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.
Director of Narrative Change & Field Building
Joan has played a pivotal role in local and national theater for over two decades and is a committed local and national community organizer. A core member of Youth Speaks since 2001 where she produces live performance events including Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival annually in rotating cities around the country, she is also a Producer for The Living Word Project and the critically acclaimed theater group Campo Santo. As a cultural organizer - she works on behalf of national networks and sits on the boards of the National Performance Network, and the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists.
She is an awardee of prestigious grants from the MAP Fund, the Wattis Foundation, Kenneth Rainin Foundation, and the Creative Work Fund. She was the inaugural recipient of SFAC’s Artist and Communities Partnership Grant, Theater Bay Area Award for Excellence in Video Design (Tribes by Nina Raine, at Berkeley Rep) and the Surdna Foundation’s Artists Engaged in Social Change Award. She has been recognized for her work as a photographer from Artslant, Prix de Photographie, Laguna Arte Prize and has exhibited throughout the San Francisco Bay Area since 2009. In 2019 she received Cal Shakes Luminary Award for Community Engagement, and was named a recipient of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, YBCA 100.
7Stephanie Cajina is a first-generation college graduate. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University. She has over 10 years of experience working in economic development and advocating for economic justice and equity. Throughout her career, she has sought to address structural barriers to success. Prior to joining the Youth Speaks team, she worked with various municipalities to advance economic development initiatives. She has extensive nonprofit management experience having served as Executive Director for five years of the Excelsior Action Group and in governance leadership roles for various nonprofits, coalitions, and foundations. Most recently, Stephanie was appointed by Mayor London Breed and San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors to serve as Board Director for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. She is the only Latinx representative on the Board. Throughout her academic and professional journey, Stephanie and her family benefited from many nonprofit programs and services and understand their transformational power first-hand. She is excited to join the Youth Speaks team and support our youth, team, and board in being agents of change!
Darius Rashad Parker
Creative Youth Development and Arts In Education Director
Darius Rashad Parker Is a Queer Black Scholar, Activist, Poet, and Performer born and raised in Chicago, IL. Darius is a graduate of Northern Illinois University where he received his Bachelor's in Journalism and a minor in Black Studies. Darius’ teaching, research, performance, and activism has grown out of his commitment to social justice, focusing on arts, culture, race and gender inequities in education, and performance art. He is particularly concerned with the relationship of educational practices, and the politics of Queer & racial identities and the intersections between community and academia. His previous role included contributing to an educational model that will build transformative schools, where students, parents and their communities play a key role in public education. He is active in multiple coalitions of educators, artists, activists, and community organizations. Darius demonstrates a commitment to centering the whole person in a way that involves both children, family, individuals and community partners at the core. Globally, Darius contributes frequently to forums of parents and teachers, as well as locally facilitates opportunities for youth and their families to engage with Social Justice work through arts and culture. Darius collaborates with an array of national collectives and organizations enabling him to produce large scale culturally relevant programming. His work in arts and culture has contributed to local dialogues on topics of educational injustices, and Hip Hop Ed praxi. As of late Darius has led multiple workshops and Think Tanks on Anti-Racist Education and on how educators can show up at their best for students. Darius hopes to empower youth through the arts and to make any experience involving youth, art, and poetry one infused with love, liberation, and truth. Darius received his Master’s Degree in Critical Ethnic Studies from DePaul University in the Spring of 2020. Where he currently serves as an adjunct Professor in the Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies Department. Darius is also a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. and serves as the National President of Delta Phi Delta Dance Fraternity Inc. Darius will be exiting his role as the Professional Development Coordinator for Anti-Racist Education for Chicago Public Schools and is excited to join the Mighty Youth Speaks team as the Director of Youth Development and Arts Education. Darius is excited to carry the spirit of Chicago and Kuumba Lynx to the Bay and is ready shake shift and flip tables for youth advocacy.
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 Oakland's creative scene with their signature micro-festival day parties and high-quality events.
Creative & Digital Impact Director
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 founder 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 is currently bicoastal between Oakland and Brooklyn.
Program Manager, Youth Development
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.
Paola Soyumi Ramírez Peña
Strategic Partnerships Manager
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.
Senior People & Culture Manager
p>Alisha holds a Bachelor's degree in English Literature and Political Science. She then pursued my Juris Doctorate at the University of San Francisco, specializing in Family and Civil Law. She is a first-generation college graduate.
Alisha channels her creativity through painting and poetry. A published author, Alisha's first book, "Long Awaited," showcases poems from her academic journey. Currently working on her second book, she looks forward to inspire and make a difference.
