poetry Project, Callaloo, Cave Canem and Millay Colony for the Arts. Their work appears in publications such as West Branch, NYLON, Gulf Coast and The Offing.
Leticia Guzman is a queer, Chicana, Poeta from Hayward, California. Leticia is a 2017 Bay Area Brave New Voices Team Member, SPOKES Youth Advisory Board alum, "Between My Body and the Air" poetry anthology contributor, and a Taco Bell connoisseur! Leticia uses spoken word to empower their inner child and hopes to help uplift others.
Jen’s career spans the technology, advertising, finance and non profit sectors. She is also a humor writer and has created and produced several solo performance shows. Jen has published a short story in the anthology Breakfast from Mars as well as a children’s book. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Columbia University.
Jeffrey Franco currently serves as the founder and CEO of Camino Consulting Group which supports social enterprise in fundraising, strategic planning, board development, and executive coaching. He is also an adjunct professor at American University on a course he designed and currently teaches on nonprofit management in the education sector.
Jeffrey served as Interim Executive Director and Vice President of City Year Miami after serving over 10 years as Executive Director of City Year Washington, DC. City Year is an education-focused nonprofit organization that brings together a diverse group of 17-24-year-olds for a year of full-time service in the most underserved schools in DC. Jeffrey has nearly 25 years of experience with for-profit and social enterprises.
Outside of his professional work, Franco was named 2013 American University Kogod School of Business Alumni of the Year, is an alumnus of the Aspen Institute Socrates Program, and is a 2010 graduate of Leadership Greater Washington. He graduated with a B.A. from Fairfield University and has both a Masters in International Affairs and an M.B.A. from American University. Franco is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, enjoys traveling, has completed 5 marathons and an Ironman triathlon, walked the 500 mile Camino de Santiago in Spain in 2013, and completed the 150 mile Annapurna Circuit in Nepal in 2017.