Beyond her academic achievements, Alisha remains deeply committed to community service. She's carried on her mom’s tradition of annual school supply donations in the Bay Area. Each year, she makes school supply baskets and distribute them to kids in the Bay Area, ensuring a positive impact and a successful school year! Another project that is so close to her heart; she also travels to Fiji, specifically her mom’s native land, where she volunteers at the Dilkusha Orphanage for Girls, providing the tools and resources needed such as backpacks, clothes, books, pencils etc. She and her family also make home cooked meals and have the honor to sit down with remarkable young kids and hear their stories and offer a creative outlet for them to share their stories.
Vania Luna Gutierrez
Interim Manager of Arts in Education
Vania Luna Gutierrez (they/she) is a poet, performer, educator, and jewelry maker based in the Village of Huichin, on Lisjan Ohlone territory (Oakland, California). Originally from Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi lands (Chicago, IL), Vania is a Kuumba Lynx Alumni where they developed their artistic craft and their reverence for community organizing. They are a three-time Louder Than A Bomb Slam Champion and have toured throughout the country to share their work. Vania recently received a BA from Mills College with a major in Creative Writing and a minor in Ethnic Studies. Vania values collective healing and upliftment and understands poetry as a catalyst for transformation. They affirm that poetry is a critical tool in the liberation of all oppressed peoples, and is key in revitalizing and maintaining sacred, ancestral oral traditions. Vania is also the founder and creator of Luna Beadz, you can find her beadwork at lunallena.online.
Gretchen Carvajal (she/her) is an interdisciplinary Filipina artist from the Bay Area. She currently works as a teaching artist at the leading youth spoken word organization in the world, Youth Speaks, teaching high school spoken word at local San Francisco public schools. When she’s not in the classroom, she designs, manufactures, and promotes her laser-cut earring brand BRWNGRLZ. When she’s not making earrings, she’s making prints, bending neon, or making films.
Gretchen’s work revolves around her journey as an immigrant who came to the US at the age of 7. Her different art forms (printmaking, neon, film, poetry, jewelry) serve as languages that are able to convey her story past the tongue she was born with and the language she was forced to learn. When she’s not hustling multiple jobs/art forms to sustain living in the ever-gentrifying Bay Area, she’s talking about love or astrology, listening to I’m Still In Love With You by Sean Paul, taking care of her 5-year-old niece Leila, and cooking extremely large meals for her family.
Director of Grants & Foundations
Annie is a proud daughter of San Francisco, born & raised in the Mission District where she proudly still works and lives with her own family. Annie has spent the last 35 years working to empower and uplift our city’s youth and using arts and sports as a form of activism to create positive change. Annie has served as a teacher in the SFUSD and as the Executive Director for Loco Bloco and Project Wreckless.
Annie was selected as Yerba Buena Center for the 2018-19 Arts Collective Safety Fellow and her project City Kids was featured at the 2019 YBCA Public Square. Annie works to increase gender equality in sports through Girls Baseball advocacy and currently serves as the manager of the San Francisco Bay Sox Girls Baseball Program. In 2020 Annie was appointed to the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Commission. When she is not at work, Annie teaches group fitness classes and can most often be found shuttling her three very active daughters around the city to their practices, games and performances.
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.
After watching Brave New Voices in 2010, Tierra finds herself at Youth Speaks as the Advancement Associate. She brings skills passed on to her from nonprofits she's worked at, ranging from providing outdoor adventures to youth and people with disabilities, to fundraising money for early literacy programs in Title I schools, to support the development team at an environmental foundation in Oakland. Tierra earned her BA in English and American Literature and enjoys reading and writing in all forms, with her most recent fascination being in dialogue with plays and shows.
Maximiliano Pierre Urruzmendi Mele
Technical Director of Productions
Born in Atlanta, Georgia to Uruguayan immigrants, Maximiliano is a community-trained multidisciplinary actor, teacher, technical director, lighting designer and college dropout living in the Bay Area. They fell in love with theater at a young age as a way to find allies. Maximiliano feels incredibly fortunate to conspire within artistic communities that prioritize engagement work centering listening, learning, healing, and reflecting creatively to offer transformative art. Maximiliano has had the privilege of working in varying artistic capacities with: Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s Peh/LO/tah(TD), Teada Production’s Masters of the Currents(TD/LD), Axis Dance Company (TD), Joanna Haigood’s Dying While Black & Brown (TD), Campo Santo/Ben Fisher’s Candlestick(LD), Paul Flores’ We Have Iré(LD), Be Steadwell’s A Letter to my Ex(LD), Noelle Viñas’ Abuelito(Father y Abuelito), Contra-Tiempo’s Joy(Us) Just(Us) (TD/SM), Campo Santo/Star Finch’s Side Effects (LD), Kristina Wong’s Sweatshop Overlord (Broadcasting/SM).
Maximiliano is honored and privileged to be a part of the team at Youth Speaks.
Digital Content Specialist
Bridgette Yang is a Taiwanese American creative writer and film director based in LA/SF. Intertwining honest conversations with mundane whimsicality, she aims to weave wonder both onto the page and screen. Her writing is rooted in nostalgia, while her films illuminate new worlds conceptualized through endless daydreaming. She's performed poetry at the Getty Center alongside John Legend, SFJAZZ, USC Festival of Books, and many other events throughout California. Bridgette is also a storyteller with Lucky Rabbit Pictures, a film production company based in the Bay Area.
Moira E. Pirsch
Program Director, Narrative & Applied Stories
MOIRA PIRSCH supports individuals and organizations who work in arts and culture to develop inspired, participatory, arts-based, and culturally sustaining pedagogical, research and evaluation processes - so that practice can be aligned with the ideals, goals and dreams of project stakeholders.
She is a poet, educator and scholar. She is 5th Generation Irish American with roots in the Midwestern United States and Maui, HI. She is the Education Director at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center and has over a decade of experience working with community initiatives on social justice, the arts, and education.
She earned her Ph.D. from Columbia University, and her Masters Degree from Harvard University. She continues her research as a Coyle Fellow at the University of Notre Dame's Center for Literacy and as a Research Affiliate at Columbia University's Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME). Her work focuses on the power of the arts to transform, uplift and empower communities. She believes in miracles.
Program Manager, Narrative & Applied Stories
Perla Vanesa Barraza is a formerly undocumented fronteriza and theater artist coming from Tucson, AZ. Originally from Tijuana, Mexico, she migrated to the United States when she was 3 years old.
Perla’s activism began on the theater stage when Perla was cast in the Borderlands Theater Production of El Ausente. The play was about a father’s disappearance after crossing the Mexico-United States border and the impact his absence had on his family. The story mirrored her own father’s incarceration and deportation and for the first time Perla felt she was telling an important story. Perla became critically aware of the importance of narrative through her theater work and community organizing. She believes in the power of storytelling both as a means of healing and as a way to push back on harmful narratives; Perla aspires to create theater that uplifts and serves her immigrant community.
Perla holds a B.A. in Theater Arts from Mills College and has performed in multiple Rolling World Premieres including Richard Montoya’s Nogales (Campo Santo), Hilary Betis’ Ghost of Lote Bravo, Milta Ortiz’ MAS (Borderlands Theater), and Paul Flores’ Pilgrim St/Stockton 21 (Youth Speaks). Most recently she has stepped into the new roles of Assistant Director and Stage Manager on Yosimar Reyes' Prieto (The Living Word Project and With You Productions) and Assistant Director on Luis Alfaro’s The Travelers (Magic Theater).
Program Director, Narrative & Applied Stories
Kat Evasco is an award-winning writer, theatermaker, filmmaker, and cultural strategist committed to honoring and celebrating the experiences of immigrants, women, and LGBTQ communities. Evasco was recently awarded the Gerbode Foundation Theater Awards (2022) and the Kenneth Rainin New & Experimental Works (NEW) Program Grant (2020) towards the premiere of her new play Be Like Water. Prior to founding With You Productions, a women-of-color-led narrative strategy company, Evasco served as the Sr. Program Director at the Center for Cultural Power, leading the design and implementation of the organization’s core programs including the Disruptors Fellowship and the Creative Entrepreneur Series. She is a 2018 Lambda Literary Fellow in Playwriting and her works have been featured on Deadline, IndieWire, Vice, Shondaland, Bustle, The Advocate, Out Magazine, and NBC News Asian America. Kat holds a BA in Asian American Studies from San Francisco State University.
England Smith is an interdisciplinary artist from Kansas that followed the yellow brick road to Oakland. They are a director of photography, graphic designer, production manager, and archivist. England's art coils the intimacy of breaking silence with the warmth of nostalgia.
Brandon Gagante (he/him) is a Filipino American storyteller born and raised in San Jose, who uses he/him pronouns. He works at YouthSpeaks as a teaching artist, has hosted Lyricist Lounge, the student-centered open mic at USF, and is an independent Director and Filmmaker under the name of Kuya B. The stories he creates illustrate everything he carries with him, the lessons he learned, his people, his culture, his intentions in life, and more. He writes in the way he wishes to live: without fear.